Animation by Kayelle Allen at The Author's Secret

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Why I had to Leave Self-Publishing: The Truth About my Affair, by Jan Ruth (@JanRuthAuthor)

Today I'm handing over my blog to an author for whose writing I have nothing but admiration.  If you haven't read any of her books, do so now - you are in for a real treat.  Over to Jan Ruth.

I don’t regret a minute of being with John. Our imaginations have been virtually married for two years now. We’ve shared a lot of words and he knows more about my literary fantasies than my husband ever did. And people talk, don’t they? Not only about how good we were together but how would this relationship end? Would there be tears or jubilations? Well, as is usually the case, a little of both.
So, poised on the brink of something new to begin in 2015, this is an overview of my publishing journey so far, from its shaky start to its exciting, bitter-sweet finish. It’s also a final testimonial to my wonderful editor, John Hudspith.
Snakes and Ladders
My self-publishing journey has been up and down, round the houses and back again. It’s a different experience for each and every author. Any perceived failure or success is dependent on a lot of individual criteria, how you measure it and what you learn from it.
Throw into this mix, hundreds of online experts clamouring for your attention and offering advice – most of it speculative and out of date in less than a week – from how to market your book, how to design its cover, why you need a click-through Contents page, why you don’t need a click-through Contents page and why a dark blue fancy font with pink dots says hysterical, not historical.
Waiting somewhere along the line is a Comma Buff; offering to proofread your material at £1.50 per 1,000 words. For a joining fee you can be a member of his gang, appear on an incredibly popular site or be included in a brand-new advertising strategy called the Pay-it-Forward-Tweet-Team. Not sure? You can bet your last dangling participle that someone, somewhere, has written a blog-post about it. You may be swayed by several writerly pieces about publishing, but I’m not sure I was ever convinced that anyone has that top-secret information about the Amazing-Amazon-Algorithms, or the reason one book sells dozens of copies on every third Friday in October on Nook, but never on Kindle although occasionally on the Spanish version of Scribd, if the wind is blowing from the east. And as soon as you’ve got to grips with those new sub-genre keywords – juggling the dice all the way to IndieBooksIndia – that hot new site –  the goalposts change again, and oops… everyone’s been pirated on IndieBooksIndia. There’s no time to work on your new novel, you need to dash-off an angry email, or two, or three, or four and have a good rant in each and every one of the 42 groups you’re in on Facebook – and a tweet for good measure. Confused and  utterly exhausted yet? Take a deep breath, there’s more…
For varied fees, you can enter your books to win badges: the coveted Golden Cuckoo, a Silver Songbird maybe or – oh, the shame of it – just scraping a Bronze Blackbird. Will it help sales? Will it help readers find you? Writers are always seeking validation, and awards and reviews are a major emotional player in the game. To put these awards and maybe more than that, into some perspective, consider the journey of Book One:
He was born a humble paper copy 15 years ago and adopted by a London agent. He was praised and patted on the head by Pan Macmillan and other notables throughout nursery school. He was a trier, re-inventing himself many times in order to please but eventually, he was declared non-commercial and almost destroyed.
Then King Kindle came to Slush-pile City.
Smoothed out and loaded-up, he became self-published, where he suffered an abused spell as a badly behaved electronic copy, running with the wrong crowd. He was rescued just in time and re-educated in his late teens by John Hudspith. Loved and reviewed positively after this by many readers, he even rode high in the Amazon rankings with BookBub. Despite all of this, he was rejected outright by Blah Blah Award, but he soldiered on. Finally, his fate was sealed, he was signed with Accent Press and the book lived happily ever after. True story.
So, maybe you’d be better investing in 50 reviews? You’ve heard that the magic number is 40 and then huge sales and mass visibility happens of its own accord. Maybe you should give that nice friendly author a five-star review and then maybe… Oh, hold on that’s unethical, isn’t it? Well, yes… to some authors, but not to others. And if I upset said author on a later date with my political views on Facebook, he might change it to a two-star review.
The problem – and rather conversely the joy too – is that there are no rules, but self-publishing is sometimes more difficult to navigate than a re-write of War and Peace. Ask a simple question and you will get fifty different answers.
It’s certainly a game of hissing snakes and slippery ladders.
There is money to be made in self publishing, but not always by the authors. 
Who are you?
Camp One. You write full-length fiction, which can take anything up to 12 months to produce in its polished form. You write because you have something unique to say and hopefully to not only entertain but to inspire and inform. You may have been traditionally published before. You write because you are inspired, and challenged by the craft of writing, and strive to improve and develop. Your only keyword is quality. You struggle to sell, but your reviews are numerous and positive. Your audience tend to be mature and still enjoy paperbacks and bookshops. You might be seeking an editor to work with, who has the skills to teach where necessary, and nurture your positive traits. You dislike self-promotion and trying to run with the crowd. You’ve likely learnt the craft over many years but struggled to get published or agented because your work fell between traditional genres, or didn’t quite cut it. You’d love to attract a publisher.
Camp Two. You enjoy writing but you wouldn’t be doing it if it didn’t pay for itself. You approach self-publishing as a commercial venture. You are prolific, you write popular serials, novellas and novelettes; often across several genres with a specific market in mind, keep up to date with the latest promotional sites, know how to play the system with keywords, and buy all the ‘how to’ books. You tend to make your own book covers, format everything yourself, and your books are available on every obscure platform you can find. You write ‘how to’ books. Your audience are young, read stuff on their iPhones and probably enjoy whatever is current, like American steampunk fantasy, or fetish erotica. It doesn’t bother you that the camp is set on moving sand, you are quick-thinking and adaptable. Your books sell well. You’re not seeking a publisher and you don’t need an editor.
These are wild extremes in self-publishing. Of course, it depends who you are, the adaptability of your camping equipment and how well you can handle a variety of cooking pots and pans when the chips are down, rain is pouring through the canvas roof and wait, there are enemies on the horizon… a huge semi-colon with a machete!
Who is John Hudspith?
If you are poised on the brink of self-publishing your first book, or if you already have a row of these beauties on your virtual shelf but maybe harbour a niggling doubt they could be better… please consider talking to JohnHudspith first and listen to one, clear opinion. If you spend on nothing else or have limited funds available, editing and proofreading is King and Story-is-everything-else. I’ve worked with well established literary agencies and respected agents in my distant past and in my opinion, John’s advice and editing is on a par with London prices, at a fraction of the cost. I could have saved myself heaps of time, dead-ends and cash.
Who am I?
I’m Jan Ruth, I’m a self-published author and I’m in camp one. I’m glad I self-published, although I may not sound as if I enjoyed the experience. Publishing my own work was a steep learning curve but it’s now at an end for me. Visibility is increasingly difficult over in camp one and there’s only so much one can do before some sort of burn-out happens. But one man’s burn-out is another man’s fuel… it rather depends on which camp you thrive in.
I’ve had forays into camp two but without lasting, or consistent success. This is why I have made the decision to leave self-publishing and I’m very happy to announce that I have signed a 5-book deal with Accent Press. After my family, I have to give massive thanks to my editor John Hudspith, because without his support, both professionally and as a friend and mentor, I would not have arrived at this point. I’d have given up, Once Upon a Long Time Ago. So, on to new beginnings for 2015. And keep the camp fires burning.
Fiction which does not fall neatly into a pigeon hole has always been the most difficult to define. In the old days such books wouldn’t be allowed shelf space if they didn’t slot immediately into a commercial list. Today’s forward-thinking publishers - Accent Press being one of them - are far more savvy.

As an author I have been described as a combination of literary-contemporary-romantic-comedy-rural-realism-family-saga; oh, and with an occasional criminal twist and a lot of the time, written from the male viewpoint.
No question my books are Contemporary and Rural. Family and Realism; these two must surely go hand-in-hand, yes? So, although you’ll discover plenty of escapism, I hope you’ll also be able to relate to my characters as they stumble through a minefield of relationships, family, working, pets, love ...

I hesitate to use the word romance. It’s a misunderstood and mistreated word in the world of fiction and despite the huge part it plays in the market, attracts an element of disdain. If romance says young, fluffy and something to avoid, maybe my novels will change your mind since many of my central characters are in their forties and fifties. Grown-up love is rather different, and this is where I try to bring that sense of realism into play without compromising the escapism.

First book released by Accent Press: SILVER RAIN
Book Description: Black sheep meets good shepherd - can black and white become silver, or just a dangerous grey?
Alastair Black has revealed a secret to his wife in a last ditch attempt to save his marriage. A return to his childhood family home at Chathill Farm is his only respite, although he is far from welcomed back by brother George.

Kate, recently widowed and increasingly put upon by her daughter, sister, and mother, feels her life is over at fifty - until she meets Alastair. He's everything she isn't, but he's a troubled soul with a dark past. When his famous mother leaves an unexpected inheritance, Kate is caught up in the unravelling of his life as Al comes to terms with who he really is.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Do We Still Need Conventional Publishers? By Jenny Twist (@JennyTwist1)

It's always a great pleasure to hand over my blog to the wonderful Jenny Twist and today she contributes to my debate on self- vs traditional publishing.  This article is taken from her excellent collection of essays: 'An Open Letter to Stephen King and Other Essays'  

In the modern world of e books and print on demand it is all too easy to imagine that conventional publishing will lose its raison d’ĂȘtre. It is now possible to produce your own book for nothing. Obviously this is a great boon for authors, especially the vast majority who were unable to get accepted by a publisher. But is it really such a boon? What do publishers actually do for their authors?

Having accepted an author’s work, it is the publisher’s job to put it into publishable form, i.e. make sure it is properly edited and provided with good cover art
Few, if any, authors are competent to proof their own work. No matter how good you are at proof-reading it’s very difficult to spot your own mistakes. You see what you expect to see, what you know to be there. You knew what you meant when you wrote that sentence, so may not realise that it doesn’t make sense to somebody else.

The independent author wishing to produce work of a professional standard has to, therefore, employ a professional proof-reader. One way round the cost is for authors to proof each other’s work. This is in any case often the way small press publishers handle editing, using their own authors rather than employing a professional.

Cover art is something else again. There are, of course, authors who are perfectly competent to do their own artwork. Perhaps more than you think. Creative people are often creative in more than one field. And there are packages available, free, for applying lettering to your original artwork. So it can theoretically be done at no cost. But my own experience has been that a professional cover artist is indispensable. 

Original Sketch
Final e-cover

I came across this when one publisher I approached would not accept submissions without cover art. I literally spent weeks trying to find the definitive picture of an angel for my book. I wanted a carved wooden angel – the kind of statue so beloved in village churches in Spain. I couldn’t find a single picture that conveyed what I wanted. Eventually, I did my own drawing based on a stone carving. And I still hadn’t a clue how to do the lettering! Luckily I was rescued from this task by having my manuscript accepted by another publisher. But the experience made me realise that I, for one, was definitely not up to the job.

One of the things that you might think publishers do for their authors is promote their work. Wrong. The publisher’s job is to produce a product fit for the marketplace and make it available to the public and booksellers. It is not part of their brief to do promotion campaigns. Even the big publishing houses do very little of this. In fact, they are unlikely to do anything at all unless you are already a celebrity. It’s one of those Catch 22 situations. The chances are the only thing they will do is produce a monthly newsletter. So there is very little advantage for the author in using the conventional route as far as promotion is concerned. You have to do your own anyway.

You can promote without spending any money at all, using social network sites, writing blogs and newspaper articles, doing interviews on local radio and organising book signings. All this is free but very time-consuming and it is a constant cry from authors that they have no time to write because they spend all their time promoting.

There is actually no way round this. Even if you spend vast amounts of money on advertising, you probably still have to do a fair bit of promotion work. You could be the best writer that ever lived but no-one will buy your books if they’ve never heard of you.

There is, however, one major advantage conventional publishing offers the author. It confers respectability. A conventionally-published author has been vetted, accepted and polished by a professional organisation. Many new self-published authors have great difficulty being taken seriously. Some review sites actually refuse to review independent authors.

And there is one further advantage of going the conventional route – the publisher deals with

the distribution through booksellers. Booksellers are usually quite happy to deal with publishers since they take the books on a sale or return basis and have nothing to lose. In order to offer the same deal the independent author has to buy vast numbers of copies of his own book and negotiate individually with booksellers. The financial risk is enormous, not to mention the time spent approaching each outlet.

But what has this change in the business done for the reader? Well, for a start e books are much cheaper than printed books and there are literally thousands offered free every day as authors vie to get the attention of readers. Great, isn’t it?
Well, yes, it is, but we now have the problem of what to choose. Thousands of them! Where do you start?

I have gone from downloading anything that looked vaguely readable, to restricting downloads, even free downloads, to books by authors I know to be good, or people I have been wanting to read because I have come to know them on the social networks.

I have become jaded with free e books because so many of them are really badly-written. Sorry, but I’m afraid it’s true. Most independent authors produce badly-edited, if not unedited work. Many, if not most, have only a passing acquaintance with good grammar. And, I’m sorry to say this, but the vast majority have no talent for writing. I have read some truly awful books in the last few years.

For every great writer who never made it out of the slush pile in the publisher’s office there are hundreds who should never have been in print in the first place. Whatever you may think of conventional publishing, it at least operates as a filter preventing the really bad authors getting through.   

Sooner or later the rush to get free books will die down and readers will begin to be more discerning. They will be prepared to pay for a book, provided they are confident they will be buying something of good quality. And this, surely, is where conventional publishing will come into its own.

If there is one area where conventional publishing can really justify its existence, it is in the provision of high quality books. I’m not talking about literature here. I’m talking about good, readable stories with well-constructed plots and believable characters, written in good, grammatically correct English.

Sadly too many publishers, especially in the small press, do not do this job very well. I am surprised at how many bad writers are being accepted and at how poorly their work is edited. In my opinion the only way the small press will survive is to maintain a rigorous standard of excellence, and that means no cutting corners. It means employing professional editors, rather than using their own authors to edit each other, a practice which only exacerbates the problem of taking on semi-literate authors in the first place. And maybe it means doing a bit more for their authors than just publishing their work, like providing proper marketing services.

Those publishers who do this will attract the best writers and will gain a reputation of excellence. And maybe conventional publishing will survive. 

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

New Release - 'In Loving Hate' by Lynette Sofras #MFRWauthor

Formely published by MuseItUp Publications, I'm delighted to have received back my publishing rights to my romantic suspense In Loving Hate, in order to publish it myself at a lower price.

It's out today, only $2.99 plus tax, or £1.99 in the UK.


How far will the rich and powerful go in order to achieve their goals? That is the question Lyssa must decide when she finds herself caught between two formidable adversaries: powerful business tycoon and shipping magnate, Alex Andrakis and close childhood friend, ‘Dynamic’ Nell Winters, brewery heiress and prolific businesswoman.

Following the failure of her marriage in Greece, Lyssa returns to her family home in London, to discover that her mother, a once-celebrated actress, is now facing crippling debts.  When Lyssa begins to investigate these, she becomes embroiled in the intricate business dealings of Nell and her arch-rival Alex.  Irresistibly drawn to widower Alex and his unhappy young son, Lyssa begins to uncover some unexpected and disturbing facts. 

The more involved she becomes, the more shocking are the discoveries she makes.  The conflicts culminate in a frightening battle for survival as Lyssa finds herself the prime target between the possessive Nell and obsessive Alex.   With her loyalties deeply divided, can Lyssa make the right choice for everyone concerned?

Review copies are now available.


“Nicky, ela!  We’re leaving.”  Alex interrupted coldly from the doorway.
Lyssa turned quickly, surprised at his hostile tone.
“Oh not yet, Alex.  I want to talk to Lyssa.”
“Now.” Alex’s face looked like thunder.
“But you said—”
“Forget what I said.  We’re leaving.”
Lyssa watched him in confusion.  “Is there something wrong, Alex?  Perhaps I can help?”
He threw her a contemptuous look.  “Help?  Oh I think you’ve ‘helped’ quite enough.  I suppose I must congratulate you on a job well done, Lyssa.  I promised to do nothing without consulting you—you might have offered me the same courtesy in return.”
“What are you talking about?”
“Your technique, Lyssa.  A clever little trick, but your tactics stink”
“Wait…I don’t understand”
“You ought to have followed your mother onto the stage.  Your performance certainly fooled me.”  He turned and began pulling the protesting boy up the staircase.  She followed them in bewilderment as far as the oak door, where he turned and cast a final, angry look at her.  “Goodbye, Lyssa.  I wish you and your cunning friend every success.”
“Which friend?” she whispered to herself after he disappeared and before she recalled that she only possessed one.
She turned towards the drawing room where she found her mother pacing the floor in agitation, ramming her stick vigorously into the thick, silken pile of the carpet at every turn.
“What happened, Mother?”  Lyssa asked, as she watched the limping figure.
“Poor Alexis is a little upset about it all,” Dame Constance explained.  “I didn’t expect him to take it quite so badly—in fact, I’d hoped he might be rather pleased for me.  I think I shall go and lie down.  That young man has quite exhausted me with all his questions.”  She limped toward the door, stopped upon reaching it and half turned to face her puzzled daughter.  “And Lyssa…thank you, my dear.  Please don’t imagine that I’m unappreciative of your efforts.  This is a great load off my mind.  Oh, and if you are off to see Nell, why don’t you ask her to dine with us one evening?  Or, perhaps I really should ask her myself?”  Dame Constance continued to muse over the question as she left the room.
Lyssa stared after the retreating figure of her mother; still an elegant and commanding woman, despite her limp and advancing years.  Then Lyssa repeated Nell’s name inaudibly, with a slow nod of her head.

Sunday, May 10, 2015

Taking back your rights: To Self-Publish or Not?

I published my first novel just over four years ago, after finally dragging myself out of teaching, a job that was draining all my energies.  Yes, I did feel guilty for abandoning a career about which I was very passionate, but that's an entirely different issue.  Finally I was able to stay at home and pursue my childhood dream of becoming an author - and I've never looked back.

At the time I knew nothing about publishing, even less about self-publishing, but you learn a lot very quickly in this industry.  I was thrilled when my first novel was picked up by a newly formed online publishing press Inspired Romance (which is now more prolific as Prism Book Group), indeed winning its inaugural grand writing prize.  By that time I already had my second book ready and, at an online publishers' event, decided to be adventurous and approach a different press.  This book was also accepted, but in the many months it took to appear, I'd surprised myself and managed to produce two more novels in fairly quick succession and decided to take the bold step into self-publishing.

Without a doubt, it was one of the most exciting things I've ever done.  I loved the challenge and autonomy self-publishing offered and joined many online author groups who provided friendship, enormous support and unstintingly generous advice about their own experiences, pitfalls and learning curves.

But the reputation and landscape of self-publishing has changed hugely in the past few years and now the dilemma of whether to self-publish or not has returned.  For as many self-published authors who are now seeking so-called traditional publishing (I use this descriptor because traditional publishing has also changed quite radically in recent years), I know just as many who have sought or are requesting their copyrights back from their publishers in order to 'go it alone'.

I feel I've been fortunate in having a foot in both camps, but now that I'm a free agent, will I fly or fall? Over the next few weeks I'll be talking more about this subject and introducing authors who have shared similar experiences to tell us their stories.
I hope you'll join us.