Triskele Books look at the rise of author collectives and how they can work to the advantage of self-published authors.
It seems obvious the main reason for the rise in the author collective is a reaction to today’s depressed traditional publishing climate. With many authors turning to self-publishing as an alternative means of publication, acknowledging this burgeoning phenomenon of the author collective is essential. As self-publishing becomes an economic force, the number of organisations offering writers’ services grows at twice the rate. Sites such as Writer Beware or Preditors and Editors, which advise writers on everything from scams to overpriced services, can barely keep up. An author collective provides a means of defence against such circling sharks; it looks at what is best for a group, thus making it less vulnerable to predatory fish.
Here are Top Tips on forming a collective from Triskele Books (Europe) with input from Five Directions Press (USA), Notting Hill Press (UK), Indie-Visible (international), Writer’s Choice (international) and The League of Extraordinary Authors (international).
Form a collective with people whose writing you love. Not just like. Love.
Those who write books that deserve readers, whose rejections make you howl in disbelief, whose writing is so good you could do an Annie Wilkes just to read more – them. These are your people. Find them. Keep them.
(Just don’t tell them about the Annie Wilkes thing.)
As Notting Hill Press puts it, “a collective is only as strong as its members”.
Ask yourself if you would go into business with them in real life and follow your instinct. Most collectives are not officially small businesses, but operate in a very similar way. Writer’s Choice and Triskele Books grew out of online critique groups who respected each other’s opinions. The bedrock of any such group is trust. A lot of hard work and energy goes into self-publishing, more so in a collective, so make sure you really can work together.
Use the non-writing skills of individual members to best effect. Whether that’s editing, design, financial management or marketing, everyone should bring something useful to the table. Five Directions Press acknowledges how various members’ design and typesetting experience have brought benefits and Indie-Visible has the advantage of a book trailer producer. The League of Extraordinary Authors manages a rich and informative blog feed from the breadth of its members’ interests.
Raise the bar. The writing must be as good as it can possibly be. According to Writer’s Choice, “A group of writers forming a publishing co-operative must trust that all members have the same high standard and will work as hard for all the books as for their own.” Triskele authors critique, edit and proof each other’s drafts, so manuscripts whizz around in cyberspace for months before professional proofreading. Sometimes even the cover design is a collaborative process. It’s what Five Directions Press calls “sweat equity”.
Find a communication system that works. Several collectives with an international spread have found a private Facebook page an asset, since members are all over the map. Email is great for sharing documents (remember to Reply All) and Skype works for more complex discussions. Collective decision-making will always be slow, but unanimous approval is non-negotiable. When you do manage to get together, set a fixed time for ‘shop talk’, then enjoy each other’s company and creativity.
Finances can be relatively simple. Most collectives’ members keep their own profits from book sales, have their own accounts with retailers such as Smashwords, Amazon, Bookbaby and the like, so that they can receive their royalties directly, without them going through the collective pot. At Triskele we all contribute equal shares for marketing the collective and any profits from joint ventures go into our bank account to cover future overheads. Five Directions have ‘an arrangement where no money changes hands’. Absolute clarity and fairness are paramount. Far too many well-intentioned initiatives have fallen at this hurdle.
Collectives share experiences, developments in publishing, snippets of information, the highs and lows, opportunities for genres, news stories relevant to an author’s theme, place or period. They also solve problems. Among the team, someone will have encountered the same issue and know a solution. Possibly the largest pool of useful information is The Alliance of Independent Authors. This organisation provides indie authors with a unified public presence, a respected voice in the media and myriad benefits to its members.
All collectives have a sharp awareness of the importance of a brand, a logo and a promise – of genre (Notting Hill Press publishes chick-lit and romantic comedy, Triskele’s USP is Time and Place, whereas The League of Extraordinary Authors encompasses a vast range of literary styles in the vanguard of publishing.) Collective authors promote each other’s books, support other writers and reinforce the message that the indie author community is a friendly, helpful place.
Disadvantages are the classic downsides of being a team player –– if you mess up, it’s not just yourself you’re letting down. That adds a lot of pressure. But the flip-side is the others are there to catch you if you fall. I
t’s also hard work. Communication and strategy demand time and attention. Disagreements and tension can be destructive, so the ability to compromise and remain flexible is crucial. It’s safe to say any collective will encounter regular storms, but each one we weather makes us stronger.
Most importantly, it’s about making something together, acting on an idea and making it real. It’s happened in the UK, Europe, America and Australia, and those are only the ones we know about. Authors are coming out of their garrets and working together as professionals.
Author collectives – going it alone, together.
About Triskele Books
Triskele Books became an author collective in 2011. Since then, we’ve published fourteen books, appeared at literary festivals, taught at writing workshops, built a loyal readership and earned ourselves the tag of ‘The Wu-Tang Clan of Publishing’. (Jeff Norton, Byte the Book, January 2014)
For more detail on the other vibrant collectives mentioned here, as well as useful writing and publishing industry information, check out www.triskelebooks.co.uk
For more about the nuts and bolts of forming an author collective, The Triskele Trail collates the experience of a disparate group of authors trying to find a third way of publishing. Members of Triskele Books are:
Gillian Hamer www.gillianhamer.com
JJ Marsh www.beatrice-stubbs.com
Liza Perrat www.lizaperrat.com
JD Smith www.jdsmith-author.co.uk
Catriona Troth www.catrionatroth.com