Friday, 25 July 2014

Do You Need Assistance?

Helen Hart from SilverWood Books talks to Triskele Books about assisted self-publishing

Hi, Helen. Thank you for joining us on the Triskele blog. Can we start by asking how would you define assisted self-publishing?

For us at SilverWood, assisted self-publishing means working in partnership with a small professional team who can support a writer with the tools to produce a book to the same standard as those produced by traditional publishers. Rather than engaging a separate cover designer, editor, typesetter and other freelancers, our authors work with one publishing assistant who oversees the entire project from submission of the final manuscript through to book delivery and beyond (supporting the development of an author platform). This ensures good continuity, a coherent end result, delivered on time, with an author who is educated and knowledgeable about what they need to do to then sell books.

Who is it suitable for and how is it different from going it alone?

Many of our authors are writers who just want to write, and have no interest in learning how to run a publishing project. Some are busy professionals who feel they don't have the time to undertake the project themselves. Others are writers who have health issues, or aren't technologically inclined, and who simply want to hand over their manuscript and get a fantastic book delivered back to them. Most care deeply about their book, are immensely engaged with the process and enjoy seeing their project develop, but they don't want to learn how to do that themselves (or risk making costly mistakes due to their own lack of experience and know-how).

When and why did you decide to set up SilverWood?

I set up SilverWood in March 2007 with the aim of providing self-publishers with an alternative to what I perceived as the unscrupulous business practices, expensive publishing packages, and poor quality books offered by so-called 'author solutions' companies. I could see from a friend's bad experience with one such that there was a need for someone to offer something that had integrity and placed the self-publisher and their needs (and their aims for their book) at the heart of the project. My aim was - and still is - to offer a close, supportive working relationship and therefore a similar experience to that which the writer might have if they were signed to a mainstream publishing house. The only difference is that they're underwriting the costs.

What is your own background?

I’ve been a published author since the late 1990s. Writing under a variety of pseudonyms, I’ve been published by Scholastic, HarperCollins, Oxford University Press, and several non-UK publishing houses. My books have been translated into many different languages including Swedish, Danish, Greek and Japanese. I’ve also worked as a commercial copywriter for SilverWood’s sister company Redwing. My writing background means that I have a deep understanding of the writing process and how important each book is to its writer. I also know from my own experience how much heart and soul has gone into the creation of a book, and how important the relationship is between a writer and their publisher/editor.

What specifically does SilverWood offer authors? How does it differ from other assisted publishing services?

Our authors work in partnership with a small, friendly, supportive team who care about the book and the writer, and who have the professional skills and expertise to offer impartial guidance. I think what makes us different is that we do genuinely enjoy what we do, and care about the people we work with - and that makes us generous with our advice and support. Most of our authors come to us through word-of-mouth recommendation, or they are repeat customers who were pleased with the experience of producing their previous book with us. Our preference is to work with a writer through their career rather than on a one-off book, and many authors return to work with us for a number of books. Some of our most successful and proactive authors are working on books 6, 7 or 8 of a series (Harvey Black, Anna Belfrage, Helen Hollick).

The way we differ from some other services is that we work in a very cooperative way with our authors - all decisions are explained and discussed, proofs shown for approval, and authors kept up-to-date with progress. We take inordinate care over the design and layout process and go to great lengths to make sure the books are the best they can be before publication. We add value to any publication, with expert design, typesetting, and general understanding of how books are produced and how they get into the marketplace. And finally we're reliable long term partners who are here for the long-haul, not just a quick turnaround and then on with the next writer/book/hard-sell.

Typically, what does it cost to publish a book through SilverWood?

That's a tough question because there's no such thing as a typical book. Usually we look at each project and establish what's needed, whether it's fiction or non-fiction, if it's ready for publication, and if so where/how the author wishes to publish: UK-only, certain territories, worldwide, in print, ebook-only, hardback edition, are there images to be included - photographs, illustrations, charts, tables…? Are they to be positioned within the text or together in a plate section? Does the text need a copy-edit or proofread… Are there footnotes, endnotes, an index, additional prelims or endmatter…There's a lot of variation and all these elements will affect the economics of book production.

However, if we were to take a 264-page novel with simple chapter headings, standard prelims and no endmatter then Stage 1 pre-press might start at around £740 plus vat which would include: ISBN allocation and registration, professional page layout and typesetting, book cover design and layout (or use of the author's design and images), PDF proofs and one round of proof revisions, bibliographic data listing, barcode, legal deposit compliance, project management and quality control, high resolution cover images for marketing, access to a range of helpful factsheets on a range of topics, access to our closed Facebook group where we continue to keep authors up to date on new developments in the publishing and book promotion industry, as well as encourage them to share information and support each other.

Do you have any editorial input in the books you publish?

We approach each project on an individual basis so if a writer has an existing relationship with an editor, copy-editor or proofreader then we simply work with the final draft manuscript. Sometimes we spot things that aren't as polished as they could be, and might recommend a final proofread. On the other hand, if an author hasn't worked with an editor or copy-editor but we can see the work does need that extra professional input then we always recommend it and will suggest one of our reliable copy-editors. We also offer a range of additional editorial options at different stages, from a simple Reader's Report to a full manuscript appraisal.

Who has final say on design?

Ultimately it's the author, but as I mentioned before we are generous with our advice and if we think the wrong decision is being made or a design isn't going to meet readers' expectations or sit well in the current marketplace then we do talk that through with the author, as they could be jeopardising their own chance of commercial success. However some of our authors aren't looking for commercial success, but a sense of personal and creative fulfilment, or a book that's just for family and friends - and in that case we simply help them make it the best it can be.

Who owns rights?

The author.

What's the royalties cut?

We don't operate a royalty-based system because they tend to be a bit opaque and are usually calculated on net receipts (which can be a movable feast). We prefer to have a clear policy that all books are owned by the author. We then operate a trade discount system, so we sell our authors' books on a sale-or-return basis and keep 15% of the cover price for each book sold through our trading accounts. We find this is much simpler, and authors know where they stand.

Who is the publisher of record?

That would depend on whether an author is using one of our ISBNs or their own. This decision is usually part of the early conversations we have with a writer before we start working together. The majority of writers who choose to work with us prefer to use our ISBNs and want us to be the publisher of record - this is always an interesting part of the dialogue for me, as reasons can vary widely.

What sort of marketing support do you give your authors?

Included in our pre-press packages is a level of marketing support - partly educational (we encourage authors to keep their costs down by doing as much as possible themselves), and partly practical (distribution is always set up for authors who need it, we help set up the initial 'author platform', and also offer a wide range of tools and services that authors can opt in to if they wish; many are free of charge while others will naturally attract an additional fee to cover the time and work involved).

Tell us about your relationship with Foyles.

We have a good relationship with many bookshops who stock our titles because of the quality of production and the author commitment behind that. Foyles Cabot Circus in Bristol is especially supportive and stock most of our commercial titles. They also host a number of our events through the year. It's a genuine pleasure working with their team.

Do SilverWood authors support one another – with practical issues, say, or with marketing?

Yes, and that's one of the things that's quite special about SilverWood authors - they're very generous with each other and give a lot of support. Some of them buddy up to do events together, such as the forthcoming Chalke Valley History Festival.

What happens if an author wants to leave?

Fortunately it doesn't happen very often but on the rare occasion that authors have decided to leave - usually to follow a more "self" publishing route using skills they've learned by working in partnership with us - then they simply give us notice, we take their book out of production so they can set it up independently, and we package up their cover and interior files and send them over to them.

Tell us some of your success stories? What are you particularly proud of?

That would be immensely hard because I'm proud of so many of our authors and books, and the things we've done over the years. I don't think I could pick out individual moments without writing reams and reams here! I'd hate to leave anyone or anything out…

Thank you, Helen!

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for having me on your blog. It was interesting working on the interview questions and taking some time to consider why we do what we do.

    Keep up the great work at Triskele. I often mention you to writers as an excellent example of a writers cooperative. Good books, nice people!