The Story of Her Name – an Author Unmasked

Layout 1Here’s a thought… Let’s say you publish a book that becomes a best-seller – if only! – selling in its millions and bringing you in plenty of money. Would that be enough, or would you also want the world to know who you were?

Elena Ferrrante, the Italian author of the Neopolitan novels, didn’t want people to know who she was. For those of you who haven’t heard of them, the Neopolitan novels are a series of four books, My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave and Those Who Stay and The Story of a Lost Child. They were widely assumed to be at least semi auto-biographical, and beloved of book groups up and down the country.

Elena Ferrante herself remained a mystery. She had kept her identity secret since the publication of her first novel in 1992.

And then along came journalist Claudio Gatti, who searched for financial records related to real estate and royalty payments. He published an article this month, which drew the conclusion that the real author was a woman in Rome.

Writing in Stylist magazine this week, the fabulous Lucy Mangan said Ferrante had stated numerous times that she writes under a pseudonym so that her books could be read for themselves, and so her time and creative energy isn’t depleted through publicity activities.

Gatti’s reasoning was that her success made the search for her identity “virtually inevitable”.

In her piece for Stylist, Mangan asked: “‘Why did Claudio feel Ferrante owed him more than her books? Is unmasking someone (non-criminal) any kind of public good or a violation of privacy or consent? Why might a man feel able to go against a female author’s wishes on the very weakest of pretexts? Who did he feel she was hurting? Was it only his perceived right to know everything? When’s he going to dox Thomas Pynchon or A.N. Other reclusive male author?

“Discuss, animatedly, with reference to female agency, male entitlement and self-serving boll**cks.”

Hear, hear!

Advertisements

#SuperThursday

brilliant booksYes, #SuperThursday – it’s a thing… Apparently, today the market will be flooded with new books.

No doubt many of those books will have the might of the publishing industry behind them. They will have glossy covers and a big marketing budget so you will see the book or the author everywhere for a few weeks as they promote their book.

I’m self-published so I rely on kind friends and family (and they were very kind and generous indeed) and promoting myself via the medium of social media.

Anyway, as it is #SuperThursday, here is a little plug on behalf of independent artists… You can buy all of the above books via the Comely Bank Publishing website, and through Amazon, Kobo and Smashwords.

Here’s a little blurb on what each book is about:

Four Old Geezers and a Valkyrie by Gordon Lawrie is an entertaining romp set in Edinburgh. Brian, aka ‘Captain’ is a reiteed teacher who has split acrimoniously from his wife. A chance meeting with his best man encourages Captain to dig out his 40-year-old guitar and leads to a series of hilarious jam sessions in a back garden in Merchiston during which they record a couple ofptain’s own songs.

Posting these on YouTube, they prove to be surprise hits, sending the four ‘musicians’ and their lawyer into a series of encounters with a tiny manager, a boy-band and a female Polish dancer, a cigar-puffing earl and a famous rock band.

The Man from Outremer by T.D. Burke  is a swashbuckling tale of treachery and action. Set largely in Scotland at the time of the early Scottish Wars of Independence around 1300 AD, it follows Derwent, a Scottish Crusader-turned-clergyman, and his involvement first of all in the Fall of Acre in Palestine, then later as Prior of Roslin in Scotland.

Against Derwent stands his nemesis, an English spymaster who is desperate to conceal a dark secret from the Crusader days. In time, they will confront each other in battle at Roslin.

Katie and the Deelans by Emma Baird is the story of Katie Harper and her friends, ordinary teenagers who go to the worst school in the country. Life, however, takes a turn for the extraordinary when Katie and her friends take up magic lessons.

Taught by the fabulous Miss D’Azzler and the enigmatic Jazz, Katie and her friends find out that they are deelans – humans who can change into cats and who have magical powers. Katie and her friends enjoy the first few months of being deelans by practising their magical skills and trying to improve the school and life for those living in the sink housing estates nearby.

Our Best Attention by Jane Tulloch will be published in January 2016. Set in Murrays, a fictional Edinburgh department store in the 1970s, OBA tells the story of the store’s attempts to adjust itself to modern times through its various staff members and customers.

 

 

 

How Much Money Can You Expect To Make On A Book?

 

Power of Words

When you stumble clumsily into the world of writing, you soon realise that out there are a lot of people who want to help you. Thank you one and all…

That said, I am guilty 90% of the time of a great deal of naivety. “Ooh yes,” thinks I to myself, “writing’s the career for me. I’ll write a book and we’ll see how that goes.” Common sense reasserts itself on many occasions – ‘better have a plan B Ms B, don’t unsubscribe to those email job alerts just yet and remember just how many people attempt to write a book every year…’

100 hundred million? More? 200 million Americans?

Just to clear up some areas of naivety, I’d like to borrow some wise words of wisdom about the costs of publishing. I’m borrowing them from the excellent resources section of Comely Bank Publishing and its founder/owner Gordon Lawrie: just how much money can you expect to make on a book? (Or rather, just how much money can you expect to lose.)

The Finances of Books

Many authors don’t realise that it’s extremely hard to make a profit from “conventional” books, especially in the modern economic climate. Until around 1996, books in the UK – nowhere else, though – were protected by the Net Book Agreement, stipulating that books had to be sold at their cover price and not discounted.

This protected many small book shops, but it also made it possible to make large profits on best-selling titles and use the proceeds to cross-subsidise newcomers. The Net Book Agreement collapsed in the mid 1990s, under pressure from supermarkets and Waterstones.

So, good for picking up three for two bargains and £3 books with your groceries, but what did it mean for publishers and writers?

Take a 350-page fiction paperback novel, for instance, which is priced at £7.99 (rounded up to £8 for ease)…

Large chains such as Waterstones insist on buying only through one of the big wholesalers/distributors (Gardners). Every book on their shelves has to go to Eastbourne first, then to Waterstones hub and then to the individual stores. Gardners ask for a 60% cut of the book’s total costs, 40% goes to the shop and they keep the other 20% which pays for their costs of storing, distributing and profit. The remaining 40% goes to the publisher, which in the case of an £8 book is £3.20.

The £3.20 pays for:

The cost of printing, which can be anything from £6 per copy for a small print run, to 20-50p for a mass market paperback. The publisher has to guess how many books they are going to sell.

Storing the books. If you want them looked after properly (and who wouldn’t?), then storage costs are not cheap. A local example in Scotland is Booksource in Cambuslang, which stores books for £49 per month, plus 16% per copy of the cover price.

Getting books to their destination. Hold a book in your hand – is it really light and slim? No? Unsurprisingly, if Gardners will take them, doing it in bulk is good, but more often than not they’ll only order books one at a time. The current postage by Royal Mail is £2.60.

Publicity. People don’t buy books that they haven’t heard of, so that means advertising, leaflets etc or sending authors to do events all over the country.

The costs of giving books away. As many as half of your first print run might go for free – review copies, complementary copies and proof copies to check for errors.

The publishing company and their staff.

Oops, we’ve missed out the author’s cut… Ah, no we haven’t. Honestly, for a first book you will be very, very lucky indeed to get £500 in advance. And advances are just that – you are entitled to a percentage of each sale, but if the book doesn’t sell enough copies then you do have to return the advance. (Although in practice that doesn’t happen often as it is easier for the publisher just to cut its losses and run miles from your book flop.) And of course, as the author has been obliged to go through an agent in the first place, his/her gross earnings have to go there too.

So the likelihood of making money as an author who writes one or two books? Slim indeed. The real money is made on the extras – the film and TV rights, toys of your book’s characters, perhaps additional work as a journalist/reviewer, or making author appearances for fees and selling signed copies.

Ian Rankin, Edinburgh’s second best-selling author (after JK Rowling) famously sold about 250 copies of his first Rebus novel, Knots and Crosses, and not many of the next one either. It was only once he’d written a few more that his popularity took off and people wanted to read the earlier books.

This means that commercial publishers need to be very, very convinced of a book’s selling potential. They want to be able to sell 30,000 copies at least. If the book gets poor reviews, they might pull it and decide not to sell (this happens far more often than people think). In such a situation, the author is allowed to keep the advance, but the book is gone for ever because the publisher has the rights.

Can you imagine how awful that situation must feel?

Even if they decide not to withdraw it, the publisher can opt not to spend money on promoting/advertising the book – which amounts to the same thing.

This is why anyone in the business will tell you that there are three stages to any book:

1. Writing the book

2. Getting it published

3. Getting the book properly promoted.

Take a guess what the hardest bit is? Yup, number three. No matter how good you think your book is (and your lovely family and friends are sure to back you up with this), there are millions and millions of other good books out there too. Your book doesn’t just need to be good – and you could argue that there are plenty of turkeys out there which have still managed amazing sales – it needs to persuade plenty of people to buy it.

Are you filled with despair? Do remember that modern technology has opened up new routes. The first is ebooks, which generates good profits if you get lucky. 50 Shades of Grey is one of the better-known versions, but Amanda Hocking was a multi-millionaire at the age of 22 publishing her horror books as ebooks only. And you shouldn’t sneer at self-publishing, which isn’t the same as vanity publishing – you are in control. You pay for the costs*, admittedly, but you keep all the profits.

The whole publishing business changes almost weekly. It’s 2014, but who knows what publishing will look like in 2018? Close your mind to nothing at all.

It is very unlikely that the first thing you write will make you a fortune. Making a living from writing requires hard work, a willingness to keep going back to try again after repeated rejections but if you are good enough, you try hard enough and you are lucky enough. Your time will come.
©Gordon Lawrie.

*Comely Bank Publishing helps people minimise the costs of doing this, but the work has to be up to its standards.

The original article was first published on Comely Bank Publishing. Image courtesy of wikipedia.

 

How to Self-Publish…

If it looks like a book...

If it looks like a book…

OK, OK – this one is a bit of a misnomer in a blatant attempt to try and get more search engine hits. I am, in reality, a brazen, attention-seeking hussy who will stop at nothing in my quest to make the world sit up and notice.

(I should have called this post how to self-publicise, rather than publish really.)

Anyway, I am jolly excited today because publication of my own book is indeed imminent. It would be foolish to name a date, but the moment of holding a hard copy of Katie and the Deelans in my hands creeps ever closer. Excitement reigns in the highheelsandpinkglitter household.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

Yup, the gent on the left demonstrates the ease of getting published first time.

There’s a saying about press & PR (it being dead an’ all) that companies or brands are no longer content trying to get published, they are publishers in themselves and the same can apply to writers. Why bother with the faff that is agent-hunting [cue: different submission versions required for each, plus the wait for replies, plus the generic rejection emails] when you can cut to the chase AND not have to hand over a fair whack of your sales?

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Thanks to mywritingblog.com for this image.

Really, the title of this post is – why self-publish? There’s an excellent guide here as to the pros and cons of self-publishing versus traditional publishing. Naturally, as it suits my purposes (and my efforts with traditional publishing have so far yielded a big fat zilch) I’ve chosen to focus on the drawbacks of traditional publishing (and thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for this info):

Traditional Publishing Drawbacks

It’s slow: It takes somewhere between 9-18 months for a book to be released once it is submitted to a publisher, an infinity in the digital world.

It’s unfair: Publishers take the lion’s share of royalties, usually 85-92%. That means most authors earn about a buck per book, or less. Publishers hog roughly 70% of electronic royalties, for a product that has almost no production or distribution costs.

It’s outdated: They are not social-media savvy; they may have powerful inroads to traditional media, like TV and print magazines, but those things are increasingly irrelevant to book sales.

It’s ineffective: They do not give most authors a very big marketing push, or sometimes any marketing push at all.

It’s short-lived: Most authors’ books will be in bookstores for a few weeks and then get pulled from the shelves when they don’t sell very well, leaving it entirely up to Amazon sales. This begs the question: why not just use Amazon?

It’s not cost-effective: The vast majority of authors don’t make any real bankable money on their books.

Thanks to Kevin Martin-Smith for the above info.

My own route to self-publishing goes like this… Write a book. Phew – that’s the difficult bit over and done with, hmm? Ah no. Re-write book once. Re-write book twice (this time stripping out a lot of excess stuff, even though it made me want to cry).

Use social media. I found a publisher through LinkedIn, specifically the small and perfectly formed Comely Bank Publishing, a publishing firm aimed at creating opportunities for Scottish-based authors.

CBP’s modus operandi is:

Comely Bank Publishing aims to create opportunities for local Edinburgh-area authors to publish works of interest using twenty-first century publishing options, including ebooks and print on demand.

We genuinely believe that too many authors are failing to have their works published because publishers and publishing agents have become too cautious, grasping at poorer-quality work simply because it carries the name of an established author or a bankable name such as a sports star, and that the future of literature can only be saved if bright new talent is nurtured as it used to be.

[There are specific resources on this site designed to help new authors think about some of the issues surrounding publishing.]

Thirdly, find a professional proof-reader. I looked through elance. I work on elance so seeing it from the other side was interesting and enlightening (and I also picked up some tips for how to structure my proposals from now on).

And next? Well, next is apply the changes from the proof-reader, make a cover design decision and then… PUBLISH. And flippin’ self-promote like mad.

 

Additional image thanks to wikipedia. Mywritingblog.com available here.

 

 

Back Blogging!

back blogging

Oh hello! It’s been a while and I’ve sorely missed the company of you my fellow bloggers and those other dear people who once upon a time signed up here to keep up to date with moi…

I am back in the world of blogging for myself as well as others, which means lots of self-indulgent nonsense… And regular self-indulgent nonsense seeing as I make a living these days by writing regular blog posts and articles for other people and preaching the benefits of writing such items on a regular basis. You know the old saying of the cobbler whose children are always the worst shod, or that so many people teach what they want to learn…? Both sayings apply to me; time to start taking one’s own advice.

Anyway, for those who have managed to bear with me so far (muchos gracias), here is a quick re-cap of the last four months:

1. I have revised and edited my book numerous times – as per the advice of professional writing experts, and those kind people who have read the book for me. Despite snivelling and crying as I did it (awwww, I loved the bit where the teenagers got drunk and then changed themselves into cats to see what that would be like), I have cut out a lot of the dross.

2. I have met up with a publisher on a regular basis and taken on board all of his excellent advice.

3. I have written a synopsis several times (and there is excellent advice about how to write a synopsis here).

4. And I have approached agents. Here I would like to offer up lots of little-known help and advice – agent such and such, for example, really loves submissions which use the comic sans font, whilst agent other such and such goes wild for proposals which reach her in-box on a Tuesday at 11.16am precisely. If only! My only advice for writers approaching agents is – the first rejection stings, the subsequent ones, not so much.

5. I have had enormous fun contributing on a regular basis to Friday Flash Fiction (a website for 100-word stories), and also the Friday flash fiction blog site.  These websites welcomes regular contributions and I promise you writing 100-word stories is brilliant fun and brilliant discipline.

Anyway, a final development has been the creation of a proper professional website – jetcomms, a partnership with another professional blogger, and from this we are hoping to generate more writing and PR work. Here’s hoping…

How To Deal With Rejection… Part 1

Chocolate is the best answer to how to cope with rejection.

Chocolate is the best answer to how to cope with rejection.

The astute amongst you may have noticed my absence from the blogosphere of late. I set myself up with a regular feature which was not that challenging to do – a regular 100-word flash fiction story published every Friday – and yet still I managed to skive off my (self-imposed) blogging duties…

Tsk. I suffered from something many people may identify with. When writing is the way you are earning your crust, anything that involves writing which doesn’t mean a payment at the end of it becomes a terrible chore.

The Christmas Card Fiasco

Witness, for example, dear friends the length of time it took me to write my Christmas cards this year. Despite the fact that I repeatedly vow that this will be the year those cards are completed on 1 December – or an announcement is made via Facebook that this year I am contributing a designated amount to charity and all Christmas greetings will be of the electronic, no-cost, no send variety – it took me until the last minute (today) to write actual cards and send them. Hey ho…

Part 2 of the writing aversion explanation – I naively thought myself immune from rejection. Years of job applications and many months of applying for freelancing jobs with middling success I foolishly thought to have created a rhino-like skin for myself. Rejection, I declared loudly and proudly, bring it on and I can scrunch up that little ball of ego dent, fling it behind me and emerge unscathed. I am writer, hear me ROAR…

Rejection? It’s To Be Expected

Yes indeedy, those were my thoughts. Three agent rejections of The Book later… Now, as all writers will know rejection is to be expected; indeed one might be a tad suspicious if the first novel writing attempt was welcomed with open arms. Dear lady, we at Dodgy Agents Ltd love your book – now just sign here, here and here and please do no expect to see any royalties ever or any kind of payback whatsoever. That kind of thing.

But, but, but. It still stings… I have taken to chanting myself a mantra of “One down, 26 to go. Two down, 25 to go, three down, 24 to go”*, etc etc. And then if that doesn’t work out, well the self-publishing route has worked out well for some. But it would indeed be foolish to think of the self-publishing route as the road to riches or even fame. Two or three marvellous exceptions (oh god, I’m going to have to name drop Ms 50 Shades of Grey here aren’t I? On a more positive note, there is Hugh Howey and the entirely fabulous Wool) do not prove the success of self-publishing, but it is still an option.

Sometimes, you need to go back and look at the original goals of your ambitions. I, like many people, said I wanted to write a book. I did not necessarily specify I wanted to publish a book – and for people to then buy said book, and indeed buy it in their thousands. No, no, the original goal was merely to write a book. Mission accomplished, hmm?

But Happily Publishing Still Does Happen…

On the plus side (and it is always good to cope with rejection by looking at other areas of your life), there has been a very welcome development in another project I got involved in. I started up a discussion on LinkedIn writers and editors group, encouraging people to contribute a regular flash fiction story of 100 words every Friday – the Friday flash fiction challenge.

The good people of the LinkedIn writers and editors group responded with gusto and this discussion thread has been running now since 27 September. Every Friday, there are new contributions. With almost 300 posts though, it was getting somewhat unwieldy so one contributor, Russell Conover, suggested a WordPress site for everyone to contribute to. That site is now up and running – feel free to take a look.

Content marketing is said to make publishers of everyone. The world wide web may well have its issues (loss of privacy, social media addiction, health and well-being problems associated with sitting in front of computers for too long, the ease in which our governments and large corporates can spy on us etc) but sometimes the loveliness of the internet just gives me a glow. Here is a group that started on LinkedIn, that grew and grew and that now publishes its stories on a regular basis. We are mini novelists one and all.

 

*Based on a rejection threshold of 27.

Amazon, Erm – Not so Bad After All?!*

No relevance whatsoever, but royalty and copyright free, so y'know...

No relevance whatsoever, but royalty and copyright free, so y’know…

An ambition was realised this week in the Highheelsandpinkglitter household… It was not that I finally managed to do a handstand (since childhood, I’ve always wanted to be able to throw my legs up into the air and perhaps even ‘walk’ a few paces on my hands) as, sigh, that has yet to happen…

…no, instead this week I am a published author finally! Now, I realise this is somewhat disingenuous. Words have been written on this blog about words I have written elsewhere; namely words that have made up my first entirely amateur attempt at fiction.

So perhaps a few of you got a bit of a jolt there – “Blimey lady! You told us that book – and a first attempt at that, mind! – got finished a mere six weeks ago or so. And now you’re saying it’s been published?! Who the heck is your agent/publisher or have you hastily attempted your own edits and rushed it out as a self-published e-book in an act of sheer, hasty folly?”

Sheer, hasty folly was not committed dear reader, I promise. The book in question was not THE BOOK, it was instead a commission I got as a freelancer to write e-books on diets. I bid for the job as I do read a lot about health, dieting and fitness and I thought I might as well write about something I might not need to do much research about. [I was wrong about the latter].

So this week, the book has been published on Amazon. Setting aside any qualms about Amazon and its employment policies in the UK (oh woe, my pitiful lack of principles is exposed once more), I have looked at the particular page quite a few times. [“C’est moi!! C’est moi name! C’est moi book – oh all right, I’ll stop with the awful, pidgin French]. I sent the link to my mum in an email, subject line: You are now the mother of a published author. Cheesy hmm?

[As my husband was not around that day either, he too got an email, subject line: You are now the husband of a published author. My sisters got one – You are now the sister of a published author. My aunt will get one – You are now the… OK, I think no further explanations of this sort are necessary].

With Amazon though, one runs the gauntlet of customer reviews. At this early stage, there are none. I’m debating whether getting no reviews would be just as terrible as awful reviews… Hmm. Double hmm.

Anyway, it was a terribly thrilling and hopefully (oh please) a taste of things to come. I’m now off to look up ‘how to’ videos on YouTube. Handstands specifically.

*Sincere apologies to zero hour contracts folks, and doubly sincere apologies to independent book sellers, video sellers and any other independent sellers whatsoever…