Category Archives: publishing

Interview with Fantasy Author Vanna Smythe

Last week saw the publication of fantasy novel Protector by Vanna Smythe. Vanna graciously agreed to an interview, allowing me to ask her about her process, why she chose to self-publish her work, and generally pick the brains of someone further along the tracks than I am!

First of all, congratulations on the publication of Protector. You must be very pleased!

Thank you! I am very pleased. It’s taken me awhile to get to this point, and it feels great to finally say I’m a published writer.

Where did Protector come from? What went into the making of this story?

I’ve always enjoyed reading fantasy fiction and have long dreamed of one day writing a fantasy book of my own. The idea behind Protector comes from my research into the new age Twin Souls, or Twin Flames theory, though it also encompasses my long time fascination with how religious teachings can be used to control the masses. The magic system in the novel is based on the theories of telepathy, and other psychic powers.

However, those things are only the backdrop for the story, as the plot itself is primarily driven by the main characters who suddenly realize that their world is not quite how they thought it was. In the course of the story, they each try to make sense of it all the best they can. In short, Protector, and the entire Anniversary of the Veil series is more their story than mine.

Is this your first novel or do you have other manuscripts in the drawer?

This is my first fantasy novel, though I do have a completed first draft of a mainstream, literary fiction manuscript in my drawer, as you put it. That one is on hold, though, while I concentrate on finishing this series.

How long has it taken to get from first draft to publication?

It took me more than two years all told, and just over one year of actual writing and revision. Though I’m sure the whole process has taught me enough to shorten that time considerably in producing the next book.

I believe you started Protector during NaNoWriMo? What effect, if any, did that have on the finished novel?

Yes, that’s right, Protector is a NaNo book. While the challenge of writing a book in one month helped me to actually complete a novel, I did spend over a year on the revision. The storyline is the same as the original, but I had to spend a lot of revision hours on deeper characterization, worldbuilding, and fixing the language and structure. In that regard, the final version of Protector is something completely different than the original first draft.

You’ve self-published Protector. What made you choose this over traditional publishing?

I considered traditional publishing in the beginning, but after I realized what a long and uncertain wait was associated with it, I decided to just go indie straight off. There are amazing opportunities opening up in the world of indie publishing, and, if you do it right, the rewards are actually greater.

What was the greatest challenge to self-publishing Protector?

I’d have to say that the greatest challenge was getting the actual manuscript into a publishable state. I’m not a natural talent for editing, being more of a seat-of-the-pants type of writer, but I took a class and read tons of books on editing and I think I’ve succeeded.

You must have learnt a lot on the way. If you could travel back in time, what advice would you give yourself?

The most important thing I learned during this entire process is to always look for ways to improve. I had a few wonderful beta readers for Protector and it was only after I looked at their feedback honestly that I was able to produce the finished, published version of Protector. The one piece of advice I would offer my “younger” self right now is to completely immerse myself in the story and never let complacency lull me into accepting even a single second-rate passage. Easier said than done, perhaps, but I’ll do my best.

What can we expect to see from Vanna Smythe in the future?

In the next month or so I will finish the second book of the Anniversary of the Veil series, titled Decision Maker, which will conclude the story I started in Protector. After that, well, I do have an inkling of an idea for book three in the series. Though I might also start on a new project, a story that I thought of while revising Protector. Overall, I do have a few more stories to tell.

Thanks for agreeing to this interview. I look forward to reading Protector!

Thank you for having me. I do hope you enjoy Protector!

Protector is now on sale at Amazon UK and Amazon US. You can learn more at Vanna Smythe’s blog as well as read sample chapters. Go on, click one of those lovely links!

What Makes A Good Book Cover? Part One

Dating an artist has its ups and downs. Sometimes she’ll drag you to a Leonardo Da Vinci exhibit, which is great. Other times she’ll make you watch the Next Great Artist reality programme. But I actually got sucked into that big time because they asked the artists to design a book cover.

And I was left very confused.

I’ll say it plain: I don’t like John Parot’s cover for The Time Machine. I can’t see that it’s got anything to do with the book. It’s a colour pattern. Yet it won where others, more relevant and less colourful efforts were left by the wayside. The reasoning seemed to be that you could see the cover across the book shop.

Is that the only criteria for a good book cover these days?

Consider this sampling of covers.

The cover for Children of Dune shows beautiful desert with a green tint, a free young woman and a darker, brooding man.The cover for Assassin's Quest is rich, green, fantastical, ornate and intimate.The cover for Dying Inside is dark, morbid but with a hint of light and hope.

These are some of my favourite covers. None of them leap screaming off the shelf in a multi-coloured assault on the eyeball. Are they bad covers? I don’t think so. I think they’re arresting images, beautiful even, that tie into the book and give you an idea of what you’ll find on the pages.

My initial reaction to Parot’s cover is that it’s a Shiny Thing tactic: it’s only meant to draw the attention. But should a book cover be more than that? Is it part and parcel of the whole reading experience? Or is just pretty packaging?

Personally I think it’s the former. But perhaps I’m just a rank amateur. What do you think? What makes a book cover a good book cover?

Authors Don’t Deserve To Make Money

Authors don’t deserve to be paid for their work. That appears to be what Matthew Ingram is saying. He clarifies his position in the comments, but his point seems to be pretty clear: because of the amount of free content available online, writers shouldn’t expect to make money from their work any more.

I couldn’t disagree with this more if I tried.

I don’t walk into a supermarket and take a loaf of bread without paying for it. Likewise, I don’t expect to read an entertaining novel for free. I expect to have to pay. The glut of free content on the Internet is irrelevant. Just because someone else is giving away their novel for free, doesn’t mean I have to. Two novels aren’t interchangeable.

An author can give away a novel of they want to. It’s their novel and that’s their right. But they also have every right to charge for it. They’re providing a service. They deserve to get paid.

It seems pretty simple to me.

Let Go, Luke: Should Creators Relinquish Their Art?

This month sees the first rerelease of the Star Wars Saga in 3D. Once again, George Lucas gets his sticky fingers on a new technology and shoehorns it into films he made in the 1970s. These changes are a constant source of nerdy controversy. Fans are angry because the films they love are being changed. Lucas contends that they are his films and he can do with them as he pleases.

But who’s right? Who does art belong to? The creator or the audience?

This isn’t a new question for writers and readers but it’s been academic until now. Ebooks are easy to change. All you need do is upload a new version and poof, the old one is gone. Just like Star Wars, the only book available is the new one, and the only old versions left are those that have already been downloaded.

This may not sound so bad, but I recently tweeted about Ray Bradbury’s argument with some students over the meaning of Fahrenheit 451. He thought it was about the dangers of television, they thought it was about censorship. They weren’t wrong; by making the book publicly available, Bradbury had invited the world to interpret it however they liked. But what if Bradbury had rewritten the book to make his intention more overt and made it the only edition available?

A classic would be gone and something else would be in its place. I don’t think anyone would argue that would have been a good thing. The audience would not have been free to take ownership of the work, to interpret it and love it in their own way. Bradbury would have been dictating how they interacted with his work, constantly recreating it to prevent any opinion of it with which he didn’t agree.

Should creators become curators of their art and allow the audience to take it for themselves? Or, like Lucas, should creators be free to endlessly revise their work to bring it as close to their vision as possible?

Update: I’ve been made aware of R. T. Kaelin, who substantially rewrote his self-published book in an effort to get a traditional publishing deal. Now that Amanda Hocking has made the jump from self- to traditional publishing, I think we can expect to see a lot of people attempting to follow in her wake and with that see a lot of rewritten books. Is this an acceptable path to traditional publication, or should a published book be left alone?

Barnes & Noble Throw a Tantrum Over Amazon

The L.A. Times has reported that Barnes & Noble will no longer sell in its bricks and mortar stores any books published by Amazon. This is because, according to Barnes & Noble, Amazon are undermining the book industry using exclusivity.

So, to summarise, Barnes & Noble are throwing their toys out of the pram.

Let’s not beat around the bush; if B&N were in Amazon’s shoes, they’d push as hard for exclusivity and more. But Amazon has come along and beaten them at their own game. They’re pushing hard for their share and that’s great. Amazon are doing exactly what any competitor should do, which is to do it better for less. They’re challenging the status quo and innovating the market. And now B&N have a choice: go the way of the dinosaur, or step up to the plate and challenge Amazon right back.

Is refusing to stock their books the way? No. It’s juvenile and pathetic. At best it takes choice away from the reader. At worst it drives them into Amazon’s arms.

B&N, and any bricks and mortar store, already have an advantage over Amazon: they have a physical presence in the customer’s world. They can offer a human touch, personal recommendations, a haven for books and the book-lovers. At the moment, the status quo seem to view these stores as an albatross around their necks. But they need to embrace them and turn them into an advantage. Most importantly they need to start thinking and innovating too, instead of treating it as business as normal punctuated with a few tantrums.

Because, at this rate, the only books they’ll be selling are their own. Which would be zero.

The Best Writing Competition in Town

Terry Pratchett’s Anywhere But Here, Anywhen But Now prize has returned for a second year. If you’re writing a novel this is big news! That said, if you want to know more, the official competition page is damnably vague and confusing. But I think I’ve managed to glean the important parts and, to save you the headache it gave me, I’ve decided to share my thoughts here. I’m good like that.

The prize: pretty easy one this: a £20,000 advance against royalties and a publishing contract with Transworld Publishers. Definitely worth entering for.

The deadline: 31st December 2012. That one’s pretty easy too.

The requirements: an entry needs to be:

• a novel between 80,000 and 150,000 words;
• fantasy or science fiction. They aren’t looking for contemporary fiction;
• written by a resident of the UK, Republic of Ireland or British Commonwealth; sorry to anyone who isn’t!

The content: More difficult to determine. There’s a lot of guff in there about alternate Earths (I think that’s thrown in there to confuse people!) but it all seems to boil down to this: the story “must be theoretically possible on some version of the past, present or future of a planet Earth.” This is the muddiest part of the competition. After all, aren’t Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings and Star Wars all theoretically possible? The winners of last year’s competition are described as “A dazzling, tragi-comic tale of childhood wonder, time-travelling poets and theoretical physics” and ” a comedic tale of zombie animals overrunning the UK”. This one’s a judgement call, I’m afraid. Your guess is as good as mine.

The wrinkles: The conditions state that entrants “have not previously had a full length novel written or co authored by them (under any name) published under a valid ISBN”. This means:

• traditionally published authors aren’t allowed to play;
• indie authors who have published in print aren’t allowed to play either;
• indie authors who have published on the Kindle only are eligible as long as they didn’t purchase an ISBN for their work (as Amazon only don’t require one for Kindle publishing).

Anything I’ve missed or got wrong, please let me know. As soon as I’ve finished the first draft of my novel I’ll get started on a Pratchett Prize novel. Let me know if you are too!

Amanda Hocking's Hollowalnd

Speeling iz imprtunt

Let me get this out of the way; I gave up on reading Amanda Hocking’s Hollowland. I stopped reading because I wasn’t enjoying it. I found the plot pedestrian, the characters flat and forgettable, and the story entirely lacking in heart. But that’s okay. I don’t have to be a Hocking fan.

Having said that, and based on my experience of Hollowland, I think Hocking is very harmful for self-publishing.

I’m a tyrant when it comes to spelling and grammar. I can’t overemphasise how important they are. And, as tyrannical as I am, I am even more embarrassed and mortified if I make a mistake in my own writing. I think this reaction is completely justified. Writing, after all, is what I do. Hell, I’m paid to do it, and so I expect myself to do it well. How can I be taken seriously as a writer if my writing contains simple spelling or grammatical errors?

See where I’m going with this?

Self-publishing is still new and readers are asking themselves why they should take an indie author seriously. Why should they read a book that wasn’t good enough for a publisher? Indie authors are still having to prove that their worth is as good as their traditionally published cousins.

Amanda Hocking is touted as the self-publishing success story. She is the cream of the crop, a big name. And yet Hollowland is riddled with spelling errors. Not just one or two, but dozens.

That is unacceptable from someone who makes their living from writing. And if Hollowland is a reader’s first experience of self-publishing, what will they think? That indie authors can’t take the time, or don’t have the care or professionalism, to check their work before publishing it? Instant turn-off. Indie authors lose a reader.

Hocking doesn’t have to write the kind of books I like to read, and I wish her all the success in the world with her career. But I will not sugarcoat the truth; she needs to proofread her work. Because it hurts the burgeoning industry that she, however unwillingly, has become a figurehead to.

Is Apple Looking to Get Into Self-Publishing?

It’s being reported that Apple are hosting an education-focused event on January 19th, and a fascinating quote has emerged over the last few days: “GarageBand for ebooks”.

What does that mean?

We know GarageBand enables mere mortals like you and I to make a professional sounding song, allowing us to record live instruments as well as adding loops and editing tools. But for ebooks? Whilst ebooks can be difficult to format, it seems unlikely Apple would be happy offering a formatting tool. It’s not whizzy and exciting enough for Apple. And, let’s face it, formatting a document is neither whizzy nor exciting.

It’s far more likely that this will be an app for creating interactive ebooks. Interactive ebooks can range from children’s picture books with narration, sound and touch elements to adult books that incorporate sound and video. The iPad is a perfect platform for such books and could help Apple challenge Amazon for dominance of the self-publishing market.

What does this mean for writers and readers? Well, up until now, writers who wanted an interactive ebook would have to find and hire a developer to do all the work for them. But if they can buy an application from Apple that makes it easy to do it themselves, they can create that ebook for a fraction of the cost. So more creators can create the ebook of their dreams. And for readers? Just as with more traditional ebooks, readers will have the opportunity to enjoy a greater variety of books and often at a lower cost than those with expensive developers behind them.

Of course, this is all conjecture at this stage. But Apple have a golden opportunity to challenge Amazon’s dominance of the self-publishing market. Here’s hoping they take it.

Will Cheap Ebooks Devalue Books?

Has the cheap ebook had its day? When Amazon first made indie publishing possible, it seemed the $0.99 novel was where the money was. Authors like Amanda Hocking were reaping in the pennies and it seemed everyone jumped on the bandwagon. Today the gold rush is over. But has the damage been done? Has it decimated the perceived value of books?

When I first got my Kindle I thought cheap ebooks were brilliant. I spend a lot of money on books so anything that saves me money is a good thing. I was also put off by a high priced ebook; why not pay the extra and get a physical book? But $0.99 seemed the perfect price for someone with a new and empty Kindle. It led to many an impulse buy and, in the hey-day of the $0.99 ebook, it seemed like cheap ebooks were the way to go.

But here’s the rub: I still haven’t read a lot of those cheap and free ebooks.

The impulse buy is always that: an impulse. It doesn’t lend itself to the investment of time and energy that a book requires and so many $0.99 ebooks languish on ereaders, unread, whilst the owners read the more expensive book they really wanted all along. But, in the meantime, a lot of writers are worrying that readers are getting too used to bargain basement prices. Why spend £10 on one book when you get ten cheap ebooks for the same price? Will readers stop buying new releases in favour of cheap ebooks?

No.

I mean I’m all for seeing both sides of the story. But the existence of secondhand and remainder bookshops never hurt the publishing industry, did it? Cheap books can co-exist with “expensive” books. And it’s not as if all the cheap books are of the same quality as those with a higher price. As with all things, the 99% rule applies: 99% of cheap ebooks are bad, 1% of cheap ebooks are good. (Of course, in the interests of impartiality, 99% of expensive books are bad too.)

Cheap ebooks won’t devalue books. As long as whatever is within the covers is of good quality, people will always pay for it, don’t you think?

What’s So Great About Rewrites?

NaNoWriMo came to an end yesterday and millions of writers have a 50,000 word manuscript in hand. Time to publish, right? Wrong. Everyone is currently screaming at NaNoWriMoers to rewrite, rewrite, rewrite. But why bother writing those 50,000 words if you just have to rewrite them all?

I’m currently reading a fascinating book called Heresies and How to Avoid Them. The book goes to great lengths to point out that ancient heresies still matter to modern Christianity because they define the faith. It’s much easier to see what Christianity is by looking at what it is not.

The same applies to writing. Every author will tell you that sometimes a novel feels like it writes itself, so even the author isn’t sure what they have when they put the pen down. More often than not, the first draft is written because it’s easier to work with a tangible thing than an intangible idea. Once the first draft is down, the author can identify the sections that sing, the sections that stink, and the sections that just don’t fit. In doing so, they identify what the novel is really about; by reading parts that aren’t right, it helps them figure out what is right.

It’s all too easy to dismiss the rewrites and the edits as pedantry, a hunt for spelling errors and brown eyes in chapter four that were blue in chapter one. But while it is those things, it’s also where the novel finds its identity and its voice. It’s where the hard work really begins.

It is, if you will, the Nicene Council of the novel.