Wednesday, 15 April 2015

Determining the value of writing

I wrote a post a few months ago about the changing face of publishing although my experience is very limited, it didn’t take long before I realised that the dream I’d had of getting a publishing deal was based on a bit of a myth really, much like getting a record deal for a musician.

Securing a deal doesn’t make you a success, it takes a good product that captures the attention of the public, followed up with a great public presence that makes the national media want to talk about you. In short – it requires a successful marketing campaign.

I was so excited when I got my publishing deal for Inspired By Night. I thought I’d made it. I did! I was completely naive. As I thought about it, I acknowledged that I was with an independent publisher, which was akin to an indie record label. I realised quickly that my publisher was utilising the opportunities afforded to self publishers – ebooks and print on demand, mean there are no expensive upfront costs. But with no marketing budget and no physical product to distribute through book shops, sales are very low – but then multiply those sales by a vast number of titles and it’s probably worth their effort. But for each individual author, selling maybe 30 books across print and ebook feels like a complete waste of time.

Book sales are inspired by a public presence, but for the average self published author or independently published author, that means trying to maintain a social media presence while juggling a full time job. Writing is merely a hobby – not a living – and the excitement experienced getting that first deal, the belief that this was the moment when you became a professional writer and no longer had to go to work every day, very quickly fades.

I always wanted to be an author. Even now, my career aspiration revolves around seeing my book on a billboard in a London Underground Tube Station. That feels like the ultimate arrival!

See, this guy is living the dream!

I don’t want personal fame, I don’t want to be recognised in the street, but I would like to be able to slap the words “New York Times Best Seller List” across my website, and I wouldn’t even mind joining the girls on Loose Women for a little tongue-in-cheek chat about Steven Teller’s credentials.

I got my royalty statement recently. I asked for a breakdown of the sales and the payment figures because it felt awfully low.

Turns out I earn 18p per sale. That’s 10% of the amount my publisher earns. Makes you wonder why any of us are bothering… it certainly can’t be to earn a living at those rates.

So… Self Publishing?

I’m giving serious consideration to self publishing. While I appreciate that there are certain benefits to having a publisher take on my novel, in terms of potentially opening doors to other publishing companies, to go with another independent publisher would completely undervalue the amount of work that has gone into writing my second novel.

I’d love to find a traditional publisher and agent – After all, I wouldn’t mind earning only 18p per sale if my publisher was working hard to generate sales. If they’d sold a million copies I’d have earned £180,000. But as it happens, I’ve personally spent a small fortune myself, generating those few sales, so my total royalties (less than £20) only cover about 10% of my expenses.

I suppose what it all comes down to is, why am I doing it? I always wanted to write, but until I wrote Inspired by night, I had no faith in myself. I didn’t believe I was capable of writing a novel and the dream of earning a living as an author was one of those whimsical things I referred to in the past tense…

I always wanted to be an author…!

But I have a taste for it now and since I had some minor success with my first effort I feel justified in losing evenings and weekends in pursuit of the end of a second novel. There’s no nagging feeling in the back of my mind that says “I have no idea why I’m even wasting my time doing this.” But there is a question about what I;m going to do with it when it’s finished.


I have belief in my writing now, thanks largely to some wonderfully positive reviews for Inspired. I am more excited about this second novel and I want people to read it. I’m not sure I even care if it makes money, I just want people to read it. As I see it, there’s two ways to make that happen – control it myself and make it widely available as I see fit. Or try and find a traditional publisher who will throw some marketing behind it.

I’d love to hear from anyone that has experience of both sides of the coin here. I know little about traditional publishing. Maybe that’s not all it’s cracked up to be either…?

Determining the value of writing

Monday, 6 April 2015

You Just Have to Write

A few weeks ago, during International Book Week, I went to a Q&A with Neil Gaiman at Liverpool University.

I’m probably one of the few people left on the planet, that hasn’t read any of his work (although I have seen Coraline), and yet listening to him speak had a particularly inspiring effect on me. (As well as prompting me to add all of his books to my TBR list).

He read from his book of short stories and then he sat down and worked his way through a pile of questions that had been collected before the event. There was of course, the usual question asking for advice to aspiring writers (and the accompanying mirth at his response “write”).

It wasn’t really the answers to his questions that inspired me, however. It was the vast body of work he had created. Not just his full length novels for adults, or his short stories, but there’s the children’s books and the scripts for TV and film. Don’t get me started on him co-writing with one of my absolute favourites, the late, great Terry Pratchett. He even wrote one of my favourite modern Doctor Who episodes (The Doctor’s Wife).

I left the auditorium and sat with my friend and fellow author, Mark Murphy, in a nearby bar and I thought about all the various things I’ve written over the years. The illustrated children’s book, The Moggins, self published as Helen Anne, my full length Adult Romance, Inspired by Night published by Xcite Books as L. E. May and the current project: a comedy Sci/Fi novel, which I hope to publish (self or otherwise) as Helen P. Stephens.

I always imagined it would be sensible to use different names, for a variety of reasons, to differentiate the works. But there’s a lot of effort that goes into maintaining different identities – especially on social media.

I had approached each project as a separate stand alone piece of work, but they all form part of my writing experience and I made the decision to pull it all together. It’s not just changing by name, but claiming ownership of everything I’ve ever written and made available to the public.

I made The Moggins available for Kindle but I’m having the illustrations redesigned, to reflect the changes I’m making to my public identity (I had originally wanted to avoid confusion between myself and the much more renowned children’s author Helen Stephens, who isn’t me). As soon as they are ready I’ll be updating the current book and looking into print-on-demand options, along with finally getting round to writing the follow up story.

I just want to write. And what I’ve learned from Neil Gaiman, is that to be a writer, I have to write.

You Just Have to Write