Monday, 12 August 2013

Let's See What The Indies Think Shall We?

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 economies)?

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 publisher.

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.

Prejudice remains, 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 grow.

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.

Once 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 indie!

What would be the best advice on publishing independently and the best tips on marketing you could give an author who was thinking of going Indie?

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.

On 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 freebie-chasers.
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 reasonable prices.
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 social media.

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 it.


Thanks Bryn, Jean and Paula for all the time you put into your answers.

- MM


  1. Interesting for me to read the others' views and I love Paula's comment that you could die before finding a publisher; I especially hate the constraint 'you should be submitting your work exclusively to us' - and then they take 6 months to send a formula rejection slip!

  2. Thanks Ms Mayhem, for the questions and for having us here. It's greatly appreciated.

  3. So honoured and pleased to have been asked. Ancient aand Medieval Mayhem is the best group on Goodreads. So happy to have found it. Its been difficult to find a really good group like this and one thats close to my heart. Keep up the good work Terri, oh and now I have two more authors to investigate!

    1. Thanks for the positive feedback, Paula. It makes my job as a Moderator of A&M group to have such nice, history loving Indie authors representing the self published fraternity.

  4. Fabulous and informative interviews. I like that all three approach it the same way for similar end results; it's positive for future hopeful writers. Well done all of you!

  5. cheers Darcy, your comments are an encouragement. --Bryn