Friday, September 26, 2014

Advice from the Field

Back in August 2013, I mentioned in passing a book called The Triskele Trail. At the time, I was initiating my “Hidden Gems” rubric (expect a new entry in that series soon) with a look at The Charter, by Triskele author Gillian Hamer. I planned to get back to The Triskele Trail, which I enjoyed, in a later post, but life got in the way and I forgot.

Just as well, as it turns out, because Triskele Books has just released a much expanded version of its “how we did it” guide, now called The Triskele Trail: 2014 Edition—A Pathway to Independent Publishing and endowed with a spiffy new cover (although the old cover was pretty good, too). Triskele is also hosting a giveaway of the book—for the link, see the bottom of this post.

In the interests of full disclosure, I must mention here that although Five Directions Press, the writers’ cooperative/indie press of which I am a part, had nothing to do with the Triskele Trail project, we are featured in “How a Collective Works #2,” an updated version of the interview exchange previously published here and on the Triskele Books blog. So my present post makes no claims to being a dispassionate review. My intent is to get the word out, because this is a genuinely helpful guide to the basics of self-publishing and the benefits of working with a supportive group of fellow-writers rather than going it alone.

Triskele Books itself began as a group of five authors—Gillian Hamer, JJ Marsh, Liza Perrat, JD Smith, and Catriona Troth. The collective has grown since then, but these five remain the heart of the enterprise. In this they resemble Five Directions Press, which has published books by five separate authors (and hopes to add more) but is managed by the writers’ group that first came up with the idea. The Triskele Trail starts by describing the founding of the group and its philosophy. Like the cooperative, the guide is a collective enterprise, with the various members contributing chapters on the areas where they feel most competent to comment.

The bulk of the book addresses basic questions that beginning authors need to know: Why publish independently? Whom to trust? How do other collectives operate? What do editors and proofreaders do, and how do you find one? What is an ISBN, and how do you get one? What do the various publishing acronyms—ARC, AI, barcode, blind folio, QRC, etc.—mean? When do you need an EIN (employee identification number), and for what purpose? How do you get anyone, anywhere, to notice and buy your book without driving your 300 Facebook friends stark, staring bonkers with your self-promotion? Good cover design and book formatting—what are the guiding principles, how do you implement them, and when should you hire a professional to do the job for you? Copyright: how do you assert your own and avoid infringing other people’s?

All important questions, and the answers are delivered in clear, easy-to-follow prose, punctuated by interviews with other collectives as well as (developmental and copy, not publishing-house) editors and lists of useful resources. The authors make it clear from the beginning that these are not rules to follow so much as suggestions based on their own experience, what worked for them and what didn’t. Much of the advice focuses on the UK market, but even so, I learned a lot from this book—and I’ve spent the last twenty years in academic publishing, not to mention the last two accumulating my own list of triumphs and mistakes as my fellow-authors and I struggle to get Five Directions Press off the ground.

Even if you decide not to self-publish, you will find much of value in The Triskele Trail. Today’s publishing environment assumes that authors will polish their manuscripts before submitting them to literary agents or publishers and will play a significant role in marketing and promoting their own work. And although in-house departments may handle editing, cover design, and sales, it never hurts to understand and appreciate what the professionals contribute.

So if you’re writing the Great American (Canadian, British) novel, take a look at The Triskele Trail. And if you’ve wondered about self-publishing but worry about the amount of work required, consider a cooperative. You may be surprised to discover how much support is out there, and how much you can learn from authors who have traveled a little farther along the path.

From Thursday, September 25, through Sunday, September 28, 2014, you can enter to win a free e-book copy of The Triskele Trail at the Triskele Books blog. You can enter through Facebook or by using your e-mail address.

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