Three Wiltshire-based authors shared their publishing experiences at Marlborough Library to a crowd of would-be authors to celebrate National Libraries Day on Saturday.
The main message of this talk seemed to be that unless you are an established author or writing a series in a popular genre then expect little support from either agents or publishers.
Print publishing is in disarray, hard hit by the electronic format, and the main bookshops and online retailers push a few best sellers at the expense of other authors.
Self-publish an e-book, promote it on social media such as Facebook and Twitter (though don’t let these sidetrack your writing) and then expect – and consider – a traditional publishing deal only when your sales hit 100,000 plus.
Mavis Cheek, who spoke alongside fellow writers Helen Slavin and James Aitcheson, gave a potted history of how she became a published author of some twenty-five years and fifteen books.
Most memorably she received her best advice when taken out by a publisher – to tell her why her first book would not be taken up. “It wouldn’t happen over lunch today,” Mavis remarked.
Mavis became a writer after she fell pregnant and needed something to do that “made me a viable member of society” whilst she brought up her child, a situation mirrored by JK Rowling decades later.
A working class girl who had the right look for the 1960s arts vibe, Mavis spent over ten years working for an art publisher and then an eminent gallery before taking an arts degree.
Her first efforts at writing aimed for her to become the next Virginia Woolfe ‘with no humour whatsoever,’ however a publisher who recognised her underlying talent recommended that she write funny books.
And thus she become the ‘Godmother of Chick Lit’, a label she resists with a wry smile.
James Aitcheson, who was brought up and lives in Mildenhall, published his first book, Sworn Sword, in 2010, which he began writing whilst on a post-graduate creative writing course at Bath Spa University.
This is the first of a three book deal with Preface Publishing, the second instalment of which he is completing for release this September.
The series is set in England 1067, the aftermath of the Norman invasion, and is told from the point of view of Tancred, a Norman oath-sworn knight.
Trowbridge-based Helen Slavin began as a script writer, cutting her teeth on scriptwriting factories such as EastEnders and Holby City, before writing novels such as The Extra Large Medium and The Stopping Place.
Her fortunes in book publishing has been mixed as a ‘mid-list’ author; her first three novels were followed by a meeting with her publisher Pocket Books where ‘I wasn’t even bought a coffee’.
With Helen’s suspicions raised, she was told that a book series – especially with a supernatural theme – was where it was at and what did she think?
Helen left the meeting having promised a three book series featuring a Swedish vampire detective. “I didn’t like him,” she said, “And a troll ate him in the third chapter.”
So Helen decided to self-publish which is not the ‘vanity’ project it once was when the printed format was the only option.
In these days of the Kindle, smart phones and tablets, authors can easily convert their hard work into a self-distributing e-book format and promote the book themselves.
Whilst waiting for a response from her publisher regarding the first novel written after the beverage-free meeting, werewolf-themed Will You Know Me?, Helen has published this and her following two books online through Amazon.
The host, Marlborough Library, ended the event by announcing that in a few weeks time borrowers will be able to download books onto their e-readers, though not as yet to the Kindle due to compatibility issues.
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