Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Avon are launching a digital-first imprint

Digital-first imprints are making waves in the industry, and are proving to be a fast-paced alternative to a more traditional publishing route.

HC imprint and Authonomy favourite Avon have just launched their very own digi-first imprint, Maze. We chat to the lovely Lydia Vassar-Smith, senior commissioning editor at Avon, about the exciting new imprint and her tips for writing a stonking crime thriller.



Could you tell us a little about yourself and your role at HarperCollins?
I’m senior commissioning editor at Avon and I’m looking for brilliant commercial fiction to publish on both the Avon and Maze lists. I look after eight authors – all of them very different with diverse but equally brilliant books! I’ve been here for almost two years and worked before at Michael Joseph and Transworld and before that as an agent’s assistant at Abner Stein.

Avon is well known for publishing fantastic women’s fiction, but your crime list is garnering a lot of attention, particularly Paul Finch’s DS Heck series, and C L Taylor’s The Accident. What do you think is the secret to commercial crime fiction success?
Tricky question! You need a great conceit – a really hooky pitch that you can get across to someone in about ten seconds. If you’ve gone on for longer, you’re likely to have lost your audience. In addition I think it helps to have a digitally engaged author who understands the importance of Goodreads, Amazon and other etailers, and a great voice on social media. It also helps if they’ve got a good ‘story’ for publicity purpose and if they are willing to get out and about on the crime circuit and engage with fans and retailers. Oh and a good cover helps as well.

Avon recently launched a new digital-first imprint, Maze, could you tell us a bit about it and how it will work?
We’ll be publishing a minimum of 15 books per year and our goal is to discover, publish and globally build new talent from debut authors supported by competitive pricing, arresting packaging and innovative social media activity. At the moment all of our submissions are agented but we may look to do an open submission later in the year. Watch this space …

There are already a few digital-first imprints, including HC’s very own Impulse – why now, and what do you think Avon can bring that’s new and different?
I think it’s important to mention Avon’s stellar track record in digital publishing. We’ve had a plethora of top ten Amazon hits in the last year (C L Taylor, Jacqui Rose, Paul Finch, Miranda Dickinson) and so feel that Maze is a great platform for the Avon Team to launch and create new brands. Maze content will be commissioned, edited and packaged by the highly skilled and successful Avon team.

In addition we will provide, a unique hand-publishing experience, and dedicated editorial expertise, guidance and collaboration. We have access to a digital sales team who are the industry leaders in digital publishing. Our relationships with key retail partners have powered our eBooks to bestseller status.

We can offer outstanding sales, publicity and social media strategies including dynamic pricing, effective social media campaigns and special key account promotions. 

What are you and the team on the lookout for to publish through Maze? What would you love to find?
Our remit is pretty broad! Avon’s heartland is in women’s fiction and saga but recently we’ve had great success with crime in ebook (Jacqui Rose, Paul Finch, Mark Sennen and C L Taylor to name but a few) so we’d love to find some brilliant British crime. Good sagas are like gold-dust – we’d love to find a new saga. Speaking generally we’re looking at a fairly broad remit under the fiction umbrella – we’re looking for crime and thrillers, women’s fiction, historical fiction, saga, erotica, fantasy and horror

Follow Avon on twitter @AvonBooksUK and @CrimeFix

Monday, 22 September 2014

Katy Regan On Striking The Right Tone: injecting comedy into dark subject matter

Hello Authonomy fans! I wanted to share with you today a piece that I wrote for my friend Jon Rance's blog shortly after I'd finished writing my latest novel, The Story of You. It's about the difficulties I experienced when I was writing this book and in particular, how I finally learnt to inject comedy into a book that deals with some dark and difficult subject matter. I hope it rings true with some of your own experiences.

Have you ever thought, when you’ve read a book how hard it was to write for the author? Like, oh wow, that’s a good scene, I bet they spent a long time in a prison / in Jamaica / in a swingers commune for that. Or, how did she come up with that character’s voice or write that sex scene? That must have taken her MONTHS (and a whole lot of getting over her embarrassment.)

Perhaps you have a little (especially if you are a writer) but chances are, not that much, because if the book is doing its job, you are too enthralled in the story, too busy watching the scene to think about what’s gone on backstage.

For me, it’s the same; certainly when reading other books but even with my own. At the time of writing it, obviously, it’s hard. The last book I wrote (the one out now) The Story of You was hellishly hard. In fact I often thought it would never see the light of day.

I always say, writing a book is like trying to do a Bayeux-sized tapestry without your reading glasses: fiddly, intricate, takes forever and you can’t see the wood for the trees.

Then the book comes out and I still can’t read it. It’s like I’ve got post-book-baby-depression: It gave me such hell on the delivery that I don’t want to look at it, I’m not bonding! Then, hopefully a few nice reviews might come in and I can at least read it. A few months down the line and I haven’t forgotten the general trauma, (!) but when I read it, I’ve forgotten which bits hurt the most, which chapters I slaved over, banged my head against a brick wall about and thought would never get finished.  

However, I think it’s a useful exercise at some point, to sit down and ask yourself, why was it so hard? What made this book such a beast? If only so that you do not make the same mistakes again, or at least to give yourself a pat on the back and say, I overcame those difficulties and did it in the end.

For me, with this book, there was one over-riding difficulty (amongst everything else: you know, plot, character, structure….the whole blasted thing!) And that was TONE. I like writing funny. All my other books have had a certain degree of comedy, although admittedly have become darker in shade as they’ve gone on. This, my fourth, was definitely my darkest and yet, I still wanted to make it funny. I still wanted that light and shade. That bitter-sweetness which I think reflects real life.  The problem was, when the subject matter is so harrowing in places (I won’t give any spoilers but you can imagine ...) how do I inject humour? What is remotely humorous about the sorts of events that you wouldn’t wish on your worst enemy?

I struggled. A lot. I really struggled to get the balance right and I am not even sure if I’ve managed it now. I wrote passages then deleted them all when they made me cringe. I cut whole chapters, lots of chapters! I tried to inject comedy where there really shouldn’t be any and vice-versa and it was only a matter of trial and error (A LOT of trial and error) and re-writing that I ended up with something I was happy with.

So along this journey, what were my thought processes?  What specific ‘comedy’ issues did I have? Well, for a start, the main female character in the book is called Robyn and she’s a psychiatric nurse. Obviously her patients are mentally ill and this gave rise to some great narrative potential, drama, conflict and, essentially humour. However, I had to get the humour right, or else it would look tasteless: I couldn’t have her laugh AT her patients – I wouldn’t dream of that and nor would she – but patients do funny things, my research showed me that. I talked to endless psychiatric nurses who told me how nothing was unusual on a psychiatric ward, how literally anything could happen. Every ridiculous scenario I put to them, they said ‘Yep, happens all the time’. However, there is a fine balance, between maximizing the colour these scenes could give in a book, and taking the P out of mentally ill people. One of the central characters in The Story of You is Grace Bird, who has schizophrenia. I wanted her to be central to the drama, but for Robyn to treat her empathetically and sensitively – and also for their scenes to be funny when appropriate. Much harder than it sounds! Nathan Filer, the author of The Shock of the Fall, which is narrated by a schizophrenic and won the Costa prize, no less gave me some fantastic advice. “Just don’t send her up” he said. “And remember anything is possible on a psychiatric ward”. I tried to remember that as I wrote and I really hope I’ve pulled it off.

My second issue with comedy, was the fact that Robyn herself had gone through an awful lot of trauma, but I wanted her to be a funny, humorous person. How could she be irreverent? How would she be an optimistic person? Above all, I didn’t want her to be a moaner and I wanted her to fall in love. And yet, I worked out (sounds obvious but when you’re in it, it’s not always easy to see the wood for the trees) that just because awful things have befallen you (in fact often BECAUSE awful things have befallen you, some of the funniest, certainly the most resilient people I know have been through the worst things) doesn’t mean you aren’t essentially the same person inside. A funny person. Victims of trauma are often the most optimistic of people, because the worst has already happened. This then became the basis for Robyn’s character: She was as strong as she was vulnerable, she still had so much hope despite the fact she’d actually been very unlucky so far. This is the type of person I decided, I’d want to read about, and ultimately who I would want to spend time with (lucky when the book took me eighteen months to write.)This unlocked the ‘Robyn’ key for me.  Comedy can be found in the darkest, deepest of places, after all. It’s just a matter of how you bring it to the foreground.


The Story of You is out now on Kindle

And out in paperback on September 25, available to pre-order here


Friday, 19 September 2014

Scott’s Blog

We’ve put a number of blog posts up in the last couple of weeks that answered some of the most common questions being raised by Authonomy members and we will continue to do that but I wanted to write something myself about a few more general topics.

Spam

We have been subject to a significant and major spam attack and we are taking a number of different actions to rectify it. We have already made a significant change to the way we moderate books, which you can read all about here. 

Many users have contacted us with suggestions, and thanks for that. One of the most popular proposals is to put in an email validation process for new accounts. This is something we are looking at, but it would be extremely easy for a determined spammer to get round that if they wanted to. And these appear to be determined spammers.

We had an interesting meeting with someone who used to manage the community on the Guardian website and he told us about a particularly annoying period of spamming they endured. Each time they implemented a new feature to stop the spam it took the spammers just a few weeks to work out what it was and get round it. We cannot afford to spend all of our development money chasing spammers so need to ensure that what we do put in place will work for a significant period of time, as a result it may take a couple of weeks to be fully operational.

One of the more interesting conspiracy theories on the forums is that we are deliberately encouraging the spam in order to get our membership numbers up. Should I even bother to grace that with a reply? Probably not, but I will anyway. We really want to get rid of this rubbish from the site and once the fix is in place we should see membership and book numbers go down rather sharply.

Thanks for your patience while we try to fix this. One pretty simple way to avoid the spam is not to use the LATEST filter when browsing for new books as that is where most of them will appear. Try MOST POPULAR, HIGHEST RATED or one of the other options instead.

Forums

Occasionally I am asked a version of the question: Why do you hate the forums so much? So I thought I’d answer it. In short, we don’t, but here’s a longer response.

The forums are a hugely important part of Authonomy and we know that’s where lots of members spend a great deal of their time and get the most out of the site. Sure, a significant number of people don’t go there at all but that doesn’t really matter. They were vast, and will be vast again, with nearly 3 million posts at one point.

We’d love to hang out on the forums every day, shooting the breeze, gauging the mood, answering questions, offering advice and so on but if we did that we wouldn’t be able to do the other stuff. We need to allocate time to reading the books on here, managing the Editor’s Desk reviews, handling the many emails we receive on authonomy@harpercollins.co.uk, publishing the Authonomy titles, promoting our favourite books to the other editors at HarperCollins and so on. And, at the moment, we have all sorts of fixes and tweaks to manage now that the new site is live. Plus, in my case, I am running a completely separate imprint of HarperCollins called The Friday Project and both Rachel and Cicely are part of that team too.

There’s a lot of juggling to do and we just have to be pragmatic. I do pop into the forums when I can, and we do monitor them to attempt to pick up on themes and issues being raised by members, but we can’t be a full-time presence. I know this frustrates some people but it isn’t likely to change any time soon.

Books

I have said it a few times now but it is worth repeating. The vast majority of changes we have made to Authonomy are designed to make it easier for HarperCollins to find books to publish. The good news is, and there is some good news out there, that we have called in a number of manuscripts and are actively considering them for publication across the business.

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Once we have the spam fixed, once the algorithms are doing their thing and once we are publishing books across all the HarperCollins divisions in greater numbers then I will start to think that the revamp has been successful. Until then we will strive to make Authonomy as good as it can be, but it will take time.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

An Update on Spam and Account Moderation

You may be aware that over the past few weeks we've been tackling a pretty big spam problem. It’s been hugely frustrating and we've really appreciated you sticking with us whilst we've worked on a solution. We’re pleased to announce that as of today we’re implementing some new moderation features that we hope will help us get a handle on the situation.

How will this affect you? Well, hopefully not at all. The new restrictions should only affect new members, or members yet to upload their first book. There may be some disruption to the site in the next couple of days as we implement these changes, but this should be minimal. Going forward, all first books will need to be approved before authors can make them public or upload additional projects. Once a project is approved, authors will be sent an email to let them know they are welcome to edit or publish their book, or add another. In the interim, new members will still be able to engage in the site in other ways, reading, reviewing and chatting in the forums.


Because of a quirk in the database, there may be a small number of current members who will need to be moderated. These members will be unaffected, but may receive an approval email. If you received or receive this email today, don’t worry, it’s fine to ignore. 

Will this fix solve the problem? The honest answer is, we don’t know. We hope so, but spammers are savvy and will inevitably try to circumvent any barriers put in place. Thankfully, we’re just as tenacious, and will continue to work hard to keep Authonomy clear to perform its purpose: to connect readers and editors with exciting new authors.

Thank you again for your patience. 

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

One to Watch Wednesday

This week’s One to Watch has been creating quite a buzz around the site. J by Polly Johnson is a speculative science fiction novel about Jayfor or ‘J’, a young boy living on an island run by the suitably ominous sounding ‘Maxton-Diogate’. The island is an experimental centre and J is one of its subjects. With no knowledge of life outside the island, when the other children begin to disappear, J lives an increasingly isolated existence.

Only the first 6 chapters are available on Authonomy, but the hints about what is to come set this up to be a very interesting and exciting story.

This is quite a departure from Polly Johnson’s first novel, Stones, which was published by HarperCollins and is available here and on Authonomy. There are some similarities, Polly has a real talent for creating a believable young narrator, but the differences show that she’s a true chameleon.

Like all good sci-fi writers, Polly keeps back as much as she gives away; establishing a clear picture of the island and its inhabitants, while never revealing more than necessary to intrigue the reader and drive the story forward.

The deformed and disabled children who are the subjects of the experiments (such an emotive and difficult subject) are dealt with sensitively, but in the matter of fact tone of a young narrator who knows no other life. J's naive perspective and emotional detachment from the events – indeed from his very existence – feels realistic and enhances the alternate reality Polly has created. Hints that his passivity is turning to rebellion are subtle and effective, and play to the desires of the reader. Personally, I can’t wait to read more.

Here’s the short but striking pitch:

'Jay is 13 but has never had a birthday. He lives on an island – an experimental centre owned by ‘Maxton-Diogate' and run by ‘Doctor', who parades his creations before visiting investors.
When the political climate in the country changes and a fundamentalist right-wing government takes control, first the animals and then the children begin to disappear...

Monday, 15 September 2014

FAQs on the New Site - Part Seven

Today we answer some new questions and address some new issues that have cropped up as of late.

When I download a Kindle file I can’t get it to open on my computer.

The best way to read a Kindle file once you have downloaded it from the site is either to mail it to your Kindle email address or plug your Kindle into your computer and side-load it. You don’t really need to ‘open’ it at all, although Kindle readers are available for desktops from Amazon.

I have come back to Authonomy and my book has vanished/friends have gone/account had been retired/I don’t like the look of it.

This must have come as quite a shock to you. Before we revamped the site we encouraged all members to re-upload their books after the site was live using the new template so that they would work on the new Authonomy, but we did migrate all existing books so if yours isn’t there then do let us know.

If you have been away for some months, or even years, then it is perhaps understandable that the membership has changed somewhat but there are new people joining every day and it would be great if you could hang around.

As for retired accounts, we haven’t retired any so this is something you may well have done before you left. As always, if you have a problem you want fixing it would be much better to email us about it.

We can assure you that most of the changes have been made to increase the number of titles being published from the site. Hopefully you will warm to it over time.

Are those numbers and stats at the bottom of the Community page correct?

If you haven’t seen them, at the bottom of the forum page are some figures showing Authonomy membership etc. They are all accurate.

At the time of writing we have 169,644 registered members. That is correct. We’d love to claim that they all visit the site regularly but that isn’t the case. Many are old accounts, a fair few are spam accounts (and we are addressing these), some are accounts that aren’t very busy but they are all registered members. Approximately a third of this number visit the site in any given month, which is probably the more relevant statistic as this represents the active membership.

Also right now there are 80 members online and 49 guests, so 129 visitors in total. Again, that is an accurate number. That may or may not seem like a lot but—with members coming in, hanging around for a bit, and then logging off throughout the day—it does add up to a lot of people in any 24-hour period.

Oh, and apologies for providing some false information on the forums when we were first asked about this. Not deliberate, just us reading the specs wrong! Hopefully the above info clears that up.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

A Thursday Update

You may have spotted that we rolled out a few changes to the site yesterday.

Currently Reading is no longer automatically switched on when you read a book. This means you can browse and read on the site at leisure, and reserve your Currently Reading spot for something you’ve really got stuck into.

We’ve added a notice to show that the site reader is not compatible with Internet Explorer, linking to some free alternative browsers that are.

We’ve also added some features in the back end of the site, to help us tackle the onslaught of spam we’ve suffered, which has been monopolising the Latest Books scroll bar. Unfortunately, these measures haven’t been sufficient, with books added at a faster rate than we can take them down, so we’re now working on a new solution. We can’t announce exactly what will be put in place, but we can assure you we will try to ensure it has as little impact on authentic members as possible.

On the plus side, we have learned that the Korean for spam is 스팸, and now feel positively multilingual.

We know it's incredibly frustrating. The latest books bar should be a place we can all find exciting new manuscripts to read. Thank you for your patience whilst we get on top of this problem.