Guests,  Writing

Need Help with Your Novel?

I caught up with a friend of mine, Diane Hall, who is a Literary Consultant, Publisher and much more andDiane Hall here is what she had to say…

Welcome Diane, can you tell us about your background.

Hello, Helen, and ‘hi’ to your readers too. Like many of you, I feel as if I was born with a pen in my hand; I used to set myself writing exercises from primary school: my favourite was to write a complete story, with a beginning, middle and end, in exactly 100 words. I was a geek before they’d even invented the word.

I studied English academically, but fell out of love with it when the courses focused more on the history of the language than instilling the creative element I craved. After various distance learning courses and local groups/workshops, I took the plunge and created two young children’s stories, which were subsequently published by Star Books.

By the time I’d written my older children’s novel, self-publishing was just creeping into the industry. When I acquired my twentieth rejection from the London publishing houses (though two of them did take my story through to the commissioning board), I decided that it wouldn’t sit in a drawer, unseen forever. I self-published through Lulu, and although disappointed initially that this was the route I’d been forced to use, I still felt like any author – proud of what I’d created, my heart dancing around inside of me at the wonderful feedback I received.

As a published author what help can you offer to writers?

Well what frustrated me about the publishers’ rejections, was the lack of constructive advice – advice I undoubtedly needed to improve my book. So I engaged the help of a literary consultant, Rachelle Burke. It made such a difference to me that I spent the next ten years studying writing. Only as well as gathering knowledge as an author, I strived to fully understand the readers’ viewpoints, needs and behaviours. I developed a real thirst for this, learning how to write commercial fiction, and how to sell it too – building on the marketing skills I gained through my day job.

So now I do for authors, what Rachelle did for me all those years ago. I offer literary critique and feedback as a book goes through its developmental stages. As a qualified proofreader and editor, I then help my author clients polish and frame their concept into a lucid and compelling read. From there, we work on appropriate, attractive cover designs, we finalise the typesetting layout, then voila! The book is born.

However, I don’t then shove the author into the cutthroat industry at that point. I help them truly understand their reader and where they can be found, so that marketing strategies and initiatives can easily be put in place. I absolutely want my author clients to have a rich and sustainable writing career.

Two of the biggest misconceptions I encounter is that self-publishing is a poorer choice than traditional publishing (it’s not poorer, it’s just another way to do things), and that it must be expensive. Thanks to vanity publishing and outfits concerned only with revenue, not originality and quality, this is a real threat, but genuine companies – like mine – are surprisingly affordable. It’s rewarding, seeing authors breathe out a sigh of relief when they see a quote from me; it’s rarely on the same plain as they’d imagined.

I know that having a real passion for what you do is an over-used phrase, but it really is true with me. I want to make every book a masterpiece, to furnish every author with the information and help they need. Once everyone’s a best-selling author, I may even find the time to return to my own writing.

I know you’re a big advocate for self-publishing. What would you say to someone who feels Amazon is the only option, but they don’t really want to go there, because the financial rewards are so poor?

Amazon do some things fantastically, but at the same time, they find plenty of ways to add to their billion-dollar coffers. As a place to house the digital version of your book, it can’t be beaten. The margins for ebooks are fair, and the scope for custom is huge. I’d also consider selling your paperback/hard back through Amazon too, but this advice has a caveat: it shouldn’t be where you point your customers to buy.

For the reason you’ve highlighted, the revenue a self-published author is paid after Amazon takes its cut on an author’s paperback/hardback book is abysmal. Because there’s little discoverability, people find books on Amazon because they’ve been directed there – through a link, recommendation or advert, i.e. the fruits of your promotional activities. If you’ve gone to the trouble of engaging a reader in this way, why let Amazon reap the rewards? Display the book on your own website, fulfil the customer’s order, and keep your hard-earned royalties – and the customer’s details – with you.

Do you feel the changes in the publishing world are good for writers?

Self-publishing has given authors so much control and freedom it’s hard not to gush about it. Most new writers yearn for a traditional publishing deal without taking into account the downsides that come from giving up their rights. The validity they feel from the deal is wonderful, but if traditional publishing houses were the last word on literary quality, consider why they’ve published seven of Katie Price’s autobiographies.

An author can gain as much validity through self-generated relationships and sales if they DIY. Again, I believe self-publishing is not better, or worse, than traditional publishing – it’s just a different route to market. There are pros and cons that come with each option, which should be fully understood and explored before any action is taken.

What do you think about the low prices of e-books these days? It’s obviously a good thing for readers, but is it devaluing the work of writers?

Probably, yes. But if any writer goes into the industry for the money, they’re bound to be disappointed. Consider that the average traditionally-published author releases seven books before they make a reasonable return; it’s so hard to find a readership in this over-populated industry that I don’t understand anyone who sets their ebook at almost the same retail price as their paperback.

There are practically no costs associated with the production of the digital copy – so why turn people away with a high ebook price when it’s hard enough to turn them on to a new author, even if your book was FREE?! There are more free books/content out there than can ever be consumed; you should be making it as easy and risk-free as possible for your readers to take a chance on you. Only when you’ve a solid customer base eager for everything you put out should you bump up prices a little. Supply vs. demand: it’s not rocket science.

How do you see the industry moving forward?

If I’m honest, I’m not sure. I’ll have one view, then a few months later something else happens and I change my opinion again. I do think that the disruption self-publishing is causing is not over yet. Eventually, I see things settling down. Self-publishing will be on a par with traditional publishing and the snobbery and stigma will eventually disappear. If I can play any part in that, I’ll be glad.

If you get time to read, what are your favourite books?

Don’t shoot me, but given that I can read a lot of ‘heavy’ stuff all week, I tend to favour chick-lit and trashy novels at the weekend (back to the Katie Price issue – I never said there wasn’t a market for her!). I want to escape from the housework that needs to be done and to be uplifted by the ‘happy ever after’ scenario when the kids are nagging me for money or a lift somewhere. I haven’t the mental energy for anything else by then!

Thank you for your time Diane and there’s no shame in reading chick-lit! If anyone would like to discuss your services, how should they contact you?

I prefer email in the first instance at The Writing Hall, just because I’m in and out of the office a lot, and I can pick up emails around meetings.

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