Traditional vs Self-Publishing: My Experience

I’ve recently finished working on my latest novel, Personal Assistance. It’s an exciting romantic suspense set in a Middle Eastern kingdom, in the midst of a civil war.

The beautiful and stylish heroine, Hannah, who works as the Arab Prince’s personal assistant, comes across a top-secret document that could change the course of the war. Knowing that she’s committing treason, a crime punishable by death, she flees to the British Embassy and enlists the help of a disgraced (but devastatingly attractive) special forces operative.

Tom has been posted to the war-torn country on “embassy duty” as punishment for a botched mission in Afghanistan. Suffering from survivor’s guilt, and eager to redeem himself, he’s a man with everything to prove. The beautiful Englishwoman and her devastating secret couldn’t have come at a better time.

So Tom agrees to help  Hannah get the information out of the country and into western hands – with the Royal security force hot on their tail, and a revolution unfolding around them.

Read the first chapter of Personal Assistance on the Entangled website.

What Being Traditionally Published Taught Me:

1. That even when you think your novel is finished, your editor might have very different ideas. I rewrote Personal Assistance three times, each time taking three to four months. It was a loooong process. I realised that winning the NaNoWriMo Entangled Competition didn’t automatically mean they liked the book as it was. In my case, they liked the style for their imprint, but I had to change a lot of things before they were happy with it. Some of the changes I agreed with, and some I didn’t, but in the end, being a published author means team work, and you have to put your faith in your editor, and trust that they know what they’re doing.

2. You never stop learning. This process taught me how the cogs of a publishing house work. It was an eye-opener. The self-published novels I’d written before were edited professionally, proof read and copy edited. I’d worked with professionals, cover designers and formatters, but nothing prepared me for the time delays, edits, approvals, red-tape, rewrites and deadlines that came with being traditionally published. I’d recommend even the most stalwart self-publishers to go down this route at some point, if they can. It’s an experience that makes you more professional in yourself, and pushes you to the limit of your ability.

3. Not even publishers are perfect. I wasn’t happy with my physical book cover, and I had limited ability to affect changes. I didn’t think the marketing was very good, and I did more to promote the book than with many of my other self-published novels. I wasn’t happy with the purchase price, but that too was out of my control. You realize how limited your influence is when you’re with a big publishing house and you’re ‘just the author’. Traditional publishing definitely has it’s limitations, and given the choice I’m not sure I’d go down that road again. Although, for the reasons above, I’m glad I’ve done it once.

4. Networking really makes a difference. Through the Entangled network I met many virtual on-line friends and their support and encouragement was vital in the launch of my book. That in itself is worth the journey.

5. Being traditionally published doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll make more sales. For starters… you take home less. Traditional publishers take a chunk out of your sales, and you’re left with the scraps. Unless you are making thousands of sales per book, I don’t think this is a financially viable option any more. Also, you can’t leave it up to the publishers to promote your book. Again, unless you’re a mainstream author with a solid fan base, you are going to have to do most of the marketing work yourself. Just because a publisher has a big name, doesn’t mean you get the exposure that goes with it.

In conclusion, being traditionally published is a worthwhile exercise for unpublished or self-published authors. There is a lot to learn about the writing and publishing process. It pushes you, it challenges you and it makes you dig deep into your reserves of patience and motivation. These are all great learning experiences that will make you a better author. Does it translate into more sales? Rarely. And your limited control over your book cover, the editing process and the price can be frustrating, if you’re not happy with what is provided.

Please let me know your thoughts on traditional vs self-publishing in the comments below. I’d be interested to hear about the experiences of other authors.

Thanks and happy writing!

Louise x

A Luxury Island Off The Coast Of Mozambique

Medjumbe island, off the coast of Mozambique is little more than a sandbank in the middle of the Indian Ocean. It’s 1km in length and surrounded by azure blue waters, shallow reefs and an exotic array of sea life. It’s also the setting of my latest summer read, THE NEW YEAR RESOLUTION.

Medjumbe-Island-Mozambique

When mulling over the plot and conflicts of THE NEW YEAR RESOLUTION, I looked for a setting that was isolated, stunningly beautiful, and warm and balmy. A place where my hero and heroine could lose themselves in each other and have lots of sizzling, summery beach sex!

A friend, who lives in South Africa, suggested one of the islands off Mozambique. Having never been to Moz before, I was a bit sceptical, but then I went online (LOVE the internet) and boy was I blown away. Medjumbe fit the bill to perfection. Sand as white as snow, sea the color in postcards and all under a canopy of cobalt blue sky. Bliss…

Local African flavour is evident in the decor of the luxury accommodations on the island, as well as the cuisine. The international jet-setter, Ryan Jackson, (my hero) holidays there fairly regularly.

Medjumbe is perfectly suited to diving, with the shallow reefs, warm water and high visibility, so obviously my hero and heroine do some of this. What better place to get hot and heavy than after a dive, on board a luxury boat, bobbing on the reef?

See more pictures of Mejumbe Island Resort on my PINTEREST page: http://pinterest.com/louisenovelist/the-new-year-resolution/.

The New Year Resolution is available on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/dp/B00D7HXMDU

Capri – The Setting for The Italian Inheritance

My latest contemporary romance is set in the exotic and glamorous island of Capri, on Italy’s Amalfi Coast. Many readers have commented on the setting in this book as ‘having a great local atmosphere’, ‘you can almost feel the sun beating down on you’, ‘great on a cold, winter’s day’.

I chose Capri as a setting after visiting the island about ten years ago with a friend of mine. It is exquisitely beautiful with those dramatic cliff tops and panoramic views, that impossibly blue sky and quaint cobbled squares, all surrounded by the shimmering Bay of Naples. As soon as I set foot on the island I knew that one day I’d stage a romance here.

Here are some of my photographs that aided me in my research. These will give you some idea of the magnificence and charm of the place.

Capr 1 Capri 2 Capri 3

 Some interesting facts about Capri

  • According to the ancient Greek, ‘kapros’ means ‘wild boar’. The Latin word ‘capreae’ means ‘goats’. Although the exact origin of the name ‘Capri’ is not known, fossils of wild boars have been found on the island. Historical evidence shows that the Romans used to refer to this island as ‘the goat island’.
  • Capri is situated off the Amalfi coast in Campania, Italy. The serene beauty and warm climate makes Capri a hot tourist spot.
  • The island is divided into two small towns: Capri and Anacapri. The ‘City of Capri’ is the main commercial area. The ‘Community of Anacapri’ occupies the west side of the island.
  • The striking scenery and pleasant climate of Capri and Anacapri has always attracted European artists, writers and celebrities.
  • Capri was first discovered by Caesar Augustus in 29 BC. He was so impressed by the peaceful charm of the island that he started visiting Capri again and again. His successor Tiberius built 12 lavish villas between 27 and 37 A.D. You can see the remains of the villas built by the Roman emperors Augustus and Tiberius; which depict Roman, Norman, and Arabic architecture.
  • The Greek ‘Teleboi’ were the first people to settle down in Capri. They came to this island in the 8th Century BC. Remains of various animals and weapons have been found at the excavation sites in Capri. Walls of an ancient Greek acropolis can be still seen in Capri. It is the only structure that shows that Taleboi once lived there.
  • Hotel Pagano’ was the first hotel on this island which was opened in 1826. The German writer Augustus Kopisch had visited Capri and stayed there. Many writers and poets were attracted by the magical solitude of this island. Description of the intoxicating fragrance of the flowers on this island can be found in classical literary works. The rustic simplicity and the delicate splashes of color make this island one of the top spots for the tourists.
  • The Blue Grotto is the most famous of the many caves on this island. It is situated along the west side of the island. The amazing blue color of the sea inside the cave leaves a permanent imprint on your mind. The breathtaking views of the caves make your trip memorable. Caves and mountain landscapes along the coastline of Capri are just awesome.
  • Monte Solaro is the highest point (1,932 ft / 589 m) in Capri, from where you can enjoy a magnificent and delightful view of the island. Those who are fond of photography can click some excellent snaps from here.
  • Capri is a perfect destination for those who love seaside nature. Those who love sea diving, kayaking, trekking, and water sports, would definitely enjoy their stay here. The ‘Phoenician Steps’, on the way to the sea from Anacapri is one of the most visited sites on the island.
  • Fun facts about Capri inform us that the famous writer Somerset Maugham chose Capri as the setting for his short story ‘The Lotus Eater’. In this story, the hero comes to Capri from Boston, to enjoy a holiday. He is so fascinated by the beauty of the island that he gives up his job and makes up his mind to spend the rest of his life in leisure there! What a realistic description of Capri!

The eBook Revolution – It Will Effect Your Life

As a writer, the ebook revolution will transform your writing career. The brilliant and innovative Mark Coker was recently speaking at the San Francisco Writers’ Conference and had this to say about the future of publishing.

10 Trends that will Transform the Future of Authorship

  1. Reading moving to screens: Yes, screens are the new newspapers and magazines. Ebooks look set to overtake print books in the very near future. On some platforms like Amazon, this is already happening. But why is this the case? Well, screens offer a better reading experience that paper, they have a changable font size, they’re portable and compact, they cost less and there is a bigger selection.
  2. Bookselling moving to the web: Book purchases made online has increased exponentially in the last ten years. This is putting many smaller bookstores out of business and consequently book stores are disappearing, print is declining, and big publishers are losing control of distribution.
  3. Authors gain control of publishing: The power has shifted from the traditional publisher to the self-published author. Ebook printing and distribution is free. Author tools and self-publishing advice is free and plentiful. There are no barriers to entry. Writers no longer need publishers in order to publish, distribute and sell their work. A question authors are asking themselves is “What can a publisher do for me, that I can do for myself?”
  4. The rise of indie book publishing: Self-published books are dominating bestseller lists. Why is this? For authors, it’s faster to self-publish than wait for feedback from a traditional publisher. The author has more control over the publishing process from editing to cover design and pricing.  Expenses are low. Distribution is easy and free of cost.  For consumers ebooks cost less than print books, they’re easy to download onto an ereader.
  5. Traditional publishers are suffering from high prices: Book buyers are price sensitive. From every sale the author earns a royalty and gains a fan.
  6. Current explosion leads to downward pressure on prices: As more and more authors flood the market with ebooks, the demand wanes and price competition sets in. Lower prices make ebooks more affordable and accessible for consumers with more books being read than ever before.
  7. Print is dead: For most self-published authors, print doesn’t even feature as one of their distribution options. Customers chose cheaper ebooks over more expensive print books.
  8. Ebook retailers going global: Online retailers are going global and expanding into markets outside the US.
  9. Big publishers getting into self-publishing: It really is a case of adapt or die. Smaller, specialised agencies dealing in online publishing are rising to the challenge and creating opportunities for writers that never existed before.
  10. Stigma attached to self-publishing is disappearing: Thankfully. The old model Author-Agent-Publisher-Bookstore-Reader has changed to Author-Bookstore-Reader. Many successful authors will straddle both worlds.

Exciting times. The power is in the writer’s hands now. We have more options than ever before. As writers, it’s up to us to take advantage and create our own success.

 

Planning vs Spontaneity

I recently joined an online chat with author Polly Courtney, who rather infamously ditched her publishers, Harper Collins over ‘naff covers’ (and a few other issues like how her books were positioned in the market) to pursue the self-publishing path. Here’s what she had to say about Planning vs. Spontaneity.

Louise: Hi Polly. I’d like to know if you plan your novels to an inch of their lives, like the worksheets here, or if you shoot from the hip on a few things. I’m a planner, but I do find I can kill my enjoyment of the story if I plan each scene too much before I sit down and write. Although it is easier to keep the flow going with everything planned out carefully. Just wondered how you handle the split between planning and spontaneity.

Polly: Hi Louise, I’m with you there – I’m a planner. However, I also agree that there should be a degree of spontaneity and freedom for characters to do what they like. My process is to think (for quite a while) about the theme, what I’m trying to achieve with the book (e.g. ‘open up people’s minds to how it feels to be a youth today’ or whatever), then I think about main characters and map out key events that need to happen, then I go to the next level of detail and write 1-2 lines about what happens in each chapter. It’s only when I’ve got this (relatively tight) plan that I sit down to write the chapters. But as I said to Charlotte, often the characters go off and do their own thing as the book develops, so I am continually updating the storyline to suit them. The characters are the most important thing!
That’s just me, though – there are no rights or wrongs. I know a lot of writers (including PD James apparently) who just sit down with a blank page on their screen and see what comes…

I’d like to dissect a few pieces of this comment to explore further.

Think about the theme – As we know, a theme in a romance novel is an important part of the story. The theme sets the tone of the story and dictates the plot. Common romantic themes (often called ‘tropes’) are accidental pregnancy, baby on the doorstep, reformed playboy, blackmail, boss and employee – you get the picture. A good, tried and tested trope goes a long way to catching a publishers attention. Read more about tropes here.

Map out key events: Now this is plotting and in a romance is based on the characters goals and motivations. This is what drives the plot. So by mapping out key events what she really means is doing a detailed character analysis so you know what drives your characters, what they long for and what they fear. Then using this as your divining rod, develop the plot or key events.

Write 1-2 lines about what happens in each chapter: Here she’s fleshing out what happens in each chapter. This means concentrating on how your characters react to each other and to the situation they find themselves in. Every action must have a purpose and every reaction must be in line with your characters motivation.

Doesn’t sound so simple now, does it?

But within this framework the characters develop as the story progresses. Updating the structure to accommodate them keeps you to your format and keeps your story on track to the inevitable HEA!

Read the full chat archive here.

Setting in a Romance Novel

My latest guest post on the Romaniac’s site:

Louise’s books are always set in interesting or exotic locations. Here she talks about how she uses setting to add depth and substance to her stories. Over to you, Louise.

I love to travel. Growing up in South Africa meant that we had to travel long distances to get to Europe and America, so as a family, we contented ourselves with shorter trips to more unusual destinations. The rugged and wild west-coast of Namibia, Kwazulu Natal, Mauritius, Mozambique and Lesotho all featured in my childhood. I learnt early on how the culture and atmosphere of a location can influence your stay there.

After university I jetted off to Europe and spent a few gloriously care-free years working in London and taking frequent trips to Italy, Spain, Greece, Austria, Germany, Switzerland and everywhere else in between. Not being a 5 star hotel kind of gal, I stayed mostly in family-run B&Bs and met a variety of interesting and colourful characters many of whom have influenced my characters over the years.

My latest release, The Italian Inheritance, is set on the glamorous island of Capri, off Italy’s Amalfi Coast. I visited Capri with a friend in 2003 and the dry, lazy heat and classy glitz and glamour of the place left an indelible imprint in my mind. It struck me as the perfect place to stage a romance, because of its laid-back charm and eloquent lifestyle. Not only is the island incredibly dramatic in its beauty, but it’s also historically relevant, once being the summer playground of much creative and literary talent.

Being only a short ferry ride to Naples and Sorrento gave my island setting the lifeline to the ‘real world’ which I needed. This added substance to my hero – the darkly cynical, Rafael Vialli.

Character development is important in a romance novel and I wanted my hero in
The Italian Inheritance
to have flaws and trust issues resulting from a difficult past.

Naples is not a pretty city. It has elements that are beautiful about it, but it is rough and dirty in parts and provided the perfect background for my hero to have grown up in. Its gritty character also contrasts nicely to the idle and luxurious personality of Capri, only a stone’s throw away.

Setting can play an important role in a romance if it contributes to the depth or conflict of the story. Here are my top tips for creating a setting that adds impact to your story.

  • Pick a setting that either compliments or contradicts your characters personalities. In my first novel, Antarctic Affair, my hero was a fiery adventure photographer so I set the story in Antarctica. The heroine by contrast was a city bound journalist, with an inherent dislike of the outdoors. So pitting her against the elements (and the hero’s fiery personality) made for interesting reading.
  • Let the setting add insight into your character’s personality. In The Italian Inheritance, the rough neighbourhood in Naples where Rafael grew up made my heroine, a London-based nurse distinctly uncomfortable. It unleashed empathy and provided a glimpse into his past that she might otherwise not have had. By contrast, his elegant villa in Capri was a symbol of how far he’d come in life and how his ambition had paid off. It signified his pride and sense of achievement.
  • The setting should provide obstacles to your heroes’ journey. This can either be in the plot or the personal development of the love story. In The Italian Inheritance my heroine, Anna, is a hardworking nurse from London. She can’t afford to stay in Capri for long. The island is notoriously expensive. When the legal process around her identity drags out, she is forced to accept Rafael’s offer of a place to stay. This forces them together and enables the love story to progress.
  • The characteristics of the location can contribute to the ‘heat’ in the story. Capri is hot and dry, most people wear little in the way of clothing, the water is warm and inviting so there is a lot of wondering around in bikinis and sarongs… You get the picture? It can work the opposite way round too. In Antarctic Affair the biting cold forced the characters to huddle together, drink mulled wine, generate body heat and stay in bed for longer…. Use your imagination.

The Italian Inheritance is out now on Amazon.com.

The Italian Inheritance

A mysterious letter… A father she never knew… A vast family fortune…

Life couldn’t get any stranger for quiet, conscientious, London-based nurse, Anna Crawford. On a trip to the glamorous Italian island of Capri Anna discovers a family legacy too great to ignore and a man, whose trust she must win, in order to change her life forever.

Writing The First Draft

I’ve finally completed the first draft of The Italian Inheritance, a contemporary romance about an orphan and a trust attorney, set on the Italian island of Capri.

Writing the first draft of any novel is a fairly momentous achievement and I learnt a few important things along the way.

  1. Finishing a first draft, even a rough draft, takes an immense amount of dedication. For three months I got up and stared bleary eyed at my computer, before putting my hands on the keypad. As the manuscript progressed, the more motivated I became. In the middle bits I sagged a bit, but forced myself to go on, if only to prove that I could finish it.
  2. Having a set writing schedule helps. I dedicated my mornings to writing, which gave me four or five hours a day in which to write. Afternoons were out of the question due to the school run, extra murals etc. I even logged out of my email client so that I wasn’t disturbed by interesting little pop-ups vying for my attention. The volume went to mute on my PC too.
  3. It helps to have a concrete plot / conflict outlined before you start. About half way through the manuscript I had to sit down with my Conflict Spreadsheet and revisit the developing conflict, tension and character reactions in each scene. I made notes such as “Conflict escalates after first love scene” and “Heroine first realises she has feelings for hero,” against each scene so I could track the development of the relationship.
  4. Outlining the new scene before I wrote it helped me to add in the appropriate tone, action and conflict.
  5. I made it my mission to end each scene with the reader wanting more. This became a goal of mine and made finishing the scene fun and motivating.
  6. To prevent sagging middles, plan your novel carefully. Know how the relationship develops and what happens before you start writing. Otherwise get to the middle and the conflict will be weak, story can’t sustain itself.

As Louis D. Brandeis says, “There’s no such thing as good writing, just good rewriting.”

It’s more important to get the story down with all the conflict, developing relationship issues and resolution before worrying about consistency, spelling, grammar and stylistic errors. That’s what the rewrites are for.

Heidi Rice Workshop

Romantic Novelist, Heidi RiceYesterday evening I attended a New Voices workshop hosted by the lovely Heidi Rice at the Mayfair Library in London. We grabbed a glass of wine and some cheese straws and huddled around a large wooden table to get down to the business of writing romance. The setting was intimate and informal – perfect for a chat about Heidi’s books, alpha male heroes and sassy heroines.

Heidi began by outlining what Mills and Boon look for in a romance novel and went through the various lines, including the newly founded RIVA line, aimed at bringing younger readers into the M&B fold.

 

Continue reading

An Evening with Philippa Gregory

I had the privilege of attending Philippa Gregory’s book launch for her new novel, The Red Queen, in Cape Town on Friday evening. A large crowd assembled in the upmarket Exclusive Books store at Cavendish Square shopping centre to meet Philippa and buy signed copies of her new novel. A sparkling, petite, yet feisty woman engaged elegantly with the audience and held everyone in rapt attention as she explained ‘Why the Tudors?’, ‘Why Mary Boleyn?” and more particularly in relation to her latest novel, ‘Why Margaret Beaufort?” Continue reading