Home-grown Talent

Posted on October 13, 2010 in Uncategorized

We hear from members of our very own SYP committee, past and present, who have realised the dream to see their work appear in print.

Nikki Dudley is Commissioning Editor for inPrint and is a Projects Coordinator for Booktime at Booktrust. Her debut novel, Ellipsis, was published in hardback by Sparkling Books in April 2010 and came out in paperback in September 2010. You can read more about her novel and buy it here: www.sparklingbooks.com

I know a lot of authors say it but my love for words started when I was very small. I loved reading, loved poetry at primary school and loved getting to write short stories in a scrappy old book that the teacher probably didn’t pay much attention to. I kept writing throughout school but it wasn’t until I came to make my university choices that I seriously thought about writing properly. I did a combined BA in English and Creative Writing, and followed this with a Masters in Creative Writing. This was really the beginning of my belief that I might actually see something in print with my name on it.

I’d been shortlisted in some competitions, won a prize for poetry and had a short story published, plus a few pieces in some small print and online magazines. It was all a great start and I couldn’t help loving the feeling of being published. I’m not sure what it is – pleased that someone thinks it good enough to publish, happy to have contributed in some small way to the vastness of this world, being proud of having a product of writing incessantly for hours on end, wanting to share with other people who enjoy writing – who knows! 

However, it got to a point where I wanted something more substantial in print. I never thought of myself primarily as a novelist but I started one on my MA and decided to pursue it. I uploaded chapters to Authonomy.com, which I found invaluable for kneading out all of the little mistakes and inconsistencies. It also compensated for loss of the feedback of my MA peers once the course was over. When I finally felt like my novel made sense and was at a good level, I started submitting. I got limited interest from agents, with only one asking to read more and eventually deciding against it. Not to be defeated, I tried some small presses. And lo and behold, one of them liked it!

This is how my novel, Ellipsis, came to be published by Sparkling Books in hardback and paperback this year. It was certainly strange at first being on the other side of the process. I’d been working in publishing for two years, I run my own online magazine and do a lot of editing myself. Suddenly, I had an editor picking me up on things I had written, spotting typos and altering copy. It was tough at first and surprising that there were a fair amount of typos in the novel. But being so close to it definitely makes it hard to spot all these things! 

Ultimately though, I like to think I’m big enough to take the advice of others with lots of experience and/or experience that differs from my own. In the end, the process was great. It certainly gave me further insight into how some of the people I had worked with felt and how to approach the sensitive issue of editing someone’s beloved work in the future with even more grace. I also found the conversations about design and print particularly interesting as I worked as a Production Manager for magazines for two years. Luckily, there was an element of compromise here (perhaps a perk of a smaller publishers), and I had a lot of input on the cover of Ellipsis, as I really wanted to strike the right tone with it.

Since Ellipsis, I have also had a chapbook published (exits/origins) and had a small collection published as an ebook online. Apparently, I find being published and publishing a little addictive! I enjoy that I have experience both sides of the industry. I believe my experience with publishing really helped me with my novel in particular and also helps you understand where your publisher is coming from – if they want to make a change, there is probably a reason and if you don’t agree, I’m sure you can work it out. At the same time, my publishing experience has made it harder in some senses as after being an editor, being edited by someone else can be a challenge. But all in all, the product is really what matters, so taking advice on your writing well, even if you don’t take it all into account, is something that is essential as a writer.

 

Kevin Mahoney is the editor of the literary website Authortrek.com. He spent many years in book retail, working for Ottakars, then Amazon.co.uk. Kevin now works in publishing, and spent 18 months at Random House, before moving on to Legend Press/YouWriteOn, and then Orion. Kevin is the Publisher and Founder of Punked Books. You can buy A Fame of Two Halves here.

 

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember, although I suspect I first started when I passionately took up reading at the age of eight. When I was a teenager, I took advantage of the long summer holiday to fill up notepads with my first attempts at composing a novel. Following my study of English Literature at university (natch), I got a job at Ottakars in my hometown of Slough. This inspired me to create a literary magazine, and although I soon got tired of putting all the printed pages together by hand, this did give me my first insight into the best practices for layout and typography. During the early spring of 1998, I decided to set myself the challenge of writing a novel in time for that year’s World Cup. This was an appropriate target, as the novel was all about a failed football manager. So, I took a week off Ottakars, and wrote the majority of the novel locked up in my room for nine days straight! I believe I sent it off to a couple of publishers, but got standard rejection letters, so I put the novel away in a drawer. During this time, I finally got fed up of producing my literary magazine on paper, and decided to put it on the internet instead. This involved me learning a bit of HTML in the process, as there were no handy blogging tools around then.

 

In the autumn of 2008, Amazon set up their UK base in England’s silicon valley (i.e. Slough trading estate). Since I was really too shy to be a successful bookseller, I decided to join this behemoth, as I felt sure that there would be far more opportunities for me there. And so it proved, as I was promoted a few times. Amazon in those days was an exciting place to work, as they had a real missionary zeal about their role as the first big internet retailer, in the days when people were still shy about using their credit cards online. I became even more fascinated by the book industry, and was often amused by the various weird formats that books came in. I remember going on a company visit to Wiley in the late 90s on behalf of Amazon, and spouting on about Print on Demand, which really was a new technology in those days.

 

However, after seven years, I decided to move on from Amazon to see if I could make money from my literary website via online advertising. And thus I discovered, many years before Rupert Murdoch, that this really wasn’t possible. So, it seemed like a natural move for me to seek a job in publishing. I got a few part time jobs in publishing that taught me a whole lot more, although I did get the impression from some prospective employers that they thought me too old to move into their profession at the grand old age of 35!

 

During this time, I joined a website called YouWriteOn, that enables writers to get blind critiques from their peers, but I didn’t really participate in it much. However, a few months later, I received an email from YouWriteOn inviting members to submit to their new scheme of publishing 500 novels before Christmas. Okay, so this was a form of self-publishing, but unlike every other scheme I’d seen, they weren’t ripping writers off, as they were only charging writers £40 to get their books published. The printer’s specifications that YouWriteOn sent me were quite hard to follow, but I must have adhered to them fine, as my novel, A Fame of Two Halves, was indeed published before Christmas. This was the football novel that I’d written 10 years ago, which I had returned to at various times over the years and polished.

 

 

 

About a month later, I got an email from Tom Chalmers, Managing Director of Legend Press, asking me if I could assist them in processing the backlog from the YouWriteOn scheme. It turned out that many authors hadn’t been able to follow the printer’s specifications, and so many books in the YouWriteOn scheme hadn’t been published on time. I had met Tom via the SYP, and had previously offered to sell Legend Press titles online as ebooks, as I’d been experimenting with this form myself (although the UK wasn’t quite ready for ebooks in 2008). So, while I was helping with the YouWriteOn backlog, I discovered just how straightforward it was to publish books via Print on Demand. I’d previously published A Fame of Two Halves as an ebook on floppy disc back in 1998, so I had a few ISBNs from this time that I wasn’t really using, so I decided to set up my own imprint. Thus Punked Books emerged kicking and screaming in 2009.

 

One of the first projects that I embarked upon was a detailed reading guide to Dan Brown’s latest novel, The Lost Symbol, which I published under the pseudonym of Alex Carmine. This Lost Symbol guide has now gone onto sell approx. 4000 copies in paperback and various ebook formats, and is Punked Books’ most successful title to date. I’ve since gone on to sell the Portuguese language rights for this title, and the Russian language rights for another title. Indeed, running Punked Books all by myself has led to me obviously learning a whole lot more about publishing, especially since I do all the production, cover design, editing, layout, promotion, and some of the writing (of course!) myself, while developing the careers of other writers by giving them their first shot at publication.

 

 

G. S. Mattu is the Founding Editor of InDigital (then InPrint Online) and is a Senior Commissioning Editor at a leading academic publisher.  His debut novel, Sons and Fascination is out with LegendPaperbooks in February 2011.

 

Even before I got my first job in publishing, I knew that I would like to write, properly. That I would like to write thousands of words in one sitting and move from my typewriter or keyboard drained and blank. That I would like to work through the night into the scrolling dawn and hear the morning sounds of London waking up around me as I slowly slid into a tunnel-vision of sleep deprivation. That I would like to be published. From early musings, awkward (and misguided) teenage poetry through to sad, piquant short stories written during breaks from revision, I knew that I would like for my work to be valued and critically appreciated. To do that, I would need to have it published. That was my own benchmark; other benchmarks exist.

 

Upon starting in publishing, I joined the SYP and got involved with the committee. I was working in trade publishing at the time, and saw the less glamorous side of things: the low royalty rates, the small print runs, the stock covers. This didn’t put me off. I moved to academic publishing and saw the dusty monographs priced high, sold to libraries and languishing unread, many hundreds of hours of the author’s time to achieve two citations and a half-promotion. This didn’t put me off. I saw the huge wheels of journals publishing in action, the clamour for ISI impact factors and the arrival of manuscript management systems, itemizing each essay and putting it on a conveyer belt. This didn’t put me off.

 

At the SYP, I met people who worked in trade at the glamorous end, who were wining and dining with authors. I moved to my current company, where we have a trade arm, and went to book launches in a variety of places, drinking the free wine and listening intently to the proud but hesitant speeches. At this time, I was working on my book and revising it, each time going back to strip away more and more of the verbiage, the excess, until is was cool, calm, clear, a small piece of finely worked wood sculpture on an austere stone tablet.

 

I had seen some of the best things and the worst things that the publishing trade had to offer. The joyous whiskey-soaked after-parties following on from the free wine and canapés. I’d seen the low royalty rates, the late payment, the cynicism, the Print On Demand curling before it even made the bookshelf. All it made me want was to make the book better, to write it, to rewrite, to write it again, and to start work on the next one. And that’s exactly what I’ve done.