Welcome to the two hundred and twentieth of my blog interviews with novelists, poets, short story authors, biographers, agents, publishers and more. Today’s is with Tannbourne publisher and editor Ellen. A list of interviewees (blogged and scheduled) can be found here. If you like what you read, please do go and investigate further.
Morgen: Hello, Ellen. Can you please briefly explain the structure of your publishing house… perhaps who’s involved along the process of an acceptance to the book / story being published.
Ellen: This is a one-woman part-time business at present so I am doing everything from commissioning to accounts to despatch. Submission guidelines for authors are on the website www.tannbourne.com but please be aware that submissions are not re-opening until the New Year, a note will be posted on the site when submissions are being accepted again. I prefer to receive a sample of about the first third of a manuscript initially and I can always call for more if I like it. Email submission is my preferred format and it makes my life a lot easier if I receive a single file rather than one file per chapter as I transfer submissions to my Kindle so I can read them when travelling.
Morgen: Much easier than a stack of papers. I love technology. Do you write at all?
Ellen: No – I have immense admiration for the talents and dedication of those who do.
Morgen: The $64,000 question: out of all the submissions you receive, what makes a book / story stand out for all the right reasons?
Ellen: For me the key thing is that I can see and identify with the main character and that they are in a situation that I care about resolving. If I don’t rapidly start to like and empathise with the main character then the book has probably lost me.
Morgen: If they don’t gel with you, they’re unlikely to with a reader. And then, without naming names, what makes a book proposal / story stand out for all the wrong reasons?
Ellen: I don’t like flashbacks and hordes of characters too soon start to be wearying / confusing. Too much back story too soon is off-putting as it gets in the way of moving the plot forward…
Morgen: The classic ‘info dump’.
Ellen: …and also too much “tell” rather than “show”.
Morgen: Absolutely – we don’t want to be told that Adam is angry, we want to see how he is because he slams his fist down on the desk. What genres do you accept? What would you suggest an author do with a cross-genre piece of writing?
Ellen: I am keeping an open mind about genres but I personally don’t read poetry, short stories or memoirs so I am not accepting those.
Morgen: Is there a genre that you haven’t published and would like to?
Ellen: Well I am a big fan of crime thrillers and I also quite like horror stories / supernatural so it would be nice to get hold of a really good example.
Morgen: Can you suggest some dos and don’ts when submitting to you.
Ellen: As long as it is an electronic file and a single file rather than one file per chapter then I am fairly unfussy about the rest!
Morgen: Are there authors that you deal with on a regular basis and / or perhaps represent directly?
Ellen: Tannbourne has two authors at present – Miranda Newboult and Alicia L. Wright
Morgen: Who have both featured on my blog (thank you again for arranging that). This is a question that I ask authors but I think is just as relevant to you as a publisher: what was the first book / story you published?
Ellen: The first book published was Emma’s Stormy Summer by Miranda Newboult (available via Amazon.co.uk). The book is about a little girl in the summer term at school who has a few problems because her father is unwell and one of her close friends has started bullying others. The book has a very happy feel to it and is filled with lots of lively birthday parties and other fun summer activities.
Morgen: Do you run any competitions?
Ellen: Tannbourne has supported giveaway competitions for the Parentsintouch website. I am interested in running competitions but haven’t had time to progress this.
Morgen: I’m not surprised, given all you do and being only part-time. What do you feel about an author writing under a pseudonym? Do you think they make a difference to their profile? And would you recommend an author writing under different names for different genres?
Ellen: Alicia L. Wright, author of Eggs, Butter, Sugar and Disaster is using a pseudonym and I am fine with this. I guess it helps keep the author’s personal sites away from their sites / profile as a writer. I definitely think an author should stick only one writing name though, building the writer’s brand is hard enough without trying to do it multiple times.
Morgen: I’d say so, yes. I don’t write one genre so I also think it helps to start out that way, although I’ve only published short stories so far (novellas to come in 2012). Another semi-priceless question: do you think an agent is vital to an author’s success? How would you suggest an author gets one?
Ellen: I would have to say that an established agent can bring the author’s work to the attention of the big established publishers and therefore the chance of a bestseller must be much higher going that route. It isn’t vital to have an agent though. There are many independent publishers who will accept submissions direct from the authors and of course these days authors can self publish far more easily than in the past.
Morgen: I have heard it’s more difficult to get an agent than a publisher.
Ellen: There is also the option to produce eBooks only and we are seeing stories of authors getting taken up by a big publisher having achieved good sales and publicity via self-publishing the eBook.
Morgen: Do you publish eBooks, and do you read them?
Ellen: Yes and Yes. Because I read a wide variety of books and in a variety of situations then I buy books in different formats. I have a Kindle, and so for a book that I am reading for pleasure then I will quite often look for the Kindle edition as it saves space in the house. I also listen to audio-books and have a two-books-per-month subscription from Audible, this means I can listen while walking and driving. I buy paperbacks as well because that is how the majority of my reading was done for much of my life and I still love reading the physical books. For heavily illustrated material or text books then I think the physical book is more usable though I know students who are unhappy about the weight they have to carry around. Both of Tannbourne’s titles are available as Kindle editions and the Tannbourne website has free sample chapter downloads in pdf format.
Morgen: Audio is my favourite format of ‘reading’ because I can do other things, as you say, like walking the dog etc although more difficult to turn back a page.
Ellen: Can I take this opportunity to have a mini-rant about eBook pricing though?
Morgen: Absolutely, rant away.
Ellen: Some publishers are selling their eBooks at above the price of the paperback editions, I guess this might be because Amazon are actually setting the prices of the paperback editions but even so as a reader and book buyer I feel that the eBook should ideally cost a bit less than the paperback as the packaging and delivery costs are not being incurred.
Morgen: That was mini (I think the eBook should be a lot less). Poetry and short stories are, in my opinion anyway, the two most hard done by genres… what do you see as the future for them? Do you think the eBook revolution will help, given that eBooks seem to be getting shorter?
Ellen: I think you are quite right that they are hard done by. I personally don’t like short stories and rarely buy books of them – in fact I have an Ian Rankin set of short stories which I bought but actually haven’t read, short stories are just not chunky enough for me usually and therefore I don’t have much motivation to take it down off the shelf and read it. However, I can see that as a one stop reading experience on the commute they could be good for people and the pricing opportunities for eBooks are such that they could create a market share there. As for poetry, I enjoy poems when they are thrust upon me – e.g. the Poems on the Underground – but wouldn’t go looking for an anthology so I am not sure whether eBooks will help poets much.
Morgen: I don’t read or write much poetry but love short stories for the opposite reason as you; that I can do them in one sitting. I have a German friend who loves novels, the thicker the better, especially the likes of Ken Follett and prefers them in English so she gets rectangular parcels every birthday and Christmas. I have both of Ian Rankin’s short story books (both in paperback and one on audio) but not read them yet although ‘A Good Hanging’ is near the top of the pile. Is there a plot that’s written about too often?
Ellen: I was going to say “No” to this and come out with something worthy about if it is well-written then that is what counts… but then the word Twilight and the phrase teenage vampire flashed across my consciousness and so I have to say “Yes”.
Morgen: Having not been enticed by the films or books, I’d have to agree with you. Do you have to do a lot of editing to the stories you accept or is the writing usually more or less fully-formed?
Ellen: As a newcomer to the industry and as a small business with a lot of activities to manage I have tried to pick books that wouldn’t need complete re-writes, so I think the editing has been fairly light so far.
Morgen: For your purposes, does it matter what point of view a story is written in?
Ellen: As a publisher and as a reader I don’t really mind too much about the point of view. If it is well written and I can empathise with the characters then I’m happy. I am a particular fan of stories told using non-standard narration – for example, stories told as collections of letters. For example, “84 Charing Cross Road” which I remember I loved when I read it (and this is making me want to buy another copy to read again) and more recently “The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society”. Another example but one that did not stick entirely to letters was “Salmon Fishing in the Yemen”.
Morgen: The Guernsey… book is near the bottom of my (in the hundreds) reading pile, maybe I should up it. Is there a story, section or theme of a book that you’ve printed, or yet to print, that you’re particularly fond of?
Ellen: Tannbourne only has two books out so far and I’m particularly fond of both!
Morgen: They do look lovely books. What advice would you give aspiring writers?
Ellen: Write as much as you can, don’t give up and do research the writing craft as much as you can. It is a mistake to think that being a writer is an inherent gift and therefore it doesn’t need to be worked on – you may have a gift but you will have to learn and practice to develop that gift.
Morgen: Absolutely. Even established (household) writers have said they’re still learning and I’ve been studying on and off for six years, and although a lot is repetition (which I don’t mind) I still hear something new. What do you think the future holds for a writer?
Morgen: Yes, terribly exciting. Are there any writing-related books that you could recommend?
Morgen: I have the former but not the latter, thank you. Given that more emphasis these days is put on the author to market their published works or indeed themselves as a ‘brand’, how involved are you generally with your authors post-publication?
Ellen: I continue to liaise with the authors and hopefully pass on ideas as to things they can do to build their own brands.
Morgen: Apart from your website, how do you market yourselves?
Ellen: I am working on building up a social networking presence and also things like Amazon Author pages, book signing events etc.
Morgen: You’re based in the UK, as I am, do you find this a help or hindrance with letting people know about, or distributing, your publications?
Ellen: This is either an advantage or neutral, it certainly isn’t a disadvantage.
Morgen: I don’t think so. What do you think of social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter, and more business-related such as LinkedIn? Do you think they’re invaluable or waste too much time?
Ellen: I think they can be very useful but you get out what you put in. I don’t think I waste time on any of these sites, and one of my New Year’s resolutions will be to start using Facebook more actively.
Morgen: Me too. What do you like to read?
Ellen: I read almost anything, even the cereal packet if nothing is else is handy. I like crime fiction, chick-lit, horror.
Morgen: I’ve had a few cereal packets answered to that question. I’m the same. What do you do when you’re not working?
Ellen: Read, spend time with the family, play golf, play computer games.
Morgen: My house overlooks a golf course so I play by proxy. Is there anything you’d like to ask me?
Ellen: I understand that you have just launched your own book, I would love to know a bit more about the book and the launch process and how it is going.
Morgen: Oh, thank you. Yes, I have. I have six eBooks on Smashwords; four are free short stories and the other two are a 365-day writer’s block workbook and 31 story anthology called ‘Story A Day May’ (not free but not dear; $1.49). I put them on Smashwords to start with rather than Amazon because of Smashwords’ 70+ style guide which turned out is so comprehensive that it’s easy to whizz through. I now have a template to just slot the text into and once grilled by my editor Rachel, can go online in a matter of minutes. It’s wonderful.
Well, Ellen, I’m so grateful for you taking time out for what I know is going to be precious and I look forward to your business expanding and sending more of your authors my way!
If you are reading this and you write, in whatever genre, and are thinking “ooh, I’d like to do this” then you can… just email me and I’ll send you the information. They do now (January 2013) carry a fee (£10 / €12.50 / $15) for the new interviews on this blog but everything else (see Opportunities on this blog) is free.
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