Tag Archive | publish

BLAME IT ON THE OLIVETTI!


The worst thing about the massive black Olivetti daisy wheel machine that circumstances had landed me with in 1981 was the amazing sum of money that the finance company demanded. The monthly payments were four times greater than our mortgage, and the entire sum added up to a touch under £5,000, which was enough to buy a small house in some areas in those days! I asked the finance company if I could stretch out the loan and reduce the monthly payments, but they didn’t want to know.

The machine was an electronic typewriter with a boxy arrangement welded to its side, containing two five and a half-inch floppy disc drives that ran the word processing program and contained the data. It also had what was called a “thin window display” that showed one line of memorised typing at a time, and a daisy wheel printer.

At that time, I had two young children, a husband, and a full-time office job along with a secondary job as part-time astrologer, palmist and Tarot reader. Now I also looked around for word processing work that I could do on the infernal machine, and in time, I worked up a good clientele for the Olivetti… but then I had a brainwave.

I couldn’t help noticing the increasing interest in the Tarot, so I decided to write some articles on the subject and sell them to a magazine. I had always read the cards intuitively, but now I had to research their true meanings, which wasn’t easy in those pre-Internet days. I scraped together everything I could find and, adding my own fund of knowledge and experience, I created a database of information on the seventy-eight cards. The task was well under way when my best friend, Anne, fell ill, so in order to cheer her up and keep her amused, I took her a bunch of grapes and the lever arch file full of written material for her to look at. Unbeknownst to me, Anne had once worked for a magazine. She looked through the file very carefully and said, “This isn’t suitable for a magazine, but it would make a cracking book.”

“A book!” I exclaimed. “Blimey Anne, I left school at fifteen, so how could someone like me write a book?”

“Well, you’re doing it now, aren’t you? And it looks all right to me,” replied Anne.

She asked me to hand her down a copy of “Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook” from her bookshelf, while explaining that I needed to make up a synopsis, some sample chapters and a few sample pages of material, and add a brief profile of myself. She suggested that I finish the book and make as good a job of it as I could, while sending out the submissions. She flicked through the Yearbook and marked half a dozen publishers that I should approach. Two of the publishers sent rejection slips and three said the book was interesting, although the subject was too specialized for them. However, one of the letters suggested that I contact the Aquarian Press, and as it happened, that was one of the names on Anne’s list.

A couple of months later, the Aquarian editor phoned me and said he would like to publish my book. I nearly died of shock! It was the last thing I had expected – although to be fair, my Tarot cards had been telling me for a while that some kind of success was on the way.

In time, the book came out under the title of “Fortune-Telling by Tarot Cards”. It was the first really accessible and usable book on the Tarot, and it coincided with a massive increase in interest in New Age topics at that time. Since then, the book has sold over a half million copies and it has been translated into a dozen languages. The editor at Aquarian, Simon Franklin, wanted to know if I could write anything else; when I told him that I was a competent astrologer and palmist, and that I could produce on those subjects and many others in the realm of divinations, he told me to get on with another book.

The first royalty payment for sales of “Fortune Telling by Tarot Cards” arrived just as I was paying the last monthly instalment to the finance company for the Olivetti. Amazingly, the royalty cheque came to just under £5,000! Many other books followed for Aquarian and for Thorsons, which was another company in the same group, and then for HarperCollins, after they took over the group towards the end of the 1980s.

Eventually, the New Age had become Old Hat, Aquarian closed for good, and while Thorsons carried on, it sank into near oblivion. Simon died of diabetes and much later, both Anne and my husband died of cancer.

Everything and everyone was sliding into the past, but then I met my current husband, Jan. We started our first publishing business, which we called Zambezi Publishing and found knowledgeable authors to write mind, body and spirit books for us. In time, I took back the rights to my old Aquarian books, and I updated and upgraded them so that we could republish them – and they are still selling!

We now have a second publishing company called Stellium Ltd that is reserved for fiction and ebooks, but through Stellium, we now also offer self-publishing services for those who want to publish any kind of book, both fiction and non-fiction. Nowadays, self-publishing has become an essential addition to a publisher’s list of services, because it has become practically impossible for a budding author to get into mainstream publishing; for many reasons – that will probably become the basis of another article – most of the bigger publishers (and agents as well) have closed their doors to new submissions.

One way and another, I have a lot to thank that old Olivetti for, haven’t I?

A Novel Way of Catching the Eye of a Publisher


1895 HoughtonMifflin HolidayBooks Armstrong

1895 HoughtonMifflin HolidayBooks Armstrong (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s always worth keeping up to date with whatever is going on in your world, so as a writer, editor and publisher, I have kept myself up to date over the years by including writing magazines from time to time, in addition to direct author contact. These mags have given me many useful tips, but above all, they’ve given me an insight into the problems faced by writers, along with an equal insight into their triumphs. One thing that has always been clear, is that the Holy Grail for writers has always been to receive a phone call from a publisher who wants to publish their book.

It’s always been difficult for an author to interest a publisher in a manuscript, particularly as a first time author, but now it is almost impossible. Right now, in mid 2013, there are practically no UK publishers accepting unsolicited work. Very interesting that the same applies to literary agents – they are turning away potential new business.

I will explain the reasons for the worsening situation in another blog, but for the time being, I will suggest a way around the problem. To be honest, I got the idea for from an article in an American magazine, but I can see how it can work elsewhere as well.

The author in the article had self-published several ebooks in a science fiction series or saga. Conventionally published print books must be a certain size / number of pages, because the size affects the cost of production and the final price of the book. It also impinges on the position it can take on a shop’s bookshelf and the appeal it may have to the book buying public. This means the publisher will want the book to contain a certain number of words, which may be anything from 70,000 to 150,000, while an ebook that you publish yourself can be as short or long as you like.

The author in the article had started by self-publishing an ebook novella of about 50,000 words in length, and then he’d gone on to write further episodes of the saga of about the same length. The author built up a following for his work, and he actually made quite a bit of money from his ebooks, but then an agent spotted his work and approached him. It took the agent a while to persuade the author to let him find a conventional publisher for his work, but the agent soon managed to get a deal with a major US publisher. The author refused to give up the ebook rights, and amazingly, the publisher agreed to take him on for print books alone, on the basis that his ebook followers would also wish to buy the printed books. The author didn’t say what happened next, but my guess is that the publisher bundled a few of his novellas together to make one book.

The author hadn’t considered foreign rights, but agents live by these, so between the publisher and the agent, the book was printed and sold in shops in the US, but the agent also managed to sell translation rights to several foreign countries.

The author himself advocates self-publishing your own ebook, because in his opinion, it’s better to have the work out there where people can see it, than languishing in a drawer or as sheets of paper in a self-addressed envelope coming back from yet another publisher or agent. At the very least you will immediately reach people who like your kind of book, while you may also catch the eye of an agent or a publisher.

Editors don’t have time to read through piles of submissions, so they prefer to take books from agents, who only send them those that have real potential. However due to the changes in the book trade these days, neither publishers nor agents are bothering as much as they used to with the “slush pile”, while some savvy agents are searching through the list of self-published ebooks to see what’s hot. This way, they don’t need to rely purely on their own judgment to work out whether a book is likely to sell or not, because it will already be doing so, and the author will already be building up an audience for their work.

For information on how you can publish stuff yourself, or how you can let us do some or all of the work for you, for an extremely affordable price, please contact me at info@stellium.co.uk