Friday, August 2, 2013

Writers Alone and Together

We thought we were originals, but instead, turns out we are at the front of a wave but not the only surfers. Which is great—always nice to have a few friendly folks to share the journey with!

This post ran last week on the Triskele Books blog. I reversed the two halves, so that you could find out about them first, and edited the introductions a bit to avoid total duplication.



Five Directions Press: How did your publishing cooperative come together, and what made you decide to establish it? How many of you are there?

Triskele Books: There were three original members: JJ Marsh, Gillian Hamer, and Liza Perrat. We met via an online writing group and “knew” each other virtually for a few years beforehand, critiquing each other’s work. At the end of 2011, two of us had agents who were unable to sell our manuscripts, but none of us was keen on self-publishing individually. We got together and discussed the idea of a team collaboration, to make the process more feasible and less scary, and decided to form the Triskele Books author collective—a brand to promote our ideals of quality writing, presentation, and design. We have since taken on more members—Catriona Troth and JD Smith—so we currently have a core group of five with a few extras on the sidelines, supporting and promoting us. The other authors we met through the same online writing group.

FDP: Where does the Triskele name come from? Does a Triskele book have an identifiable style that sets it apart?

TB: Triskele comes from the fact there were three of us in the beginning. It has Celtic connotations, a tie-in with one of our author’s settings. The circles of the logo resemble three scrolls and represent the joining of these three independent circles to create something entirely new. As regards style, “location” is an important theme to our brand. All of us share an enthusiasm for “place,” and we try to evoke that in our stories. We all use the same cover designer and formatter, JD Smith, whose gorgeous matte-finish covers are praised by readers.


FDP: How does your setup differ from ours? How do you select a Triskele author? Do you interact in person, or mostly online?

TB: Triskele Books operates very similarly to Five Directions Press. Each author retains her own rights, is responsible for publishing her own books, choosing between e-books, paperbacks, and hardbacks, and commissioning her own quality design. We critique and edit each other’s work and comment on covers. We all employ a professional proofreader, as well as cover designer and formatter. We mostly interact online, via a private Facebook group, as we live in different places, from London to Birmingham, the Lakes District, Lyon, and Zürich. We get together in London every six months for the launch of the latest releases, which is always a great occasion for fun, chit-chat, and champagne.

One area which is hard work, but we consider a benefit, is that we constantly evaluate ourselves. We check we’re still going in the right direction, especially when new challenges throw up questions and we have to refer back to our fundamental principles in order to make plans for the future. This would be much harder if we weren’t (a) a small group, (b) communicative and (c) willing to listen to other ideas.


FDP: What books have you published, and what do you plan to publish over the next year or two?

TB: We have published nine books so far, with another three due for release in November 2013.

June 2012 releases 
The Charter by Gillian Hamer
Behind Closed Doors by JJ Marsh (first in the Beatrice Stubbs series)
Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

December 2012 releases
Closure by Gillian Hamer
Raw Material by JJ Marsh (second in the Beatrice Stubbs series)
The Open Arms of the Sea by Jasper Dorgan

June 2013 releases
Complicit by Gillian Hamer
Tread Softly by JJ Marsh (third in the Beatrice Stubbs series)
Tristan and Iseult by JD Smith (novella)
Gift of the Raven by Catriona Troth (novella)

November 2013
Wolfsangel by Liza Perrat
Overlord I by JD Smith
Ghost Town by Catriona Troth

May 2014
The Crossing by Gillian Hamer
Cold Pressed by JJ Marsh (fourth in the Beatrice Stubbs series)
Overlord II by JD Smith 

FDP: What is the situation in commercial publishing in the UK at present? Do you encounter the same problems in finding representation and publication that we do here in the US?

TB: We certainly did encounter the same problems finding representation and publication in the UK, as in the US. At the beginning of Triskele Books, Gillian Hamer and Liza Perrat both had agents, who were unable to sell their manuscripts despite much praise. JJ Marsh’s international crime series was said to be “too cerebral.” Basically, it was the same story: publishers liked our stories, but couldn’t see where to slot them in commercially.


FDP: How has publishing changed in the UK, and how do you anticipate it will develop over the next few years?

Gillian Hamer: To me, publishers in the UK seem slow to catch up with current market trends and they seem for the most part, unwilling to look at the opportunities the rise in indie publishing offers. A few are now starting to think about foreign rights and looking to utilize the work authors are putting in regarding self-promotion and marketing. Many of us have felt that agents have taken a very old-fashioned approach for years—for example, many still only accept written submissions as if email was something out of a sci-fi movie! I feel everyone involved in publishing will have to change up a gear and accept and embrace the technology around today. E-books are only the start. Those that don’t will lose opportunities and be left behind. 

Catriona Troth: One change I have observed over the past ten years or so is that as so many of the smaller agents and publishers get swallowed up by big multinationals, much less time is given for debut authors to develop. For most traditionally published writers these days, if they don’t make the big time with their first book—or if they are very lucky, their second— that’s the end of their career. One thing that self-publishing does is to give writers the time to build a following gradually and organically—the way all writers could expect to, at one time.

JJ Marsh: UK publishing is similar to the US in that it’s marketing-led, in the main. Smaller presses, bookshops, and agents who are willing to develop authors are suffering from the heavyweights’ advantages. It’s interesting to see agents such as Andrew Lownie and Rogue Reader taking the agent-assisted self-publishing model, which seems advantageous for both. People are beginning to wake up to the opportunities offered by the DIY route and to realize that readers are highly discerning. Collectives such as Five Directions Press and Triskele Books, among others, have an opportunity here to act as a hallmark of quality.

Our thanks and best wishes to Five Directions Press for a successful career in indie publishing through the author collective. Books from Five Directions Press are available here.



The FDP members—Ariadne Apostolou, Courtney J. Hall, Diana Holquist, and C.P. Lesley—answer questions about the rise of their author collective and indie publishing in general.


TB: What brought you girls together? And any particular reason why your collective is named Five Directions Press?

FDP: Three of us formed a local writers’ group five years ago and have met regularly ever since. Diana and C.P. have been writing buddies and friends for even longer. Diana has published commercially; she mostly writes contemporary romance under her own name and as Sophie Gunn. But her parenting memoir appealed to a different audience, and she decided to publish it herself. When we set up our own press, we invited Diana to join us. We reformatted and reissued her book last year.

The Five Directions Press name grows out of C.P.’s series, Legends of the Five Directions. In Chinese cosmology, which the Mongolians and Turkic tribes of Central Asia adopted, the center is considered a fifth direction that brings the four cardinal points into harmony. Since we have a range of books—historical fiction (C.P. and Courtney), contemporary fiction (Ariadne), and memoir (Diana)—it seemed like a nice image of unity derived from diversity. We don’t quite have five directions yet, but that leaves us room to expand.


TB: What factors triggered your decision to go indie?

FDP: In part, the difficulty of breaking into publishing as an unknown author, especially if one is writing books that don’t fit neatly into a commercial slot. We came up with the idea after C.P. had sent both her books to literary agents and reached the point where she was getting comments along the lines of “I love this, but I don’t know who I’d sell it to.” In the meantime, self-publishing was exploding. But if commercial publishing has too many gatekeepers who operate too rigidly, self-publishing has too few. So the four of us decided to pool our skills, work together to ensure quality control on each book, and set up the cooperative as an intermediary. Our hope is that Five Directions Press can build a long-term reputation for books worth reading. Of course, that will take a while.


TB: Like Triskele Books authors, do you each retain the rights to your own books, pay the costs of publication, and receive the full royalties? What elements are done collectively?

FDP: Yes, to all of the above. So far, because we are so small, we have an arrangement where no money changes hands. Five Directions Press is a name and a group website rather than a business. What makes it work is that we have a good combination of skills: C.P. has 20+ years experience in academic publishing, including copy editing and typesetting, so she handles the actual book production. Courtney runs a graphic design business, so she works on covers and website design (she produced our logo, for example). Ariadne is the best of us at spotting flaws in story structure and characterization. Diana has a background in advertising and has published commercially, so she brings that experience to our joint enterprise. So both the writing and the production are, to some extent, a collective effort.


TB: What do you see as the key benefits of being in a collective? Any disadvantages?

FDP: We really don’t see any disadvantages, so long as the people in the collective are positive and helpful in their attitudes. We were very lucky to find people who were a good fit from the beginning. We have learned so much from one another in terms of improving our writing. For the press, the main advantages are having other people to brainstorm with and having people who can fill in the gaps in one’s own experience. No one can be an expert at everything.


TB: Do you share a designer? And do you try and go for a shared look or feel?

FDP: C.P. designs the books, with input from the collective. Usually, we work together on the covers, although if an author wants to bring in her own cover, that’s fine. We would fuss only if the new cover deviated too much from the Five Directions Press style.

We do try to go for a shared look and feel. Most of the covers have a textured beige back (which contrasts well with our umber logo), and we strive for a consistent layout on the back cover and spine. The interiors usually use the same header and footer style and similar layouts, although fonts and type ornaments vary. All our historical novels use Garamond, for example—a nice old font with a long history. The modern novels use modern fonts (Minion Pro, usually). Display fonts (chapter headings and cover type) are individual to each book—although the Legends of the Five Directions series, for example, will use the same fonts throughout to establish a consistent look for the series.


TB: How do you know whether an author is a good “fit” for Five Directions Press?

FDP: Well, the primary qualification, besides the person having something to contribute (see next question), is to write well. Because we are trying to establish a reputation for the press as a whole, we need to involve writers who already have a solid grasp of the craft, even if their work does not appeal to a literary agent or commercial publisher for whatever reason. In addition, this is a “sweat equity” operation, so the person needs to be willing to put in the time, rather than approaching publication as a client, and have a generally positive outlook. Last, the book itself has to blend with the ones we already have, since the point of operating as a group is to achieve a certain level of cross-fertilization. Even though we have historical and contemporary novels, as well as novellas and a memoir, all our books can be considered some variety of women’s fiction. I don’t think there would be any advantage to us or to a prospective author to take on a physics textbook, but a historical mystery featuring a female detective would probably work fine.


TB: Are you actively seeking new members? And if so, what sort of criteria must new authors meet, to become part of Five Directions Press?

FDP: We are not actively seeking new members, but we are not averse to considering new members. At the moment, we have just one person to handle the copy editing and proofing; it would be nice to have another writer who has worked as an editor. Someone experienced in book publicity would also be useful, since none of us really has the contacts needed to publicize the books as much as they need and deserve. Publicity is our greatest difficulty, as it is for most independent and self-published writers, so that’s probably the area where we could use the most help. Hence the criteria would be those listed in my previous answer: good writing, good fit, willingness to participate, and skills that supplement those we already have.


TB: What are your plans for 2013 and beyond?

FDP: We have at least three books in the pipeline for fall and winter 2013. C.P.’s The Winged Horse (Legends of the Five Directions 2: East), is on track for release in November or December. Courtney’s Saving Easton should come out around the same time. Ariadne is working on a series of three novellas; we expect to release those one by one as e-books, then together in print, over the next year. We also need to get the e-book versions of Seeking Sophia up within the next few months. Beyond that, we have to see. But we all expect to keep writing, so there should be a slow but steady stream of books.


TB: How do you see the future of publishing generally?

FDP: It seems obvious that publishing is in flux. The current model, in which a few companies (five, here in the United States) control the bulk of the commercial market while millions of self-published books pour out through online and e-bookstores—most of them poorly written, edited, and designed; most of them unread—appears unsustainable. Some new system of gatekeepers will emerge, whether it is cooperatives like ours or review boards that can confer a seal of approval or an expansion of’s invitation-only publishing arm. As bookstores disappear, the advantages of commercial publishing also lessen, but the big houses still dominate access to premier publications such as The New York Times Book Review and The New York Review of Books. That will have to change before self-publishing and indie publishing can really take off. It’s also clear that people selling services to writers (editing, typesetting, marketing) are doing well and will continue to do well. Avoiding those expenses was part of the reason we decided to set up Five Directions Press.

Or (this is more of a doomsday scenario) will knock everyone else out of the market, at which point it may become much less hospitable to self-publishers and small presses like ours. On the whole, though, I think it’s a very exciting time to be a writer, because so many options for publication exist that did not a few years ago.

Our thanks to Triskele Books for initiating this discussion. We found it useful to have this opportunity to articulate our mission, and we hope that it will give other authors some ideas about alternative ways to get their work out in this new and rapidly changing publishing environment. For full information on these Triskele titles and authors, as well as UK links to their books, see the Triskele Books site.


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