Dorset authors on how they got their books into the public domain
PUBLISHED: 15:26 26 June 2017 | UPDATED: 16:20 26 June 2017
Annette Shaw talks to some Dorset authors about how they successfully navigated the rapidly changing landscape of publishing to get their books out into the public domain
“When I was growing up, a book was to be cherished,” reflects Tanya Bruce-Lockhart. The former television producer is the literary impresario behind the popular Bridport Literary Festival, which attracts a glittering line-up of writers to the west Dorset town every November. “Our mission is to enlighten, stimulate and entertain,” she declares.
In 2016 ticket sales for the festival were up by £10k, so the level of public interest in books is unquestionable. “Our success is due in part to the sheer diversity of speakers. We attract not just big names but also writers based in our county.” Tanya ponders on how much the county has evolved over the last 15 years. “Dorset seemed to undergo a post-millennium rejuvenation and I became aware of a new creative energy erupting as creative types gravitated to the area.”
There are indeed many authors beavering away in Dorset. One of those is Rosanna Ley. She has published six novels to date; The Little Theatre by the Sea (published by Quercus) is the latest. Rosanna, who admits to loving language and playing with words, lives in West Dorset in sight of the sea. Her books are an engaging mix of culture, landscapes, mystery and relationships, often featuring exotic places such as Marrakech and Mandalay. Rosanna’s expression lights up as she tells me about getting her first publishing contract. But getting those creative juices flowing from your pen or keyboard and meeting deadlines can be very hard work. “The motivation to create has to be that you are doing this for yourself, for expression and for pleasure,” says the experienced creative writing tutor. “The goal of writing is a fantastic achievement, but the finished, published product could take you years.”
Rosanna’s advice is to work with an agent, and every aspiring scribe needs an up to date copy of The Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook. However, this is where the game of chicken and egg comes into play. Happily, Helen Corner-Bryant at Cornerstones Literary Consultancy has the answer to this problem. She founded her transatlantic agency in 1998. Based at Swyre, near Dorchester, Helen, whose own career began with Penguin, works with a team of 60 editorial consultants. “Part of my job was to go through the unsolicited manuscripts and to be frank many publishers have an automatic rejection policy. So breaking through that initial barrier can be very tough,” she reveals. “There’s a saying that an agent is your angel. And an editor is the book’s angel.”
Through Cornerstones Helen now teaches writers how to be professional and this includes mentoring locally and at universities. “We’re here for the emerging author and our aim is to help our clients take responsibility and to be professional in the trade.” But be warned this profession is not for the fainthearted. It takes a lot of discipline, as Helen explains. “I’d say that a writer should be producing 1000 -2000 words a day consistently; then there’s the rigorous polishing until it shines, to prepare it ready for the next level.”
At this point, many novelists would no doubt agree that the writing was the easy part! Nicky Clarke-Bradford works as a PR consultant in Wareham. Writing under the name of Purbeck Wintour, her latest book is The Ordinarily Extraordinary Life of Briony. She tells me about her roller coaster journey to becoming a published author. “I did have an agent who was very keen but she left that particular office. I tried again and the rejections started. So, with a strong belief in my book, I made the decision to go it alone.”
This route used to be referred to as ‘vanity publishing’ because the writer didn’t have third party approval – such as that of an editor. But crucially it gave you no access to the power of a major publishing house’s marketing and PR department. However the literary landscape has been changing rapidly and with social media, a strong online presence and enhanced print technology, anything is possible for a budding author.
Nicky was fortunate to have friends in the business. They helped with the editing and cover design at mates’ rates, although the expenditure didn’t end there as Nicky explains. “I chose Clays Indie Publishing and they were excellent. It’s not until you get deeper into the process you realise how complex it is. There were so many decisions from the quality of the paper to the extent of the print run. And that’s before the promotion work on Facebook and blogs!” So let’s break the actual costs down. For example, ISBN numbers are bought in batches - Nicky’s minimum fee was £120. Design and setting up costs came to over £1000, and currently she pays for storage of books at £5 per month per 100 copies. At the point of sale, orders via Amazon and Waterstones.com are fulfilled by Gardners Books in Eastbourne, Britain’s leading independent wholesaler. Is it worth it? Nicky has no doubt. “When I get feedback on my book from strangers it’s very satisfying to know that my humour and take on a modern life has translated into their world and touched them.”
Dr Alison Gardiner, a busy GP in Bournemouth, is achieving considerable success in that her first novel. The Serpent of Eridor has sold over 1000 copies, and she has just brought out a follow up Alchemy. Aimed at 9-11 year olds (or adults who enjoy great fantasy fiction), the mother of four started telling her children about the adventures of Alex Weston and his hamster Skoodle on the school run.
When it came to turning her tales of derring-do into a book Alison concluded that her best option was partnership publishing. “Realistically, you need an agent. I tried but found there was a huge resistance to multiple submissions and if you pitch to one publisher at a time, months go by with no tangible results.” After a lot of research she settled on Matador in Kibworth Beauchamp, Leicestershire. Alison found the company to be discerning - they don’t take everyone - and the end product was of a high quality.
“You can buy in at any level,” she tells me. “But I’d say allow at least £2,500 for the services you absolutely need and to get help with a world you probably don’t understand. If you want to add foreign rights and all the other options then the bill is more likely to be £4,500.”
Alison’s books are available on Amazon, Kindle as well as in bookshops. “From what started as adventure stories to entertain my son during the school-run, it’s all looking very positive!”
• Bridport Literary Festival (5 12 November 2017) bridlit.com
• Rosanna Ley - rosannaley.com
• Cornerstones Literary Consultancy - cornerstones.co.uk
• Nicky Clarke-Bradford- purbeckwintour.com
• Alison Gardiner - Home of the Eridor series alisongardinerauthor.com