Calling all Australian Authors

Writers’ Web is an Australian initiative geared toward providing Australian authors with an alternative to the plethora of online book distributors popping up all over the place. I recently chatted to the team from Writers’ Web to see what it was all about.

writersweb

What is writers’ web?

Everyone knows that a farmers’ market connects the producer direct to the buyer. writers’ web is just like that but for writers – it connects would-be authors directly with readers online to create a community of readers and writers.

It’s really only been possible because of the changes to the publishing industry and technology. Publishers are no longer gatekeepers to the release of new books. YouTube allows musicians to showcase their work direct to the public and now writers’ web does something similar for Australian writers.

How did you come up with the idea?

Everyone knows the story of JK Rowling having the Harry Potter manuscript rejected by publishers, 12 in total. If she had given you her manuscript, you would have passed the word to ten of your friends and them to ten of their friends, going viral. In today’s connected world, this is entirely possible and the idea that underpins writers web. We’d love to discover the next big Australian writer.

Like many good ideas it involved a glass of wine! A few years ago at our bookclub, co-founder Emma Mactaggart was lamenting how easy it is to get stuck in a publisher’s slush pile – it’s so demoralising not to hear anything from publishers after you’ve submitted a manuscript.

It’s this bottleneck that prevents writers getting their work out into the public domain. “Why not change the paradigm?” piped up now partner in writers’ web, Janet Kieseker. And so we did. It took a few years to work through the logistics and technical side of things before we launched at the end of 2011.

How does it work for writers?

Writers complete an online registration form, then submit information to build their writer profile and so we can put their book into our online shop. Our reviewers are invited to read the work and review it. Reviews are posted here. Authors may then use these reviews in their own promotional material.

What is the cost to writers?

There are no up-front costs for writers. We take a 35% commission on book sales.

Is it only for eBooks?

No, writers who have produced hard copy books can be part of writers’ web (WW).

What are the benefits for writers?

There are lots of advantages for writers, including:

  • There is no rejection – every book or manuscript we receive (as long as the content is not inappropriate) goes out to our reviewers for their feedback
  • Using the feedback from the reviewers to refine their work
  • A means of promoting emerging Australian writers for no up-front cost
  • Helps writer “discoverability” to targeted Australian reading audiences and as a possible springboard to publishers
  • Speeds up the process of getting a work into reader/purchaser hands
  • Provides an exclusive or additional promotional channel for authors and their books
  • Builds an author’s reading and purchasing networks
  • A channel to sell their books.

Are you currently looking for more writers?

YES! We have over 120 reviewers in our system waiting to read the works of writers.

Which genres can writers submit?

Both fiction and non-fiction genres are covered and if there’s enough interest in a genre other than the ones we currently offer, we will look at including it.

Non-fiction

  • Biography/memoir
  • Cooking/food/wine
  • How to
  • Articles

Fiction

  • Chick lit
  • Children’s
  • Comedy
  • Crime/mystery
  • Fantasy
  • General fiction
  • Literary fiction
  • Historical fiction
  • Romance
  • Short story
  • Young adult

Writers’ web sounds like a perfect hunting ground for publishers looking for some fresh talent – is that the idea?

Yes, writers’ web complements traditional publishing by providing a chance to demonstrate commercial viability as an author to “traditional” publishers. In today’s competitive market, proven authors have a higher degree of success in securing deals. We would love to be the go-to place where writers “get spotted” by mainstream publishers through the reader reviews and reader profiles on the site.

It’s for emerging Australian writers – how do you define them?

They might be self-published, unpublished, with an edited manuscript or traditionally published through a publisher with a new work not taken up by that publisher. Or already published authors looking for a new way to promote their book.

What’s in store for the next 12 months?

We look forward to having more emerging writers join us. We would be thrilled to discover the next big name Australian author!

Written answers provided by writers’ web. For more information, visit the website at writers’ web. Or email them here. They’re a friendly bunch who would be very happy to answer any queries you may have.

When does a manuscript become a book?

The other day a bloke came to build an additional doorjamb and install a screen door. Conversationally he asked me what I did for a living.

“I’m a writer,” I said.

“Oh cool,” he seemed impressed. “What do you write?”

“Fiction mostly,” I told him. “I write fiction books for young adults.”

“Oh,” he looked at me and scratched his head. “Yeah, I could do that. It’s just making stuff up right? I always wanted to write a book.”

I left him to his doorjamb.

Back in front of my computer, I continued work on the manuscript I have been writing, editing and rewriting for the past fourteen months. Yep, FOURTEEN months. That’s over a year of living with these characters in my head. A year of plotting and sub-plotting, drafting and redrafting; of worrying about character development and voice, making sure they are ‘growing up’ right; of being concerned with consistency, ensuring all questions are answered and all loose ends tied. Then writing and rewriting it all over again. I worked on it three days a week. Every week.  Over a year. For one book.

My last novel was the same. By the time it was ready for publication it had taken about a year to write and edit. Before that, I spent two years completing a Master of Creative Writing to develop and hone my writing skills. And that’s without mentioning the hundreds of thousands of hours over a lifetime spent reading, or the years before and since my degree spent writing in a variety of genres for a variety of purposes —all for the purpose of developing and refining my craft.

So could anyone do it? Well, sure. I guess. If they had the time and tenacity. But unless they intend to have their book read, why would they bother? When does a manuscript become a book? Is it when you finish writing it? When you receive the completed draft back from the printer and put it on a bookshelf? Or is it when you format and upload it as an eBook? Maybe it’s not until you sign a contract with a publisher. Or is it when someone actually engages with your work and reads it?

I would suggest the latter. Writing (like reading) is a very subjective thing, but the common factor experienced by every successful writer is this. People read the book. That’s it. That’s all it takes. The thing is, readers are not a particularly charitable bunch. I know this because I am one. As a reader, I have no tolerance for bad writing. I won’t persevere with a badly written piece. And like most avid readers, I can tell from the first paragraph (sometimes even from the blurb) whether the writing is any good, or more importantly—whether it’s readable.

Now I’m not talking about the abject quality of any particular writer, that’s a discussion for another post (writers of literary fiction versus writers of commercial fiction for example), I’m talking about whether or not a piece of written work can be easily read and understood. If the technical aspect of writing is there, if the characters are authentic, the dialogue genuine, the plot believable (whether or not it is fantasy), then someone will read it. And it becomes a book.

There are thousands (perhaps even millions) of writers across the globe, all vying for readers’ attention. And in this age of electronic publishing, the ‘keepers’ of the book are no longer there. There is no middleman. It’s more cut-and-dried than ever before. And with all that choice, readers are less inclined to persevere with reading something they have to work at.

The bottom line is that unless you are prepared to learn the craft of writing, are committed to improving and are prepared to put long hours for many years into it, there is little point to ‘writing a book’ at all.

A contract lost

I lost a publishing contract. The offer of a contract to publish my novel Fake Profile with a traditional publisher was withdrawn. Before it was made. I didn’t even know about it, but I was gutted when I found out. At least, I was until I realised that I was no worse off than if I hadn’t known about it. And really, I can’t be sure I would have accepted the offer of a contract if it had been made.

The contract offer was NOT made,  apparently, because I hold the Digital Management Rights to my own book. Recently the Sydney Morning Herald, the Melbourne Age, and the West Australian, all ran an article about authors who were pursuing publication through electronic means as an alternative to seeking traditional publishing deals. I was featured in the article as an Australian Author who had opted to publish electronically.

The eBook cover for Fake Profile featured prominently in the article and sales have been steadily increasing ever since. Fake Profile is listed on Amazon and is distributed through Smashwords to Apple iBooks on iTunes, Barnes & Noble, Sony, Diesel and Kobo. Most of my sales come through Apple AU, followed by Amazon. I’m happy with the way sales are going. I didn’t expect them to be too high in the first months, particularly as I don’t have a publicist and haven’t yet gone into full promotion mode. But I have been pleasantly surprised with sales so far. And I’m very much looking forward to listing my next book in January.

When I began the journey toward publication, I would have loved a traditional publishing contract. And I tried to get one. I queried agents and submitted to those Australian publishers that still accept unsolicited manuscripts, all to no avail. I even pitched the book to a panel of publishers at a NSW Writers’ Centre writers’ festival. By that time I had my author website and blog up and running, I had a Facebook fanpage as an author and a Twitter account. And the beginnings of a marketing plan. Following the pitching session, I received some fabulous feedback, except from the publisher — her response was “If you’ve done all that, what’s left for the publisher to do?” Indeed.

It was then that I decided to pursue the electronic publishing route. However, it seems it was a publisher who was at that festival and had heard my pitch, who intended offering me a contract. Until the article was published.  The article referred to reasonably strong sales and an increasing profile. Seems the publisher was spooked by the fact that my book was already out there, with a variety of retailers in a variety of locations. And its Digital Rights Management (DRM) remained with me.

I’d not really thought too much about DRM when I published Fake Profile. It’s my book, why wouldn’t they stay with me. But apparently, DRM is a sticking point with traditional publishers. They want exclusive rights—total control—over your book. It means that they would get to say where the eBook is listed for sale and how your royalties are paid, (50% net seems to be shaping up as the norm for eBooks, though there are some publishers that are still vying for much more than this in contracts offered to authors). And you couldn’t sell your own book from your own website. Seems a little counter-productive to me.

A non-exclusive DRM contract would be far more reasonable, and I think, acceptable to authors. I want to have some control over my books. If only so that I could continue to promote them and sell them from my website (once I get my eShop up and running).

I’ve written before about the need for publishers to adapt their practise in this changing environment, or risk losing relevance. The news that I lost a contract because I decided to publish electronically was hard to take at first, but I’ve since realised that it is indicative of the turmoil in which the industry finds itself.

Authors are no longer reliant on publishers. We are not restricted to the Australian marketplace; we can choose who sells our books, we can experiment with price, and we can earn between 35% and 60% royalties. And if we want to see our books in hardcopy, Print-on-demand is free and easy and accessible to everyone.

If I’d been offered a traditional publishing contract for Fake Profile in the first instance, I would’ve jumped at the chance to be published in hardcopy. Would I have the same enthusiasm for a traditional contract now? I don’t know. Maybe. But I’m pretty happy with things as they are. My book Fake Profile is selling well; my new one, Say Nothing, will be out soon, and I probably won’t waste time trying to pitch it to nervous publishers while it could already be earning me money online.

I’m not aiming to be a best-seller just yet. I’m happy having the time to write. I’m refining my craft, experimenting with the market, and enjoying my writer-in-residence job. And I’m very happy heading toward being a mid-lister while I do it.

New media book marketing

The publishing world is changing―there is no doubt about that. Borders going belly up took with it 30% of the book selling market, spelling disaster for emerging authors yet to break into the market. The game is changing. Publishers are fighting for their lives, and don’t want to take risks.

Being an author is increasingly about more than just writing the manuscript. It is about building a platform for your brand. Those of us published in the new market ― the eBook market ― are responsible for the marketing of our books. This means being prepared to embrace Social Media like we have never had to before.

Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts, and using them properly, are a good way to start, but are they enough? Book trailers are featuring more often on author blogs across the globe and I thought I’d try it here.

This is the new trailer for my novel Fake Profile. Have a look and see what you think; I’d love to hear from you!

 

Should emerging authors ePublish?

It’s an interesting dilemma. There is no doubt the publishing industry is changing. Rapidly. Statistically, there is an exponential increase in eReader purchases and eBook downloads each year, and a corresponding fall in hardcopy book sales.

There seems to be as many doomsayers predicting the demise of the book, as there are enthusiasts rejoicing in the changing technology. So who is saying what, and why?

I went to the Young Adult Writers Festival at the NSW Writers Centre on the weekend and heard a few different viewpoints on the matter. The fact that the industry is changing is not in dispute, but the best way of dealing with these changes sparked much discussion.

Epublishing opens doors for authors. It allows them to get their work out there to test the waters. I think people will always want to read. Along with the technology, what I think is changing is how, when, and where they read. Savvy consumers are fast realising that they don’t need to buy a book based only on the blurb. Buying an ebook means you can sample the text before you purchase it, sometimes up to a third of the book. And this is not going to happen unless the text is a grammatically correct, well-written, engaging manuscript.

As a prolific reader, I make great use of my local library. But I find that because of the volume I read, I don’t have the patience to persevere with a book that doesn’t grab me in the first few chapters. As eBook consumption increases, unless the book is high quality writing, it just won’t cut it at all. And when the eBook is a great read, it is typically much cheaper than a hardcopy.

This is a good thing for authors and readers alike. But it doesn’t seem to be too popular with publishers. There is some debate about pricing of eBooks, with those thinking that ePublishing at ridiculously cheap prices (for example: $0.99) undermines the integrity of authorship. I’m not sure about this one, I don’t know if it does or not – but I don’t suppose the guy who has just sold his first million ebooks (for $0.99 each) would think it does.

Un-contracted authors at the festival seemed excited by the prospect of being in control of their work and publishing themselves electronically without the costs usually associated with self-publishing. Publishers however, not so. One publisher on a panel, upon hearing that an author had released an eBook before securing a traditional contract, was concerned about ‘what’s left for us?’

An author who had published the traditional way and had since bought back the electronic rights to his book, told of making more money as a $0.99 ebook than he received in royalties from the publisher.

These days, with the tools of social media at everyone’s fingertips, authors are their own best publicists, and if they are on top of things can potentially be very successful in the electronic book world.

I suppose traditional publishers should be worried. No-one can survive doing the same thing in a changing environment. Borders is a testament to that.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 70 other followers