Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Interview with Stuart Aken

Can you give us a brief overview of your latest book?
Ten Tales for Tomorrow is an anthology of speculative fiction, consisting of mostly science fiction stories with some fantasy added. Most of the stories are dark. Some have been previously published in small magazines and a few are contest prize winners, but most are published in the collection for the first time. As a writer, I try to get into the skins of my characters and, since some of the stories deal with aliens, the viewpoints are different from those of a human. I've tried to inject humour into some of the tales, but this is inevitably black humour, given the nature of the stories.

Did you try the traditional route to publishing, i.e. querying agents/publishers?
My first novel, Breaking Faith, is a romantic thriller and I tried that with a number of agents and publishers before losing patience and taking the self-publishing route via the POD website. Most publishers are looking for the conventional and the easily classified, so most agents seek the same sort of material. This makes it difficult to sell anything that fails to fit into the rather cozy mold used by the conventional publishing route. As I own the electronic rights to my novel, I was able to turn this into an eBook as well.

Do you belong to a critique group? Have they helped improve your writing?
YouWriteOn is just such a group, but I didn't join it for that purpose. I had a go with Authonomy for a while until it became clear that all sorts of deals were going on in the background to artificially inflate the position of books in the league tables – people swapping good ratings with each other without ever actually reading the samples provided; that sort of thing. It struck me as basically dishonest, so I withdrew my book.

I am a member of a particularly supportive group of professional writers and we meet every week locally. Their input is far more valuable and honest than I found on the websites.  Having said that, I do know other writers who swear by such peer review sites and who have had positive feedback from them, so I suppose it's a matter of 'horses for courses'.

What factors influenced your decision to self-publish to Amazon?
One of my colleagues at the writers' group had travelled this path and had some success with it. It seemed a sensible alternative to standard publishing, especially as anthologies generally don't sell well. The Amazon Kindle route allows an author to price a book reasonably so that readers can buy at little risk, but provides the author with a service that allows him to make some money from his craft at the same time. I was also attracted by the way that Amazon opens up market opportunities on both sides of the pond, and, of course, worldwide.

Did you hire an editor to review your manuscript before publishing?
Finding a good editor at an affordable price is a job in itself. I had published my novel without such help and I had previously published an anthology of short stories, A Sackful of Shorts, for my writing group, with their help in the editing process. I believed my level of knowledge was such that I could self-edit successfully.

What have you’ve learned during your self-publishing journey?
The most frustrating thing about self-publishing is probably the marketing side. There is no publisher to help with this process and selling is entirely the responsibility of the author. Similarly, I had to design my own covers for the books. I was a professional photographer some years ago, so I have knowledge of image manipulation, but it was a steep learning curve to reach a level of competency with Photoshop. After the frustrations, I actually came to enjoy the process of cover design.

And, looked at logically, the marketing effort is not really that much more onerous than it would be for mainline publishing, where most authors are expected to devote great chunks of their writing time to promotional activities.

Besides Amazon, are there any other sites where your books are for sale?
The paperback version of Breaking Faith is available worldwide through most online publishers and can be ordered through most high street bookshops. My eBooks are both available via Smashwords, for all eReader platforms.

What kinds of marketing are you involved with for promoting your books?
I have an active presence on Twitter, make announcements to friends and many reader/writer groups on Facebook, run an active blog and website and involve myself with a good number of groups on LinkedIn. I also grasp opportunities like your generous service and give interviews as a guest on blogs whenever such chances come my way.

Do you find it difficult to juggle your time between marketing your current book and writing your next book?
The short answer is, 'Yes!' The indie writer is forced to get out there and market alone (with the support of generous folk like you). It takes time to build a following on any of the social networks, but I have gradually increased the numbers I am connected with and continue to make efforts to grow the readership base for my books.  I'd love to be able to sit at the keyboard and do nothing but write, the way authors used to in the days before publishers were taken over by bean counters who have no idea how to nurture talent. Everything now in mainstream publishing seems to be about making a quick buck; it would be so good if they would return to the principle of developing talent in the knowledge that the future of such nurturing would generally bring about some great writing.

What advice would you give a new author just entering into the self-publishing arena?
Firstly, make sure you have something worthwhile to say. Ensure your work is thoroughly checked for spelling and grammatical errors. Know the rules of writing and ensure that you can break them because you know them so well. And only follow this route if you are passionate about your writing.  Don't expect to make a living at it; such good fortune comes to the few.  Otherwise, follow the rules set out by whatever publisher you decide to use. This way, your MS will appear on the Kindle in a way that makes it attractive to read.

What’s next for you?
I'm in the process of editing an adult fantasy. The Seared Sky is currently a single volume of what was originally planned as a trilogy. However, at 277,000 words, it may be a little heavy for one volume and I suspect, once I've completed the edit, I will split this book into 2 and the trilogy may well become a quintet!

Thank you, Debra, for this splendid opportunity to bring more readers to my writing.