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Independent Publishing: One Year On

A year anniversary

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It has been one year since I launched my debut novel The Woman Behind the Waterfall in a Waterstones bookshop in London. The launch party and book release culminated months of hard work and discovery, climbing a steep learning curve of knowledge about the self-publishing industry.

 

Big Table

Why did I choose to go independent?

My debut novel had caught the attention of a London agent, who passionately believed in it and sent it to the top publishers in the UK. She shared the responses with me as they came in – ‘beautiful, but not for me,’ ‘wonderful writing, but not right for our list,’ – each of them had a reason to not accept it for publication.

 

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It’s a business

As someone who had founded and run a business, and had an MBA, I knew that publishing, like any industry, needs to make money. Many small presses have gone out of business publishing too many books with wonderful writing and little commercial appeal, and the bigger publishers have enough pressure on them to rigorously say no to any manuscripts that threaten to lose them money.

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But there’s another way

So that left two issues to contend with: the quality of the book, and the commercial viability of the book. On the quality issue, I had been sufficiently reassured by my agent’s reaction and the positive words of the publishers. So far as commercial viability, my novel was experimental, speculative, and attempting to be a piece of literature different to anything that had been written before. The only market it could appeal to was passionate, eclectic readers who enjoyed new and challenging fiction. That’s not a big group. But it was my risk to take – and I decided to take it.

Reading

The creative journey (post manuscript completion)

Publishing your own book takes a large team of professionals. My cover designer had worked on covers for one of my favourite writers – Haruki Murakami. I loved her work and she agreed to take on my project – and even read the book first so she could get the tone right. My editors and proofreaders were top industry professionals freelancing for independent authors. The book distribution service I chose was used by the biggest publishers in the world and set up my book (on-line, at least) in thousands of book shops around the globe.

It was an intense and revelatory journey as I discovered each stage of how to publish and prepare a book for market. In a few months, I had to become a one-person publishing company, and assemble all the departments: design, editing, marketing, sales, distribution, social-media and more. There were plenty of mistakes to make, and plenty of money to be lost by making wrong choices. I’m happy to say that most of this journey was smooth. The main key to success was in doing a large amount of on-line research, and then, as a first-time publisher, taking the safest course.

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The first year

My expectations had been very modest. While I believed that my debut novel was well written and deserved readers, I did not think that it would make much of an impact or get much notice. I was pleasantly surprised.

My local branch of Waterstones (the largest book chain in the UK) was incredibly supportive. They ordered copies of the book and held the book launch there. A nearby, and much bigger, branch of Waterstones then ordered the book for their Christmas tables and recommended it to customers. A month later, Waterstones had stocked my book in over 20 stores from Glasgow to Oxford.

Endorsements came. The writer Esther Freud (Hideous Kinky, Mr Mac and Me) had read the book and called it “strange and beautiful.” Kirkus Reviews – a highly reputable review magazine which is open to independent authors for a price – called it “an intoxicating world” and “a classic tale of love and loss.”

And then the very best part happened. People started to read the novel, and started to write wonderful reviews. Some readers contacted me over Twitter. Some sent e-mails. Some reviews just appeared. One of my favourite ones was a simple line on the Kobo website from Anabel: “Enchanting and special. Loved it. Hadn’t been so into a book for a long time.” (Anabel if you ever read this, send me an e-mail and I’ll post you a signed copy!) I had spent 5 – 7 years of my life on my debut novel, and had asked myself countless times: Is it all worth it? The answer to that question came with the reviews and with communications with readers.

Of course, plenty of people didn’t like the book. The majority of people don’t enjoy speculative, experimental literary fiction. But I am perfectly happy with that. I know that there have been enough readers who truly loved it for me to say: Yes – it was all worth it.

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Wonderful things about being an independent writer

As the months passed in my newly-launched career, I began to understand the really special things about this path. I have mentioned readers, who are far closer and more accessible to independent writers, as we have to put ourselves in the frontline for all our marketing work. Another special thing is the community of writers. Independent writers are, for the most part, creative people forced to survive in a business world. And they really help each other. I became a member of the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi), I connected with hundreds of writers on Twitter and in Facebook groups, I met many at networking events and book launches. Each one had a different path they had taken and a different skill set and tactic box that they shared generously.

Goodreads Screenshot

Other wonderful things are:

  • Having total creative control over books – covers, typesetting, every detail (traditionally published writers for the most part have no say in any of these elements)
  • Receiving high royalties from book sales (up to 10 times higher than what traditionally published writers receive from their publishing companies)
  • Total control of the rights to your work. When a musician contacted me to write a musical version of my novel, I was free to agree on any terms that suited me. If I choose to sell rights in different countries, or have the work translated, it is all my choice entirely
  • Book clubs reading your work and having lively discussions about your novel
  • Tracking sales in real time (not depending on a quarterly report and royalty cheque)
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With Mari Reiza and Amy Kitcher (see below for their work)

And of course a few downsides, just to be realistic:

  • The rather glazed look you get when you have told someone you are a writer, they excitedly ask who your publisher is, and you tell them you are self-published
  • The amount of time you need to spend on marketing, when traditionally published writers are busy writing
  • The fact that no one pays you the large advances that might carry you through financially to the next book. I’d hazard that less than 1% of independent writers don’t work a second or third job.

But these are small things!

Authors
With Sukhi Jutla and Saiswaroopa Iyer (see below)

Conclusion

Being self-published in 2017 means being at the very forefront of a transforming industry – we are the change that is happening. The methods we come up with to sell and promote and design our work will become the standard in 10 or 20 years. The publishing world is slowly opening up, doors are being forced wide, and soon, the only evaluation of a book will be on its quality, not on its commercial potential, and not on its publisher name.

One year after self-publishing my own novel, I am a passionate advocate for independent publishing and the wide, warm, wonderful journey and rewards that come with it.

I would love to know your comments and experiences. Please feel free to leave comments or questions, or write to me at leonora@leonorameriel.com

Lieze Instagram Tea

And the party bit…

It wouldn’t be an anniversary celebration if I was here on my own. I’d like to introduce you to a few independent writers at my (blog) anniversary party, who I have met on the way:

Mari Reiza – writes extremely sharp-witted and keenly-observed satire. My favourite is West B’Egg.

Jane Davis – writes literary fiction and has won several major awards. An Unchoreographed Life was lovely.

Karl Drinkwater – writes horror, literary fiction, suspense, thriller and more. Cold Fusion 2000 is on my list.

Saiswaroopa Iyer – writes fiction based on Indian mythology. Her latest is Avishi.

Sukhi Jutla – about to launch her business debut Escape the Cublicle.

Andrew Lowe – writes fast-paced thrillers, most recently the well-received Savages.

Roz Morris – a legendary writing teacher who creates genre-bending fiction with a touch of sci-fi. And now travel: Not Quite Lost.

Stephen Marriott – writes about the journey of self-discovery on the Camino de Santiago.

Safeena Chaudhry – writes mind bending literary fiction as well as organising readings of new writers in London bookstores for Novel London.

And so many more…

The Unity Game: Literary Fiction… and so much more

7 Months. 2 Novels. 3 Genres.

On May 1, 2017 – just 7 months after the release of my debut novel – I launched my second book: The Unity Game.

I had started writing The Unity Game while my debut novel was with my London literary agent. It takes a long time to sell a book, so I was able to complete my second novel by the time I was ready to publish my first one.

Both my novels are literary fiction, but whereas The Woman Behind the Waterfall was magical realism, The Unity Game went further into the realm of the imagination, and ended up bigger, more experimental and more philosophical.

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A wild, speculative saga

The Unity Game crosses genres and encompasses elements of thriller, mystery, science fiction, love story, fantasy and magical realism. It is set in 1990s Manhattan, in modern-day London, on a distant planet belonging to an advanced civilization, on a space vessel and in an after-life dimension.

The meaning of life on Earth

The novel explores a range of big themes – love, society, freedom, choice, egoism – however they all circle the one main theme: the meaning of life on Earth. The theme is explored from three main perspectives – from inside the intense Earth life of an investment banker in New York; from a member of an advanced civilization studying Earth from a higher plane; and from a recently deceased lawyer who is looking back on how he lived and what it means from a wider point of view.

 

The human condition

I chose to explore this theme from these unusual perspectives, as I felt there are endless novels which delve into the “human condition” and examine it from every possible angle. Some of the greatest literature has done this, perhaps starting and finishing with the character of Ulysses, from Homer to James Joyce – with the former employing gods and mythic creatures as plot devices, and the latter delving into the magic of language within the possibilities of the mind. So when I came to write my own contribution to the “human condition” I wanted to create something with an element of originality, and hopefully to capture an angle or provoke a wave of thought that had not been covered before.

Noœ-bouk, Alisdair and David

Thus, the character of Noœ-bouk was born: an energy channeller who is on the brink of death and suddenly has an unprecedented desire to explore beyond its planet and find the answers to existential questions.

The character of Alisdair was born: a brilliant and inquisitive Scottish lawyer who finds himself in the after-life where all his questions can be answered.

And the character of David – a bright and multi-talented Canadian who has given up his dream of space travel and focused on the path of money and thoughtless egoism.

The questions at the heart of the novel lie in the combination of these characters: David – who is (arguably) making all the mistakes a human can; Alisdair – who lived a blameless life; and Noe-bouk – whose civilization has all the answers and yet who still finds itself searching.

Dimension

A change in genre?

My first novel, The Woman Behind the Waterfall, was literary fiction with elements of magical realism. It was poetic, dreamy and very personal, drawn from my first-hand knowledge of Ukraine and from my own emotions and observations of family life. It was an intense experience writing it, and when I finished, I felt I had given every bit of myself – emotionally, intellectually and creatively.

For my second novel, I wanted it to be a book of ideas, rather than emotions. I had so many worlds and scenarios spilling out of me that when I started the novel, I had no idea what shape they would take. I knew I had some big themes that I wanted to explore through the process of writing, but I did not know whose story they would be.

Personal experiences

In the end, a lot of The Unity Game was based on personal experiences. I started off my career in New York, working for the United Nations and then for the world’s largest law firm. During those years I was deeply impressed (as only a recent literature graduate can be) by the energy and ambition and excitement of the city. That feeling has never left me, and I loved writing about a city that to this day is a big part of my life.

As a daughter and granddaughter of lawyers, the character of Alisdair was a pleasure to write – he was in part based on my own grandfather, and I was fascinated by the idea of how an inquisitive mind would enjoy exploring the after-life – if all the secrets of the Earth and universe could suddenly be known.

And perhaps my favourite character, Noœ-bouk – an energy channeller from a distant planet – came entirely from my imagination, and at the same time, was made possible by all the wonderful stories I have ever read – including extraordinarily good Science Fiction books and novels that are made timeless by the fictional creatures born of the author’s imagination.

And the next book?

For my next novel, I can promise 3 things: it will be literary fiction; it will be bursting with ideas; and it will have something unique that my first two novels haven’t covered. I can’t wait to write it!

The Unity Game was released on May 1 2017.

Book Blog Adventures

A journey into the world of book blogs and book reviewers

As part of my learning curve finding about the modern world of publishing and book promotion, I spent the last few months asking book bloggers and on-line book reviewers to read and review my book; and also making contact with their audiences by writing guest posts and giving author interviews.

Lieze Neven Instagram Leonora Meriel

There are thousands of book blogs on the internet, and the majority of them cover a specific theme, and have individual submission guidelines. Many of the older, more established book blogs have waiting lists of months to review books, and are monopolized by the marketing departments of the major publishers, who have recognized their value for some time.

So that leaves the hundreds of newer book blogs – again, each with their own submissions policy.

My first step into book blogging was to contact a range of blogs. After hours spent checking guidelines and finding correct contacts and making sure the genres were accepted, I wrote to a handful of book bloggers.

Result: zero.

Absolutely no answer from any of them.

And bear in mind I had only written to bloggers who liked my genre, accepted indie books and were asking for submissions.

So, I did some more research and came across an excellent website that puts writers in touch with book bloggers, and lets the book blogger come to the writer, instead of the writer to the book blogger.

The lovely Kate Tilton has been helping out writers for over 7 years as an author assistant and marketing specialist, and she has a service to offer your book for review to her extensive list of book bloggers.

When she sent out an e-mail to her bloggers, it included details of my book, and what I was prepared to offer blogs – a guest post, an interview, free books for a completion, or anything else I was willing to provide.

She warned me that for my genre, Literary Fiction, there might be a very low response.

I was happily surprised.

Over 20 bloggers were interested in either reviewing my work or featuring me on their book blog.

Over the past 2 months, I have:

  • submitted my book for 15 reviews
  • written 6 guest posts
  • given 4 author interviews
  • interviewed my own main character from my novel
  • provided books for 3 competitions

Honey cake

Some of the highlights included –

  • A wonderful review from Lieze Neven following an interview, with Instagram follow-up
  • A popular guest post on Magic Realism blog Examining the Odd, with a giveaway for Magic Realism fans
  • Interviewing my own main character Lyuda, and providing a recipe for Ukrainian honey cake from the lovely Maryann Writes
  • A guest post on creating fantasy worlds, and author interview on Scott Mullins’ Australian blog This is Writing
  • A lovely review and interview with Books Direct Online – the very popular site of Lynda Dickson
  • A 10 Statements post on my personal life philosophy on the My Train of Thoughts blog
  • Getting a great review and doing an in-depth interview with the stylish blog The Reading Wolf.

And of course, there were a few low points –

  • Getting a 3 star review from a blogger who disliked Magic Realism and didn’t read the book description when she requested the book
  • Posting a hardback book of my debut novel all the way to Australia to get a 2 star review in return

But – with any group of readers you will have those who love it and those who don’t. But my goal was to explore the world of book blogs, and I feel I’ve had a rewarding adventure there.

Here are some tips for writers looking to connect with book bloggers:

  • It’s much better to have the blogger come to you, than for you to come to the blogger – see Kate Tilton and others who provide this service
  • Double check with the book blog that they know what kind of book they are about to receive and like the genre
  • Be generous with your time, your content and your ideas. You will be promoting and improving their book blog, as well as your on-line presence
  • There will always be a few readers who don’t like your book at all. That’s fine.
  • Stay in contact with the book bloggers you enjoyed working with and recommend them to other writers. Build your own network of book bloggers.
  • Promote their websites as you share your work on their blogs – it’s great for all sides.

Fantasy World

And as I’m wrapping up the final blog posts and competition winners, it’s now time for the next adventure – YouTube Book Vloggers. Stay tuned!

The Beauty of Western Ukraine

My favourite parts of Ukraine are the western and south western areas. The countryside is viscerally beautiful and stunningly lush and verdant. When I began writing my first novel, this was the natural place for me to set it – somewhere so little known and yet so rich in culture and beauty.

I tried in my novel to give a sense of the landscapes, but here are some photographs I took while travelling, which shows some of the reason I was so inspired. I hope you enjoy them.

 

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This is a particularly lovely house in a village near Lviv – the largest city in the west of Ukraine.

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The householders covered this house with straw for extra heat in the winter.

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Here we are looking out of the straw-covered house to the garden and fields below.

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This is a typical living room in a house. The walls are covered with carpets and there are sofa beds all around the edges. Several people might sleep in the room permanently, or the beds might be kept for guests.

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This is a kitchen with an old fashioned tiled stove. They are incredibly warm and in the winter, the houses can be roasting hot.

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This is a typical village lane. The photograph was taken in spring, which is when everything feels like it is growing before your eyes.

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Many houses still rely on wells for water, and don’t have regular running water in the houses. This one was both functional and picturesque. The lid on it ensures the water stays clean for all the villagers.

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This is a larger well, deeper in the countryside.

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And here is the famous black soil, and the pre-Carpathians leading to the Carpathian Mountains beyond them.

I hope you agree it is a beautiful country. It is full of tales and unusual traditions and people who have extraordinary life stories to tell. I found it an inspiring place, and I plan to write more about it.

I’d love to hear from people reading this post. Can you think of any great things you know about Ukraine? Landscapes? Traditions? Literature? Do the photos of Ukraine remind you of other countries?

Thank you for reading!

Dreamy Book-Lovers in Covent Garden

On Friday, 4th November 2016, I took part in my first public reading. The event was organised by Novel London, a brilliant idea set up by Safeena Chaudhry, where writers read aloud the first chapter of their novels, and book lovers sit back with a glass of wine and soak them up. The events are held all over London, in various picturesque bookshops, and the latest one – the 13th Novel London evening – was held in the Waterstones Covent Garden, a lovely and warm bookshop hidden in Garrick Street, just a minute away from Leicester Square.

The theme of our evening was debut writers with international backgrounds. The Woman Behind the Waterfall is set in Ukraine, where I lived for many years. The writer Amy Kitcher was reading from Blood Will Tell, in her lovely Welsh accent. Mari Reiza, originally from Madrid, was reading from her novel Marmotte’s Journey.

The readings were introduced by another writer, Stephen Marriott, author of Candyfloss Guitar. And even the organiser, Safeena Chaudhry, is a writer – her novel, Companions of Clay, was published in 2015.

Another great element of Novel London is that the readings are filmed and available for anyone to watch after the event.

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Reading to a full house

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Behind the camera (photo and camera work by Lee Cooper)

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With wonderful writers Amy Kitcher and Mari Reiza

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A Waterstones dream come true!

Video recordings from this event will be available soon from the Novel London website. In the meantime, go and watch some of the writers from past events reading their work. It’s a wonderful thing!

The Launch Party

October 13 was the Official Launch Party for The Woman Behind the Waterfall – hosted by Waterstones bookshop and attended by a big crowd of friends, family, fans, press, Teddington locals, Ukrainians and the lovely Waterstones team.

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It was an amazing night, with signings from the moment it started until when the bookshop doors were locked. I managed to do a short reading and say some thank yous, but the rest was a blur of books, pens, signatures, compliments and introductions.

It was an event I had waited for ever since my dream began, and it was everything that I had imagined it would be.

Here are some photos to give an impression of the night.

Photo credits to Anna Lukanina of Ukrainian Events in London and Mike Coles.

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Signing the first copies

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New friends and book lovers

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So many thank yous! Writing a book is a long journey.

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A thoughtful reader

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Reading the first page of the novel

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The last signings

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Friends and organising team (thank you!)

Introduction to Ukraine

I lived for several years in Kyiv, the capital of Ukraine, and one of the goals of my writing is to showcase some of the loveliest aspects of the country. There are so many great things about it, from the incredible, lush countryside, to the warm, entrepreneurial people, to the cultural traditions.

So here are a few facts about Ukraine to start off with, which people might not know.

I hope you enjoy them!

Leonora

1. It’s huge! It has a landmass of 603,550 km2, and is the largest country with all its territory in Europe, closely followed by France with 551,500 km2.

european-countries-by-area

 

2.  It has incredible, fertile agricultural lands. In the eighteenth century it was widely referred to as the breadbasket of Europe.

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3.  It is famous for its wonderful, rich, fertile, black soil.

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4.  The flag is half blue and half yellow, which represents the blue sky over fields of ripe wheat.

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5.  The traditional Ukrainian welcome is to present guests with a loaf of black bread and salt. This symbolizes the hospitality of the Ukrainian people. It’s a tradition that you find in many of the surrounding countries and is used for important guests, for new visitors and for brides and grooms at weddings.

Bread and Salt

 

6.  The word kraina means border and Ukraine borders seven countries: Poland, Moldova, Romania, Belarus, Slovakia, Hungary and Russia.

7.  Ukrainian language is close to Polish. It is a lyrical, musical language with soft vowels. There is no “g” in the pronunciation, so words with “g” are pronounced with an “h”.

 

Welcome

Welcome to my blog

Hello and welcome to my new blog.

It has been my dream, ever since I can remember, to write novels, and next month a huge part of that dream is coming true – on October 1, my first novel is being released.

It has been the most amazing journey through the writing, editing, and publishing process and each part has been challenging and fascinating from a creative perspective.

Here is the result of many years of hard work:

The Woman Behind the Waterfall

The Woman Behind the Waterfall is set in western Ukraine, and one of my goals in writing the novel was to highlight some of the things I love the most about a country where I lived for many years. So my first few blog posts will be on some Ukrainian themes. I hope you enjoy them.

Thank you for reading my first blog,

Leonora