Friday, 25 July 2014

Do You Need Assistance?

Helen Hart from SilverWood Books talks to Triskele Books about assisted self-publishing

Hi, Helen. Thank you for joining us on the Triskele blog. Can we start by asking how would you define assisted self-publishing?

For us at SilverWood, assisted self-publishing means working in partnership with a small professional team who can support a writer with the tools to produce a book to the same standard as those produced by traditional publishers. Rather than engaging a separate cover designer, editor, typesetter and other freelancers, our authors work with one publishing assistant who oversees the entire project from submission of the final manuscript through to book delivery and beyond (supporting the development of an author platform). This ensures good continuity, a coherent end result, delivered on time, with an author who is educated and knowledgeable about what they need to do to then sell books.

Who is it suitable for and how is it different from going it alone?

Many of our authors are writers who just want to write, and have no interest in learning how to run a publishing project. Some are busy professionals who feel they don't have the time to undertake the project themselves. Others are writers who have health issues, or aren't technologically inclined, and who simply want to hand over their manuscript and get a fantastic book delivered back to them. Most care deeply about their book, are immensely engaged with the process and enjoy seeing their project develop, but they don't want to learn how to do that themselves (or risk making costly mistakes due to their own lack of experience and know-how).

When and why did you decide to set up SilverWood?

I set up SilverWood in March 2007 with the aim of providing self-publishers with an alternative to what I perceived as the unscrupulous business practices, expensive publishing packages, and poor quality books offered by so-called 'author solutions' companies. I could see from a friend's bad experience with one such that there was a need for someone to offer something that had integrity and placed the self-publisher and their needs (and their aims for their book) at the heart of the project. My aim was - and still is - to offer a close, supportive working relationship and therefore a similar experience to that which the writer might have if they were signed to a mainstream publishing house. The only difference is that they're underwriting the costs.

What is your own background?

I’ve been a published author since the late 1990s. Writing under a variety of pseudonyms, I’ve been published by Scholastic, HarperCollins, Oxford University Press, and several non-UK publishing houses. My books have been translated into many different languages including Swedish, Danish, Greek and Japanese. I’ve also worked as a commercial copywriter for SilverWood’s sister company Redwing. My writing background means that I have a deep understanding of the writing process and how important each book is to its writer. I also know from my own experience how much heart and soul has gone into the creation of a book, and how important the relationship is between a writer and their publisher/editor.

What specifically does SilverWood offer authors? How does it differ from other assisted publishing services?

Our authors work in partnership with a small, friendly, supportive team who care about the book and the writer, and who have the professional skills and expertise to offer impartial guidance. I think what makes us different is that we do genuinely enjoy what we do, and care about the people we work with - and that makes us generous with our advice and support. Most of our authors come to us through word-of-mouth recommendation, or they are repeat customers who were pleased with the experience of producing their previous book with us. Our preference is to work with a writer through their career rather than on a one-off book, and many authors return to work with us for a number of books. Some of our most successful and proactive authors are working on books 6, 7 or 8 of a series (Harvey Black, Anna Belfrage, Helen Hollick).

The way we differ from some other services is that we work in a very cooperative way with our authors - all decisions are explained and discussed, proofs shown for approval, and authors kept up-to-date with progress. We take inordinate care over the design and layout process and go to great lengths to make sure the books are the best they can be before publication. We add value to any publication, with expert design, typesetting, and general understanding of how books are produced and how they get into the marketplace. And finally we're reliable long term partners who are here for the long-haul, not just a quick turnaround and then on with the next writer/book/hard-sell.

Typically, what does it cost to publish a book through SilverWood?

That's a tough question because there's no such thing as a typical book. Usually we look at each project and establish what's needed, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, if it's ready for publication, and if so where/how the author wishes to publish: UK-only, certain territories, worldwide, in print, ebook-only, hardback edition, are there images to be included - photographs, illustrations, charts, tables…? Are they to be positioned within the text or together in a plate section? Does the text need a copy-edit or proofread… Are there footnotes, endnotes, an index, additional prelims or endmatter…There's a lot of variation and all these elements will affect the economics of book production.

However, if we were to take a 264-page novel with simple chapter headings, standard prelims and no endmatter then Stage 1 pre-press might start at around £740 plus vat which would include: ISBN allocation and registration, professional page layout and typesetting, book cover design and layout (or use of the author's design and images), PDF proofs and one round of proof revisions, bibliographic data listing, barcode, legal deposit compliance, project management and quality control, high resolution cover images for marketing, access to a range of helpful factsheets on a range of topics, access to our closed Facebook group where we continue to keep authors up to date on new developments in the publishing and book promotion industry, as well as encourage them to share information and support each other.

Do you have any editorial input in the books you publish?

We approach each project on an individual basis so if a writer has an existing relationship with an editor, copy-editor or proofreader then we simply work with the final draft manuscript. Sometimes we spot things that aren't as polished as they could be, and might recommend a final proofread. On the other hand, if an author hasn't worked with an editor or copy-editor but we can see the work does need that extra professional input then we always recommend it and will suggest one of our reliable copy-editors. We also offer a range of additional editorial options at different stages, from a simple Reader's Report to a full manuscript appraisal.

Who has final say on design?

Ultimately it's the author, but as I mentioned before we are generous with our advice and if we think the wrong decision is being made or a design isn't going to meet readers' expectations or sit well in the current marketplace then we do talk that through with the author, as they could be jeopardising their own chance of commercial success. However some of our authors aren't looking for commercial success, but a sense of personal and creative fulfilment, or a book that's just for family and friends - and in that case we simply help them make it the best it can be.

Who owns rights?

The author.

What's the royalties cut?

We don't operate a royalty-based system because they tend to be a bit opaque and are usually calculated on net receipts (which can be a movable feast). We prefer to have a clear policy that all books are owned by the author. We then operate a trade discount system, so we sell our authors' books on a sale-or-return basis and keep 15% of the cover price for each book sold through our trading accounts. We find this is much simpler, and authors know where they stand.

Who is the publisher of record?

That would depend on whether an author is using one of our ISBNs or their own. This decision is usually part of the early conversations we have with a writer before we start working together. The majority of writers who choose to work with us prefer to use our ISBNs and want us to be the publisher of record - this is always an interesting part of the dialogue for me, as reasons can vary widely.

What sort of marketing support do you give your authors?

Included in our pre-press packages is a level of marketing support - partly educational (we encourage authors to keep their costs down by doing as much as possible themselves), and partly practical (distribution is always set up for authors who need it, we help set up the initial 'author platform', and also offer a wide range of tools and services that authors can opt in to if they wish; many are free of charge while others will naturally attract an additional fee to cover the time and work involved).

Tell us about your relationship with Foyles.

We have a good relationship with many bookshops who stock our titles because of the quality of production and the author commitment behind that. Foyles Cabot Circus in Bristol is especially supportive and stock most of our commercial titles. They also host a number of our events through the year. It's a genuine pleasure working with their team.

Do SilverWood authors support one another – with practical issues, say, or with marketing?

Yes, and that's one of the things that's quite special about SilverWood authors - they're very generous with each other and give a lot of support. Some of them buddy up to do events together, such as the forthcoming Chalke Valley History Festival.

What happens if an author wants to leave?

Fortunately it doesn't happen very often but on the rare occasion that authors have decided to leave - usually to follow a more "self" publishing route using skills they've learned by working in partnership with us - then they simply give us notice, we take their book out of production so they can set it up independently, and we package up their cover and interior files and send them over to them.

Tell us some of your success stories? What are you particularly proud of?

That would be immensely hard because I'm proud of so many of our authors and books, and the things we've done over the years. I don't think I could pick out individual moments without writing reams and reams here! I'd hate to leave anyone or anything out…

Thank you, Helen!

Friday, 18 July 2014

From Writing Crime to Child’s Play

by Lorraine Mace and Frances di Plino

 I was a children’s writer long before I started writing crime as Frances di Plino, but it was my Detective Inspector Paolo Storey novels which attracted the attention of a publisher first. As a result, I became known as a crime writer, so when my first children’s book, Vlad the Inhaler, came out earlier this year, the question people started asking was: how do you move between writing crime and writing for children?

Until recently, I hadn’t given much thought to the differences in my two writing personas. Lorraine Mace writes non-fiction and children’s novels. Frances di Plino writes hardboiled crime. However, I’ve now been asked the question so often that it has made me stop and think about it. How does a children’s writer flip over to writing crime and vice versa.

From the characterisation point of view, there is no conflict. My novels tend to be character driven, so the same process applies to both genres – get inside the characters’ heads and write as if I were the people on the page. But when it comes to planning and structure, it came as a bit of a shock to realise I follow very different approaches.

My crime novels are planned from start to finish. I know who dunnit, why they dunnit, how they dunnit, which innocent characters will appear to have dunnit, which not so innocent characters will be red-herring could-have-dunnits and so on. I’ll have a list of victims and a timeline for their torture or murder (usually both). I’ll know how, when and in what fashion Paolo Storey will solve the crime, apprehend the perpetrator and how the story will ultimately end. I generally even know how the final paragraph will read.

The structure will be worked out well in advance so that I can feed in all the subplots and layers to bring the supporting cast to life and also show Paolo’s personal story. In short, I will know where I want to get to and how I’m going to get there.

If new characters appear midway through the book, as always happens, because I have a well-defined outline, I can go back to insert the necessary clues and dialogue in the right places.

As you can see, that Frances di Plino is one very organised woman!

Let’s turn our attention to Lorraine Mace, children’s author. Unlike the crime novels of my other persona, I often have no preconceived ideas about the plot whatsoever at the start. I always begin with a character who has taken up residence in my mind and refuses to leave. The only way to get rid of the intruder is play what if.

I have a children’s novel currently with my agent called Jonas Fry - Demon Hunter. When Jonas first arrived I knew very little about him, other than that he was aged twelve, badly bullied and had one blue and one hazel eye. I didn’t know where he lived, what his problems were or why, for that matter, he’d come to life in my head. But, what if he could see ghosts? That’s been done before many times, but what if the ghost he can see is the spirit of the boy who’d been bullying him only the day before? What if the ghost refuses to move on until Jonas finds out who murdered him and why? What if in doing so Jonas discovers he is the only person who can stop a portal opening which will release demons from the underworld?

With just those thoughts in mind, I start writing. The only thing I know for sure is how the novel will end. Getting from the beginning to that ending is a journey of discovery for me, the characters and, ultimately, the readers.

Vlad the Inhaler started life as a character in my head. He is now the eponymous title of a trilogy.

As you can see, writing for children is great fun, but so is writing crime. After all, it’s not everyone who can honestly answer, when asked about occupation: I kill people for a living!

Lorraine Mace is the humour columnist for Writing Magazine and a competition judge for Writers’ Forum. She is a former tutor for the Writers Bureau, and is the author of the Writers Bureau course, Marketing Your Book. She is also co-author, with Maureen Vincent-Northam of The Writer's ABC Checklist (Accent Press). Lorraine runs a private critique service for writers (link below). She is the founder of the Flash 500 competitions covering flash fiction, humour verse and novel openings.

Her debut novel for children, Vlad the Inhaler, was published in the USA on 2nd April 2014.

Writing as Frances di Plino, she is the author of the crime/thriller series featuring Detective Inspector Paolo Storey: Bad Moon Rising, Someday Never Comes and Call It Pretending.

Writing Critique Service

Frances di Plino

Friday, 11 July 2014


Today, we reveal the cover for Rats, by JW Hicks.

In one world she is Bitch Singer – fighting a dictator, guerilla style. 
In another, she is Dorrie Hart, housewife and mother – carer to a speech-impaired child.
Which world is real, which life is true? And why does she wake each morning crying for a lost lover – a lover she is determined to find.

As huge fans of Jane's work, we're chuffed to bits to have her aboard.
Here she talks how Rats came about:

How long have you been working on this book?

It seems like forever, but probably about fourteen years on and off. Enrolled in a Creative Writing class run by Cardiff University I began writing futuristic stories. I’ve always been keen on science fiction; buying my first Penguin paperback for half a crown sometime in the late 50s - one of John Wyndham’s.
A year into the course I decided to write a novel. It grew out of a dystopian short about a girl surviving on her wits in a ruined world. After several tortuous drafts, Rats was voted top of the Best Seller Chart on You Write On, an online review site, receiving a professional critique from Melissa Weathergill an independent editor and reviewer for books and film. This led to another drastic rewrite.
In 2011 I submitted the first paragraph of Rats to the Words with Jam Comp Corner, and won a £500 General Report from Cornerstones Literary Consultancy. This inspired yet another rewrite, out of which emerged the Rats of today.

How would you describe it in terms of genre?

Speculative fiction. A wild adventure tale, suitable for young adults, or a an invigorating general read.

What triggered the impetus to write it?

I wanted to write something I’d enjoy reading. And also something that would call to readers who’d never ventured into SF/Fantasy territory.

As in all Triskele books, location plays an important role. Tell about the setting of Rats.

Like me, Rats is based in Wales. The scenery of Rats is my scenery; I can see Twm Barlum from my bedroom window. Its castles were my children’s playground and its Wilderness a just a down-hill, pot-holed slope away from my home.

Rats will be released in October.

Friday, 4 July 2014

From Textbook to Racy Romance - making the switch from non-fiction to fiction

Guest post from Dr Carol Cooper

The TV engineer arrived this morning, with piercings in his eyebrow and a new transformer under his arm. It wouldn’t take a minute to install it on the roof of our block of flats, he reckoned, and soon we’d be able to watch our favourite programmes again instead of a blank screen.

That was before he discovered he’d have to leap five feet across the gap between our roof and the block next door...

As soon as your first novel is out, everyone you meet says they want to write one too. They think it’s going to be easy, especially those who are already non-fiction authors.

I’ve got news for them, and for you too if you’re under the same illusion. There’s a five-foot gap, and it’s four floors up.

Yes, you already know how to put sentences together; how to use paragraphs and punctuation (including semi-colons). And anyone used to working with an editor won’t howl when a favourite passage goes under the knife.

But none of these is enough for producing a novel. I had to find out the hard way that penning such riveting pieces as 'Simultaneous turnover of normal and dysfunctional C1 inhibitor as a probe of in vivo activation pf C1,' and 'Contact-activable proteases' is not the best apprenticeship for authoring good fiction.

That’s despite the fact that I’ve always wanted to write novels. My first attempt came as a student when I knew next to nothing, except how to pass exams. I pretended to be clued-up about music, which enabled me to go to some great gigs and pen reviews for student rags, but it did not equip me for writing anything else.

Fast forward a few years and I was doing a lot of journalism, most of it on various aspects of medical practice and/or parenting.

One weekend I attended a novel-writing course. It was flattering to hear Ruth Rendell, the tutor, compliment me on my dialogue and a couple of sex scenes I’d written. Then came her killer question “Carol, could you handle a strong plot?”

That was Rendell’s diplomatic way of asking if I could ever come up with a decent idea for a storyline.

Plot was my five-foot gap, and it lay in the way of success. Hence my false starts in the shape of children’s books about railways in East Anglia, stowaway dogs, and missing teddy bears. Then came the story about a 14-year old girl confined to a wheelchair, followed by the novel about a female surgeon. She spent far too much time horizontal and never made it to the top. Just like the manuscript, still languishing in a drawer.

I produced many non-fiction books. Most were a fusion of my parenting journey and my professional expertise. All of them were commissioned and almost all were a success. Now I believed in myself. I had become a dab hand at writing, or at least at writing things like, “By week 15, your baby is the size of an orange, only much more interesting.”

Last year my co-authored textbook General Practice at a Glance won an award, but between you and me this wasn’t for its plotting or its sizzling sex.

Eventually my novel One Night at the Jacaranda put some of this right. The storyline came to me not at four floors up, but at 60,000 feet, on a flight to the USA and my father’s funeral. Over a much-needed gin and tonic, a few ideas arrived out of nowhere.

The notes on my paper napkin developed into a novel about a motley group of singletons all trying to find someone special.

Alas, this wasn’t the kind of thing my agent usually handled. I made some half-hearted attempts to find another agent for my fiction, and soon realised that an established career as a non-fiction author was no help at all.

Finding a publisher was going to be long and arduous. I opted for the self-published route. Like so many indie authors before me, including my own mother, I value the control self-publishing allows over such matters as content, length, cover, and timing.

With control comes trial and error. The first cover was no more than a template into which I’d shoved a sexy pair of shoes and a lipstick. Now, thanks to Jessica Bell’s design flair, I’ve got a much better cover that says far more about the story.

Does my run of non-fiction help sell my fiction? Only marginally, and that’s probably because One Night at the Jacaranda has a medical strand. My background in medical journalism helped me write press releases, but that’s about it. The reality is that people don’t reach the end of a book on twins and then search for any fiction the author may have written.

Another fact: Dorling Kindersley are unlikely to promote a novel by one of their authors alongside their parenting titles. And the sad truth is that only a few radio stations succumb to the lure of a racy novel penned by a medic who was most recently interviewed on meningitis, though it didn’t stop me trying.

If you’re a non-fiction author hoping to become a novelist, here’s my advice: get down to the ground floor and climb a long ladder.

Carol Cooper is a doctor, journalist, and author.  Her novel One Night at the Jacaranda comes after a string of non-fiction titles on health and parenting.  She works as a family doctor in London and is a journalist for The Sun, the biggest-selling newspaper in the United Kingdom. Carol is now working on another novel.