Posts Tagged ‘ Saffina Desforges ’

Trans-Atlantic Team-Up – Exploring Discoverability

Buzzwords. What did we do before they were invented? Or maybe they’ve always been with us, just under a different name.

One thing’s for sure – the buzzword of the day among indie authors is “discoverability”.  The art of getting noticed. It’s not a new word, created in the epublishing revolutionm though looking about you you might think indie authors created the concept.

Actually it’s been around since forever.

But in the world of digital book selling it’s never been more important.

The e-charts get ever more competitive, and while we still love to read about the success stories of new and unknown authors beating the odds and winning the Amazon lottery, the simple fact is it’s getting harder and harder. By the day. Even for established authors with a brand and a loyal readership base.

As ebooks become more acceptable there are tons more indie authors out there competing for the attention of a limited number of ebook readers. Even by the most optimistic estimates only 25% of buyers are buying ebooks – print still has 75% of the market. And while the e-shelves may be infinite, the number of books that will be bought is not.

Most importantly, the once indie-friendly e-charts are suddenly not so indie-friendly after all.

Getting noticed is hard, and getting noticed beyond your home shores is harder still.

One advantage we still have as indies is the ability to be nimble. To take risks. To experiment. To look at new ways of becoming discoverable, and then trying them out.

Say hello to the Trans-Atlantic Team-Up.

Yes, it’s an experiment. Yes, it may fail abysmally. It may stall this year and take-off next year. Who knows. But one thing’s for sure: Nothing ventured…

So we figured, supposing we took a good seller from the UK doing less well in the US, and a good seller in the US not doing so well in the UK, and put them together in one volume? And then released it both sides of the Atlantic, so fans of author A would see author B’s work, and fans of author B would see author A’s work?

Box-Sets are commonplace ways of getting one author’s books “doubled up” to increase exposure, and exchanging links and recommending one another’s books is also a commonplace method of cross-promotion among indi9e authors. So why not take it to the logical next step?

We approached our in-house cover-designer Athanasios and put the idea to him. Back came a design we loved. A simple, yet elegant frame, whereby any two separate novels could be presented in one volume.

For the launch we chose Tom Winton’s stunning social-justice thriller, The Last American Martyr, and the first of our Rose Red crime thrillers, Snow White.

Yes, both are also still available as individual books, so this is very much a way of increasing exposure for both authors and both titles, while offering readers value for money.

This, the  first of the Trans-Atlantic Team-Up series, has just gone live on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk, and will be appearing on other platforms very shortly.

Other titles will follow soon. Anyone interested in having their book(s) paired with an author across the ocean should get in contact and we’ll see what we can do.

 

 

Saffi Does Sherlock

Saffi Does what???!!!

No shit, Sherlock!

*

Hands up anyone who hasn’t heard of Sherlock Holmes?

Exactly. Everyone and their great grandmother have heard of Sherlock Holmes.

Now hands up everyone who’s actually read the Sherlock Holmes stories. No, having the Complete Sherlock on your bookshelf gathering dust doesn’t count. You’ve got to have actually read them.

Hmmm. Not quite so many of you now.

Rather like Shakespeare or Chaucer, or Dickens or Thackeray, or Mary Shelley or Bram Stoker, we all know – or think we know – the stories, and we all know they’re classics, and therefore must be wonderful, but few of us would ever have the inclination to actually read them. I mean, be honest, who among you have actually read Frankenstein, or Dracula, or a complete Dickens novel?

How many times do you see someone reading Shakespeare on the plane or on the beach? How many of you could even name ten Shakespeare plays? No, Henry V Parts 1 to 10 will not suffice.

Many of us, however much we may pretend otherwise in company, have a hatred of the classics drilled into us at school by uninspiring English teachers reciting what they in turn were taught at uni’ by uninspiring lecturers.

Often we only come to the classics as adults, usually after a major film or TV adaptation. No question Keira Knightley’s breathtaking performance as Elizabeth Bennett did more to boost sales of Pride & Prejudice than any number of school teachers could ever do.

Thus it has been with Sherlock Holmes this past year or two. The Sherlock books are gaining a whole new reading audience thanks to the recent BBC take on the Conan Doyle classics.

By chance I was in the UK with my daughter when the first of the new BBC Sherlock launched. Of course as a long-standing Sherlock fan I rearranged my schedule to watch it, and absolutely loved it.

But my daughter, while enjoying the excitement and the SFX, was rather lost on the clever word play and the cut and thrust of the intellectual debate behind the stories. Now that may be in part because English is her fourth language and she was only seven at the time. But it got me wondering how I could introduce Sherlock to her, and that in turn begged the question how I first discovered Conan Doyle myself.

It was, of course, through Enid Blyton.

Yes, I’ve waxed lyrical here on MWi many times about Blyton’s unsurpassed contributions to childhood literature. Need I mention Noddy? Tales of Toyland? St Clare’s and Malory Towers? Brownie Tales? The Wishing Chair or The Magic Farwaway Tree?  Dare I whisper the near-perfect The Land of Far Beyond?

Along with these, the Five Find-Outers and Dog mysteries were an integral part of my childhood. The Mystery of the Secret Room was my first introduction to Fatty, Daisy, Larry, Pip and Bets and Buster the dog, and Mr. Goon the bumbling policeman, and the always pleasant Inspector. Yeah, no surprise I should end up writing crime stories…

The Mystery of the Secret Room had it all. Mysterious vehicle tracks inthe snow on the drive of an empty house. Invisible ink. How to get out of a locked room when the key is on the other side. The thin-lipped man. When you’re seven years old this is breathtaking stuff, believe me.

Sure the Famous Five were fun too, but I actually lived on a farm by the sea with light-houses and smugglers caves and harbours, so for me solving the Five Find-Outers mysteries was much more fun that than reading about Julian, George and Anne doing things I got to do every day anyway.

In the Five Find-Outers series Fatty (yes, he was no light-weight – dear Enid had no time for political correctness – but his nickname came mainly from his initials, as the improbably named Frederick Algernon Trotteville) was a big Sherlock fan. Therefore so was I.

But like for so many, being a Sherlock fan and watching Basil Rathbone in the films, and reading the actual original stories, were two very different things.

Conan Doyle didn’t write for children, or about children. He wrote for articulate Victorian adults in a uniquely convoluted style that you either love or hate.

Sadly I hated it. Kicking off with The Hound of the Baskervilles was a big mistake and I set Conan Doyle aside for several years, before rediscovering his delights, thanks to a children’s TV series called The Baker Street Boys.

Not a patch on the later adult series starring Jeremy Brett, of course, but a great idea. Then came the BBC Sherlock… Or more importantly the latest series, reviewed here on MWi by my very own co-author Miriam just a few weeks ago. And it emerged that no less than two of my co-authors had never previously read Sherlock. A shocking oversight since rectified, I might add.

This got me thinking once again about how my daughter, and in due course my son (only five, so not quite as urgent a task) would discover Sherlock. Where’s Enid Blyton when you need her?

I emailed my daughter, now back in England, to get her views. She explained that her teacher had told the class Sherlock was unsuitable for children. And of course Teacher has a point. Much of Sherlock is very unsuitable for children.

The solution was obvious.

And in one of those rare moments of synchronicity, even as I pressed send on my email to Saffi, 3000 miles away, she was pressing send on an email to me suggesting that given the current surge of interest in Sherlock what if we…

Now of course Sherlock is in the public domain. Author and artist both expired long since, and just like with any of the true classics, they’re fair game for anyone. But the last thing we wanted to do was just republish an old Sherlock story under our name. We needed to add value, to use the economic jargon.

And so the Saffi Does Sherlock series was born. We’re taking some of our favourite Sherlock shorts and rewriting them for modern-day kids who want modern-day English reading but want to savour the essence of the real Sherlock Holmes.

Not as easy as it sounds. What we’ve done is try incorporate some of Conan Doyle’s original wording in amongst the modern-day language, while retaining the settings and characters, and while remaining faithful to the original storyline. Quite a challenge when you consider the more adult elements of Sherlock, with often violent crimes, opium dens and cocaine abuse, along with attitudes towards foreigners that border on racist.

To further add value we enlisted the services of one of our cover designers, Athanasios, to produce not only a cover but some original color illustrations for the series, to run alongside the reproduced originals by Sidney Paget.

 

The first in the series, Sherlock Holmes – The Blue Carbuncle, is live on Amazon even as you read this, and will be filtering out to other platforms soon.

The second in the series, Sherlock Holmes – Silver Blaze, will be joining it very shortly.

As ever, my system isn’t letting me access the links, but just type Saffi Sherlock into the site search engine and it shall appear. There’s only one Saffi Does Sherlock!

*

And for those teens among you thinking it a trifle unfair we’ve now provided books for adults and children, but left out the YA market, fear not. It’s your turn next.

The first of our YA releases will be making an appearance in a matter of days – stay tuned.

And be warned, there’s nothing supernatural or paranormal about it. The only wolf in it a real one; there are no vampires; and it is most definitely not a fairy-tale.

No, it’s not the long awaited St. Mallory’s Forever! either, though that is edging closer even as we speak. Watch our for a sneak preview of the St Mall’s cover next week!

But our first YA story, in keeping with our crime-writing tradition, is somewhat more hard-hitting.

It’s about the greatest crime of all – genocide. You have been warned.

 

Call Me Demens, But… – Charley R. reviews Susan Kaye Quinn’s “Open Minds”

If you’re wondering what that snazzy little Saffina Desforges Recommended logo is all about then I’m afriad you’ll have to be patient  a little longer. All will be revealed shortly, but not today.

Suffice to say that, despite the teething problems (as with any new start-up enterprise), and local conditions and ailments delaying progress, the MWiDP wagon is still rolling, and the YA / teen fiction imprint is gathering pace.

Our very own St. Mallory’s Forever!, the first of a new YA boarding school series, is close to launch, and it will be joined by a very, very different YA book Anca’s Story. Both will be in an ebook store near you this spring, along with our top secret (so top secret we can’t even mention title or topic at this stage!) MG / 8-12 series which could be live as early as next month.

For those who missed yesterday’s post, our own Sugar & Spice was officially declared the UK’s best selling indie ebook of 2011, and came in at number eleven out of ALL ebooks sold last year, despite being up against some of the biggest names in the industry. We made the top rankings not in some fly-by-night promo blitz, only to disappear a week later, but held poll position for months at a time and was the most searched for brand for several months.

I mention this now because, wiith our new distribution outlets now live (see post here for background) we’ll be looking to emulate that success in 2012, not just for our own titles but for those who have joined with us under the MWiDP banner. The Saffina Desforges Recommended initative is just one part of that master-plan, using our brand recognition to help promote your books. More in coming weeks.

Here just to remind regulars, and inform recent newcomers, that we last year lent our commendation to many promising YA authors who went on to great success (Michelle Brooks, Marion G. Harmon and Megg Jensen to name but a few) and plan to expand that support this year.

And first in line for 2012 is Susan Kaye Quinn (that’s her on the right), whose book Open Minds was itelf a mind-opening experience. I absolutely loved it, and predict a huge success in the future for this title as word spreads.

And Susan herself will be here after the weekend talking about YA in general.

But for now, back to her book. I have to admit I was sorely tempted to review this myself, but my co-writer Charley R. beat me to it. Here’s Charley:

Call Me Demens, But…

Charley R. reviews Susan Kaye Quinn’s Open Minds

Before I begin, I have a confession to make. Despite the fact I am not yet old enough to drive, order a drink in a bar, or marry without my parents’ consent, Young Adult fiction usually isn’t my scene. Call me a literature snob, but most of the time I feel they just reiterate the same old story, with a few mythical creatures thrown in just to spice things up.

So, for me, Open Minds was a lovely breath of fresh air. The premise of the story is very simple – it’s our world, in the future, and everyone can read minds. Well, almost everyone. Our heroine and first-person narrator Kira is a zero – she can’t read minds, or project her own thoughts, which makes life surrounded by constantly gabbling mentalists something of a daily trial for her. That is, until she accidentally clobbers her best friend’s brain and discovers she’s not a zero … though she might just wish she was.

I found the world to be a very engaging place – it was intriguingly realistic, while at the same time managing to make me go “ooh, shiny!” at several very strange moments (especially when it came to the mindwave controlled cars. So long, SatNav!). The slang is also completely believable and, for me, was one of the highlights of the book. It’s hard enough working out why certain words are slang today, let alone devising convincing ones of your own! “Demens” is my favourite 

However, despite this, I think the story was pretty effective. It was quick, snappy and moved along at a good pace to keep the action coming and – praise be! – avoided any long stretches of angsting that seem so common to today’s teenage heroines. The characters were clear cut and sympathetic – well, except the baddies, but even they manage to look rather cool. Regrettably, due to an unfortunate combination of brisk pacing and a small cast of characters, every event did turn out to be rather Kira-centred, and I found the singling her out as an extra-special individual among an already gifted group was a little irksome at times. Thankfully, the author knows too well to let me get a solid point on that, because she then went and showed us a perfectly viable and believable conclusion for Kira’s individual prowess. Curse you, logic!

On a similar note, I did very much like the deft handling of the grey area concerning the shadowy Clan. Rather than confirm them as either good or bad people through events of the book, the author has performed that oh-so-delicious yet utterly frustrating feat of presenting them both ways. It’s up to us to decide what we really think of them (personally, I’m just as confused as Kira. Though I would rather like to give Agent Kestrel to Andre and Molloy, just for kicks and giggles…)

In short, therefore, I’d say Open Minds is a pretty piece of YA indeed. True, it’s not flawless – Kira sometimes falls into the trap of out-of-character altruism, and I found the swiftness with which she attached herself to Laney (and, to a certain extent, Laney herself), a bit peculiar – but, I think the fact I’m now planning to pass it around my friends is testament to its charm. That, and I have to fight down an urge to describe everything as “mesh” now.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and test my own jacking skills … here kitty kitty …

Thanks, Charley.

I just adore the future teen world Susan has created with Open Minds. And in particular I loved that it was almost at the very end of the book that the author finally gave us a date for when this is set, and throughout the book the new world was spoonfed to us without ever info-dumping or contriving dialogue to explain why things are like they are.

One of the true joys of indie-reading is coming across new writers who have all the skills and flair of an accomplished long-published author. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does you know pretty much from the first page that you have stumbled across something special. That you are reading the work of a future superstar.

Susan Kaye Quinn is one such, and I have no hesitation in introducing her as the first Saffina Desforges Recommended author of 2012.

Open Minds is available on  amazon.co.uk, and of course on: Amazon.com:

B&N:       Smashwords:     iTunes:      Diesel:   and Kobo.

*

Finally, just to say Charley R., our intrepid reviewer, is herself in the spotlight in the newly released short-story anthology Saffina Desforges Presents… Volume 2 of the Kindle Coffee-Break Collection. I’ll be covering that here in detail on MWi after the weekend (yeah, a busy week ahead on MWi – you have been warned!).

Covering For Mark Williams Part 4 – by Athanasios

More shoes on covers? There’s no escape, it seems.

Danielle Blanchard Benson is another MWiDP author who has been lucky enough to grab the inesteemable Athanasios for her cover-designer. Check out Athanasios’s Covers For Hire site (link below) to see the scrumptious covers he delivered for Danielle.

But for today it’s another look at the darker side of Athanasios’s work, as he rounds of his four part series on cver design with, rather appropriately, part four.

Here’s Athanasios.

Covering for Mark Williams – IV

In the three last posts I went on about how some of the indie book covers I’ve created came about. My primary focus, however, is promoting and plugging my Occult/Horror Thriller Series, Predatory Ethics. Thus far Predatory Ethics has two installments, Book I: Mad Gods, Book II: Commitment.

After finishing Commitment, the sequel to Mad Gods I needed an editor. A notion came to me: why can’t I offer someone at IWU or IWI a cover for their editing services. I posted this and was contacted by a few people and settled on JA Beard. I had already exchanged posts and messages on facebook with JA since we became facebook friends in early September. I sent off my .doc and he told me what he wanted his Mind Crafter cover to be. I did my usual Google research, found reference images and put them into the mockUP I sent him.

We then tried a few font choices and settled on the last version shown here.

The following is an encapsulation of the email exchanges:
JA:
My book is a slightly Asian-tinged fantasy. I say ‘Asian-tinged’ because though it’s a second world fantasy, the setting is influenced in many ways by Tang-era China.
Pitch blurb:

Title: Mind Crafter
Author on cover: J.A. Beard

I was planning on something slightly more abstract. I wanted a lotus because it fits in with the general cultural background of my story, thematic resonance, and all that, stylized portion is a bit more eye catching, kind of somewhat fits in with certain nightmare ideas as well, even if it isn’t a literal thing from a scene) It dominates the image with those elements arranged in front or around it or something.

I’ve attached some of the elements I want you to use.
ME:
I went ahead did the mockUP and sent it to him.

JA:
We’re basically 95% there. Great.

The background, in particular, is very excellent. I’m actually kind of wondering if despite what I said, going a bit more East Asian in the font would actually be better. I was also thinking another dagger. I know the angle is different, so maybe you’ll have to adjust the angle or whatever. Final is the last version in

Following another week and another post Justin Kemppainen contacted me for his book Haven. He wanted a cover to the sequel and to revamp the current Haven cover. His reasoning was to have continuity between Exodus and Haven his original release. The title change was Fall of Haven with the first installment being the original Haven re-titled, Fall of Haven I: Uprising and the sequel Fall of Haven II: Exodus. He gave me his description and examples and I found them with Google. The final of are all here.

JUSTIN:
The first requires text alteration but keep the same image and idea, receiving a bit of polish so that things like the text are actually visible.

The second is a new cover based upon Haven. The concept image for the second cover (Exodus) is attached as well with notable differences:

– The character has his face concealed by scarves and shadows.
– No wings or feathers
– Wide-brimmed hat should not be pointy.
– Eyes should glow probably blue or silver.

ME:
I think I get the gist of what you want from your emails. The first should just be a punching up of your earlier work with the same background image but with a more vibrant and eye catching text that will be able to carry across to your intended sequel, as to give the series some cohesive look.

JUSTIN:
I like the fonts and colors for each element of text, but it could get a bit bigger for sake of readability. I like the style and arrangement of the book and series title, I just think it could get a bit more size.

– The added color and contrast looks really nice. I’m guessing it’ll see tweaking.

Other than that, I think it’s looking quite good so far. Looking forward to seeing it refined.

If I were to list the reasons I have any affinity or facility in making covers, writing or anything creative, I would list the retention of unrelated and pointless knowledge coupled with an open mind. I cannot explain or describe why, how, or what I remember but at times I bring it unwittingly back and can use it to spark something for a visual, a plot or an idea in one of my stories or covers. This is very useful in my day job and my side projects.

Many call it being artistic or letting creativity blossom but I don’t put that much though into it. If I did it would lessen and somehow impede it. So I tell those people to stop with all that artsy-fartsy crap and just plain enjoy something that connects with you.

I can guess and call it intuition or instinct but that’s only a guess. I just know when I have found a great idea or notion. I know it for my own Predatory Ethics, their covers and any other cover I’m commissioned to do.

As a parting bit of fun I’ve included the three latest covers I’ve finished for upcoming and existing indie books.

I’m always willing to help with indie authors with their covers. More examples of my work are @: Covers For Hire or email me @: mad-gods@videtron.ca
Athanasios’s webpage is
http://www.mad-gods.com

Athanasios’s Covers For Hire page is
http://www.mad-gods.com/coverHIRE.html

Mad Gods buy pages are
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B004QOA768 & https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/48579

Commitment buy pages are
http://www.amazon.com/dp/B006098CSC & https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/99372

Thank you, Athanasios.

With our new site almost ready to go live we’ll be giving our various designers, formaters, editors, technicians, etc, their own permanet pages where you’l have a one-stop shop for indie resources. That’s coming very soon.

Launching the new year here on MWi we’ll have the one and only Christine deMaio-Rice here next Tuesday, looking at some of the covers she’s been doing, and following Christine will be our S&S and Rose Red cover designer Jeroen, and also Anne R. Allen’s cover designer Laura Morrigan.

But the aim is to give writers as much choice as possible, not limit your choices, so to all you other MWiDP authors out there please let your other cover designers know there will be a spot here to share their wares. And of course for any other resource providers, like editors, proof readers, etc.

That, after all, is the point behind MWiDP – to bring authors together to share resources, share ideas and maybe even share the writing burden.

Christine, for example, has recently done some fantastic new covers for Sarah Woodbury’s historic fantasies.  We have Sarah appearing here on MWi in the very near future, and we’ll be showing off those new covers alongside.

MWiDP author Karin Cox is also editor to Cheryl Shireman, among others (not least David Gaughran). We hope to have Karin here to tell us more aout her editing services shortly, and take a look at some of her poetery while we’re at it.

As for the ultimate sharing that is co-writing… Regulars will know Saffi and I not only write together, but we’ve already teamed up with the two fantastic teen writers Miriam and Charley for our new YA series St. Mallory’s. On top of that we’ve also teamed up with our tech expert Elizabath Ann West to write our new chicklit mystery series China Town, and have a co-write planned with Beyond Nostalgia author Tom Winton.

And of course we also have the anthology series, with Saffina Desforges Presents Volume 2 due out to kick-start 2012.

Just to add here that Saffina Desforges Presents Vol 1: The Kindle Coffee-Break Collection is currently free on Amazon as part of a Christmas promo, and is ranking #1 in the free anthologies category.

And speaking of freebies, Anne R. Allen’s The Gatsby Game is also free for Christmas on Amazon.

And so is Cheryl Shireman’s wonderful You Don’t Need A Prince.

I leave you with Cheryl’s cover, which isn’t an Athanasios cover, but is one of my all time favorite indie covers. Even if it does include a shoe!

 

 

Ooh la la! It’s Sugar & Spice International!

Indie vs Trad.

Some people just still don’t get it. It’s not an us and them issue, and never has been, bar for a few extremists at either end of the spectrum.

But for many indies it seems that way, because a lot (not all) of the gatekeepers continue to look down on indie publishers as second-rate authors. And no question that, with predatory agents and publishers seeking to abuse indie authors’ inexperience and exploit their aspirations it sometimes feels like it’s us and them. But it needn’t be, and shouldn’t be.

There is a middle way, that can get the best of both worlds, and in signing our first print deal with a “trad publisher”, a year after taking the indie route, we think we’ve found it. We get all the benefits of a trad publishing deal in the country concerned, while retaining all the benefits of being indie in every other way.

What follows is a joint statement by Saffi and I that covers the background, the deal itself, and why we are and will remain the UK’s leading indie writers, and why we are and will remain supporters of indie writers everywhere.

Sugar & Spice Crosses The English Channel

 

It’s been one crazy year for the Saffina Desforges team.

Last Christmas the brand was completely unknown. Two debut novelists (one a complete newbie, the other with background in TV and theatre, but that counts for little when writing a book) writing under a new name, Saffina Desforges. Our book, Sugar & Spice, was barely a month old on Amazon and had sold precisely nothing. We had hopes we might start moving with all the new Kindles in the UK market, but it was not to be. It wasn’t until February, three months after we launched, that we even made double figures!

It seemed the gatekeepers were right. Time and again they had turned us away, sometimes with encouraging words, more often not. At best we were told it was a great book but no publisher would touch it due to the sensitive subject matter.

In March, after endless months of rejection, we finally had an agent who seemed seriously interested, and took the book under exclusive consideration. Bear in mind the UK ebook market was still embryonic at this stage. Were there even enough people in the UK with e-readers to make ebooks viable?

We doubted it. So the latest agent seemed the answer to our dreams. At the time we would probably have signed anything she sent to us without even looking at it. But the agent was slow. Very slow. She loved the synopsis and openings and asked for the full script for her in-house reader. The in-house reader loved it. A glowing report came back. The agent asked for a further read.

Weeks became months. March became May. We became a lot more worldly-wise. When the final decision came, we realized just how crazy the old system was. The agent wanted us to take the ebook down so she could start touting to publishers. Three months earlier we would have done so. We were selling nothing. But this was three months later.

The week we sent our first rejection letter to an agent was the week Sugar & Spice broke the 50,000 sales barrier in the tiny UK market, and was the second biggest selling ebook in the country, competing – and beating – names we used to idolize.

Sugar & Spice went on to break the 100,000 sales barrier in late summer, and despite an Amazon glitch with the buying links that saw the book literally disappear from Amazon for almost a month, the book continues to sell well today, a year on.

And we continued to send out rejection letters, to both agents and publishers. Not because we had suddenly become anti-agent or anti-trad publisher, but because what they offered would have been a backward step.

When we hit #2 on Kindle UK with 50k sales the almighty Trident Media Group, one of the biggest agencies on the planet, came cold-calling. Months earlier we couldn’t get an agent to give us the time of day. Now New York’s finest were coming to us! Could this be our big break in the American market?

Sadly not.

In fact their representative had not even read the book, and when she finally did she wanted so many changes (to a book that by now had sold 60,000 and was still topping the charts!) it would have been unrecognizable. And this just to get them to approach a publisher, let alone whatever changes the publisher might demand.

When the Trident agent then told us we had to withhold release of our new Rose Red crime thriller series until after they had approved it – this without us ever having signed a contract with TMG – we realized this and many other agents were living in some fantasy past world where writers were nothing more than an irritation in their all-important lives. When writers had no other options.

While all this was going on we were also being approached by overseas agents and publishers. We let slip the name of one Turkish agent in telephone conversation and the next day Trident – with whom we had no agreement whatsoever – had contacted them to tell them TMG were running the show. Six months on Trident have yet to tell the Turkish agency that TMG are not, and never have been, our representatives.

Shame on you, Trident Media Group.

Other agency and publisher offers followed, with contracts ranging from merely unreasonable to downright despicable.

Then along came an offer from France that immediately captured our interest.

For starters, they had actually read the book! Nothing can be more instructive about an agent’s or publisher’s interest in you than they never having read the book they seek to represent / publish. Yet here was a French publisher interested in the Sugar & Spice story, not the Amazon ranking.

So we moved to the next stage, to discuss T&Cs. Here to stress how important it is for all writers to understand that the true value of any deal is not in how much you get out of it, but how much you lose in the detail.

Sure, that glitzy NY agency spiel or the big-dollar advance offered may be tempting. But at what cost to your integrity and future freedom as a writer?

Trident told us (from the very first phone conversation they were dictating terms like they owned us!) our projects list of future books was “just silly”. We could only write crime thrillers for “the next three years”. Our urban dark fantasy trilogy? Not a chance. Our YA boarding school series, St. Mallory’s? Forget it. Our China Town chicklit mystery series? Go stand in the corner for using foul language. Chicklit doesn’t sell! As for non-fiction… Trident’s rep almost jumped down the phone and grabbed up by the neck to shake sense into us.

And as we looked at other publishers’ and agents’ contracts it became clear many were downright predatory. Non-compete conditions. Exclusivity. World rights despite they having no interest in anything outside the US/UK market. Loss of editorial control. Ridiculous advances and then a timetable to publication that made us wonder if we’d live long enough to see the first edition. Almost every clause was one-sided, and not in favour of the author.

So when we were approached by this publisher in France we were wary. We loved their enthusiasm and personal approach, but Trident, and many others before and since, have been enthusiastic and friendly, until the contract came up. At the end of the day, the only thing that matters is the contract.
So we went through it with the proverbial fine-toothed comb, exchanged questions, asked for revisions, made suggestions, and discussed the whole deal on equal terms.

And when we were quite satisfied, we signed.

As is standard in such contracts there is a confidentiality clause which prohibits us giving the fine detail. But we’ll try to be as open as possible about what we gained, and more importantly about what we didn’t lose.

First off, these guys moved fast. Within a matter of weeks from first contact with this publisher we had negotiated terms, signed and received the advance.

I know you’re all dying to know how much, but we’re not at liberty to discuss that, or the royalty rates.   Suffice to say we entered into this contract having weighed up every pro and con carefully, and we are delighted with the outcome.

The deal is for French language rights only. Yes, there’s now a Kindle France site sitting there, ripe for exploitation. So why not stay completely indie and go it alone we hear you cry?

Well, Sugar & Spice is a 120,000 word novel. The translation costs alone are exorbitant. Would we ever recover the costs of translation? If it took off big-time like in the UK, perhaps, but the French e-reader market is tiny by comparison with the UK. That will change, but when? 2012? 2015? We have no effective way of marketing in France anyway, and certainly no time to do so.

We pondered a percentage deal with a translator, like David Gaughran and Scott Nicholson have done, but it’s a huge amount of work and time to translate a novel of this length, then to see it only available as an ebook in a country where ebooks are so new, and with no effective marketing.

Now our French publisher, MA, will translate for us, get us into print on Paris book shelves and into hypermarkets, train stations and bookshelves all over France (I’m ecstatic at that – it’s my favourite European country! – MW), not to mention on amazon.fr. And as MA is widely distributed by a HUGE press over there we can expect a marketing campaign that may not match James Patterson’s, but will certainly be better than we could do on our own.

On top of that we got an advance which, when you consider the deal is for one language and has absolutely no limitations on us selling again and again elsewhere around the world, compares very favourably with what US and UK publishers are typically offering for world rights. And of course we’re not giving away 15% of the advance, or the royalties, to an agent who picked up the phone on our behalf.

IP lawyers? No need. This was a straight-forward contract with no hidden clauses or ambiguous language.

Royalty numbers? Again, we’re not at liberty to discuss details, but MA were open to negotiation and we settled on a figure that compares very favourably with what’s being offered elsewhere.

Yes, we could theoretically get 70% from Amazon by going it alone. But that would be digital only. We have no way of getting into any other French ebook outlets, and we have sold precisely four English-language books in France since the Kindle store opened. Now we get to see our book in print in Paris and on Amazon Kindle and other French ebook sites professionally translated and marketed.

The math was simple. Seventy percent of nothing, or a smaller percentage of a very real something.

Throw into the ring the additional problems we’ve had recently with Amazon – where a glitch they admit was their fault just last month cost us literally thousands of sales with no hope of compensation – and it was really a no-brainer.

We lose absolutely nothing, and gain in almost every way. We’ve already banked the advance, and the translation for the print and ebook version of Sugar & Spice in France is on-going, with Paraphilia expected to hit the French market mid-2012. Yes, that soon!

Paraphilia? Just one more benefit of having a French outfit on board to sell in France.

Sugar & Spice translates easily enough, of course, but the traditional British nursery rhyme it draws upon (“sugar and spice and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of” – a reference to the story line of the hunt for a child-killer obsessed with little girls) is pretty much unknown in France, so the title was meaningless and potentially misleading. Something that would never have occurred to us as outsiders.

So are we still indie?

Of course we are!

We are very excited about our partnership for 2012 with this forward-thinking publisher and are currently also discussing other options with them.

But we built our brand up from nothing, with no help from any trad publisher or agent, and we will continue to do so. We will continue to release all our books as indie ebooks first, written how we want them written with covers we choose, published to a timetable that suits us, and priced as we see fit, for maximum royalties. Oh, and without paying 15% to an agent for doing so.

And once we’ve proven the market we can negotiate from strength if and when another agent or publisher comes up with an offer for partial rights to those books. Or indeed for Sugar & Spice itself, which is still open to offers from publishers and agents anywhere that doesn’t speak French!

But don’t even think of trying it on with your boilerplate contract for rookie writers like so many have recently! Take a lesson from MA on mutual respect.

We may not be selling in James Patterson’s numbers, but we think all writers, whatever their status, deserve to be treated with courtesy and respect. And we sure as hell think we’ve earned the right to some.

Ghostwriters In The Sky – Anne R. Allen’s Latest Release

Happy Halloween!

Okay, so it may not be Halloween yet where you are, but think time zones! For some MWi readers it’s already started!

No “proper” post here at MWi today. As ever, I’m over at WG2E, where today the title is Forward To The Future. Tomorrow Always Comes, and the topic is why it’s important for us as writers to look ahead, think ahead and plan ahead if we intend to stay ahead.

Needless to say MW has his crystal ball out and sets out some likely future developments that will affect us all. Given his track record so far I’d say it’s worth checking out.

* * *

There’s also talk about the future over at MWiDP, for those who missed it, including advance news of the pending MWi ebook store.

And if you check out the comments you’ll find that some unexpected references by Elizabeth Ann West forced us to play our hand early and reveal our Teach The World To Read project, which we were kind of hoping to keep under wraps until the New Year.

But ne’er mind. We still have plenty more surprises in store for 2012!

* * *

Meanwhile back to today.

While MWiDP has got off to a great start with the Crossing The Pond initiative, we’re only a month old and so far only have one author, ourselves aside, that we have taken all the way from draft manuscript to pristine published product. That person being the one and only blogging guru Anne R. Allen.

Anne has no less than three previously unpublished novels debuting with us.

The first, The Gatsby Game, which is a murder-mystery based on real life events, has been out a few weeks now.

The third, due out before Christmas, is Sherwood Ltd,  a satirical comic murder mystery, part of the Camilla Randall Mystery series, set in our very own merry England in the Lincoln green countryside of the Robin Hood legend.

But just in time for Halloween comes another in the Camilla Randall Mystery series – Ghostwriters In the Sky. Set in a writers’ conference on a cowboy ranch in California, the victim, the suspects and the MC are all writers. Irresistable or what?

NYT best-selling author Ruth Harris described it as “chick-lit noir with a side of funny”. Kindle UK best-selling athor Saffina Desforges (no, I’ve never heard of her either) describes it as “chick-lit for brunettes”.

But there’s no hair-color checks on amazon.com and amazon.co.uk so don’t be deterred if your hair doesn’t match. Even baldies can buy!

So grab yourself a glass of wine, a box of chocolates and a comfy sofa, and enjoy Halloween courtesy of Anne R. Allen.

Blog Round-Up August 25th

Contrary to popular opinion it was pure coincidence I happened to return to the UK just as civil unrest peaked once again. A timely reminder of the tensions that simmer below the surface of even outwardly wealthy and stable societies like Britain.

But yes, I survived the mindless violence of the UK riots, the exorbitant prices of the UK coffee bars and the dreadful UK summer weather that drove me out several weeks early. I even survived (with some mental scarring, admittedly) meeting co-author Saffi for the third time. And now I’m back in beautiful West Africa where, if I never leave again, it will be too soon.

Today, a quick pick of recent blogs elsewhere that have caught my attention as I play catch-up.

John Locke

The BIG story of the past week has of course been John Locke’s deal with Simon & Schuster, whereby they get to publish his books in print and he gets to keep his e-rights. Or something like that. Details remain sketchy, but if the initial indications live up to expectations then this is major new development in publishing.

Of course Locke is in the enviable position of being a million-seller indie writer. Will the same option be open to lesser mortals? That remains to be seen.

Kris Rusch

For Kris Rusch this is yet another example of the survival instinct of the traditional publishers kicking in. Kris argues the trad’ pub’ industry still has plenty of life in it and will remain “the gold standard” in the same way the big TV channels remain the gold standard for broadcasting. Kris is a long-established writer who built her empire the only way possible at the time, but now enthusiastically embraces the new world while keeping the best of the old. Of those either / or types, she says:

Some are still stuck in traditional-think, including an influential blogger whom everyone says is brilliant and who simply pisses me off because he can’t seem to look beyond his traditional publishing training. On the other side of the equation are the all-indie-all-the-time folks who ignore (or perhaps don’t understand) that traditional publishing will never leave us. Traditional publishing will remain the gold standard, partly because they have so much gold.

Interesting stuff. Be sure to check out Kris’s post in full.

Joe Konrath

Of course one of the biggest proponents of indie-publishing is the ever-lovable Joe Konrath, who sees the Locke deal as another nail in the coffin of traditional publishing:

Publishers will start folding. It’s inevitable.

What S&S did with Locke was a ballsy move, but also a desperate one. It’s desperate, because they are hastening their own demise, and are just trying to make a few more bucks before it all falls apart. Not to get all Godwin’s Law here, but there is a Vichy French analogy to be had. S&S is going to try to make a few bucks from Locke, whose business model is ultimately going to put them out of business.

My thoughts are that while paper is unquestionably in demise and the future of publishing is unquestionably digital, many of the traditional publishers will survive the Transition and simply shift their emphasis to digital, emerging smaller, leaner, but still able to deliver a service that will suit readers and writers alike. I’ll be blogging more on this third way option in the near future.

David Gaughran

Another big discussion recently has been what, exactly, sells books. And the consensus seems to be: word of mouth.

David Gaughran ran a post on this –  – which sums up the reality of book-selling:

Unless you have already had a bestseller on your hands (and your next book will essentially market itself), word-of-mouth is your only chance of breaking out.

We have all seen it in action. A friend presses a book into your hand – with a fevered look in their eye – and says you have to read this. Or someone gifts you a book on Amazon because they are so determined for you to read it, they don’t want to take the chance that you won’t act on their tip. I remember a friend refusing to talk to me until I read a particular book. It was that important to him.

When you get someone that passionate, they will recommend it to everyone they know. A book really takes off when all those people then become equally passionate and recommend it to everyone they know. Then word spreads exponentially.

Anne R Allen

Of course getting the book noticed in the first place is key, or people won’t spread the word in the first place. Anne R Allen’s latest post is on the demise of the book tour and how blogging does a far better job anyway.

That’s because it’s not just the ebook that’s killing the book tour. Social networking has affected it even more—simply because social networking has turned out to be a better way to sell books than traditional advertising.

Kristen Lamb

Kristen Lamb meanwhile makes the point that blogging for fellow writers, while a great way of increasing exposure, is only reaching a small fraction of the reading market.

As Kristen says,

We MUST reach out to fresh blood and bring new readers into the family. If we don’t our platform becomes almost inbred, then starts playing the banjo and firing a shotgun in the air and it’s all downhill from there.

A pretty sobering thought! Kristen concludes,

Next week we will talk more about some ways to break out of the comfort zone and start tapping into larger networks that can become readers. Go after new blood.

So, not only hitting home with her main point, but also guaranteeing we’ll be back next week to see what solutions will be revealed. Not for nothing is Kristen Lamb’s column a must-read for anyone hoping to make social media work for them.

One last selection from the industry bloggers.

Meghan Ward debates the thorny issue of copyright, plagiarism and cryptomnesia.

No, cryptomnesia isn’t some dreadful fungal infection of the nether regions, but the technical term for remembering something long forgotten and regurgitating it as something new and original.

Meghan says,

Okay, first let’s take a poll. How many of you recite The Lord’s Prayer while having sex? Can I see a show of hands?

Please don’t answer that in the comments section! Pop across to Meghan’s site to see the relevance. No blasphemy or graphic sex scenes there, despite the quote above. But an important debate on plagiarism, what constitutes it, and why cryptomnesia is a reasonable defence in law before you waste money trying to sue someone.

On other blogs, Lindsay Buroker has a great piece on why you should have a news-letter if you’re a writer. Compelling stuff. So compelling that I’ll be having one here at MWi just as soon as I’ve worked out the behind-the-scenes widget stuff to make it happen.

BTW the image, left, probably isn’t Lindsay, but seems the real Lindsay, like me, prefers not to see themselves staring back from the screen.

Prue Batten

Over at Mesmered, meanwhile, Prue continues her Big Red Chair interviews with Shea MacLeod in the hot seat.

Shea MacLeod

Prue has her own unique approach to interviewing writers that reveals much more about the author than just their latest book.

Mesmered: What is your guiltiest pleasure that few know about?

Shea: I love old school sci-fi B-movies.  You know, those horribly cheesy black and white movies where some kind of bomb irradiates the world except for one house in a valley somewhere.  Then the survivors are attacked by mutant bugs.  Awesome!

If I didn’t already have Shea’s book on my Kindle that’s the kind of interview that would have me hitting the buy button.

Megg Jensen

Meanwhile Megg Jensen just knocked up her first one thousand sales for her wonderful historic-dystopian coming-of-age books. Megg has been embarrassed by me before for lauding her wonderful debut novel, Anathema, so I shan’t mention it here.

I remember when we first reached that 1000 sales milestone, so can share Megg’s elation as described on her blog:

Over the first month, a number appeared in my head: 1,000. I wanted to sell 1,000 books. That, I decided, would be my goal.

Well, earlier this week I surpassed 1,000 sales. It took me nearly seven months, but who cares? I DID IT! 1,000 paid sales of my books. It’s unreal.

Now that I’m on the other side of 1,000, things don’t look too awfully different. There’s no BMWs, no champagne and caviar parties, no afternoons lounging by the pool while I watch the pool boy from the corner of my eye.

Yep, at the end of the day it’sa number. But a pretty cool number. And the great thing is, 1000 sales is just the beginning. Who knows how many books Megg will sell in the next seven months. Safe to say it will be substantial.

So many more blogs I’d love to mention (and lots more still to catch up on), but time and space are against me. Megg’s thousand sales seems a great place to stop.

Western travelling is one great time suck nowadays. Great for reading. Not so great for being on-line and keeping up with things. And much as I’d like to read all the back-posts I’ve missed, I’ve also got to get on with the next books. With three co-authors now screaming at me simultaneously there’s even less time to browse.

So, any other juicy must-read blogs I’ve missed this past few weeks? Any news or industry gossip I’m missing out on?

Let me know!

%d bloggers like this: