ANNA BELFRAGE

Step inside and steal some moments in another place, another time

Archive for the tag “self-publishing”

Is freezing in a garret a prerequisite?

Chatterton 1856 by Henry Wallis 1830-1916There is this rather romanticised (and antiquated) idea that great art is created by young (mostly) male wannabees who laugh cruel fate in the face while they continue with their creative endeavours, no matter chillblains and empty stomachs, ice-cold draughts and ragged clothes. Our literary hero hoards his candle stumps so as to light his nightly progress with his roman à clef,  but no sooner does dawn tinge the night skies pink but he blows out the little flame, preferring to strain his eyesight to wasting any more of his artificial light source.

Such young men write about PAIN. They write about anguish and despair, about setting off to brave the world alone. Their world is harsh, their female protagonists are generally peripheral, and all that introverted focus results in a rather heavy read – which is why said writer is languishing in a garret to begin with. Now, not all garret-bound writers have written unreadable books. In Sweden, we have our own most brilliant if somewhat depressive and misogynist August Strindberg, who rose from humble beginnings to become a writer of quite some well-deserved renown (and doubtful repute, what with all his women). Great art has undoubtedly arisen from strained circumstances, but is it a necessity to suffer to write/compose/paint masterpieces? No, I would say – rather emphatically. What is required to create masterpieces is talent, perseverance and inspiration.

Irises-Vincent_van_GoghCreating masterpieces does not always result in monetary compensation. Take Van Gogh, for example. Did he ever enjoy the monetary fruits of his labour? Nope. His painting of irises may be one of the more highly valued works of arts in the world, but dear old Vincent spent his latter years in mental confusion (hence the ear business, one assumes) and does not seem to have reaped much material reward, despite increasing recognition of his genius towards the latter years of his (short) life.

Also, there’s the interesting little fact that masterpieces are generally defined by a selected few – an intellectual elite, if you will – and may therefore not necessarily reflect the tastes of the broad masses – and if you want to become rich through your creative efforts, then you had better appeal to the masses. To be brief, one can conclude that while writing masterpieces does not exclude material success, neither does it guarantee the writer will be rolling in money. If you write to earn your living, there may therefore be a need of a certain level of… umm… well, what can we call it? “Prostitution”? (Oh dear; hearts go all a-flutter, don’t they?)

aston_martin_db9-pic-12758Writers who are looking for high level income should choose genre carefully. Crime is a safe bet. Silent male hunk (think Reacher) driven by an inner moral compass but uninterested in cluttering up his life with emotional baggage as he goes about saving the world always seems to sell – mostly to men, who probably nourish a dream of living the simple life and being heroes at least once in their lives. Another safe bet is romance – but here the sub-genres are a veritable tangle to work your way through, and some are more successful than others, so do the research before deciding on whether your male protagonists will prance about in silk hose and breeches, a painted mouche on their cheek and a powdered wig atop their head, or slouch about looking delightful in an Aston Martin DB9 and cashmere (Aaaaaaahhhh, yes…)

The alternative to prostitution – a.k.a. writing what you think the market may want –  is to write what you feel passionate about and to hell with remuneration. In my experience, this leads to much better writing. Much. Okay, so there may only be a minority of people around who want to read about the Sherpa who got on the wrong bus and ended up in Zanzibar (and boy, was that a happy Sherpa: not a freezing mountain in sight to climb, just beautiful pristine beaches and a nice warm climate) but that minority will – hopefully – become your fans. Which is why, of course, I write about love and history, and time travelling and love and the 17th century and love and medieval rebellions and love and religious controversy and … Did I mention love?

Gabriel_Metsu_-_Man_Writing_a_LetterThese days, writing is no longer done on paper with ink that leaves ugly blots, those manuscripts pages then rushed off to be typeset. No, dear people, these days writing is done on computers.Yes, yes; some of us draft – or even write – using pen and paper, but ultimately authors these days will keyboard their characters, their plot and setting, into a precious .docx file that exists in multiple back-ups. (WHAT? You have no back-ups????? Well, you clearly like living on the edge, don’t you?) And once the file is on the computer, it is quite easy to publish it without having to do the agent/publishing house thing – you can do it all on your own. (Luckily, as otherwise those people who really, really want to read about the Sherpa and Zanzibar would never get the opportunity as the target reader group is ridiculously small)

The classic business model regarding books for the latest decades has included the author, the agent and the publisher. Any profit made would be shared by the three interested parties, and so long as the publishing companies controlled what was being published, things worked out pretty well. After all, until recently, if you wanted to read a book you needed to buy the physical printed product, and as long as the publishing houses ensured the market wasn’t flooded by too many books in the same genre, readers would browse what was available and buy, thereby guaranteeing higher sales per title, ergo nice, steady profits. Enter the age of digital publishing. Enter the age of Amazon. (I feel a sudden urge to sing here: “When the moon is in the seventh house, and Jupiter aligns with Mars…” Chorus: “This is the dawning of the age of Aaaamazon, the age of Aaaaamazon, Aaaamazon“)

behemotYes, Amazon is a behemoth that is causing rampant death among many smaller and larger booksellers. Yes, Amazon has reinvented the book industry. Yes, Amazon drives e-book sales. Yes, Amazon has created space (he-he) for unpublished authors to go for it. Yes, Amazon is doing all this for profit. No, Amazon won’t go away – and neither will Smashwords or Kobo or all other similar on-line retailers. Or e-books. Why? Because for the reader, Amazon offers a cheap and accessible service, with the added benefit of e-books being far more environmentally friendly than the printed book.

As a consequence, the traditional business model within the book publishing world is under pressure. This leads to publishing houses having to become more restrictive regarding what they publish. Guaranteed sales need to be relatively high for the company to recoup on its investments. Sales of 10 000 copies will generate approximately 20 – 30 thousand pounds in gross profit, but this is before any promotional costs, any salaries to the people involved in the production as such (you know; editors, jacket designer, proof-readers – plus the overheads, such as the cleaners and the managers and the accountants and the sales reps and…) The book sells 5 000, and the gross taking is roughly 10 – 12 thousand pounds, which doesn’t leave much of a profit – if any –  once all expenses incurred have been deducted. It’s a tough world, the book business – almost as tough as life was back then, in that freezing garret room, where the only source of light and heat was a fluttering candle.

When the basic tenets of an industry change, this creates opportunities for new players. Enter the quality-minded, professional small publishing companies that cater to all those authors who no longer have a chance in hell of getting a contract with one of the traditional publishing companies – not because their book is bad, but because they’re not celebrities, or well-known authors that have an established fan base, or have a book that hits a trending sweet-spot. Or are immensely talented.

So, the enthusiastic as yet unknown author wants to publish, the small publishing house offers a package for self-publication and you have a marriage made in heaven. (A word of warning: double check the publishing house before going with them. You want someone who is serious about what they do)  End result of this matrimony = a book, a lovely, lovely book that has the writer smiling like an idiot while he/she strokes the cover (been there, done that). But is it a quality product? Aha! Key question, ladies and gentlemen, best replied by “Judge not a book by its cover“, because no matter how pretty the cover, it’s the content that matters, right?

for-your-eyes-only-stampIf you write for your own pleasure, you don’t need to worry about edits and formatting, about odd POV shifts, about excessive usage of adverbs. You’re doing if For Your Eyes Only, and so it can be just as unfinished as you let it be. But. Major, major but. You put it out there as a book you expect people to buy, well then you owe all those people a certain basic quality. Formatting is nice, for example. Correct spelling helps ( “You now it’s true!” she said. Err… ). Consistent use of verb tense, of names, of dates – all of this is a minimum. I recently read a book where the protagonist is eighteen on one page, twenty-six three chapters later when two years have passed, and in actual fact he must be sixteen as we are told he is ten years younger than another twenty-six-year-old. Very confusing, let me tell you –  and far from a quality product.

This, I believe, is the rub in the entire self-publishing debate. Too many books are published at a deplorable standard, and IMO it is the company facilitating the publication services that somehow must take a stance here. All books do not appeal to all readers – and that’s okay. Personally, I’d hate reading a book about a Sherpa that ended up in Zanzibar (I think; maybe if Stephen Fry wrote it I might reconsider). But as long as the book lives up to a basic standard, I won’t feel shortchanged if I buy it and then simply don’t like it.  So, dear wannabe writers, do yourself – and your future readers – a favour. Hire an editor. Please. Pretty, pretty please? And as to all those publishing houses that cater to the self-publishing industry (including dear, huge Amazon), how about making editing a prerequisite, huh?

paris-charity-in-a-garret-grangerIf we float back in time to that chilly garret (in Paris, of course it’s in Paris, and Rodolfo is holding Mimi’s cold hand while singing his heart out to her, and…oops, sorry, slipped away there) with our industrious author, we will find the floor around his chair littered with pages, pages where words have been scratched out – whole sentences even. Mr long-suffering author is in the editing phase, and because he is dirt poor and convinced he is the best writer since Molière, he scoffs when his timid muse suggests he let someone else take a look at his finished opus. Grammar, he says in a patronising tone, is for lesser writers than he. He is an artiste, a creator of masterpieces, not for him the ridiculous rules of syntax and spelling. No wonder he’s still stuck in that garret of his, cursing the world for not seeing the beauty of his text.

In conclusion, dear people, writers don’t need garrets. But they do need editors – and readers. And books, they need publishing houses that take the craft of writing seriously – so seriously, in fact, that they won’t set their name to a book (self-published or otherwise) unless it meets a certain standard. Like an ISO 9001 approval, but for books. Can’t be that difficult to put in place, can it? Hello? Mr Bezoz? Did you hear that?

Oh, and if someone feels like developing my Sherpa/ Zanzibar story, I do have a rough outline lying about (you call, Mr Fry, and I’ll come running).

 

 

 

Sweet like candy – a variation of authors

SelectionBoxImage

Have I told you I am struggling to cut back on chocolate? No, I don’t think I have, have I? Whatever the case, in my present chocolate-craving state, the cover of the Silverwood Selection Box is enough to have me salivating – and that’s before I open it to peek inside…

The Silverwood Selection Box is an anthology that introduces ten Silverwood authors, spanning everything from fiction through poetry to non-fiction. It serves as an excellent introduction to unknown authors, and seeing as it is free, it’s an opportunity to browse at length.

Yes, I am among the featured authors – and damned proud of it. At the bottom of this post, there are links to the various authors and I recommend you to do some hopping about. In celebration of this little selection box, I have been asked to contribute with a post that “relates to the matter included”, which essentially describes how the heroine of The Graham Saga, my Alex, falls three centuries through time. I must admit to having spent some time on considering just what relates to such a life-changing event. Sadly, I cannot say I have any personal experience of travelling through time.

I have recently posted about some of the downsides of time travelling – as perceived by Alex (see here). If I’m going to be quite honest I think the concept of time travelling is far more titillating than the actual doing it. I mean, how fun would it be to end up back in London in the 1340s, with the Black Death in full swing? Or to land in Krakatoa, seconds before it exploded? Or to spend the rest of your life in the dreary, damp Edinburgh of the sixteen hundreds, where sometimes the only lunch that you got was what could be scraped out of the porridge drawer? For those of you that don’t have a porridge drawer, this was a drawer (duh!) in which leftover porridge was poured and left to solidify. It could then be cut into convenient slices and used as portable lunch food. Sounds an utter delight, doesn’t it?

Now, my Alex is spared Krakatoa and the Black Death – although the plague is a definite threat in the 1660s. She never warms to the idea of the porridge drawer, and instead does her best to ensure the people she loves acquire somewhat healthier eating habits. Not that there is any risk of splurging on chocolates or cake, but all that salted fish and meat, all that over-boiled cabbage is not exactly Alex’s cup of tea. And talking of tea, this is something Alex sorely misses, as when she first lands on that Scottish moor where Matthew Graham finds her, tea is still a very long way off from being available.

However, I would argue that the truly life-changing event for Alex is not falling three hundred odd years backwards in time to land in 1658. No, what permanently alters her life is Matthew Graham. Does Alex believe in love at first sight? Not likely. (Not that it matters: this author believes in love at first sight, so Alex is struck by Cupid’s bolts whether she likes it or not). But Matthew stirs something deep inside of her, and it is as if all those little jagged holes she has inside of her – consequence of previous events in her life – heal themselves under his touch, his magical hazel eyes. The way he looks at her, how he holds her – she may be lost in time, but she is found in love. I know, it sounds almost too sweet to be palatable – which, of course, is why I’ve added the spicier ingredients of a treacherous brother, a determined avenger who follows Alex through time, the unstable political situation (Cromwell dead, Charles Stuart waiting in the wings), a rather nasty witch-hunting minister, and the general confusion Alex experiences at being jettisoned into an environment she knows nothing about.

I am a firm believer in love – not the “scorch my sheets and leave me panting for more all the time” love (although this is a nice little extra which most of us enjoy experiencing now and then), but rather the “I’m here for you whatever happens” love. The love that is so beautifully described in 1st Corinthians, Chapter 13:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

That is what Alex finds with Matthew (although they do their fair share of scorching). That is what carries them through a life filled with adventure, with joy and with grief. That, people, is a life-changing event. In comparison, falling through time is no more than a walk in the park!

The SilverWood Selection Box is available for free from:

SilverWood Books
KoboBooks
ITunes

And priced 99p from

Amazon
Barnes and Noble

And should you want to find out more about the authors (which of course you do) why not hop along to the blogs/websites of the other authors in the Selection Box?

Adrian Churchward
Alison Morton 
Harvey Black
Helen Hollick 
Edward Hancox
Michael Brown
David Ebsworth
Lucienne Boyce

Giving recognition to Indie authors

COFFEE BREAK

Geri enjoying a stolen moment

It will not have slipped anyone’s notice that over the last few years the number of self-published books has increased dramatically. New technology coupled with an available distribution channel allows wannabe authors to enter the market all on their own, thereby creating quite the debate about self-publishing versus traditional publishing and also about quality in books in general, the basic assumption being that self-published books are of much lower quality than those that go through the traditional publishing process.

I have invited Geri Dunlap Clouston, President of indieBRAG, to spread some light on these issues. Geri is one of those people who gives astounding amounts of her time to find and promote quality self-pub books, so I dare say she will have a lot of interesting insight to share with us.
I would also recommend that you visit the indieBRAG website and browse through all the varied books displayed there. Having read quite a few of these books, I can vouch for the fact that they are at least as good as any traditionally published book! Yay!

First of all, Geri, very welcome to Stolen Moments. I know for a fact that you’ve recently spent quite some time in England – does that mean you’re sick and tired of tea, or can I tempt you with a little cuppa? (and yes, if you insist, I do have coffee as well)

I would love a cuppa and a chat! I am home now and miss tea time terribly. I am back to American coffee only because we have an amazing -and easy- coffee machine!

Now that we got the very important subject of beverage out of the way, I’d like to start by asking you to tell us a bit about indieBRAG and why you started it.

My husband is a self-published author as are several friends. When we first started to promote his books, we were quickly overwhelmed by the number of titles self-published each year, and dismayed at the poor prospects of standing out from the masses. We thought that there must be a way for diamonds to rise to the top of the coal heap but we could not find it (not that either of us necessarily believed his books were gems but they certainly weren’t lumps of coal). We discovered that there are professional (and often costly) review sites and writing competitions. However, none seemed to provide a reader-centric source to advise the public which indie books merit the investment of their time and money. It was then we got the idea of trying to expand the concept of book clubs across a larger base of independent readers; and setting the bar simply at whether or not a reader would recommend a book to their best friend. One thing led to another and now our global reader base numbers nearly 200! (Anna’s comment: it isn’t quite as simple as all that, as B.R.A.G. readers are asked to evaluate plot, character development, narrative, formatting, presentation & overall editing. But still: a book that lives up to all these criteria is obviously a book one would recommend.)

Having read my fair share of self-pub books, I must come clean and admit that sometimes the quality in these books sucks. Is it your perception the quality in self-pub is improving? If yes, why do you think this is happening?

That is hard to say. Certainly the quality of books being submitted to indieBRAG has improved since we began our Company two years ago. However, that may be due, at least in part, to a process of self-elimination as less-talented authors discover that only about 10% of the books submitted to us are honored with our B.R.A.G. Medallion and decide to forgo submission. More broadly, I believe that the quality of indie books will gradually improve as all those who saw self-publishing as a quick way to make millions realize it is anything but, and leave writing to those with more talent and stronger dedication to their craft.

 What, in your opinion, is the single most important thing for a writer to do/invest in to ensure a basic level of quality in their book?

Turning out a quality book is not easy- it takes skill and determination and hard work. While every aspect of publishing a book should be handled with the same determination and diligence that went into creating it, without question, editing is the single most important thing an indie author must do and have done to their work. And by that I am referring to more than simple spell checking. Depending on an author’s finances, at a minimum he or she should have their manuscript professionally copy edited, and preferably content edited. Too many writers rush to push that publish button: when placing the product of their many months of hard work in the public eye they should remember the old adage that you never get a second chance to make a good first impression.

There has been a lot of discussion about Amazon’s Kindle program allowing aspiring writers to flood the market with dross. Do you think this is a correct description?

As I mentioned before, about 90% of all the books submitted to us are rejected by our readers; and more to the point, 50% don’t even make it past our initial screen. This certainly supports the contention that the indie book market is heavily laden with dross. But without amazon’s kdp, and similar offerings, all but a tiny percentage of aspiring authors were locked out of the world of publishing. And the fact that bad indie books far outnumber the good, does not negate the reality that there are some really talented authors whose work would never have seen the light of day without amazon’s kdp and the like, as evidenced by the over two hundred excellent books we have honored on our website.

What should a reader look for when buying self-published books so as to be agreeably surprised?

A B.R.A.G. Medallion of course! (Sorry, I couldn’t help a bit of self-promotion). Having said that, other than our readers, I don’t think most people look to see who published the books they read, or even know the difference between self- and traditional publishing. Of course, this may change if and when they are burned by purchasing a really bad book and discover that it was self-published. But even then, it is very difficult to avoid this in the future because often indie authors create their own imprints that sound like traditional houses. And while there are many thoughtful and intelligent reviewers and bloggers out there, the brutal fact is that a reader can’t trust the reviews on sites such as Amazon and Goodreads, (good or bad). Just as anyone can write and publish a book, anyone can leave a review – even if they haven’t read the book. We all know the stories of trolls, sock puppeting and paid reviews. I think the best way a prospective buyer can trust any book is through word of mouth from other readers who have no vested interest in the book; and, again, in effect that is what we have tried to create.

How much do the popularity of the e-book and the growth of self-pub go hand in hand?

I think they are rapidly becoming two sides of the same coin. Just as print-on-demand technology opened up the world of printed book publishing to indie authors, e-books have made entry into the field even quicker and easier. For readers, it provides much less expensive books and the convenience of shopping anytime, anywhere and receiving the book in minutes. Finishing one book at 2 am and downloading another in minutes is becoming the new reality of book buying. And although I would not encourage this, many self-published authors are choosing to only do e-books. The downside of this is that there are still readers out there who prefer the look and feel and smell of a book in their hands.

There are a number of self-publishing providers out there who offer excellent comprehensive services to aspiring authors. Do you think that over time these providers will become far more selective as to what they actually choose to publish under their imprint, i.e. will self-publishing providers – in the interest of quality & readability – turn away prospective customers because they don’t quite meet the required standards?

That is an intriguing, and somewhat unsettling thought. If carried to its extreme, it could begin to shut the door to aspiring authors, and return the world of publishing to its former closed-door state. Indeed, as more and more traditional publishers acquire self-publishing companies it is not outside the realm of possibility. However, I don’t think self-publishers (or the traditional publishers who might own them) would want to lose the revenue that such selectivity would produce. To avoid this loss they would have to increase the fees they charge for services, which would drive aspiring authors elsewhere. However, it may eventually lead to market segmentation among self-publishers, whereby one or more companies carve out a ‘premier SP imprint ’ niche that offers an indie author a faster track to a contract with one of the big traditional publishing house.

One of the more far-reaching consequences of self-publishing is that the traditional publishing business model comes under threat. With a lot of “cheap” books on the market – especially valid for e-books – prices are generally being pushed downwards, thereby reducing overall profitability on books. What will be the consequences of this, do you think? Will traditional publishing retreat to focus on “safe bets” only, whereby the newbie authors have no choice but to go for self-publishing?

I think traditional publishers are already there. This is one reason many of them are acquiring self-publishing companies as I mentioned in the previous answer. This provides them with an opportunity to reduce their risks by offering contracts only to authors who have already proven their profit potential. I was at a book seminar this past year where a speaker from one of the traditional publishers told the audience made up mostly of self-published authors that if they have sold several thousand books and have a following, she would love to talk to them. Hardly an appealing sales pitch. I am not sure why any indie author who was that successful would be interested!

Let us assume someone sends you a manuscript to read. It’s a great read (okay, yes a couple of minor spelling mistakes) and the writer wants your advice whether to submit to an agent/publisher or go it on their own. What would you say?

Well, as you know we only consider books that are already published and commercially available, but to answer your question, I would first tell a writer to do their homework regarding both options. On one hand, I would caution them that even if they were among the tiny percentage of previously unpublished authors who were successful in getting an agent, and eventually a publishing contract, it was highly likely that they would be disappointed with the eventual outcome. This is based on the feedback from many of our Medallion honorees who were previously traditionally published. In return for a royalty of 25% or less, they would lose control over virtually everything to do with their book, including its title, cover, interior design and even its content. And they would still be expected to do the lion’s share of promoting the book. Not a very appealing scenario.

On the other hand, I would tell them that there is far more to becoming a successful self-published author than writing the book and pushing the publish button. I would remind them that their book will be judged against all books, not just self-published books, so that they had better do everything in their power to make it the best it can be. This means getting it edited properly, having a quality cover designed, and developing an effective promotion plan. For a writer who is willing to do this, and many are, this is the way to go. They will keep up to 75% of the books sales price and they will answer to no one other than themselves.

Finally, which three books would you insist on taking along to a deserted island – and why?

There are a number of B.R.A.G. Medallion books that have become my absolute favorites but it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to single them out. I truly am proud of every book we present on our website.

Now among other books that I have read, Les Miserables is an all-time favorite of mine – but having said that, I even found it needed editing (a curse of my job!) I also love anything Jane Austen. And finally, I am currently reading an incredible biography of Beethoven- Beethoven: Anguish and Triumph which is fast becoming a favorite.

Ha! I wonder what Victor Hugo would say to that? And me, I listen to Beethoven rather than read of him – maybe something I should correct. Thank you, Geri for having taken the time to answer my questions – it was a pleasure having you!

Thank you so much Anna for giving me this opportunity to spend time with you and talk about the thing I love best – indieBRAG!

Other than on the website, indieBRAG can also be found on FB

Post Navigation

%d bloggers like this: