In the Ancient and Medieval Historical Fiction Group we have many members who are authors or aspiring authors. Some are Traditionally Published and some are Self Published.
The A&M Group is, in its essence, not a place for authors to actively seek sales from the non author members. It is a reader's group. Authors, Traditionally Published or Self Published, are asked when they join to not be in the group only to sell books. Their first priority is to be in our group as a reader and to enjoy reading and talking books with us.
Over time, as members get to know these authors and trust that they are not just there to sell books, genuine relationships are built and then sales start to happen naturally. Of their own accord.
We have a lot of authors who try to aggressively market their book or books, but we have some lovely self published authors who join the group conversations because they love historical fiction in general. They may like to write it, but they also love to read it.
I wanted to reach out to some of these lovely authors this month and interview them here on the blog. To let them know that we really do see them and that, as readers of historical fiction, we appreciate that they have joined us to chat books, not just to sell them.
It is also an opportunity for me to ask, on behalf of myself and the readers in the group, what is happening in the Indie world.
I would like to introduce the three Indie authors that I invited onto the blog for this interview.
Bryn Hammond - Bryn lives in Australia and has been a member of the A&M book group since May 2012. Most active members of A&M know Bryn. She is as big a book fan as any of us.
Her first love is the Steppes and the history of the tribes. The Mongols have become a passion for her and she is proud of the way she has presented the Mongols in her books as a people. Not as the violent, cultureless, bloodthirsty hoard that they so often portrayed as. Pictured is her book Amgalant One: The Old Ideal
Jean Gill - Is a writer of many varied genres, but the ones that are of interest to us today are her historical fiction. Jean hails from Wales but lives in the South of France and has a lifestyle that many of us may consider a perfect idyll. With bee hives and an orchard and a near proximity to the vineyards of this area of France.
She writes, currently, in historical settings in the 12th century. Narbonne and Jerusalem. Pictured is her book Song at Dawn.
Paula Lofting - Writes in the 11th century which is a favourite period of history of mine as well, so I can understand why she wants to write in it. Paula truly loves her 11th century history and can talk about it all day long. A mother and nurse as well as an author, she is currently working on the follow up to the book Sons of the Wolf.
What does being 'Indie' mean to you?
Bryn: It means you keep control of your work. Every decision is yours. Whether
it’s artistic integrity you care about, whether it’s your own choice of
cover and title: your book is in your hands. That’s what I like.
Jean: Freedom. I can publish exactly what I want, without cuts or compromise,
and I write to my own deadlines. I love designing my own book jackets –
three previous publishers let me do so but I still remember the
disappointment of seeing the woman’s face on my first novel – nothing
like my character! I write in many different genres and I’ve got over
not finding Editor Right. I will never have another rejection or be let
down by a publisher again in my life.
Paula: I guess that being Independent means that I have full control over what goes in my book, the content, what I am writing about and the cover images. I take advice but the end of the day, being Indie means I am in the 'Driving Seat' and I can make choices that often mainstream authors can't. Also, being Indie doesn't mean I do everything myself, it just means I have the power to employ whoever I wish to help me produce my book. Some Indie writers are self-published. I don't think that's me, I am more assisted published.
Did you investigate going 'Indie' before going it alone? ie seek
advice, online research etc.. Or was it a decision you had to make due
to major publishers' reluctance to sign up new historical fiction
authors (especially in light of what has happened this decade in world
Bryn: Neither of the above... no, I didn’t investigate much. I had always been
afraid of a number of things about traditional publishing. One is the
changes they make to your book. That’s an issue for me, and I expected
conflict, since we’d have different aims. Theirs is to make my book as
commercial as they can, whereas I’d sacrifice ‘commercial’ to ‘what’s
right for the book’. Next anxiety: publicity demands. I’m acutely shy in
person, but you can’t say no, can you? The only comfort I ever saw on
an agent’s site was that shy writers are catered for: they might be
asked to do radio interviews. Yeah, right. Then, it’s typical, I think,
that you have to produce a book a year, by contract. To me, that’s a
factory line. A book needs the time it needs.
So I’d always thought of (traditional) publishing as a necessary evil. Not necessary any more.
Jean: No, I jumped first and checked out the flotation devices afterwards. The
books were already written and ready for publication, a mix of ‘near
misses’ with publishers, and rights-reverted, so I went crazy and
published 11 e-books in one year as soon as amazon allowed writers
outside the USA to publish kindles. Prior to that, I was desperately
seeking a friend in the USA to publish with and it was so frustrating to
be held back from entering the new marketplace. I also discovered
smashwords and Mark Coker's advice there - so helpful.
Paula: I did investigate going to a publisher but the whole prospect seemed
very daunting. In the end, after speaking to a well known author who had
decided to go to an assisted publisher, I thought, what the heck, lets
do it. I could be dead by the time I found a publisher who would take me
on, if one did at all! It took me 6 years to research and write my
first two books, I didn't want to wait another 6 years looking for a
How common do you think it is these days for Indie authors to choose
not to shop a manuscript around and from the very beginning they write
with the intention to only publish independent?
Bryn: To become common. When I think of how past writers have struggled with
publishers. Last year I read John Cowper Powys’ giant Arthur novel Porius,
painstakingly reconstructed out of his notebooks. He’d had to cut a
third of the book to satisfy a publisher – which must have hurt. As an
independent, you publish what you want, when you want. If big publishers
make conservative choices, if they want clone books, then independence
means freedom – from trends, from what’s judged to be in and out, and
even, still, notions on what you can and can’t write about. That’s got
to attract creative minds.
Jean: That’s exactly what I do but I think many Indie authors are hoping to
attract a big publisher with their success, rather than to remain
self-published. Maybe I’ll change my mind if a big publisher sweet-talks
me but at the moment I feel I would lose more than I’d gain by signing a
contract. Indie suits me.
Paula: Its very common. A lot of indie authors publish very cheaply. sometimes
the results are not that good, the product is not a professional
standard but if you know what you are doing, it can be a very good
choice. I prefer to use an assisted publisher I trust to take care all
of the details that would give me a headache like uploading into the
Nielsen System etc. But its worth shopping around for a good affordable
price for a quality book. You don't have to fork out thousands.
How do you find the market responding to Independently published
historical fiction? Is it growing in popularity do you think or are
other genres dominating and taking the lion's share?
Bryn: Romance is going gangbusters. Maybe it’s an adventurous spirit, maybe
it’s about cheap ebooks, maybe – as I suspect – it’s a catch-on thing.
People do what their fellow enthusiasts do. I don’t know whether they
have killed the prejudice, over in romance.
and I think a double-standard. Indie’s sins are pointed out where I see
those sins in trad. But indie hf is in a healthy state and can only
Jean: I don’t think readers these days distinguish between independently
published and traditionally published authors, and Historical Fiction is
hugely popular. It’s the 4th biggest genre out of 19 listed with the
popular bargain-chaser site Bookbub, after mysteries, romance (including
historical romance) and thrillers. However, this makes HF very
competitive and very difficult to break into the bestsellers lists. You
need huge, regular sales to get to the top 100. My ‘Song at Dawn’ had
26,000 downloads when it was on free promotion, reached Number 8 on the
HF bestsellers’ list, has great reviews, but dropped straight back out
of sight when the promotion finished.
Paula: historical fiction is extremely popular, both indie and main stream
published books are doing well. I do think that chicklit and crime is
more popular though
When you write historical fiction do you research what eras are
popular and more likely to sell, then fit a story to that more
marketable era? Or do you choose an era you already love, whether it is
popular or not, and then write your story into it?
Bryn: Definitely the latter. Writers ought to write what they love – and what
they have things to say about. I was a writer without a story for years,
the symptom of which was unfinished novels... until I stumbled on a
subject ideal for me. Then I felt those trials (failure and frustration
at the time) had been an apprenticeship. I remember the fortnight – now
eleven years ago – when I read Huc and Gabet’s travels in Mongolia;
straight away to Rene Grousset on Temujin’s life; and third the Secret History of the Mongols itself. Most exciting fortnight of my life. Might be like meeting your future spouse.
Jean: Not at all and an Editor friend has said this is the mistake most
writers make – we don’t check out the market. Maybe she’s right but that
just wouldn’t work for me. Stories come to me and demand to be written.
My historical period chose me when read the statement ‘It was rumoured
that a female troubadour toured the south of France with a large white
dog’. How could I not write that story?! It was during my research that I
narrowed the year down to precisely 1150. When I plan the book in
detail I do think about 'what shelf' it will go on and how long it
should be to fit reader expectations. It wasn’t until after I’d written
the first HF book that I thought seriously about marketing it.
Paula: I write what I enjoy the most. Writing Sons of the Wolf was a labour of
love for me. I write for me first, then if people buy it its a bonus. If
they read it and like it, its an even bigger bonus.
Where do you see Independent Publishing and Indie authors going in
the future? For example; Do you foresee Indie books only ever being
available and bought in digital form or do you think book stores will
start to carry more lines of hardcopy Indie books?
Bryn: With Amazon’s Extended Distribution paperbacks are available, for
instance, from The Book Depository and Australia’s Fishpond (who have
increased my prices hideously). Possibly in actual stores in North
America... it’s a start. Smashwords, meanwhile, pioneers in ebook
distribution – including to libraries, an idea they are committed to.
Availability is a happening area, there’s frequent news on that front.
Jean: Here in France, people are still saying that ebooks will never catch on,
which makes me very aware of how fast the world has changed.
Obsolescence usually takes three generations (of people, not of
iphones!). Take the invention of the calculator: grandparents refused to
use calculators; parents used them but had good mental arithmetic; the
children relied on calculators completely. I think the same will happen
with e-books. We are the dual-use generation, loving physical books and
also enjoying e-book advantages. The children will grow up with
lightning-fast keypad dexterity, able to search and find, plagiarise and
annotate, but very slow in use of physical books.
My books are
all available in print and not just because I like to hold them and look
at the jackets. I see physical books as a shop window and loss leader
for e-books. Goodreads will only do a giveaway for a print book. I
always have 50 books printed, which I sell directly and from a local
bookshop. I use a print-on-demand service, with ISBN, and readers can order my books from
bookshops. Sometimes a niche book can be placed on sale where it fits
best and, as physical bookshops are an endangered species, other outlets
for print books will become vital. I mailed the Pyrenean Mountain Dog
Club of Great Britain, and the one in France about my dog book and they
have copies of my book for sale.
Paula: I'm not sure really. It would be nice if there were more Indie
bookstores like the one near my home who stocks my book. The owner there
John has a few indie author's books in there. He has been a great help
in giving me somewhere to sell my books. I think that attitudes in most
of the mainstream market is still pretty snobby toward Indie.
If someone was going to write a novel or is thinking of writing a
novel, would you encourage them to shop their manuscript first and
publish Indie as a last resort? Or would you encourage them to forget
the big publishers and go Independent first?
Bryn: Whichever they feel comfortable with. I wouldn’t nudge them either way.
I was tempted. Knew a writer who had his opus online, getting
attention, but he kept trudging around agents, as he’d done for ten
years past. He never talked about indie, instead we heard his gallows
humour about the next rejection. The guy already had a readership. I
felt like giving him the elbow, believe me... but I didn’t.
Jean: It depends on the writer’s publishing skills, financial situation and
confidence. If your aim is to make money, forget small presses. If,
however, you value a well-produced book and an Editor who works with
you, a small press might be just the thing. If you want to say ‘My book
is published by Penguin’ then you need to approach Literary Agents and
you need to be prepared to wait, probably for years, with no guarantee
of publication. Most publishers no longer read unsolicited manuscripts
and they are as confused as authors about what’s going to happen next.
Paula: I would say do whatever feels right for you. If you're young enough to
wait ten years or whatever it takes to find a publisher, then do it. If
like me you want to get your life's dream realised quickly, then go
What would be the best advice on publishing independently and the
best tips on marketing you could give an author who was thinking of
Bryn: I have a warning. Indie books can sit there obscurely, even terrific
indie books – I’ve seen them, and seen their authors grow disheartened.
the other hand, think of the reality for the trad-published. Most books
never sell enough to cover the author’s advance. You have six weeks to
sell, or you’re off the shelves. Your book is then dead. They can leave
you out of print, and digital unused, and you’re stuck, without the
rights to your book. We don’t hear about those authors but they are the
majority. Even an obscure indie is out there, in print: paperback and
ebook can be bought worldwide. Your book always has a chance.
Jean: Get critical input on your work. I have an invaluable network of writer
friends and we do quality-control for each other. Beta-reading
(error-checking what we oldies call the draft version) is a great idea –
I’ve had readers volunteering to beta-read my next novel and I know
they’ll spot any plot inconsistencies. One true fan is worth 10,000
If you don’t seek, or don’t find, a publisher, then you need to assess
what you can do yourself and what you can’t. You can pay for services
but beware the crooks!
has free booklets on formatting ebooks correctly and on marketing. It
also has lists of jacket designers and professional formatters, at
You have published a great book? Now network. Read writers’ blogs. Use
social media to share what you learn. Little and often is better for
And face the Giant. Amazon. No-one markets your
books better than amazon. Make your author page and your book pages
attractive to your readers. No-one makes you sign your soul away to the
extent amazon does. Your choice.
Paula: Shop around if you're going assisted, there are many companies who will
charge you a fortune and you most certainly wont ever get your money
back on a first novel. Use a good editor whose work you have seen or
someone has recommended. Blog, join book groups on FB and Goodreads and
network! And remember, for most of us, this is not a career. Very few
writers can give up their day jobs. Its a lovely hobby, that's how I see
Thanks Bryn, Jean and Paula for all the time you put into your answers.