Friday, June 25, 2010

Interview with Helen Smith

Available for sale at Amazon

Welcome Helen!

Briefly describe your journey in writing your first book.
It took me a long while to write my first book, Alison Wonderland.  I was working full-time and taking care of my daughter.  I wasn’t very good at shutting myself away and just getting on with it – I always felt guilty, as if I should be taking care of someone or something else.  But I believed that I could write an entertaining, thoughtful book and that I could write it in a way that no-one else could.  So I did get on with it and in the end I finished it.

Did you query agents and traditional publishers?  How long before you got your offer of representation/your first contract?
I had no contacts in the industry and wasn’t sure how to go about getting representation.  I bought the Writers and Artists Yearbook, which has a list of publishers and agents and how to contact them. At the time, very few publishers in the UK accepted unsolicited manuscripts – I’m not sure that any of the major ones do now. I sent the book to Macmillan and got a charming reply from someone in a very senior position there who said he loved my writing but the book wasn’t right for them.  I realized I ought to find an agent and wrote to three of them enclosing the first three chapters of my book.  I thought it would take a while before I heard anything but my agent called within a couple of weeks to ask for the rest of the book, and a few weeks after that with an offer of representation. It took several months to find the right publisher.  My agent called me at about six o’clock one evening and said, ‘I hope you’ve got some champagne in the house…’

What factors influenced your decision to go with a particular agent or publisher?
The honest answer is that I went with the first agent who called me – I didn’t appreciate at the time how fortunate I was to get her as she’s Head of Books at one of the most prestigious agencies in London.  My agent guided me to the right publisher for me at the time.

Are you currently under a traditional publishing contract for future books or do you have manuscripts that you will publish directly for Kindle?
When my backlist went out of print I had the rights reverted to me and I published them myself.  It has been such a positive experience that I have just published my new book, The Miracle Inspector, direct to Kindle. The print edition will be out in September 2010.

Did you design your cover art?  How involved were you during the creative process for your cover?
I gather it’s a standing joke at traditional publishers that you should never let the author near the cover design because any suggestions they make are likely to be ludicrous.  Obviously, if an author is hugely successful they’ll have some input if they want it, otherwise the author is supposed to let the experts get on with their job while they get on with writing. For the new editions of the books, since I was the publisher, I was involved in the design from start to finish, with help from artist/designer friends.

How did you feel when you got your first sale? 
The funny thing about being published traditionally is that you don’t know how well sales are doing until you get the sales reports – though you can look on Amazon and the sales rank might give you an indication; I remember with Alison Wonderland I got to no. 31 or something for a few hours one night.  That was very exciting.  When you publish yourself on Kindle, you can check the sales figures every five minutes if you want to – and, in common with many of my fellow Indie authors, I’m afraid to say that’s often what I do! I put Alison Wonderland up for sale in the Kindle store in March and nothing happened for a few days.  I was suddenly overwhelmed with the realization that this was not going to be easy – how would anyone find my book?  I left a couple of posts on the Kindle forums, went out – and when I came back, I saw I had made six sales.  Wow!  It was a very gratifying feeling. 

What kinds of social media [twitter, facebook, webpage, blog, writing forums] are you involved with trying to garner attention for your book(s)?
I have found three fantastic resources to interact with readers – the Amazon Kindle forums, the Kindle Reader forums and the Mobile Read forums. You can post news about your books and find deals, news and information about other authors’ books – I have found some interesting reads this way. I’m also on LibraryThing, Goodreads and Shelfari. I have Twitter and Facebook accounts but I use these to interact with friends, family and (in the case of Twitter) anyone I find fascinating, rather than as an opportunity to talk about my books. I have had a blog for three years and I try to make my posts as entertaining and interesting as possible.  It may sound odd to anyone who doesn’t have a blog but I have made a lot of friends this way – anyone who has been on any of the forums I mentioned will understand what I mean, they’re very friendly places.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
They’re currently available on Mobipocket and direct from Tyger Books but I have a distribution deal in place that will ensure they’re soon be available from every major ebook retailer – Barnes & Noble, the ibookstore, Waterstones, WH Smiths, etc.

What’s next for you?
I’m writing another novel, I have a short play on in London, I have a TV series in development and I’m editing an anthology of writing.

Thanks for the opportunity to share my experiences.  I’d like to wish you all the best with the books and the blog.