Guest blog: Cressida Ellen Schofield - An Independent Author’s Journey From Pen and Pad to Pendrive and iPad
Today's guest blogger is Cressida Ellen Schofield, who had an agent, but then ran headlong into the credit crunch. This is the story of what happened next.
Cressida is the author of Incapability Brown (which I will review very soon - I am not a fan of romances, but I did enjoy this), and the Magpie Cottage Chronicles.
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My story is probably all too familiar. I discovered my love for creative writing as a youngster. Aged seven, to be precise. An avid reader from a very early age, I decided I wanted to be an author, spent my pocket money on a hard-backed notepad and started my very first attempt at writing a book. The story was about a young girl who moved to a rural community and, when she saw that most of the local children rode, became pony-mad herself and wanted to own her own pony. Of course, this was blatant plagiarism of a pony book I had just read – the most splendid Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson – and, thankfully, I achieved nothing more than about thirty pages of unoriginal drivel. Nevertheless, I was hooked. Aged fourteen, I completed my first full work, another pony book called The Wednesday Rabble, which again was pretty grim. Since then I have always had at least one project on the go, and have finished five full length books, three of which I have felt confident enough to submit for publication. I have also found my particular niche: a curious hybrid of black comedy and contemporary women’s fiction.
Not that it has been a straightforward journey. Eight years ago I was going through the usual disillusioning process of packaging up the first chapters of my novel, Noël, and sending them to likely agents I had found in the Writer’s and Artist’s Handbook. Following a few encouraging rejections (yes, such a thing does exist!) which told me my writing and concepts were good, I received the Holy Grail of responses. A London agent asked to see the full manuscript. In short, I received a positive response to the full book and, after a change of title and a considerable re-write – and I would advise any budding writer that this is highly likely to be asked for or even demanded – I was told that my book was ready for submission. This was it! It was finally happening.
Then everything went ominously quiet. A month or so later I received the literary equivalent of a Dear John letter. My agent informed me that, regretfully and in the advent of the credit crunch, untried authors were becoming increasingly difficult to market. So I was dropped. I have come to learn that this isn’t uncommon either and if I have any advice for a would-be writer it would be this – grow yourself a thick hide! Publishing is an incredibly hard industry to crack and can be quite simply soul destroying, but only if you allow it to be.
Therefore, heartbreaking though it was to come so close to physical publication, I remained undeterred and persisted with my writing. Granted, I wasn’t successful on that occasion but it could not be denied that my writing had enough about it to be picked out of the slush pile, and that was not something to be disregarded. Nor are agents in the habit of dishing out compliments unless they mean it! Encouraged, I set about writing a new book. Having long since graduated from pony book heroines Jill Crewe and Jackie Hope to Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins I wanted to write a ‘pony book for grown ups’, and that is how I was inspired to write Incapability Brown. My heroine is the eponymous Izzy Brown, a twenty-something Londoner, who manages to lose her job, her home and her boyfriend on St Valentine’s Day and, as a consequence, ends up taking a residential job as a nanny-slash-groom in rural North Yorkshire, despite having no experience with kids or horses whatsoever.
It was while I was writing this book that I learned about the phenomenon that has become Kindle Publishing Direct (KDP). In a market where the book charts were dominated by celebrity autobiographies, TV tie-ins and cookbooks, agents and publishers were shying away from untried authors unless they could guarantee a good return, which left no scope to develop an unheard of writer. Nevertheless, there was a demand for my book and no writer wants to watch their beloved manuscript sitting gathering dust instead of being read. Unwilling to fork out for vanity publishing, I considered my other options. KDP seemed ideal. It would let me release my work on a free platform and at the same time give me complete control over marketing and design. It would also allow me to choose what to do with any proceeds. In addition, unlike traditional vanity publishing, there is no stigma attached to digital self publishing. Indeed, having gone to a creative writing session run by the Faber Academy in June 2012, it became quite plain to me that the big publishing houses are fearful rather than scathing of the boom in self publishing. This is why authors who gain popularity at an fantastic rate, such as E L James of the 50 Shades trilogy fame, and who first published her work on a fan-fiction website, are snapped up very quickly by the publishing houses.
Another upside of KDP is that I am not tied to contracts and deadlines and instead can fit my writing round the confines of family life and what I refer to as my Necessary Job. I take no pleasure in dispelling the common myth of large advances that allow the writer to quit their nine to fives and write full time. These happen incredibly rarely and are not the norm.
Self publishing via KDP is quite straightforward, provided you do your research first. I found the free e-book Building Your Book For Kindle a really useful reference. This book, available on Amazon, sets out everything a budding writer needs to know about formatting their manuscript so that it is readable on all available digital platforms; not just Kindle but also any tablet, smartphone, PC or Mac. It explains how to set up the necessary Amazon and KDP accounts, and gives advice on the format and design of book covers as well as the use of graphics and tables in the book itself. One thing I cannot stress enough, however, is the importance of having at least one other person proofread your manuscript. I am a very particular individual by nature, but even so, when you know a book as thoroughly as you do your own, it is so easy to miss a typo here or a missed comma there. A fresh pair of eyes can mean the difference between a professional end result and sloppy presentation. Another thing to think about is the intricacies of the KDP royalty system. I can offer no further advice other than take your time; read about all the options, and choose the one that suits you best.
Then came the fun part. I uploaded the final version to KDP, told all my friends and family and pursued a rigorous marketing campaign both on Facebook and Twitter and also via good, old-fashioned avenues such as leafleting, noticeboards and alumni magazines. I also made the decision to donate 100% of my royalties from the sale of Incapability Brown between three charities: Redwings Horse Sanctuary, Dogs Trust and Help for Heroes. All three charities are relevant to the plotline of the book and are also close to my heart. I contacted each charity and asked their permission to do this. Not surprisingly, they all agreed and have been very supportive.
Since all this happened two years ago I have enjoyed a consistent level of sales, sent several donation cheques to the three charities (and received some lovely letters in return!) and set up various social media platforms - Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest - and a website containing two blogs. In addition, I have also uploaded Noël to KDP, my black comedy about four generations of the combative Bingham family who have all returned to their childhood home for Christmas. I am currently working on two new projects. One is the sequel to Noël and is the second instalment in The Magpie Cottage Chronicles. The other is a stand-alone black comedy, Always Friday and Monday, which will be presented to agents via the orthodox process when I have finished it. After all, whilst I am an Independent Author and proud to be so, there is still no harm in pursuing every available route into the industry either!
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Cressida Ellen Schofield's books are:
For more information on Cressida, her books and for all Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest contact details, please see: www.cressidaellenschofield.co.uk