by Rob Barnes
Are you an aspiring writer?
Maybe you have a burning desire to write a best-selling novel, or even to write an article or two for www.pembrokeshire.online ? (We are always looking for new contributors by the way.)
If so, you probably visited the Queens Hall in Narberth on 28th and 29th September. If not, I’m afraid you won’t get another chance. It’s been announced that this ninth Narberth Book Fair was the last. The organisers have given their time and their energy tirelessly over the past few years, and now they’ve decided the event must come to a close.
However, let’s celebrate this great institution while it’s still fresh in the memory.
This year’s Narberth Book Fair was a friendly and fascinating gathering of dozens of writers – traditionally published, self-published, or not published at all.
Well, we’ve all got a book in us somewhere, haven’t we?
There was lots of milling around downstairs in the Queens Hall. People were buying each other’s books, or thinking of excuses not to buy each other’s books, or, mostly, just chatting.
I spoke to the brilliant Gail “GB” Williams, from Swansea, who writes both the “Locked” series of detective novels, and the “Of Aether” series of steampunk novels. Gail’s cockney twang hides the fact that she’s been living in Wales for most of her life. But you soon forget that, as you face the tidal wave of enthusiasm that she brings to any conversation. She leaves you wondering how such dark, brooding novels can possibly come from the fingertips of such an optimistic person.
I chatted with Tim Wickenden, whose Max Becker detective thrillers are set in 1960s Berlin. Despite the exotic setting, Tim is actually from right here in Pembrokeshire. As well as leaving you on the edge of your seat, Tim’s books also threaten to teach you the odd bit of German. (Tim’s latest book Angel Avenger has been featured here in the magazine.)
I spoke with Graham Watkins, whose many and various non-fiction books include a fascinating summary of Welsh myths, including my favourite, the story of how the random fashion choices of a group of North Pembrokeshire women saw off Napoleon’s invasion force. Most Pembrokeshire folk know this tale, but Graham puts a fascinating slant on it.
But the most exciting things were all going on upstairs. The Book Fair provided a total of eight workshops for aspiring writers, on diverse subjects such as screenwriting, making your fiction characters come to life, and the various ways of getting published.
This last one was particularly interesting. The speaker was Chris Jones of Cambria Books. It turns out there are at least four different ways of getting published. I had heard of only two of them.
Of course, in the past there was only one way to do it. Unless you happened to be Katie Price or David Cameron (I’ve always wanted to put those two together in one sentence), you had work hard to find a traditional publisher who liked your manuscript so much that they would take a punt on you. Note: this hardly ever happens! You have much less than a 1% chance of getting your novel accepted by one of the big publishing houses. And if you succeed, you’re lucky to get 10p per copy – the famous “10%” paid to writers is 10% of the publisher’s profits, not 10% of the cover price as most people assume!
Most of us are aware that these days you can also self-publish, and the simplest way is probably to upload your work to the Kindle Store on Amazon. Unfortunately, because it’s so simple and easy to do, your work is likely to be lost in a morass of hundreds of thousands of other uploaded novels. You may not sell many copies, and this after you’ve probably paid an editor, copyeditor, cover designer, and possibly other professionals – a whole industry has grown up around the self-publishing arena.
The third method is a bit of a buzzword these days – crowdfunding! You may have been involved in crowdfunding yourself – personally, I remember about three years ago I paid £15 to help fund the debut album of a band called Russian Flying Squirrel. Still waiting. But apparently authors too can fund themselves from the crowd. Not the cloud, the crowd. Which, I guess, lives in the cloud.
The fourth method of publication is the “author services” method, meaning that the writer pays a publishing company to edit his novel, do the cover design, and so on, and then they publish the work for them. Somehow this seems to make sense – fewer challenges than attracting the attention of a Penguin, and more chance of making money than with self-publishing.
Food for thought, at least.
If you missed out on this great event, never fear! Pembrokeshire is a wonderful place to be if you’re an aspiring writer, or indeed a keen reader, and the next event to look out for is the Penfro Book Festival on October 11th to 13th – take a look at www.penfrobookfestival.org.uk to see what workshops you can find at this one.