Complementing my interviews, today’s Author Spotlight, the three hundred and thirtieth, is of historical adventure fantasy author and interviewee Helen Hollick. If you would like to take part in an author spotlight, take a look at author-spotlights.
Helen Hollick has been a published author of historical fiction for over twenty years, but recently took the courageous step to go “Indie” in the UK after a split with her (now ex) agent and her backlist being simultaneously dropped by William Heinemann.
“Going alone,” she says, “was a steep learning curve, and one that had some sharp corners and several huge potholes, but was probably the best thing I’ve ever done.”
The first Assisted Company she went with re-published all her historical fiction and the small success gave her the confidence to bring out Sea Witch, a novel that she had been nursing a passion to write – a pirate-based adventure-fantasy romp. Fun to write, fun to read. The idea had been sparked by the Pirates of the Caribbean movie; many avid readers fell for Captain Jack Sparrow but were left high and dry for novels of a similar style and theme – pirate fun on the high seas with a charmer of a rogue hero and a pinch of fantasy thrown in for good measure. Not being able to find a suitable pirate ‘fix’, Helen decided to write her own. The characters and plot for a swashbuckling adventure came to her while on vacation in Dorset, England, and once she started writing the words poured out in an unstoppable flow.
“Sea Witch,” she says, “wrote itself; it was like a dam bursting, the words gushed from my fingertips.”
The idea proved successful and three more books in the series of nautical adventures starring Captain Jesamiah Acorne soon followed – with more planned for the future.
But while the books were doing well, Discovered Authors, the Indie publishing company Helen had gone to, was not so successful. One of the lessons Helen learned the hard way was how not to self-publish: covers should be of a top quality design, the text well laid out and a professional editor essential. The first edition of Sea Witch was poorly produced – the worst feature being that it had been printed in the taboo font of Comic Sans, and the opening paragraph had the text centred, not fully justified. Helen was, understandably, horrified, but even with a re-print to correct the mistakes those initial copies, instead of being destroyed were shipped to on-line booksellers without Helen’s approval or knowledge.
When the company eventually went broke Helen found herself on the verge of losing her career yet again, but help was at hand in the form of another Assisted Publishing Company – SilverWood Books based in Bristol, England. Unable to retrieve the main files for all her books Helen had to completely re-edit each of her novels before re-printing with superb new covers designed by Cathy Helms of www.avalongraphics, and published at a high quality standard. At last, her books were professionally produced and were to be proud of!
As a firm supporter of Indie writers, Helen volunteered to become the UK Review Editor for the Historical Novel Society for UK published Indie Historical Fiction.
“Reviews of Indie books were undertaken in the US,” Helen explained, “postage was expensive for UK writers, so we were at a distinct disadvantage.” Not being the sort of person to complain about something without offering to assist to put things right, Helen offered to form a UK review base, which is proving most successful. Indie authors of historical fiction are more than welcome to submit their books (in hard copy or e-format) for review – although there is a strict criteria: in addition to being well written all submissions have to be professionally produced, correctly typeset and without too many errors or typos. “Our aim, “Helen says, “is to prove that Indie writers can produce novels that are every bit as good in quality as mainstream fiction. To do this, we insist on high standards of presentation.”
With a view to assisting enthusiastic writers Helen, in conjunction with her UK editor, Jo Field, has brought out a useful book entitled Discovering the Diamond. Aimed at writers who are especially interested in the self-published / indie market, it giving tips on how to write and produce a novel. “Anyone can write a book, but not everyone can write a readable book. It is not enough to be able to get a good story into print, there are technical aspects to writing – not too many point of view changes, author’s voice and telling not showing, for instance.”
One of the reasons Helen wanted to write Discovering the Diamond was because without the support and encouragement of established writers such as Sharon Kay Penman and Elizabeth Chadwick, Helen might not have found the courage to continue writing. She found that a good way to say thank you to her fellow authors was to repay the compliment by offering to assist other keen writers to achieve their dream of producing a published novel.
Discovering the Diamond full information: http://www.helenhollick.net/revudtd.html
And now from the author herself:
Hello, Helen Hollick here. I find it hard to believe that I have been writing professionally for over twenty years now – and I’m still learning about the intricacies and dilemmas of publishing a book! I think we set out on our ambitious journey of “One day I’ll write a bestselling novel” with high hopes and rose-tinted dreams. Our idea for a story is fabulous, one that will have agents and publishers panting for. Our talent is Gold Medal Olympic level – and we just know that our first novel, in addition to being snapped up, will become an instant hit, be made into an Oscar-winning movie and we’ll be millionaires overnight. Authors such as J.K. Rowling, Stephen King, Dan Browne et al have proved this haven’t they?
Well, not quite.
I’m afraid those rose-tinted specs are actually heavily painted bright pink sunglasses, and the reality is far from the expected dream.
For a start, getting an agent to even read further than your first paragraph is a challenge… but let’s assume your book is a superb, eye-catching story that ticks all the boxes for potential publishers. It is of a current trend (sorry vamps are out, and anything about Mr Darcy is now losing interest – the Tudors are still going strong though.) It is a recognisable genre and has no quirks or surprises. In other words your novel is a square peg that fits nicely into the publishing world’s square hole. Cross genre subjects, innovative ideas – such as writing the story from the viewpoint of four different characters – will often not go down well because they are not easily marketable.
My Sea Witch novel when I hoiked it round a few publishers, before deciding to go Indie, received the same response from every one of them: “Pirates for adults? Do adults read pirate novel? Maybe if you wrote it for children …?”; “We really like the idea behind this novel, but it would be difficult to market as it isn’t quite historical fiction, nor is it quite fantasy…”; “There isn’t a market for pirates.”
Sigh. (I’ve proved them wrong, because the Sea Witch series isn’t doing too badly!)
Once published – whether mainstream or indie – you are on a high. You’ve gone through the hair-tearing of editing; you’ve finally agreed on a cover design, (or in the case of mainstream, have given up arguing that the half-headless woman with the bosom heaving from a tight-laced Tudor gown really is not what you want for your Anglo-Saxon based novel…) There it is, the actual book in print, it is in your hand. You are so proud of it – and from here on the money will start rolling in as thousands flock to buy it.
Pretty soon you realise the thousands are only hundreds – if you are lucky. That the marketing your publisher offered consists of one interview with your local paper (which managed to print the title of the book incorrectly) and one two-minute slot on the local radio. From there, you are on your own: rapidly you learn how to Tweet, post on Facebook and work out what Goodreads is all about.
You study the Amazon best-seller rank every day, moving from #206,000 to #105,000 – you’re ecstatic when you reach #98,000! (even though the ranking list remains baffling and incomprehensible!)
Then the Amazon comments start appearing. Most are good. One you have a suspicion is talking about a different book and one is obviously a Troll stirring trouble (probably a rival or someone who knows you and is jealous).
Then everything dries up. Your book seems to have passed into oblivion.
Now is the time when you start wondering, “Should I invent a made-up persona? I could call myself Delia Devonn and open a Blog site where I review a few books then add my own… no one will know!”
Ah. Yes we will. Sock Puppets, as these little scams are called, are easily spotted by those who know what to look for. Maybe giving yourself that glowing review in more than one place under two different names was not that bright an idea – the “Good Read” five star award from your incognito self was perhaps a bit over the top? E-mails can be tracked back to origin, so maybe it wasn’t a good move to respond to someone who e-mailed you as yourself, and also to your fantasy personality.
In short, don’t be tempted, you’ll be caught out eventually and you’ll be ruined as an author. (Word spreads quickly on the internet, your deception will spread like wildfire.)
So why bother writing a book?
OK it might not be picked up by a top publishing house, it might not become a bestseller. You might decide to self-publish and only sell a few books each month, but the sales keep steady month after month, and word gets round that your book is a good one.
And then you realise why you want to write; it’s because you have a story you want to tell, you have characters who are your friends and you want other like-minded people to meet them.
That’s why we write.
And that’s probably why the majority of authors – myself included – are not quite sane. We are demented scribblers wearing rosy glasses and huge, happy smiles because we are doing what we love best – writing stories. 🙂
You can find more about Helen and her writing via…
- Website: www.helenhollick.net
- Main Blog: http://ofhistoryandkings.blogspot.com
- Leaning on the Gate – Devon Diary: http://leaningonthegate.blogspot.co.uk
- Newsletter: http://h2unews.blogspot.co.uk (only those subscribed will receive her regular newsletter)
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HelenHollickAuthor
- Twitter: http://twitter.com/HelenHollick @HelenHollick
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