Posts Tagged business

Reincarnation, future lives and ghostwriting – a couple of guest apparitions

pastlifeI’ve got a couple of slightly apparitional guest spots around the web today. I’m at Candace Austin’s Tumblr blog, Past Life Ponderings. Her novel is about past lives and she collects other authors who play with those ideas. She’s also keen to know about our own claims to former lives … come this way

Still with the theme of shadows, I’m also at The Write Life Magazine. This time I’m talking about ghostwriting – how I started, what it takes to do the job and how you might break in. The Write Life is an online magazine, downloadable as an app or on PDF. There is a sign-up form but don’t be put off – it’s free and you also get essays about writers’ life-changing experiences, an interview with New York Times Bestseller Ingrid Ricks and a Q&A with memoirist Susan Shapiro. And it’s very pretty

writelife

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What deals will publishers offer in five years’ time?

permanentlyAll the scribbling world is going indie. New, unpublished writers are, to establish themselves – even if they’re agented. And experienced, well-regarded authors are leaving their imprints – either being dropped or deciding to seek a better way to release their work.

While publishers are probably not short of new material, we know they watch the indie scene to see who does well. At the moment they pounce on the Hocking and Howey high fliers, but in a few years’ time they’ll have a different breed of writer to consider: the well established indie with a clutch of books and a growing audience. The kind of author who used to make up the midlist. I’m wondering, what deals would they offer?

For most of us it’s unlikely to be bidding wars. But one thing’s sure. It’s really going to test the industry because it can’t be a standard midlist deal. Most indie authors will have outgrown that.

Help with production

How much production help will a competent self-publishing author need? Of course, some writers loathe production and will be glad to hand it over. Others, though, relish the control (like yours truly) or will have it so smoothly managed that they’d rather hire the help themselves than hand over a bigger share to have it arranged.

A publisher might be able to offer an economy of scale – although they have often cut staff so much they are using the same freelances who are hired by indies.

Italics: flat feet bad

Italics: flat feet bad

Here’s an added complication. The book needs to look professional. How would a deal legislate for a situation where a writer’s production values look like a home haircut? Spin it the other way: what would stop a publisher vetoing an outside editor to keep the work themselves and accrue extra percentage points?

I’ve already made this more complex than I imagined. Suffice it to say: production costs will become a negotiation point.

Help with promotion and marketing

I’m guessing that one of the prime reasons for partnering with a publisher is to gain kudos, exposure and credibility in places we can’t reach by ourselves.

We all know that if a publisher pulls out all the stops they can make a huge difference to a book’s fortunes. But most of the time (ie if they haven’t paid big bucks for the author), they can’t afford to.

newspaper_boosmlWhat most non-starry authors get is a few mentions in the national press. That can certainly send an indie author reeling with delight. But does it sell copies? The evidence is that it doesn’t. Most books don’t sell unless you keep them constantly on readers’ radar. A splash in the press is short term. Indie authors know they have to keep a sustained campaign of advertising and promoting. The midlist author launch package is little more substantial than a token cork-pop at the book’s birth. It won’t keep the book alive, month in, month out.

There’s worse. At the moment, when you sign a deal, publishers are often secretive or vague about what marketing they will do. They’re used to the writers being so overawed that they never have to explain what exactly will happen or how brief the publicity flare will be.

Indeed, it’s shocking how meagre a publisher’s marketing plan might be. One writer I know was asked for a list of blogs the publisher could contact to run posts about the books. Up until then, the writer had believed the publisher would use their own special contacts, not people the writer already knew about. Another author friend, after two successful books, was sent on a social media course. He learned nothing he couldn’t have gleaned from reading a few blogs.

However, many of my writer friends are excited about the Amazon imprints – even authors who feel they’re finished with traditional publishing. Why? Because Amazon have developed and honed an amazing machine for finding readers. What’s more, the algorithms can work long term with emails and targeted deals. That’s the kind of help we would all take seriously.

Ebooks

I haven’t even mentioned ebooks. As ebook formatting is one of the simplest things for an author to do or source, few of us will need help to make them. Where will a publisher add value? Publicity? The trouble is, their publicity machine is still wedded to print territories, whereas indies are already marketing on the, ahem, wordwide web. Perhaps publishers will start to think globally. Or perhaps ebooks will be left out of publishing deals with indies, as those markets may already be well served.

Distribution

Getting copies into bookshops is one area where indies struggle – and traditional publishers are acknowledged masters. However, go into your local Waterstones or B&N and you’ll be bewildered by the acres of book spines. What’s the likelihood of someone finding your book by chance, even if it’s there? Except for prominent displays (which aren’t given to every author), publicity is what makes readers pick up a book or ask for it to be ordered – and indies can already get onto the wholesale lists at very little cost. We don’t even need to buy the ISBN. So it is my contention that well targeted, long-term publicity is more significant to an author than distribution to a lot of shops. Do feel free to disagree.

Help with development

It probably seems cockeyed to consider this last. We can’t deny that editors can add a vital nurturing influence. Although successful indie authors will already have their infrastructure for making a book good, few of us would dismiss the chance to do it better. Or am I dreaming?

Equitable arrangements

At the moment a publishing deal is like a fixed-price menu. But the authors of the future will be savvy about publishing. They’ll look for equitable arrangements and publishers will have to be flexible for each situation. A la carte.

sidebarcropNo more secrets

Publishers will also need to be more transparent. Right now the culture is to keep the author in the dark. A business relationship can’t be vague like that.

Ultimately a fair deal will take account of what each side puts in. Who, in a publisher, is equipped to strike a fair deal with the entrepreneurial author or their agent? The editors? They know about nurturing content, being its shepherd and handling production. But they aren’t skilled in converting this into workable contract terms and profit shares. And why should they be? That’s like expecting your plumber to be able to fix your computer. The other option is the contracts department. But they’re in a legal ivory tower, away from authors and the realities of book production or selling. It’s as if we need a new kind of job in publishers – a professional who can grapple with all of this.

UPDATE: To be fair, many editors do recognise the need for change. But they don’t necessarily have the skills, systems or company culture to reinvent their relationships with authors. They’ve usually got enough to do keeping up with their publishing schedule – having managed an editorial department I know the realities of getting books out, and how diktats often come from lofty management levels that are impossible to fulfil while making the daily deadlines. So this kind of change is going to take time.

One thing’s for sure. The current standard publishing deal isn’t going to cut it.

Thanks for the dream team pic Permanently Scatterbrained

Let’s discuss this brave new world. Do you self-publish? If a publisher came calling, what would you appreciate help with? What do you want to handle yourself? What do you think would make you attractive to a publisher in return for their help?

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Social media helps self-publishers seize the day – post at Alliance of Independent Authors

alliI’m at the Alliance of Independent Authors blog today, with the story of a mini campaign I whipped up on Twitter and Facebook this week.

I’ll leave the story to that post, but briefly, I saw an interview on the Writers & Artists Yearbook website, responded to it, and seem to have woken them up to the fact that indie authors are rather more advanced than they hitherto thought.

Even better (and this isn’t in the post) Bloomsbury then asked me to call them. They’d had a rummage through my blogs and wanted me to write for their website and newsletter. (Wow. Big smiles at NYN HQ.)

So W&A – the bible for creatives in the UK – is expanding its coverage of self-publishing as a serious and respectable option. But I detected they’re a tad nervous about it. The editor I spoke to asked if I ‘minded’ writing about self-publishing. That suggests he’s encountering more negative attitudes than positive. No matter. They’re responding to what’s happening in the creative world.

waI also have to relish a sense of a circle closing. Years ago, when I was a beginner querying agents and publishers, W&A was my route map for what seemed an audacious and mostly impossible dream. When I wrote the querying section of Nail Your Novel, I recommended using them. Now, thanks to a tweet that alerted me to their post, and a tweet I sent to them, I’ve flipped to the other side and they’re introducing me to their audience. In our online, endlessly connected world, new opportunities might be only a tweet away.

In other news, tomorrow I’m skyping into the Grub Street arts centre in Boston as a guest expert in a seminar on creative book marketing so you’ll get a proper post from me about our discussions. And next Saturday, I’m on a panel at Stoke Newington Literary Festival in north London, talking about multimedia self-publishing. Both those opportunities sprang from relationships made completely on social media. In fact, everything has. Before that, I was an invisible editor and a concealed ghost.

So tell me – what opportunities have come to you from social media? And what tips would you give to help people make the best of it? (Oh, and here’s the Independent Authors Alliance post, in case you’re curious about the W&A Incident… )

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Before you spend money on publishing services, read this

old ropeAs indies get ever more professional, an entire service industry is springing up to offer us services for every occasion. At this year’s London Book Fair, the Authors’ Lounge was heaving with suppliers, and no shortage of willing customers. While it’s great to have access to these, authors are ripe for rip-off.

This week David Gaughran highlighted unscrupulous companies that charge exorbitant prices, or hoodwink authors into paying for services that could be obtained for very little or no cost.

So this post is a self-publishing 101; a catch-up for those who are wondering what they need to spend money on. In some cases, knowledge is the answer; all books, authors and genres are different, and one supplier does not fit all.

It’s virtually impossible to publish a book without any expenditure, but we can make sure we use our budgets wisely – and stop writers filling the pockets of unscrupulous suppliers who are getting rich on our dreams.

Publisher accounts

Some authors don’t know they can create their own user accounts on Smashwords, Kindle Direct Publishing, Kobo and CreateSpace. Or how simple it is – basically, no more difficult than entering your details in a mail-order website.

Some companies offer to upload your books through their account, but this is unnecessary. Even if you don’t make the files yourself, you can still upload them. If your service company went out of business, what would happen to your book listings? Moreover, if a third party controls your access to these publishing platforms, it’s harder to adjust your book’s appearance and description – which as you’ll see is essential to successful self-publishing.

Ebook formatting

This week, as you may have gathered, I published the follow-up to Nail Your Novel. I was rusty with the e-platforms, but it didn’t take long to get reacquainted.

Basic ebook formatting is dead simple if you can use Word on an everyday average level. You don’t need to be a wizard, but you do have to be meticulous. The best instructions are at the Smashwords Style Guide, a free book with diagrams and reassuringly clear instructions. There are a couple of other useful links in this post I wrote 2 years ago when I first ventured onto Kindle. I reread them when I uploaded my new book last week and it all went smoothly.

Indeed, if you have Scrivener, it will format ebooks for you.

Print book interiors

Print books are more tricky than ebooks, and amateur ones can look dreadful. But there are various tools to help beginners do a good job for very little money.

cathI recommend you read Catherine Ryan Howard’s book Self-Printed, which I used the first time I ventured onto CreateSpace and I still keep to hand to remind myself how to set up a book. She also has a ton of other useful guidance on book formatting.

How do you make the interior? CreateSpace provides Word templates, if you need help (although I make my books in a design program and upload a PDF).  CS templates are pretty plain, and Word isn’t ideal for interior formatting, but it’s fine for novels, which require hardly any design. In any case, a neat finish isn’t created by fancy typesetting, it’s from consistency and readability – and you can find a post I wrote on that here.

If you want a slicker look for little money, try Joel Friedlander’s book design templates for use in Word.   Joel has created interiors that you graft your text into – which is exactly what happens when books are designed in mainstream publishers (although they don’t use Word).

Which print-on-demand company should you use? There are two main options: Lightning Source and CreateSpace. LS isn’t suitable for beginners. It costs to start a book project and proofs are expensive. CS, though, is free to set up and holds your hand. Here’s a post I wrote comparing the two for novice publishers.

Covers

A great cover is money well spent. But you need to take creative control because you could end up with something unsuitable, horrible, or even illegal if the designer downloaded images from Google instead of sourcing them legitimately. This happens.

When you hire a cover designer, you need to know how to choose them and how to know when the job has been done properly. Identify your genre, familiarise yourself with its most successful covers, then you’ll know how to judge which designer is right for your book. Here’s a post I wrote recently on getting a cover designed.

Marketing

At LBF I talked to a publicity company to find out how they’d publicise a literary novel. They hadn’t tackled literary fiction before, and seemed unwilling to admit it until I pressed them hard. If I’d been a newbie, they’d have been selling me expensive packages that were unsuitable for my book. (I wasn’t looking to buy anyway; I was asking out of curiosity.)

With marketing, learn as much as you can before you hire publicists or buy advertising. I’ve learned a lot from Joanna Penn’s blog, and this is where I’d send you too.

Not all marketing has to cost money. Book descriptions, price point, tagging, titling and categorisation will all affect whether your book can be found by its ideal readers and you can experiment and tweak ad infinitum. (Remember I said you don’t want to have to ask a third party whenever you adjust your book’s back end? This is a good reason why.)  You might find you know more about marketing than you realise, as I did when I was asked to write this guest post.

Two more books I’m going to recommend:allibook

psst… Editorial services

First, of course, you need a book that’s fit to be published. In a publisher, there would be a team of people handling different editing stages:

  • developmental (the big picture: book structure, characters, narrative voice, plot etc)
  • copyediting (niggly details like plot consistency, names, timelines)
  • proofing (looking for typos and other mistakes)

It’s worth hiring expertise to help you with these and it’s unlikely that you can do it cheap. But you can choose wisely: here’s my post on issues to be aware of.

Thanks for the pic Horia Varlan

What other warnings and tips would you add to my self-publishing 101?

unsaid

Nail Your Novel: Writing Characters Who’ll Keep Readers Captivatednyn2 2014 sml

Alive and sparking now on all ebook formats

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Not sure how to market your book? Maybe you already know… guest post at Michael Schein Communications

scheinTo my surprise, I find myself guesting today on the blog of marketing and communications consultant Michael Schein. I thought I knew zilch about marketing; certainly not enough to share with those who possess business genes. But Michael contacted me after reading Nail Your Novel and asked if he could pitch me some questions.

Once I got my teeth into them, I realised that storytellers and advertisers run on adjacent rails. The sensitivities we use as novelists could serve us well when we have to intrigue the world about our books or write blurbs and pitches. Although we still have to identify where our readers hang out, writers of fiction are well equipped to sell ourselves and our work.  Come and see.

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Blogging for authors – should you be self-hosted? Part 2: two bloggers who favour self-hosting

Yesterday I discussed why an author might not want to self-host their blog and how to make the best of platform-hosted blogging. But many authors strongly advocate self-hosting – so today I’m going to ask two of them why.

First up is author-entrepreneur Joanna Penn of The Creative Penn. Joanna has built a formidable following among writers who want to take charge of their publishing careers and make the best of what the internet can offer. She also develops multimedia courses and she’s hit the bestseller lists with her two thrillers.

Joanna, why did you chose self-hosting?
I have control over everything – including affiliate sales and plugins that you can’t use on free blogs. Google takes you more seriously so you get better SEO results and rank better on Google.

You use a paid-for theme, don’t you? Why?
I use Thesis, which has SEO design in the back end and is very easy to customise so it looks professional. I model success and all the top blogs are self-hosted and use premium or custom design themes. Why look like a second-rate blog?

Is self-hosting and/or using a paid-for theme more hassle? Do you need to be more tech literate?
I have Joel the Blog Tech guy as help but once the site is set up, the back end is the same as WordPress. So no, you don’t have to be tech literate.

How much does this all cost you?
My hosting is less than USD $10 per month, my premium theme was USD $70.

How much do novel-writers need to worry about search engine optimisation (SEO) and what key things should they do?
You need basic SEO – good site design, so that spiders can crawl you. Free themes have a particular SEO rating and my first blog was really crappy for this until I learned about it. Then you should use an SEO plugin. I use All-in-One SEO. Also you should use consistent keywords for your niche and have a lot of relevant content.

My second self-hosted blogger is Jane Friedman, web editor for the Virginia Quarterly Review. Jane is a former publisher at Writer’s Digest and a prolific and respected speaker on writing, publishing, and the future of media. Her expertise has been featured by sources such as NPR’s Morning Edition, Publishers Weekly, GalleyCat, PBS, The Huffington Post, and Mr. Media. She has consulted with a range of nonprofits, businesses, and creative professionals, including the National Endowment for the Arts, the Creative Work Fund, and the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati.

Jane, prevailing wisdom seems to be that self-hosted is always better. Why is this?
Because not self-hosting means:

  • You’ll have a weaker functioning site overall (customisation is usually quite limited)
  • You rarely have access to advanced analytics unless you’re allowed to install Google Analytics (which can be important, see below)
  • You’re not fully in control of what happens to your site. Over time, services ARE discontinued, bought, changed, etc.

Are these considerations relevant to novelists?
If you’re planning to be a novelist for life, yes. You should be concerned about the long-term potential, growth, and stability of your site.

Whether self-hosted or not, why might authors use a paid-for or upgraded theme – apart from being able to look distinctive? How much does it generally cost?
The cost is very little (generally less than USD $100), given that a premium theme offers robust or improved functionality, as well as better looks (and often better readability). Also, premium themes generally have better SEO tools.

How much do novelists need to worry about SEO? Do readers really find them through Google searches?
If readers buy your book, or hear about your book through any medium, they might be likely to google your name – in which case, your site should be easily found. Often, you don’t have to ‘worry’ about SEO for this to happen as long as your site meets basic standards (usually the case with any premium-theme sites) and you don’t have an exceptionally common name.

I like to say that if no one can find you through Google, it’s like you don’t exist.

Is Google all there is to SEO? What key things should writers do to increase visibility?
Not exactly, but Google is 70% of the search market. The best thing to do is to use a premium theme that focuses on SEO, which will help ensure your site is looking its best when search engine crawlers visit.

This is my SEO strategy – how does it look to you? I write attention-grabbing headlines with key words, and use plenty of tags, including my name, my book titles and keywords for my subject area (in this case ‘writing a novel’).
This looks fine! There are other steps, such as making sure your site’s meta title, meta description, and meta tags are appropriate for the type of reader you’re trying to attract. These things are also adjustable on a post-by-post basis if you’re blogging. When you get a premium theme focused on SEO, generally these fields are available for you to adjust as needed. It helps you customise what exactly appears when your single posts (or when your site) comes up in Google search (site title, site description, brief description of post, etc).

How can writers check how well their measures are working?
You can tell whether your efforts are working if you improve your search ranking for your name or book titles (how high in the listings you appear), and/or if you see your organic search results increase—something you can watch, over time, in Google Analytics.

……

Thanks Joanna and Jane – and thanks also to Catherine Ryan Howard for helping me argue for platform-hosted blogs yesterday.

Anything to add? Cautionary tales, theories…. has your mind been changed by anything you’ve read here? I’m sticking with WordPress hosting for now, but Jane’s suggestions have sent me back to my site descriptions to make them work harder at grabbing readers. If you’re going to do anything new, tell me in the comments!

If you’re new to blogging and want some basics, you might find this post of mine helpful – How I get time to blog as well as write  and Your new writing blog: avoid these faux-pas.

If you are thinking of upgrading to a bespoke theme, you might like this by Dan Blank – How I redesigned my website.

Joanna has scores of helpful posts about blogging – starting here. (And we’ve joined forces to create a multimedia course How To Write A Novel. More than 4 hours of video and audio with 86-page transcription and slides)


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Self-publish or small publishing house? How to decide

I’ve had two questions recently about small publishers. First, Stacy Green: ‘Do you think self-publishing is a better option for new authors than a small publisher whose focus isn’t solely on the next bestseller?’

Also Tahlia Newland: My agent is waiting for the last 3 big publishers she queried for my book to get back to her. If no one wants it, it’s just small publishers left. I’m thinking I’d rather ebook self-publish than go for a small publisher who hasn’t got a big distribution. I’d be doing most of the publicity anyway, so why not be in a position to keep control and maximise profits? What do you think?

There’s an excellent piece here by Michelle Davidson Argyle on what a publisher should be able to do for you.

What I’ll add to that is my own opinion, from my own experience and that of author friends.

The term ‘small publisher’ can cover anything from the small adventurous imprints started by publishing professionals who have decamped from the major companies – to decidedly less qualified outfits led by people who are chancing their arm at publishing. With varying motives.

Quite clearly, the publishers started by the publishing professionals will have the edge. They have the experience, the expertise and the contacts – and you can weigh up an offer simply by googling them and finding out about their reputation. But some small – and micro-small – publishers may not be as good for you as going it alone.

It all comes down to what they will give you in return for the chunk they take and whether that suits you. And in some cases, you have to be able to assess whether they are properly set up to do the best for your book. Leaving aside the crooks, some of the very tiny publishers do not have enough experience in key areas of the business – but they don’t know how important those are. You’ll see from my horror stories below.

But first, here’s a run-down of the major areas in which a publisher can help you and the self-publishing alternatives.

Editorial help

Editorial help certainly can cost. If you go it alone you can hire a professional to do this, but it’s a hassle to set up and takes time away from your writing.

Art, editing and formatting all come with the package when you sign a publishing deal. Even harder to put a price on is the input of an editor who is in tune with what you want to do. The right editor, who chose your book from their company’s slush pile, has fallen in love with your work – unlike an editor you hire. Any good editor can make you better than you believed possible, but one who had to woo you will probably go the extra mile (provided you agree with their vision). They can guide you to revise and revise, and can reassure you when you’ve done enough. An editor you hire can only carry on as long as your purse can hold out. Having a trusted team around you who are helping you hone your book is terrific and irreplacable.

However, if you’re tied to a publisher you’re tied to their professionals. You may love the words people, but not like their cover artwork at all. And you may not get much clout to refuse cover designs you don’t like.

Moreover, you might be right to distrust those designs. I looked at the list of one small publisher and thought at first they were producing municipal leaflets – all their fiction had ugly covers produced with the one template. Yet they’d managed to get authors to sign up with them.

Distribution

Distribution is where your book is stocked. If you go it alone, you can buy packages for this from the POD companies but if you don’t know what you’re getting how do you know what’s worth paying for? And let’s face it, it’s the least creative part of making books, so who has the patience to become expert in it?

But the grass isn’t necessarily greener in a publishing deal. Especially in companies that were set up solely by editorial or production people. And have never had to handle distribution. And don’t know what they don’t know.

I know of one publisher who produced beautiful copies of an author’s work – superior even to the very good quality that POD can produce – but couldn’t organise how to get the books onto Amazon. Instead they sold them through ebay, where no one buys books, and through an obscure website for that genre. They sent the author to a major fair to showcase his work and couldn’t arrange for copies of the book to be available there so that they could be sold. They got reviews in major magazines and the book still isn’t on Amazon.

Market reach

Another question you have to ask yourself is: what is the publisher’s market reach? Can they market to more readers than you can on your own?

Publishers with rigorous selection procedures will be able to get reviews in places that never touch self-published works – such as the national newspapers. That’s a gate you simply can’t open on your own, no matter what you do.

But a couple of reviews aren’t enough to sell your book. You need other gates opened too – to wider audiences. I know of several small publishers who are well enough connected to be able to get reviews in influential places. But some aren’t at all, regardless of how much they talk about how passionately they love good books. Now that we all build tribes, this aspect of a publishing deal is like royal marriages. Some publishers’ tribes aren’t as big as those of some bloggers!

What rights do they keep?

This is a thorny question indeed and is why it is good to have a reputable agent on your side. I’m not offering legal advice here in any capacity, and every single case is different. So if you are currently studying the fine print of an offer and are worried about it, please get proper help. If you don’t have an agent, a rights lawyer can do it for you – although it will cost you (which is one of the reasons why an agent deserves their percentage).

Traditionally, most books are ‘in print’ for a period and once the run is sold they go ‘out of print’ or are printed again. After a certain period you may get your rights back or your contract may come up for renegotiation. Sometimes you can take the book elsewhere if you want.

Many small publishers launch a book through e-editions and print on demand. Print on demand allows a publisher to print a book only when it is needed, saving on warehousing. If a publisher uses POD, they might have a clause that says they will keep your book in print in perpetuity – and that means you can never take advantage of a better offer from somewhere else with a more prestigious reputation. Of course, to look at it from their point of view, they don’t want you using them as a stepping stone to something better, after they’ve put so much effort in (which they may or may not have, of course). Although any legal agreement can be undone if it’s wrangled enough, that’s messy and expensive.

There might even be clauses governing what you may work on in future and who owns it.

Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We mustn’t forget that being published is the most important milestone a writer can imagine. What most of us want to do is write great books and find someone to handle the less interesting jobs and treat us fairly. A publishing offer may indeed do this. More than that, it may give you moral, emotional, practical and technical support that is beyond measure, pulling you out of isolation and into the ‘proper’ world of writing. After all, it’s not just about money; writers have an innate urge to share, communicate and to know our work is cherished.

But any deal you do is also a business deal about your career.  Not all businessmen are nice. Or some may be terribly nice and awfully incompetent.

If you get any offer from a small or micro-publisher, look very carefully at what they will give you for what they will take.

Thank you, Very Urgent Photography, for the picture

Do you have any experience with small and micro-publishers? Share in the comments!

Oh – shameless plug – My Memories of a Future Life launches on August 30!

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It’s a cover! My Memories Of A Future Life – and how to find your novel’s theme

A crucial part of introducing your novel to agents or directly to readers is identifying your novel’s central theme. But that can be mighty hard to do. Here’s how I did it

Final tweaks are being twaught. Kindle hell beckons. Blurb hell too. But cover hell is over, at least the front.

And what theme is this pretty book scratching away at, you may ask? What questions are burning out of the red piano and the blue sky?

Answering that has caused me considerable grief. The journey in the book takes 100,000 words. How do I find one sentence – just one – that captures the heart of it?

It took me a while. Much pacing up and down.

My first thought was, it feels like it’s about the whole of life itself. Everything. The universe.

As a theme, ‘everything’ was a bit, well, vague. And it’s the very least you’d expect of a self-respecting well-rounded novel.

Then I made lists of common themes in fiction, as if I was doing an essay for A-level English. It was no help at all.

Everything seemed to fit. Love, loss, friendship, fate. Cheating, lying, haunting, being haunted. Nature, confinement, superstition, the weather. It was easier to find themes that weren’t in the book than themes that were.

I had to pull away from ‘subjects’, because every multi-layered novel will have plenty of them. So I asked myself: what are people doing in this book that gives it its distinctive flavour?

It had to come down to the MC. Her relationships. Her central problem. The patterns that repeat again and again with everyone she meets. The things she reacts to that show what she’s searching for. Her peculiar situation and what she needs to understand.

After quarrying down that seam, I had it. This is what My Memories of a Future Life is about.

How do you find where you belong?

Red piano: Bonnie Schupp Photography at iStockPhoto

Have you found your novel’s theme yet? If so, how did you do it? And if you have, share it in the comments

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Roz, you broke BlogTalkRadio

I did live radio last night! I was guest on Page Turners, an internet radio show on BlogTalkRadio hosted by Meg Collins, Antoinette Dickson and Nancy Denofio. These ladies live to write. Meg is a poet, scriptwriter and the author of scores of children’s books and resides at the delightfully named blog The Diary of a Starfish. Nancy is a debut poet and the author of the hauntingly titled What Brought You Here? and Antoinette is taking her first steps to becoming a published author and has a blog A Serendipitous Sojourn.

As I said, we all live to write – so of course were quite challenged to get a hook-up across the Atlantic without using Skype. Just don’t ask why we didn’t use Skype – you won’t get a civilised answer, not least because none of us know. So the first part of the show, Antoinette and I had the airwaves to ourselves while Nancy was shouting into a dead line and Meg was marooned in another pocket of communications limbo.

While Antoinette and I made writerly chit-chat we were all conducting a fraught conversation on email and Facebook: ‘Where are you?’ ‘You have to log in’  ‘I am logged in’ ‘I can see you on my desk but can’t hear you’. ‘Roz you broke BlogTalkRadio’. And so on.

But the airwave fairies released Nancy and Meg in the end, and they grilled me about how many books I’ve sold ghostwriting, my film with Matt Damon, the Morris writing household … and got me to talk quite a lot about the novel I have on submission, My Memories of a Future Life.

You can listen to it again here… and a proper post is coming tomorrow – on stories within stories, and fantasies within story worlds.

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Well I’ll be Twitterviewed! Big questions answered on a bird’s toenail

I just got Twitterviewed – interviewed on Twitter, asked enormous questions to which I had a titchy 140 characters to reply.

Twitterviews are the brainchild of Novel Publicity, which has a helpful blog and a website that offers marketing services to authors. You can find out more about Twitterviews here, including how to request one for your book or as part of your blog tour.

But get in training to be snappy – I was asked all the big questions -  why I write, what Nail Your Novel is, what my novels on submission are about …  answers on a postage-stamp…

Also, the other half of the Morris writing clan has been out and about in interviewworld today. If anyone’s curious about Husband Dave, he just did a considerably less squeezed, but lovely interview at Dorothy Dreyer’s We Do Write.

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