Tag Archives: Writer’s Hub

The Writers’ Hub: Self-Publishing – Vanity Fair or Brave New World?

This post was contributed by Catriona Jarvis, an alumna of Birkbeck’s MA Creative Writing.

Attendance was high and the audience attentive at this Room 101 panel discussion deftly chaired by Julia Bell, senior lecturer on the MA Creative Writing at Birkbeck who introduced us to the panel: Orna Ross, Irish writer of both novels and poems and founder of the Alliance of Independent Authors; Alison Baverstock, writer and lecturer on the MA in Publishing at Kingston University, and Karen Inglis, children’s author.

It was extremely heartening, not only to hear from such a talented and successful all-woman panel, but also to hear their unanimous message that self-publishing works, and that it is most certainly not the option for those who can’t cut the mustard. Far from it! It puts the author in the driving seat and brings her closer to her readers.

Orna, who was a journalist before becoming a published novelist, (encouragement for those of us who have been many other things and are now striving to become published novelists…), unhappy that publishers were, in her view, selling to retailers such as supermarkets and chain stores rather than readers, wrenched her two-book deal away from Penguin and e-published instead.

Perceiving the need for a non-profit organization to represent and support writers, Orna launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the latest London Book Fair. She had last been there as a writer and felt there was a gulf as the only writers there seemed to be the celebs. This year, however, there was a big ‘e-section’ and a most definite sense that there is a place for both e-publishing and other self publishing, with flexibility for authors to move between self-publishing and the more traditional route.

Although we are watching the re-arrangement of the deck chairs, they are not on the Titanic, says Alison Baverstock. Self-publishing is not just for those who comprise slush piles. There are huge numbers of good writers out there, but publishing houses are culling their lists. In what is now a vast proliferation of media, authors are required to market themselves. But she was firm that the industry is not on the run and certainly not dead. Rather, this cloistered world is opening in order to share the bread and wine and this is an exciting time. Writers need to have a blog and be seen and heard on Utube and twitter (NB. Alison reads book reviews on twitter). (Caution: use one form of social network properly rather than all of them badly. Spend no more than ten minutes, three times a day networking). Above all there must be professionalism. Services are now available from those such as professional publishing for the self-funding writer and the Society of Editors and Freelance Proofreaders. As Alison pointed out, well-managed publishing is invisible and any self-publishing must be highly professional. One option is to build a profile through self-publishing and then turn to the traditional publishers for professional publishing and marketing services (although most authors do not come into public view until their third book…). In what is another big change of policy, the Society of Authors will now admit you if you have self-published and sold at least 200 copies of your work in a year.

Karen Inglis wrote The Secret Lake and Eeek! some ten years ago and they sat on her hard-drive. Although Bloomsbury had liked what she wrote they said it was too short for a children’s book. She writes professionally, works on web design and has a blog (have a look at wordpress blog – it is free and easy to use!). She took the plunge and self-published with the benefit of help from The Advice Centre for Children’s Writers, both in hard copy (on demand) and online(see for example ‘lightning source’). A freelance artist found via the internet designed her book covers. She sells about 100 copies per month via Kindle, (Kindle also provides a lending library service, free to the reader with a small fee to the author). She designed the layout, picked the typeface and did all her own PR (for example through her local paper and her local bookshop- Waterstones). Be under no illusion that it is very hard work, but it brings 70% royalties instantly; there is no such thing as ‘out of print,’ and you are not ‘remaindered’ after a few weeks. (Caution: check the terms and conditions of any contract with great care).

Julia reminded us of the writing community that has grown from Tindal Street press.

Do not under-value your work. At 2.99 it equates to a greeting card, but at £4.99 it remains under the psychological £5.00 (or $5 barrier).

The writer was a resource to be mined but is now a partner with the publisher.

It is a nonsense that self-publishing is vanity, says Orna: vanity is embodied in intention.

It was also hugely affirming to hear from Alison that what fascinates us is what we want to read about, and that self-published authors are happy people.

Keep writing.

Get out there.

Catriona Jarvis (not out there yet…)

MA Creative Writing (Merit) Birkbeck, 2009


The Bellwether Revivals – book reading

Birkbeck creative writing lecturer Benjamin Wood’s debut novel The Bellwether Revivals (Simon & Schuster) was published in February this year, and is currently longlisted for the Desmond Elliott Prize. The Guardian praised it as “an accomplished novel, suffused with intelligence and integrity.” Here, Benjamin outlines the musical themes at the heart of the book, from which he will read at a special Hubbub event for Arts Week on Monday 14th May 2012.

My relationship with music has always been more visceral than intellectual. By that I mean I was drawn to teaching myself to play an instrument as a teenager, not because I wanted to comprehend the mechanics of music, but because I saw it as emotional release. In some of the most difficult periods of my life—as I’m sure is the case for most people—I have sought consolation in music, be it the mournful hush of a Jeff Buckley vocal, the skin-prickling harmonies of a church choir, or the searing hum of Bach’s cello suites. The impact a piece of music can have on our state of being—how a simple melody can comfort and relieve us, elevate our spirits, and bring memories as vivid as any picture to the surface of our minds—is what The Bellwether Revivals aims to explore.

In writing the novel, I wanted to find out if the redemptive power of music could be explained in definite terms. And so I began reading into music theory and got acquainted with the more cerebral aspects of music that I’d skirted around in my younger days. The themes within The Bellwether Revivals began to emerge when I discovered the writings of the largely forgotten Baroque composer, Johann Mattheson. I approached the novel wanting to build a story around a character who claims to be able to manipulate the properties of music for healing effects, and, before long, I conceived of Eden Bellwether, a gifted organ scholar at King’s College, Cambridge, who is inspired by Mattheson’s theories. I was also intrigued by the idea of what full-blooded commitment to honing musical technique might do to a boy and his family, the rivalry and tensions this could create amongst them, and how such profound musical talent might alter a person’s perspective on the world.

Through his skill and scholarship, Eden finds a way to connect the theoretical foundations of music with its more elusive, visceral powers—for Eden, the sadness we feel when we hear a sad song is something that can be designed and controlled by the composer. The lives of the characters in The Bellwether Revivals hinge upon how much they believe in the restorative properties of Eden’s music. The book investigates what might happen if the refrain of a cello, or the sound of a church organ, or the swell of voices singing in harmony, could hold more influence over us than we ever expected.

For more details on Benjamin Wood, you can visit his website at: www.benjamin-wood.com

For further details on Birkbeck’s creative writing programmes, please visit: http://www.bbk.ac.uk/study/ug/creativewriting/UBACWRIT.html