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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor.

Thursday 20 May 2021

Twelve books in: the view from here

When I approached my fiftieth birthday in 2017, I decided I wanted to be a publisher. I was a published novelist, with my debut novel having done rather well: translated into fifteen languages, and getting a big flashy deal in the USA. A few things did go awry with that first book: my editor in the USA left for a new job, and the enthusiasm for my book left with her. My book was "orphaned" at its publisher. Promotion stateside was minimal, and so were sales; there was never a paperback in the USA. However, these things happen, and none of it was the end of the world, and my book still did OK elsewhere. 



My second novel was turned down by my UK publisher; a huge blow. But also not the end of the world. Another publisher showed interest; then changed their mind. That was a worse blow and at that point I was not feeling too positive about corporate publishing. So I decided to self-publish my second novel. And I loved that process. It sold reasonably well in the UK, and still sells. It won't make me rich. But neither did my debut corporate-published novel, in the end. 




I decided to set up Louise Walters Books, and published my third novel, and in 2017 I announced to the world I was now A Publisher, and was looking for novels and novellas. I had quite a lot of submissions.  I soon found myself working very long hours, fulfilling my aim of publishing four books per year. I was super-enthusiastic, and confident that sales would pick up, because my books were good: well-written by talented writers, well-edited by both author and me, and professionally produced by my amazing freelance team. I still had the naive idea in my head that publishing was a meritocracy. At the 2019 London Book Fair I met up with and chatted to the American editor who had commissioned my debut novel in the USA, and she gave me two pieces of advice: four books per year was a lot; and I should write another novel. 




As the months rolled by and I published more books, one per season, I realised I needed to make more money. The books weren't selling anywhere near enough. I was fortunate to get some freelance editorial work with Jericho Writers and Retreat West, both of whom continue to send me projects to work on. But I found myself working even longer hours, and pouring most of my editorial income into my publishing. My family barely saw me. My marriage suffered. We did less and less as a family. I was getting up early, going to bed late, drinking too much, worrying too much, and missing my family too much. 

I still believed in the books I was publishing, and I was doing my flat-out best to publish them well. I commissioned my seventh author, then decided to close to submissions for a while. I entered all and any prizes my books were eligible for, but no dice (yet). We did get one long-listing in a new prize (Laura Laakso's marvellous Roots of Corruption was on the inaugural Barbellion Prize long list in 2020). 


I still haven't yet secured any translation deals for any of my books; nor have any of them been taken up in other English-speaking territories. I have had some audio and large print deals for some of my books, which has been very helpful, from the fabulous W F Howes. I've had amazing support from readers and book bloggers, and a lovely handful of bookshops. My website sales have been steady, and encouraging; my e-book sales are insufficient, and bookshop sales, other than those wonderfully supportive exceptions, have been extremely disappointing. 




Publishing has been frustrating, exhausting, worrying, and ultimately it has left me skint,  disillusioned, and disappointed. The corporate publishers rule the roost and I can't see myself ever breaking through that terrible barrier. I think my class has hampered me too. I'm working-class and I make no bones about that. Why should I? It's who and what I am. My books don't get reviewed possibly because I don't know anybody who works at The Guardian or any other middle-class newspaper; nor working-class newspapers, come to that. I have no contacts. Believe me, I have tried to make them. Publishing is a posh world, no doubt about it. I seriously do wonder if my publishing venture would have fared better had I been to private school, or at least grammar school. Who knows? 

My guilt trip is immense. I've spent all my savings on my publishing and I don't earn enough money to comfortably co-pay the mortgage and bills; then came the first lockdown last year and that was the beginning of the end financially. My family and I are in the process of having to make some pretty tough decisions. 

What's been good about indie publishing? First and foremost, working with seven talented writers. It's been a privilege. I've loved every minute, and to edit such fine writing has been a highlight of my life. The support we have enjoyed from individuals has been such an encouragement and a boost to all of us at LWB. I'm amazed that people spend their hard-earned dosh on books I commissioned, edited, and published. All my writers deserve to sell their books, of course, but every time I receive an order at my website, it's still a huge thrill. 



Being my own boss is brilliant, and working from home is undeniably convenient, if lonely. It seems as though the entire world has written a novel and wants it critiqued. No complaints here. 

I'm immensely proud of what I've achieved over the last five years; my book-loving ten-year-old self can't believe what her fifty-year-old self has gone on to do in life. In fact my book-loving forty-year-old self can't believe it either. Louise Walters Books may not be a "success" in terms of making money, and maybe only time will tell if it was ultimately worth it, but it has been a source of pride, and it has given me new skills and new confidence. I've met some outstanding people over the last few years too, people I would never have met without the publishing. 

I'm publishing just one book in 2022. I'll remain closed to submissions now until late 2022-ish, if not longer. In the meantime, I'm going to work hard on my forthcoming books (November 2021 and November 2022) and will continue working hard to promote my dozen glorious books.   

Have I failed? Yes and No. I've been failed, as my wise husband points out to me regularly. The book industry as a whole is very geared towards the big corporate publishers. There is resistance to indie publishers. I think there exists a vague but pervasive and erroneous notion that an indie publisher is somehow lesser; amateur; picking off the corporate publishers' rejected, therefore inferior, submissions. None of that is true. Is there a tougher industry to set up business in than publishing? The glass ceiling in impenetrable and cares not for how hard you work. Hard work and excellent writing are not enough. The cream does not rise to the top. If it did, at least one of my books would have found its way onto some pretty good prize long lists. That hasn't happened (yet) so if I'm going to continue as a publisher, it will be for love, not money; one book a year, not four.  

That advice from the American editor at the London Book Fair? Spot on, 100%. My half-written fourth novel patiently awaits... and as one of my authors frequently says to me in her encouraging e-mails, ONWARDS. 



I extend my deep and heartfelt thanks to you if you've supported my press in any way: buying, subscribing, reading, reviewing, recommending, tweeting, retweeting, Facebook-sharing, Instagram-liking, Buying me a Coffee...  whatever it is, I promise it has helped. Thank you x



Louise Walters is a writer, editor, and publisher. She is the author of three novels: Mrs Sinclair's Suitcase (Hodder 2014), A Life Between Us (LWB 2017), and The Road to California (LWB 2018). Please visit the Louise Walters Books website where you'll discover more about her twelve books, seven authors, and her flourishing editorial services. 











 






Friday 14 May 2021

And then there were twelve...

As I write, it's just two days until S J Norbury's debut novel Mrs Narwhal's Diary is published, on Sunday 16 May. This is the day the diary begins, so we thought it would be a nice day to publish the book. My twelfth at LWB! 

We thought it would also be nice to write a blog post about how I came to publish S J's novel...

In January 2019, Jericho Writers sent a project to me and asked me to provide an in-depth editorial report. I'd been working with Jericho Writers for a couple of years at that point, and most of the projects I'd worked on were very much beginners' work, needing lots of input, and usually full of rookie errors. Interesting work, and work I needed (and still need) to pay my wages and finance my publishing; but, at times, quite repetitive... the same mistakes do seem to crop up over and over again ;-) 



In February 2019 I started work on the project named Mrs Narwhal's Diary and just a few sentences in I realised I was reading something extraordinary. The characters lifted off the page from the start; it was funny, warm, engaging, charming. This is how I introduced S J's report:

"Thank you for the chance to read and work on your novel Mrs Narwhal’s Diary. I have to say, it is rare to get the chance to work on such a professional and accomplished manuscript. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your novel. Funny, fresh, invigorating, surprisingly moving in places. Pithy, shrewd observations throughout only add to the novel’s great charm. Your fabulous cast of characters, and great characterisation (generally, with a few slips, which I will talk about later) are fascinating to follow. I was rooting for all of them at one point or another. There were many genuine laugh-out-loud moments, and my family gave me many odd looks, and there were several “What’s up with Mum?” type comments all over the weekend as I read and laughed my way through your novel." 



I gave S J some tips for improving a few aspects of the story, and I encouraged her to try agents. She did... but, astoundingly, she didn't get offered representation. I'm still rather puzzled by that. Of course, at the back of my mind I was longing to publish Diary myself, but I didn't want to offer until S J had tried other, bigger routes to publication. I felt her writing was more than good enough to get representation and it was a huge surprise to me that it didn't. 

So, we had a chat... we met up in Worcester for coffee and cake... and it was agreed that I would publish Mrs Narwhal's Diary. I know it deserved more, much more - an agent and a big glossy deal with a Big 5 publisher - but those things weren't on offer. And I felt both deeply disappointed and wildly ecstatic. We commenced our editorial work, and I engaged once again the assistance of cover designer Jennie Rawlings, and interior designer Leigh Forbes; and LWB author Helen Kitson who helped us out with copy editing. We had a lot of fun editing the novel. It's a book that's just as delightful to work on as it is to read. I love all the characters, especially Rose, the sassy, beautiful, but deeply vulnerable sister-in-law of the eponymous Mrs Narwhal (we never get to know Mrs N's first name). Rose, like all the characters, has real depth, emotional depth. To my mind the relationship between Mrs N and Rose is the novel's central relationship, and it's unusual to see sisters-in-law placed at the heart of a novel. 




Lockdown disrupted things, of course. My carefully planned publishing schedule went up in smoke! But in the end we couldn't resist publishing the book on the day the diary begins, 16 May. May is a perfect time to publish any book, and especially a perfect summer read like this one. 

I always hope all my books find their readers. They all deserve to be widely read; and Diary is perhaps my most commercial title. It's not really an "indie press book". I'll always know that a Big 5 publisher could have snapped it up, and made it a huge hit. It should be a Richard and Judy pick; it should be in supermarkets; it should be gracing bookshop windows, and be on a table somewhere near the front of your local Waterstones. The BBC should be gagging to option it for a Sunday night series. And all that could still happen, if the book finds readers and gets into bookshops, and word of mouth does its thing. I truly hope that happens. All books are bigger than their publisher, and Mrs Narwhal's Diary is  truly big, or deserves to be. Please help to make that happen by buying the book, borrowing the book, reviewing it, recommending it to others. 

You can read  an excerpt of Mrs Narwhal's Diary on S J's author page on my website here


Mrs Narwhal's Diary is published on 16 May by Louise Walters Books in paperback and e-book, and will be published by W F Howes in large print, and in audio, narrated by actress Helen Keeley.  





 






Sunday 28 February 2021

What's in a word?

 

I published Helen Kitson's second novel, Old Bones, in January. There hasn't been much fanfare, but then it's hard to generate that for any book in these odd times. It's had some fabulous reviews, and, as I type this, the book is currently on tour, with the book bloggers giving the novel a general thumbs-up. It's an unusual novel in that the three central characters are all women in their early sixties. I loved this aspect of the novel and I thought others would too, and they do. All good. However, the blurb on the back of the cover has caused a mild commotion: 

Helen takes us back to the fictional Shropshire village of Morevale in this, her brilliant second novel which exposes the fragilities and strengths of three remarkably unremarkable elderly women. 

"Sixty isn't elderly!" is something Helen and I have heard from several readers. It got us thinking... to the point where we decided to remove the word from the blurb for future editions of the book... and replace it with... with what? With nothing is certainly an option. But I think we need to reiterate that the novel is about women past middle age. It's an important selling point. The blurb has a job to do, which to entice readers by conveying the premise in a succinct, clear way. (And writing a good blurb is one of the hardest jobs in publishing, let me tell you!)  



So, we have changed our minds back, and we've decided to stick to the word "elderly". It might be a little controversial, but there's nothing wrong with that...And I've invited Helen onto my blog to talk about our use of the word. Here she is...

"My second novel, Old Bones, focuses on the lives and regrets of three women all over the age of sixty. Unusual, but hardly controversial. More problematic, it seems, is the use of the word “elderly” in the back cover blurb to describe them. The fact that so many people have taken issue with this suggests to me that we still have a problem with the issue of ageing: what does getting old, or older, mean? How do we describe people who fall uncomfortably between “middle age” and “elderly”? What do these words mean, if they mean anything at all? 

My “ladies of a certain age” are described as elderly in the blurb because that’s how they see themselves. They feel life has passed them by, that the good bits are over. But is this what elderly means? When we use the word, do we imagine someone whose past is more significant and more interesting than their present or their future? Seated in a café, sixty-year-old Antonia “glances around and notices other women who are perhaps her age or older, yet they seem so much younger. Their clothes are more modern and their faces have a lightness she can’t quite place. These women might have their troubles, but they are not trapped in the past like her and Diana”. She understands that “elderly” is a state of mind rather than anything to do with her actual age, but this throws up another problem, namely how we view the inevitable process of ageing. 


Helen signing copies of Old Bones, Oxford, November 2020

The fact that readers are annoyed, even offended, by the use of the word “elderly” does, perhaps, say something about how we privilege youth over age. Having a young outlook, a youthful appearance: these are seen as positive things. We know, logically, that being old is not in itself a bad thing; that Mary Wesley had her first book for adults published when she was seventy-one; that many people speak of being “happily retired”, retirement giving them time to do all the things they couldn’t do when they were working. 

I’m fifty-five and I don’t consider myself to be elderly, but I don’t consider myself to be middle-aged, either. I’m not young, and yes, sometimes that bothers me, though largely for reasons of vanity. There’s a part of me that would like to become poet Jenny Joseph’s old lady who wears purple with a red hat, though even that suggests a kind of desperate bravery: the performance of bravado, a middle finger up to everyone who thinks old people should be neither seen nor heard. 


Helen and Louise, March 2019, celebrating the launch of Helen's debut (also in Oxford)
(photo: Laura Laakso)

The euphemistic “older” seems to have caught on, at least in America, but is it really a meaningful step forward? Its great appeal, I suppose, is its vagueness – older than what? It seems to me a bit of a cop-out; a bit patronising, even. The fact that my “elderly” ladies have ruffled a few feathers has forced me to look at my own tendency to use the words “youth” and “old age” in, respectively, positive and negative ways. 

Turning forty didn’t bother me, and even my fiftieth birthday didn’t faze me unduly. As I approach my fifty-sixth birthday, however, I’m becoming much more conscious of no longer being young, unable even to cling to “middle-aged” as a descriptor for myself. And yes, I would baulk at being described as elderly, because of the images that word conjures up; what sixty-three-year-old Diana describes in Old Bones as “the monotonous grey shuffle towards the final sunset”. Because isn’t that how we view the elderly? In abstract terms we know that, generally speaking, the older you are, the closer you are to that “final sunset”. That is, of course, an uncomfortable thought. A “youthful” fifty-five, I find myself panicking, working out how many more years I can reasonably hope to live, and how many books I can reasonably read (and write) in that time. My world view has changed in the past five years. It’s not so much that I dwell on the past, more that I have a greater sense of having to come to terms with the fact that my life is finite. There are many things I simply no longer have the time to achieve – or not to the extent I would like. If I’m not elderly, I’m certainly not young, and that’s something I simply have to suck up and accept. On the plus side, it means I can let go of things that don’t actually matter that much. 

I have more past than future, and there are times when that can feel bleak. On the other hand, I’m far more content with my life now than when I was in my twenties. Even so, age is not just a number, it is freighted with all kinds of thoughts and associations, and expectations. There’s a lot of “50 is the new 40” and so on, but is that helpful? Isn’t it just another way of trying to cling to youth as the ideal state? It’s certainly true that my lifestyle and behaviour are very different from my grandparents’ when they were the age I am now. I don’t think I’m necessarily more youthful (whatever that may mean), simply that expectations of how people should behave at particular ages have changed. And I don’t need to wear purple (with or without a red hat) to prove that I have no intention of conforming to societal expectations of how a woman of my age, of any age, should behave. Because that is really the point of Jenny Joseph’s poem, isn’t it? There is even an actual Red Hat Society inspired by Warning, for “women approaching fifty and beyond”. The existence of this society is telling. I think it says a lot about how society views women, in particular, who are no longer young, and I would suggest this is why readers of Old Bones have found the word “elderly” problematic, because it highlights the fact that there is no satisfactory word (and, in the eyes of many, no real purpose) for women over sixty. That, I would suggest, is something worth thinking about, and something that I hope readers take away from Old Bones."


So much to think about. Big thanks to Helen for writing this piece. We would love to hear your thoughts on this. Feel free to comment below or follow us on Twitter to continue the conversation:

@Jemima_Mae_7

@LouiseWalters12

#OldBones


Old Bones was published on 18 January 2021, in paperback and e-book by Louise Walters Books. It will also be published in audio book and large print by W F Howes. 




 

Friday 20 November 2020

Novella November

Morecambe Bay, The Lakes, Blackpool, Strictly, the Midland Hotel, Italy, suppressed desires, a long marriage, beautiful decorated vases, working class life, a red boucle coat, AND Eric Morecambe... all in 104 pages...


On Monday 23 November I'll be publishing In the Sweep of the Bay by Cath Barton. At 22,000 words it's my shortest title yet. (A novel is usually around 70-100,000 words.) This is my second novella at Louise Walters Books: in September 2019 I published Diana Cambridge's Don't Think a Single Thought... longer than Cath's book, at 42,000 words, but still a novella. 



I love short novels - which is what these two stories are, in my opinion. Novella is a slightly troubling term. To me it suggests insubstantiality or frivolity. Neither of these books could be described in those terms. 

There is no room for waffle in a short novel. No room for writerly self-indulgence. You just have to tell the story briskly, efficiently, and neatly. Short novels are refreshing, and in these troubled times, brilliant for readers who are struggling to concentrate. Short novels are light (but not lightweight) and I for one feel a great sense of satisfaction when I've finished reading one.



It takes great skill to write a big story in a small number of words. Everything has to work so much harder for the writer. It's a bit like a drum kit - my brother who once drummed in a group explained this to me: the smaller the kit, the harder the drummer has to work, and therefore the more skills she has to develop. Writing a novel is the same: I reckon a lot of writers can write a big blowsy scene over a dozen pages, full of overblown description and imagery. But it takes a special writer, a very talented writer, to write that same scene in a sentence or two. Writers love words, we love slinging them down on the page in their thousands. The writers of short novels have a lot of discipline; making the job of editing them a particular joy. 

Cath Barton (photo by Toril Brancher)

In the Sweep of the Bay was just 7,000 words when Cath approached me about it last year. I loved the writing and I was drawn to the central character, Ted Marshall. I gave Cath some editorial notes and ideas, and she went away and expanded the story, and then sent it over again. I loved it; still loved Ted (and had been thinking about him a lot in the meantime); and I was thrilled to offer Cath a publishing deal. We worked on edits together over several months, changing the order of chapters around (Cath's idea) and generally polishing the story to make it as sharp and clear as we possibly could. The opening chapter, in the first person viewpoint of a street cleaner (who takes great pride in keeping the statue of Eric Morecambe in pristine condition), wasn't at the beginning in earlier drafts. I think it was a fab decision on Cath's part to open the novel with that voice. It sets the tone for the whole story and allows the reader "in". Perfect! 

Why do I like the central character Ted so much? I think it's because he's a good man. No grand gestures, no big heroic moments, no shoddy behaviour; he's just a good, honest bloke. I love Ted, and his wife Rene, also utterly "ordinary". I had a hunch readers would fall for these two and it seems they have. The response to In the Sweep of the Bay has been overwhelmingly positive so far.


"Ted had not had choices. Not when he was young. Leaving school at fifteen and starting work in the family firm had always been a certainty. He hadn’t questioned it, any more than he’d questioned day following night. He’d done his apprenticeship like everyone else. It made no difference that he was a member of the family, he needed to learn the same as others did. His Aunt Lavinia was the head of the firm in the fifties. She was respected by the workers as much as any man. They’d started him on sugar-basins. The feel of the clay slipping under his fingers on the wheel had quickly become second nature to him. He had, his Aunt Lavinia used to say proudly, the Family Feel.

Three years’ apprenticeship and Ted moved to the painting benches. This was long before he designed the first Edward Marshall vase, of course, but it was clear to his workmates from the start that painting was to be his métier. Ted was happy. He spent his evenings listening to plays on the radio as he experimented with new designs for the factory. Except on Fridays. Friday night was music night on the Light Programme and Ted tapped his feet to the big bands as he worked." 


Let's talk dosh! A very real part of the appeal of a short novel to me as a tiny indie publisher is the cost. Short novels are more affordable to edit, typeset, print, and post. I've a real chance of breaking even on my short novels (haven't yet, but I think I will in the end). My future plans as an indie publisher are uncertain but continuing as a publisher is my aim and I will always look favourably (but not exclusively) on the shorter novel. 

The downsides to publishing a short novel? Well, we couldn't get an audio deal (a minimum of 60,000 words is the preference) so we have had to DIY the audio books. These are digital-only and their production creates extra work for both publisher and author. The plus side is we get to choose and work closely with the audio book narrator. (Publishing is always swings and roundabouts...) But really there are no downsides. It's been a delight to work on this story with Cath. We hope you enjoy the finished book!

In the Sweep of the Bay can be ordered from any bookshop (Waterstones in Abergavenny have it in stock!) and it's available in paperback and e-book from all the usual Internet retailers. Signed copies with co-ordinating postcards are available from my website bookshop:

https://www.louisewaltersbooks.co.uk/shop-1

Enjoy! xx














 


Saturday 12 September 2020

Three years of indie publishing: the view from here

Hello! My first blogpost in ages... but I say that every time I blog, so... y'know... I am quite busy! To make up for it, this is a long post. Maybe grab a coffee... 

Three years ago, on 19th September 2017, I announced I was going to be a bona fide indie press: Louise Walters Books. I'd been working towards this for months, behind the scenes, and had self-published my third novel, The Road to California, as a trial run. I was excited, scared, and looking forward to the big adventure. A few months into running my press I signed my first author, Laura Laakso, for her debut novel Fallible Justice, the first book in her paranormal crime series, Wilde Investigations. Other writers followed and my aim to publish four books per year (one per season) was in full swing. 



Three years down the line, I'm flat out exhausted; I have made mistakes, faced numerous rejections (it's not only writers who get repeatedly rejected in the crazy world of publishing!) and wept many tears: tears of frustration, disappointment, desperation, and sometimes, joy. First let's talk about the disappointments, shall we? Nobody really does... here goes... all very much in the spirit of my understanding that nobody owes me anything. This is simply my reality... 



Ebook sales. Mine are consistently low. They are increasing as I produce more books (my ninth title is out in November, Cath Barton's In the Sweep of the Bay) and Laura's series has done increasingly well this year off the back of a Bookbub promotion in June... but generally, I've been disappointed not to sell more. I have always kept the price of my ebooks low (currently they are £2.50 on all platforms). Other publishers sell oodles of ebooks (I look at sales figures in The Bookseller and regularly see authors and publishers and agents on Twitter celebrating (rightly) their "nth" sale of ebooks...) but my figures are nowhere near these levels. I've concluded it's commercial fiction which does well in ebook... my aim at LWB has been to publish books at the literary end of the spectrum, regardless of genre. And we are repeatedly told that literary fiction doesn't sell... 



Another disappointment has been the lack of sales through bookshops. When I started LWB I (rather naively, it turns out) imagined indie bookshops and indie publishers had a mutually supportive, symbiotic relationship. It would make sense, wouldn't it? Indies supporting each other? Waterstones don't carry my books (yet) as core stock, and I do understand that; there are far too many books published and Waterstones can't possibly stock them all any more than indie stores can. So while it's frustrating for me, I do get it. What I would love to see (and actually, need) is more indie bookshops stocking my titles. I am signed up with Gardners, the industry's main (and now only, after the demise of Bertrams) book wholesaler. All my books are available through them; and I clearly state my trading terms on my website, as I can also (and do) deal directly with indie bookshops. I suspect LWB just isn't on enough radars yet, and that's something I can keep working on (gotta put a positive spin on the disappointments, right?) 



There are some brilliant supportive indie bookshops who do carry some or all of my titles, and I am immensely grateful to them. But I need more, just like I need more ebook sales. There is no getting away from that. I am planning my first LWB catalogue, so I hope that will make a difference. I'm planning to send it to all UK indie bookshops, probably in early 2021. The trouble with books is the profit margin is tiny, and I've sold books at a loss, which means publishing on my small scale is not a sustainable "business model". But of course that isn't the reason I'm doing all of this. I'm a publisher because I love reading, and I love reading intelligent books, by writers of clear and genuine talent; and I know many other readers do too. So business model be damned. I'm in it for the passion. But I need sales too, or I'm not in it at all. See the problem here?



I've yet to secure a translation rights deal for any of my books. That has been quite a blow. I remain hopeful... I know my books would translate well. The frustration is real. (Rejection, you see, I get it all the time!) I have landed some audio and large print deals, and that is very good news for me and my authors. 



The lack of press reviews is galling, although I do know most books from any publishers, big or small, don't get reviewed. I nevertheless try very hard. I have spent hours tracking down emails, finding reviewers on Twitter, emailing people, offering copies of my books. Mostly I hear nothing back, or I get a polite no thank you (which is much better than being ignored). This is where I think my lack of contacts comes into play. I'm not posh, middle-class, I don't have old school friends to open doors for me. I don't have any feet in any of these middle-class doors and that has been, I've no doubt, detrimental to my authors. So that's where I feel at my worst, really. It's all very well to edit and produce a high quality book but it's to little avail if I can't get them reviewed, stocked in shops, or long-listed in a prize or two.

OK, that's quite enough of the disappointments. (No need to mention I am skint, is there? I have sunk almost all my savings into my publishing and I'm yet to break even on any of my books... but I think that might be fairly typical in indie publishing... Oh, and the loneliness... nobody talks about the loneliness of indie publishing. I've never been more lonely in my life...) 

But now I want to talk about the good stuff, of which there is plenty. First, my Subscribers!



Sixty-seven people have taken out either a physical or digital subscription. I can't thank them enough for their support and belief in my authors and their books. It has made a real difference to my finances and to my morale. And the website orders are brilliant, I'm immensely cheered every time one of these pops into my inbox... thanks to each and every person who has ordered anything from my website bookshop. You are keeping me afloat in a real, measurable way.  



I regard each and every sale as a mini-victory; a validation that I'm doing something good at LWB and that readers want it. 

And book bloggers, you are amazing in your enthusiasm and you've reviewed my titles so warmly and positively. You have been integral to getting my books on radars and I thank you all sincerely for all that you do for books, and mine in particular!  

Working with my talented team of writers and freelance helpers has been fantastic. I've learned so much about editing and publishing over the last three years. It's been brilliant. All seven of my authors have talent in bucket loads. It's an absolute joy to work on writing of the calibre they produce and I couldn't be a prouder publisher. The thrill of finding each of these writers makes up for a lot of the disappointments. They deserve more sales, of course, they should have got more reviews, of course, they should have been on prize long lists, absolutely of course. But they haven't, yet, and while I frequently feel I've failed my authors, I don't think I have, really. I've done my best for them with limited funds in a very overcrowded marketplace... I'm a meticulous editor, I hope, and I work my authors hard on their books. 



The mistakes: trying to publish four books a year! It's way too many for one person. The workload is immense even with one book, let alone four. And while my future as a publisher is uncertain, and I am going to be taking a break in 2021-2022, I have made one decision for the future, should I continue to publish: two books per year maximum! That way I may hang on to my sanity... The hours I have put in, and still do, has affected my family, my relationships, my mental health. Two books per year will restore some balance... that's the plan...

Financially, I live on my savings (now almost all gone) and my editorial work, which I do alongside my publishing. I can, and often do, earn more money from one editorial report than I sometimes make on all sales of my titles in a month. So it's a no-brainer. In reality, my freelance editorial work is my day job, my actual work; publishing is an expensive hobby that I can't sustain forever unless sales pick up. It's that simple, that sad, really. 

I have four more books to publish, the last one in May 2021. All four are brilliant novels, and all quite different... 



After that, I'm going to take a few months off, probably a year or so, and figure out how to proceed. I have several options, all of which I will consider: going back to my own writing (The only certainty. Got to write again); setting up an ebook-only imprint for commercial fiction (there is money in that, but is it true to LWB? Does that even matter?); give up publishing entirely (and get my life back!); set up as a "hybrid" publisher, where I help writers to publish their books, but the author pays me for my services... and I'm even considering switching to being an agent... all of these are options, and I could do a combination of these.  

Would I have set up LWB in 2017 if I'd been able gaze into a crystal ball? What do you think?*   

I'm jaded. The booktrade is the toughest, strangest, cruellest industry. It's resistant to change, slow to change, and it's resistant to indie authors and indie publishers for no fathomable reason. It's an industry at odds with itself. Writers, agents, publishers, and booksellers, all have different needs and want different things from this industry, and the conflict of interest is tough to navigate. So on Twitter I've been criticised for directing people to my titles on Amazon by an indie bookseller who as far as I know doesn't stock my titles. That's the conflict, right there, the downright ridiculousness of the industry and how it works (or doesn't work). But... Books, innit. We all love books regardless of our place in this crazy book world. 

For now, onwards, and I'll be around for a while yet, promoting the heck out of my seven authors and their remarkable novels. It will be nice to have the time in 2021 and 2022 to promote the books without the pressure of line editing, endless proofreading (my least favourite job!) and without the worry of the expense of bringing out any further books. Next year I will have twelve titles out, and they will be in my catalogue, nice and glossy, with those fantastic covers, for readers, booksellers, librarians, and reviewers to discover them. 

And in case you might like to learn more about my indie press, or buy a book, you can head over to my website where all my published-to-date books are available to buy now in print and digital; and my upcoming books are available for pre-order, in print and digital. All my titles are also available at internet retailers, and can be ordered through any high street bookshop, whether that be Waterstones, Foyles, Blackwells, or your local independent.  

Thank you to all who have supported me and my authors over the last three years. It means so much, you'll never know quite how much... 

Louise x

*PS, the answer to the crystal ball question? No. I may be passionate, but I'm not stupid! 


   (Good job there is no crystal ball...)
















 











Tuesday 4 February 2020

First paragraphs: Before and After - The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson

OK, apologies, first of all. I said, in June, that I would do another of these before and after blog posts "soon"... well, February isn't soon, really, is it? Sorry! Blame  my crazy workload...

Without further ado, here is the third of my Before and After posts featuring the novels of my authors at Louise Walters Books. This time we're going to look at Helen Kitson's novel, The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson. 



Helen was the second author I signed at my indie press. She sent me this novel via my Submissions inbox and I recognised her name - Helen is an accomplished and acclaimed poet. I was keen to read her novel and after reading, I was keen to publish it. Here are the original opening paragraphs:

It’s curious how a fleeting smell, or a chance association of images or words, can conjure up a particular event so vividly it almost seems possible to relive it – to reach out and touch a remembered scene, a beloved face, a special memory.
            The sender of the letter I held in my hands signed herself Madeleine, and how could she possibly have known how deeply that name would affect me? My best friend, Madeleine Anderson; best friends since our first day at school. Dead at twenty-two; Madeleine – my Madeleine!
           Bewildered, I felt the world around me cease to spin, a jumble of memories tumbling out from a cupboard stuffed with junk: balding teddy bears, cassette tapes with handwritten labels, pens with shattered nibs, yellowed birthday cards, dice from board games long since binned; luggage labels, school ties, smooth pebbles, broken jewellery, pictures torn from magazines. Reminders of people loved, admired, lusted over, despised. Names that no longer meant a thing, others that were invisibly tattooed on the fragile skin of my wrists.
            Not difficult to imagine the grief, the tears, the unctuous if heartfelt outbursts of feeling Madeleine’s death occasioned, along the ‘taken from us so young’ lines. Unfair, tragic, appalling. Mutely I accepted the commiserations, the clasping hands, the condolence cards littered with silver crosses and embossed lilies. Worse for her parents, of course, for like me Madeleine had been an only child. Unlike me, brilliant, brimming with the vague quality called potential. Dead, gone, taken from us, her light snuffed out, at peace with the angels. Et cetera.
            Grief fades, but bombs leave black craters that can never entirely be filled. Weeks, months went by when I didn’t give Madeleine more than a passing thought, though she was never entirely absent. But the letter, signed Madeleine, was enough to bring to mind that well-remembered face, and for too long I remained in my armchair, unable to summon up the will to move, to switch on a light, to eat. The letter in itself was not vastly interesting; similar to others I’d received, in dribs and drabs, over the past twenty-odd years.

Maddie's audio book cover

I loved the voice here: Helen does that world-weary, bleak-ish sense of humour so well. My first suggestion was maybe we should start the novel with the second paragraph. I thought the first paragraph was a bit "throat-clearing", and not necessary. By losing it we also get straight to the letter; straight into the action as the main character has already received and opened up the letter that will change her life.

I made a few further suggestions, as did Helen and our copy editor, Alison - all suggestions shown here in red:

It’s curious how a fleeting smell, or a chance association of images or words, can conjure up a particular event so vividly it almost seems possible to reach out and touch a remembered scene or a beloved face.
            The sender of the letter I held in my hands signed herself Madeleine, and how could she possibly have known how deeply that name would affect me? My best friend, Madeleine Anderson; best friends since our first day at school. Dead at twenty-two. Madeleine – my Madeleine!
Bewildered, I felt the world around me cease to spin, a jumble of memories tumbling out from a cupboard stuffed with junk: balding teddy bears, cassette tapes with handwritten labels, pens with shattered nibs, yellowed birthday cards, dice from board games long since binned; luggage labels, school ties, smooth pebbles, broken jewellery, pictures torn from magazines. Reminders of people loved, admired, lusted over, despised. Names that no longer meant a thing, others that were invisibly tattooed on the fragile skin on the insides of my wrists.
            Not difficult to imagine remember the grief, the tears, the unctuous if heartfelt outbursts of emotion Madeleine’s death occasioned, along the "taken from us too young" lines Madeleine's death occasioned. Unfair, tragic, appalling. My best friend since our first day at school. Dead at twenty-two. hHer light snuffed out, at peace with the angels. Et cetera., et cetera. Mutely I accepted the commiserations, the clasping hands, the condolence cards littered with silver crosses and embossed lilies. Worse for her parents, of course;. Like me, Madeleine had been an only child.; Uunlike me, brilliant, brimming with that vague quality called potential.           
Grief fades, but bombs leave black craters that can never entirely be filled. Weeks, months went by when I didn’t give Madeleine more than a passing thought, though she was never entirely absent from my mind. But the letter, signed Madeleine, was enough to invoke that well-remembered face and for too long I remained in my armchair, unable to summon up the will to move, to switch on a light, to eat.
The letter was similar to others I’d received in dribs and drabs over the past twenty-odd years:

Between us we accepted most of these changes; Helen wanted to keep IMAGINE where I had changed it to REMEMBER. She noted: "The sense here is ‘Not difficult for the reader to imagine’ rather than Gabrielle." Point taken! We reinstated IMAGINE. And this is how these opening paragraphs appear in the book:

The sender of the letter I held in my hands had signed herself Madeleine, and how could she possibly have known how deeply that name would affect me? I felt the world around me cease to spin, a jumble of memories tumbling out from a cupboard stuffed with junk: balding teddy bears, cassette tapes with handwritten labels, pens with shattered nibs, yellowed birthday cards, dice from board games long since binned, luggage labels, school ties, smooth pebbles, broken jewellery, pictures torn from magazines. Reminders of people loved, admired, lusted over, despised. Names that no longer meant a thing, others that were invisibly tattooed on the fragile skin on the insides of my wrists.
Not difficult to imagine the grief, the tears, the unctuous if heartfelt outbursts of emotion along the “taken from us too young” lines Madeleine’s death occasioned. My best friend since our first day at school. Dead at twenty-two. Her light snuffed out, at peace with the angels, et cetera. Mutely I accepted the commiserations, the clasping hands, the condolence cards littered with silver crosses and embossed lilies. Worse for her parents, of course. Like me, Madeleine had been an only child; unlike me, brilliant, brimming with that vague quality called potential.
Grief fades, but bombs leave black craters that can never entirely be filled. Weeks, months went by when I didn’t give Madeleine more than a passing thought, though she was never entirely absent from my mind. But the letter, signed Madeleine, was enough to invoke that well-remembered face, and for too long I remained in my armchair, unable to summon up the will to move, to switch on a light, to eat.
The letter was similar to others I’d received in dribs and drabs over the past twenty-odd years:

Photo courtesy of Laura Laakso - 
celebrating the launch of Helen's book, March 2019

Like Laura, Helen doesn't really need much editing. She writes in a crisp, clear fashion, resulting in work that just needs a bit of spring-cleaning... we did make a few structural changes too, but that's normal in most novels. I'm delighted to say I'll be publishing her second novel, Old Bones, in March 2021. I'm looking forward to editing with her again.

I promise to do another of these before and after posts SOON... we'll have a look at the opening paragraphs of Diana Cambridge's Don't Think a Single Thought.

In the meantime, if you are a writer too, good luck with it, and if you are thinking of working with an editor or getting a critique of your work, I do offer those services. More info here on my website... 

Louise x




Tuesday 4 June 2019

First Paragraphs: Before and After - Fallible Justice

Welcome to the second of my First Paragraph posts, in which I share the opening paragraphs of my authors' books, before and after they were edited. This time I'm going to talk about my very first LWB title, Laura Laakso's Fallible Justice. There's a bit of a story behind the story, so we'll begin there...

In 2017 I helped "sift" entries to the Retreat West First Chapter competition. Amanda Saint invited me to help her, and I agreed. I needed the money, as I had decided to set up my indie publishing outfit, Louise Walters Books. I also thought the experience would be useful and at the back of my mind, I said to myself, "You never know what you might find..."


Cue A LOT of reading. Some chapters were good, some not so good. Then I reached an entry named Fallible Justice and here are the opening paragraphs I read:



I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me forward a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. Running along the sandy hill, the wide paws of a lynx ensure my passing is silent. The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind comes the smells of the land and the sea and I sift through them with the borrowed nose of a badger. In the distance, a bird takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound with ease. My foot lands in a grassy depression but with the balance of a squirrel I change the direction of my movement and keep going.
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me.
      The hills follow the curves of the coast and from a sheltered cove, I catch a whiff of decay. My stomach growls and it is the hunger of a vixen stalking towards a chicken coop, a pine marten pouncing on a shrew, a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell is gone.
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin.
      Although I run with the strength of an ant, the speed of a swift and the grace of a pond skater, there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt of the sea. Everything is connected, myself included. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car. 


Well. I was stumped! But there was something... wonderful about the writing. And that line "I am  running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me" - surely that was a gift of a tag line? But was it too ambitious? Too wild? Too over the top? I asked for Amanda's opinion. "Is this fabulous or is it bollocks?" I asked her. She read it and replied: "It's fabulous. Let's put it through to the long list."

The chapter was also short listed, and eventually picked by the judge as the runner up in the 2017 competition. A few weeks later, my submissions inbox now open, Laura submitted another of her novels to me. I wasn't that taken with it, but I recalled her name, and I asked to read the rest of Fallible Justice. I read it twice, back to back. I was keen to kick start LWB with a wonderful author and I knew I'd found her. OK, fantasy and paranormal are NOT my things, usually, but good writing and good story-telling trumps everything else. I had found her! My first LWB author. I offered Laura a one-book deal which she accepted and away we went. 

Editing Laura is relatively easy. We start from a pretty elevated position - Laura writes tidy and clean! Structurally we don't need to do much as her books are meticulously plotted and she is pretty much in charge of that side of things. It's her show and my job is simply to ensure everything makes sense... which it tends to do! Laura has nailed the internal logic of her stories - in other words, she has created a world she knows inside out and she is the boss: she is totally in charge. Nothing random or bizarre or silly happens despite this being a fantasy series... fantasy is just a style. Storytelling is storytelling and internal logic is present in all good novels, no matter the genre. Indeed fantasy is incredibly hard to write well. It takes a great deal of control and it works best when it's character-led. Otherwise it quickly becomes stale. In my opinion, the best fantasy is always, always character-led. 

Edits wise, we didn't actually change much. I've marked in red where we made changes and deletions:

I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me forward a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. Running along the sandy hill, the wide paws of a lynx ensure my passing is silent.The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind comes the smells of the land and the sea and I sift through them with the borrowed nose of a badger. In the distance, a bird [my note to Laura: This could be more specific. Name the bird? You name all the other animals in this fantastic paragraph, so I think we should name the bird too. (It became a magpie.)] takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound with ease. My foot lands in a grassy depression but with the balance of a squirrel I change the direction of my movement and keep going.
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me.
      The hills follow the curves of the coast and from a sheltered cove, I catch a whiff of smell decay. My stomach growls and it is it's the hunger of a vixen stalking towards a chicken coop, a pine marten pouncing on a shrew, a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell is has gone.
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin.
      Although I run with the strength of an ant, the speed of a swift and the grace of a pond skater, [my note to Laura: I think this may be too much. Could we try just picking one? The best I think is the ‘grace of a pond skater’, as it’s the most surprising of the three] there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt of from the sea. Everything is connected, myself included. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car.


And here are the opening paragraphs as they appear in the published Fallible Justice:

I am running. The foot that touches the ground is a deer’s hoof, the foot that propels me a wolf’s paw. Between strides, the wings of a seagull hold me aloft. The wind is against me, whipping through the horse’s mane that is my hair. With the wind come the smells of the land and the sea, and I sift through them with the nose of a badger. In the distance, a magpie takes flight and the ears of a dormouse pinpoint the source of the sound. My foot lands in a grassy depression, but with the balance of a squirrel I change direction and keep going. 
      I am running through the wilderness and the wilderness runs through me. 
      The hills follow the curves of the coast, and from a sheltered cove, I smell decay. My stomach growls and it’s the hunger of a vixen stalking a chicken coop; a pine marten pouncing on a shrew; a striped dolphin chasing a school of cod. As soon as the thought registers, the smell has gone. 
      A hound bays in the distance. It is downwind from me and has recognised my scent. I bay back. Kin recognises kin. 
      Although I run with the grace of a pond skater, there comes a point when I have to stop. I brace my hands against my knees, breath coming in gulps. In that moment, I am all human – only human. There is no sorrow in the change; the wilderness hovers on the edge of my consciousness, ever-present and comforting. I wipe a sheen of sweat from my forehead, a mixture of beads of dew and salt from the sea. Everything is connected. I smile at the thought as I begin the long walk back to my car. 


Don't know about you, but I find the ending here on the very mundane "long walk back to my car" is perfect: what is this world? Who is this character? Is she a human - she seems human. She drives a car. But she has just done all these extraordinary things. I want to know more, a lot more, about this character. Don't you?! 

Fallible Justice was published in November 2018 and its follow up, Echo Murder, is published this week, on Thursday 6th June. 



I'll do another of these soon, and it will be Helen Kitson's opening to her fabulous novel The Last Words of Madeleine Anderson.

See you soon! x