Sunday, 27 July 2014
Theakstons Old Peculier Crime Writing Festival event, The Good Old Days, 10.30am Friday 18 July
Getting published used to be straightforward in the old days - or did it? Recent developments in self-publishing have opened up new avenues for today's budding writers to reach their public and mean that, for some, SAEs and rejection slips are a thing of the past. In this event, Mark Edwards, Mari Hannah, James Oswald and Mel Sharratt, four hugely successful authors who have forged their own separate paths through the shifting publishing landscape talked to Martyn Waites about their journeys.
James Oswald sold 350k copies in 8 months when he self-published on Amazon, which then lead to a deal with a publishing company. He believes that with Kindle you are your own editor, marketer and publicity manager, as well as trying to continue to write books.
Mel Sharratt was rejected for 12 years (1999-2011), had attended a crime festival for the first time and had begun to get really good personal rejections before she self-published on Kindle in December 2011. Taunting the Dead took off and she then self-published three books that she had already written. She feels she writes 'grit lit' and Watching Over You got her the traditional publishing deal.
Mark Edwards self-published after 15 years of trying to get published and then has gone back and forth between self-publishing and traditional publishing. In a documentary in 98/99 he was filmed sending his manuscript off to the publishers, but it was turned down, but through that he met Louise Voss and they wrote Killing Cupid (which was optioned by the BBC) and Catch Your Death. He had given up as didn't get published, but then self-published books one and two on Kindle direct in 2010 and reached Number 1 and 2 in the UK Kindle chart, which led to a full book deal with Harper Collins. He had a torrid time with them at the beginning of last year as the books were not getting into the shops and he felt like he was back to square one. He then self-published The Magpies to sell copies in order to pay tax back and it got to Number 1 (spending one month at Number 2) and sold 200m copies and now Amazon is publishing two books, then he will be publishing two more with Louise.
Mari Hannah (pictured at the beginning of the blog post) was published by Pan Macmillan. She got an agent /publisher and for years and years came close and got an indie publisher in Newcastle. She was about to write the acknowledgements and got a feeling that it was not going to plan and she rang them up and they said that they were unable to publish her in the contracted time. She feels this is a good illustration of why every writer needs an agent as the publisher wanted the advance back and she had spent it. When she got an agent it still wasn't easy as her protagonist was seen as a perceived risk and a German publisher bit first.
Martyn Waites was first published in 1997 but it took five years and if his agent/editor hadn't taken a chance on him it wouldn't have happened as the Kindle route was not there. He knows Stuart MacBride so was introduced to a lot of editors and Stuart helped to edit his books (they swapped manuscripts with each other). Copy editing and structural editing were to be done and he now has ten books and has beta readers and he is usually at draft four before he shows anyone. He feels that the slush pile is now going on-line but among the tsunami of rubbish there is some really good stuff and that the cream always rises to the top.
Mark explained that he and Louise co-edited together and with Harpers, Killing Cupid was the same version as the self-published book. When the second book was published it was crowd edited.
James said that he learned as he went along, e.g. for Natural Causes he used social media to let readers know that anyone who noticed any mistakes and let him know, he would send them a free copy of his next book and he feels he gets loyal readers this way.
Mari's partner is an ex-DI on Humberside Police and she checks the editing twice and then the agent does before Anna Brian at Pan Macmillan copy edits. Mari plots everything out beforehand. Her first two books were written as a TV drama screenplay, but the BBC didn't commission it (had a £500 option on it) so she adapted it into a novel and with Settled Blood as well. She writes as a screenwriter and it is going to be on the screen; watch this space.
Mel put her self-published book up at 99p to get it to Number Two (Taunting the Dead), then she put the price up and self-published her next book.
The authors felt that the UK is more price sensitive than the US for example and James sells twice as many paperbacks than ebooks.
For Mark's first book, whilst he worked full-time in marketing, he undertook promotion and blogging for three years, then The Magpies had an audience and then Amazon promoted it as they bought the last one.
Every book goes through a structural edit, copy edit and then the author is sent proof pages to read through and it takes about two years from sold manuscript to book on bookshelf. This is to check consistency, spellings etc and Mari feels it is better to work with an editor as it is a second set of eyes.
The event was then thrown open to questions from the audience:
When asked when they truly felt like a writer, Mark said in his 20s he was an aspiring writer but only felt like a real one when he had a traditional book deal; James felt like a writer the moment he started, but you are an author when writing can sustain you; Mel felt her validation was the structural edit and feels the best book she is writing is the one she is writing now and Martyn felt it was when he could make a living from writing. All the authors agree that shameless self-promotion does not work as other people have to think that the writing is good.
Mel writes her own blog called High Heels and Book Deals and her first pay cheque was for £202.
The authors feel that the traditional route books are not doing as well because it is down to the marketing and James writes from 8pm to midnight as he farms during the day.
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