Post by Liza Perrat
What is an author collective?
An author collective can mean a variety of things: a critique group, a group offering a seal of approval by maintaining high standards of membership, or one offering practical support and marketing clout. But for the purposes of this post, I’d like to talk about an author collective in terms of a group of like-minded, independently-publishing authors who join forces to develop a team to publish their books more successfully.
Several years ago I joined an online writing group, and thanks to the keen editorial eyes and unfailing support of the members, my writing improved. After endless revisions, I finally had a story I believed was fit for the public eye, and happily packed it off to my agent. But she was not able to arouse the slightest interest from any of the big traditional publishing houses. So, what next? If I wanted to get my book to readers, self-publishing seemed my only viable option. But I was reluctant to be associated with the current image of self-publishing. I wanted a professional-looking book, in content, design and marketing –– a task that, alone, seemed daunting and beyond my reach.
At that point, two writers from the online group in a similar situation approached me with an idea, and we met for the first time. We laughed and chatted and got on exactly as we had in the virtual world, and frustration at the world of publishing became the topic of conversation. We all had several manuscripts gathering dust and growing piles of rejections, two of us represented by agents unable to sell our books. We discussed our fears of self-publishing: ratty proofreading, homemade covers, poor typesetting, unprofessional presentation. Not to mention the sense of isolation. None of us wanted this; we wanted to create books that would be indistinguishable from those professionally produced. So, after months of planning and discussion, we formed an author collective.
How can author collectives benefit self-publishers?
In providing a professional product, whilst retaining individual identities and combining them to maximize exposure.
Unless you possess, besides actual writing ones of course, all the required skills for publishing a professional book – editing, proofreading, cover design, marketing and promotion – you’ll surely need help with these aspects.
Firstly, I think it helps to create a brand; a recognizable logo that strongly reflects the theme of your author collective. This brand will then mark books, posters, bookmarks, and other advertising material with a collective stamp of quality.
In regards to quality of content, each member of the group provides mutual critiques, editing and proofreading, all of which are more efficient as a collective, rather than one’s own unobjective eyes. Naturally, each member will have a vested interest in making each book the best it can be.
For aspects of design, the group should decide on, and hire, a professional designer for personal websites, the collective website, cover designs and typesetting –– preferably someone with valuable publishing experience who has insight into the personal desires of each member, whilst creating a unity for the author collective.
The advantage of a collective in respect to marketing and network aspects is sharing the workload. Each member takes on certain tasks, which the others know will be done to the best of their ability. Members must be able to rely on one other, and take comfort in the fact that these daunting tasks are more manageable when shared. Useful websites, information and opportunities are shared. Each book might display an ad for the others, thus promoting them all, and your brand, at once. Use can be made of individual skills: one member may have useful marketing skills, another practical organization, and someone else, financial nous.
So, from website to promotional material, from editing to interviews, everything is shared, agreed, proofed, reproofed and then treble checked. Nothing should bypass the collective stamp of approval without being seen and vetted by people you can trust.
Does an author collective involve a financial commitment?
Yes, it certainly does, as does going-in-alone. Creating a professional product necessitates a financial commitment, but authors in a collective can share certain expenses, such as website, promotional material, design and launch funds. Whilst each author retains their own rights and profits, to get a collective off the ground, each member should contribute an equal sum to cover the shared expenses. And when the coffers are empty, each member will, again, contribute an equal sum. It goes without saying that absolute trust in each other is essential, not only in regard to finances, but also on emotional level. The route to independent publishing is hard work, so someone’s always hyper, another despondent and the other, balanced. Whenever anyone hits a wall, the others will be there to prop them back up.
Your first launch party.
Celebrating your first book launch is certainly more fun, and affordable, in a group, rather than going solo. Each author can show off their professional “product”, to their own contacts, as well as those of the team.
How many people should be in the author collective?
This depends on what each member wants, and believes is manageable. I would suggest starting off small. If it’s working, you can then think about recruiting more members with the same commitment to professional quality. Our author collective began as a group of three, just a year ago, and now boasts seven proud members.
For writers in a similar position as I was, and are in contact with other writers you respect and trust enough to be in business with (and be clear this is very much a business commitment) then give it a go. Sharing the workload whilst retaining the profits, not to mention the invaluable support in the highs and lows of being a writer, make author collectives a truly viable option in any future publishing decisions.
Liza Perrat is an Australian author who trained as a midwife, and now lives and writes in Messimy, France. Her short stories have won several prizes, notably the Writer’s Bureau annual short story award of 2004. Her stories have been published in various anthologies and small press magazine and her articles on French tradition and culture have been published in international magazines such as France Magazine and France Today. She has completed four novels and is represented by Judith Murdoch of the Judith Murdoch Literary Agency. Her first novel, Spirit of Lost Angels, was published through Triskele Books in June, 2012, and appears in the Awesome Historical Fiction category. The second novel in this series – Wolfsangel – will be published in December, 2013. You can read more about Liza on her website: http://www.lizaperrat.com, her blog: http://lizaperrat.blogspot.fr/ or the Triskele Books website: www.triskelebooks.co.uk or blog: www.triskelebooks.blogspot.com