Saturday Spotlight with Publishing House So Vain Books

Happy Easter! We hope that you’re having a lovely, relaxing time and haven’t overdosed on the chocolate eggs. If you’re working this weekend, we hope your time to relax comes really soon.

Squared_BLACK_logoMost of our Saturday Spotlights feature other writers, but every so often we bring you a different insight into the world of writing and today is one of those days.

About a year ago, Alys shared with The Write Romantics an advert she’d spotted for a new publishing company called So Vain Books. They weren’t looking for the genre of books she writes (urban fantasy), but she wondered if they might be a good fit for others in the group, particularly Jo and possibly myself. Jo submitted her MS and was offered a publishing deal with them. ‘Among a Thousand Stars’ will be out on 17th June. However, I didn’t submit. I felt that my novel didn’t really match the request for glamour/fashion/sex.

I was so impressed by the way So Vain Books were working with Jo that I remember joking that I should change parts of my MS to fit more with the glamour/fashion/sex element as they sounded like a company with whom I’d really like to work. Instead, Jo asked Publishing Director, Stephanie Reed, if there was anything else they were looking for. Steph said they were after books with heart where the protagonist changes their partner/life/career and learns from it. That was exactly what my book was all about so I submitted and was delighted to secure a publishing deal too. ‘Searching for Steven’ will be out on 3rd June.

Today, we welcome Stephanie to the blog and thank her for a valuable insight into the world of a new publisher.

Jessica xx

image_stephanieWhat’s your background?

My background is mainly in magazines and PR. I worked for over 5 years in the field of magazine editing, writing, fashion styling and PR, whilst in the meantime studying Publishing and getting some experience in the book publishing industry as a freelance editor.

What inspired you to start So Vain Books? How did you go about it?

Back in 2009 I founded So Vain Magazine, a now well-established online fashion, beauty and lifestyle magazine. After four years in the industry, I started thinking of how to expand the brand in different ways. Given my love for books and my background, an idea was very soon formed: we were going to start publishing books. What I always wanted to do was to bring my unique approach to the book publishing process. The fact that I didn’t come from years and years working for any big book publisher meant that I did not have a “standardised” way of seeing things, and had the luxury of being able to shape the publishing house in a way that I thought could work. We publish unique books that we really believe in and market in non-traditional ways. All the So Vain Books team members come from different industries and we are all very young and full of fresh ideas. After a few months spent planning, getting funds, focusing our editorial direction and recruiting new members for the team, So Vain Books was launched on the 13th of February 2014 with a very glamorous and successful event in Central London. Ever since then we have spent all our time reading manuscripts, signing up very promising authors (including the fabulous Jo Bartlett and Jessica Redland from The Write Romantics), meeting with industry experts, building up our database or bloggers and editor, etc.

It’s a very stressful job, full of long hours and no holidays, but also a very rewarding one, as now we have had the pleasure of signing up some talented authors and we really can’t wait for what’s to come in the future.

What sorts of books are you looking for? How might a potential writer submit to you?

3d CoverSo Vain Books is always looking for a great story to publish! We are passionately interested in anything to do with fashion, beauty and romance no matter if it is a light and entertaining fiction novel or an insightful guide on how to be part of the fashion elite.

  • Fiction: we publish light fiction romance novels, specifically in the genre of chick-lit, erotica and New Adult that are funny, witty and quite glamorous.
  • Non-fiction: we publish memoirs, how-to guides, coffeetable books and DIY books all written in an entertaining and informative way by bloggers, celebrities and industry experts.

We only accept submissions from authors based in the United Kingdom.

We require a minimum of 3 chapters for the non-fiction guides and a full manuscript for the fiction books. For both of them, we will ask you details about yourself, a full synopsis and how you see your book positioned.

Sometimes, even if you have not written anything yet but have a fantastic idea you want to explore with us and see if we might be interested in it, we will read it and give you feedback and maybe work with you to develop it, but we will wait until we have the right amount of words to consider it for an actual contract.

For all submissions, you can refer to our dedicated page: http://www.sovainbooks.co.uk/are-you-an-author

How quickly do you know whether a book is for you or not?

Depending on the number of submissions we have at a given time, it may take us up to 8 weeks to come back to any author who has submitted a full manuscript to us. We do provide feedback both if it is a no or a yes.

Many of your books are set in a glamorous world. Is your world glamorous?

Not at all! There might have been a time when I think I led a pretty glamorous life, going to fashion shows and parties, always wearing super high heels and red lipstick wherever I went. But I soon realized that life was not for me. I am more of a tea-and-duvet kind of girl, and I prefer spending my evenings reading a good book rather than going out to glamorous events. Plus, that’s what books are for: they provide an insight into a world in which everything is glitzy and sparkly, without having to leave the comfort of your home (or bed)! Plus, often, when you end up living “the dream” you do realize it’s not always how you expected it and it’s just better to read about it in a book!

book 3dWhat do you do to support your authors?

We pride ourselves to be a very author-centred publishing house. We won’t publish anything that we do not passionately believe in, and for this reason we only publish a limited amount of books per year, focusing on quality over quantity. We dedicate to each author and each book the right attention to detail, offering editorial support, creating stunning designs, planning bespoke marketing and publicity campaigns, and being by their side every step of the way, supporting their own initiatives and ideas for the production, publication and promotion of their books.

Our bespoke publicity campaigns include a customised author’s website, social media campaigns, email marketing, blog tours, reviews, and much more. We don’t want to simply publish great authors, but we are committed to creating a brand around them and bringing them to success, so all our plans are about thinking long-term and ensuring a bright future for all our authors.

In a very competitive market, what do you think authors can do to promote their work and get themselves noticed?

It is really hard nowadays to get yourself noticed. There are hundreds of new books published every day, so finding a way to stand out from the crowd is no easy matter. The main thing people value when deciding whether to read a new book or not is recommendations. They have been proven to be the most influential factor, so having a large number of reviews on Amazon and on websites like Goodreads is key. Once you achieve that, it opens up a world of possibilities. So get as many beta readers as possible (including your friends and family), contact book bloggers and Amazon reviewers, and offer them your book for free in exchange for an honest review. If your story is a good one, it will take no time to start getting some very positive feedback and building that network of recommendations and “social proof” that is fundamental to get people to buy the book!

What sort of books do you read for pleasure?

I love romance, but you might be surprised to know they are not the only kind of books I read. I love fantasy almost as much as I love chicklit! I adore books by Cassandra Clare, JK Rowling, Suzanne Collins, Sophie Kinsella, Cecelia Ahern and also from some far less-known authors.

I am currently reading “Me Before You” by Jojo Moyes.

horizontal BLACKWould you ever consider writing a book yourself?

No, definitely not. The more I read the manuscripts we get submitted by authors, the more I realize I would never be able to do that, or at least not as well as they do it. I also would not have the patience an author must have, as it can take a very long time to write a book and get it perfect.

What does the future hold for So Vain Books?

I am confident that it will become a well-established publishing house, full of successful and exciting books, ensured by the fact that we dedicate all our passion and creativity to each title and we have a mix between fiction and non-fiction, with an array of celebrity books that will help with promoting the less famous and first-time authors.

In the future we also aim at becoming an online store, with many books and other items revolving around our core brand. I want the company to also expand into things other than books, organizing events, conferences, etc.

Jo and I can honestly say that it has been a pleasure working with So Vain Books and we’re both very excited about our June releases. Thank you for joining us today, Steph.

If you’d like to leave a comment or ask a question, please click on ‘comments’ at the end of the teeny weeny tag-words below this post xx

Choices, choices…by Helen Rolfe

Choices, choices…by Helen Rolfe

The way we read has changed a great deal over the years and unsurprisingly, the way we choose our books has had to evolve to keep up with the constant changes in the publishing industry.

When my daughters were tiny I would escape from the house as soon as my husband walked through the door. I’d walk down to the local shops and into Borders where I’d spend at least an hour perusing the shelves and more often than not I’d come away with a couple of purchases. I was always drawn to a bright cover, sometimes the author’s name in big bold letters, or perhaps reading a blurb enticed me to buy. I would stop in the coffee shop next door and enjoy my new read over a hot chocolate, completely lost in my ‘me’ time.

Like many other people, I am devastated every time a bookshop closes. They are special places that warm me the second I walk in with their endless possibilities for a good story. The ‘Books Are My Bag’ campaign operates across the UK and Ireland and is the biggest promotion of bookshops since its launch in 2013. According to the ‘Books Are My Bag’ website, 56% of all book buying decisions are still made by consumers in a bookshop, which is great to hear!

But what happens if I can’t choose my books by browsing at the local bookshop?

I often base my next book purchase on previous experience. I’ll go back to the same author time and time again if I like their voice and the stories they tell and I get really excited when their next book is released.

I personally don’t use reviews or ratings to choose a book but it works for some people. If there is great media hype surrounding a new book or I see it advertised often enough, I can be enticed to read it out of curiosity…perhaps to see if I agree with the comments that are being made about it. I am also influenced by my peers. Thanks to the Write Romantics and the contacts that we all bring to the group, I’ve been reading more widely and loving every minute of it. I’ve discovered new authors and voices that keep me constantly entertained.

Then there is what I like to call ‘accidental book selection’. This can happen via friends’ recommendations: JoJo Moyes’ ‘Me Before You’ was being passed around at the gym one day and I grabbed it. ‘Accidental book selection’ can happen when you least expect, too, perhaps enticing you into a new genre: at the RNA conference 2014 up in Shropshire I had the pleasure of sitting next to Hazel Gaynor and she was so lovely and friendly, answering many of my writing questions. Historical novels have never been my thing but I bought her book ‘The Girl Who Came Home’ anyway and I was hooked…it kept me engrossed during the flight between the UK and Australia 🙂 It can be uncomfortable to step outside your usual genre, but there’s also so many unique books out there that sometimes, as with Hazel’s book, it can be a lovely surprise.

bookshelves1

With a trip coming up from Sydney – Melbourne – Singapore – UK, these are my latest purchases and how I chose them:

Saving Grace by Jane Green – Jane Green is one of my all-time favourite authors so I jumped at the chance to buy her latest book when I saw it in Dymocks bookshop in Sydney.

Amy & Zach by Sarah Louise Smith – The eye-catching cover combined with the blurb on the Crooked Cat website.

Big Lies, Little Lies by Liane Moriarty – I read a newspaper article about Lianne Moriarty, who lives in Sydney. I’d also read her previous novel The Husband’s Secret and loved it.

I’d love to hear how others choose their books…do covers matter, or the publisher perhaps? Do you rely on friends’ opinion, reviews or ratings? Or do you look at book blogs or prize winners to make your choice?

Until then…Happy reading!

Helen R x

The Wednesday Wondering: You’re Fired!

If you share my (dubious) tastes in TV programmes you won’t be a stranger to the title of this week’s Wondering.  Yes, that’s right.  The famous phrase comes out of Alan Sugar’s mouth at the end of every episode of The Apprentice.  Whether you find it compulsive or repulsive viewing, you’ll be sure to know what it’s about.  Hard to avoid, isn’t it?

You may remember I was grabbing inspiration for this month’s Wonderings from March itself, in which case you may be thinking I’ve wandered off piste here.  Not so, because next Monday, March 24th, is Lord Sugar’s birthday. (He happens to share the same birth year as me but we won’t go into that if it’s all the same).  A bit obscure as a remarkable event, perhaps?  Well, yes, all right, but at least you’ve gathered a new bit of useless information…

But back to The Apprentice theme before I lose the plot entirely (and none of us wants to do that, do we?).  I asked my fellow Write Romantics this question:

If you could be apprenticed to a well-known writer, have access to their innermost thought processes while they write and have them mentor your own novel, who would you choose? (Time machines permitted)  And what would you hope to learn from them? 

The Write Romantics were spoiled for choice, as you’ll see.

LYNNE:

I’d love to be apprenticed, Write Romantics excluded, to Jojo Moyes. I loved ‘Me Before You,’ and am now totally loving ‘The Peacock Emporium,’ recommended by Deirdre. Her stories are so good, yet what I really love is her emotional descriptions. You really feel like you are there with the characters, learning first hand what they’re seeing and thinking. I love tales that are rich in emotion and these you just can’t beat!

HELEN P:

It would have to be my hero, the amazing Mr Stephen King. I would love to see how he plots his books, how he comes up with his ideas, where he stores them but most of all I would love to sit behind the desk that he writes at and just soak up the vibes. It would be even better to have his personal input and advice into a story I was writing. The only thing is I fear that if I ever did get to meet him I wouldn’t be able to speak because I’d be so in awe of him or I talk a load of absolute rubbish and bore him to death. I would hope to learn just how to keep on going and producing book after book which was a best seller around the world so that I too could have a writing room just like him.

JULIE:

Can I only pick one? It would be between five people (all women) – Enid Blyton, Virginia Andrews (the original one who passed away), Catherine Cookson, Jill Mansell, Marian Keyes, so a time machine would be needed for 3 out of 5! All of them have had a lasting impression on me for getting me engrossed in books at different ages with the latter two being about my discovery of romantic comedy. For all, I’d love to explore where their ideas came from, how they develop their characters and how they plot out their books because all of them, in my opinion, have written page-turner after page-turner. What an amazing talent to have!

HELEN R:

I’d like to be mentored by Alexandra Sokoloff. She’s an award winning author of thrillers – not my genre and even the book jacket blurbs scare me, but I think she has such a wealth of knowledge about techniques in both film and novels. I attended the online RWAus conference in 2013 where Alexandra Sokoloff hosted a workshop and since then I have read and re-read her book “Writing Love” many times as it helps to plot a new story, prevent it from having a “saggy middle” and give readers what they want. She also advocates watching films to help us master storytelling techniques, and this works really well for me, I’d definitely recommend it.

ALEX:

I’m really glad I can have a time machine for this one because I want to go back to the Thirties and apprentice myself to Dorothy L. Sayers.  For me she is the real queen of Golden Age detective fiction and I’ve loved Lord Peter Wimsey since I was about 17.  Sayers is an amazing crafter of stories.  I’d love to learn the techniques of mystery writing, her knack of producing realistic dialogue and how she makes her characters so real and so complex.  From what I read about her I think she wouldn’t suffer fools or mince her words and so being her apprentice could be a bit daunting.  However, it also seems she had a fine sense of humour as shown by this quote:

“Lord Peter’s large income… I deliberately gave him… After all it cost me nothing and at the time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him. When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly. When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered him an Aubusson carpet. When I had no money to pay my bus fare I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it. I can heartily recommend this inexpensive way of furnishing to all who are discontented with their incomes. It relieves the mind and does no harm to anybody.”

DEIRDRE:

I’d choose to spend my apprenticeship with Ian Rankin because although I’m not a great lover of crime fiction, I do admire his writing.  It never feels forced or over-written; he never rambles but makes every word count.  That’s the kind of writing I’m aiming for and hopefully something of that would rub off.  I saw a documentary in which Ian agonised over his plot and confessed he had no idea what came next in the book he was writing.  Heartening to note that even the famous ones can be plagued with self-doubt!  It would be fascinating to be with him at those moments and see how he gets around them.  Also I’d get to see Edinburgh which I understand is a beautiful city, and, from what I’ve gathered of Ian’s lifestyle, spend a lot of time in the pub!

JO:

This is an easy one for me.  It would definitely have to be Charles Dickens.  I’d want to learn how he created such memorable characters and wrote such a range of stories that could transcend generations and give quite moral messages, yet avoid being cheesy or overly sentimental.  If an apprenticeship with Dickens could give me a cat in hell’s chance of writing something that leaves a legacy as embedded in our culture as say A Christmas Carol or Oliver Twist, then it would be well worth risking particle displacement on a trip in a time machine for!

JACKIE:

I would quite like Jilly Cooper to mentor me because I know I'll never write literary novels so would be happy with learning how to have a page turning quality. I also think she's be a good laugh as wouldn't like someone who took it all too seriously (although I would love to write like Anita Shreve and have deep understanding of emotions).  Hopefully it would be gin time at four in the afternoon and I would roll home sozzled and happy. 

RACHAEL:

If I could take any writer, go back to any time I would chose two. Greedy I know, but there you go. Firstly I’d love to be an apprentice to Maeve Binchy. Each time I’ve picked up a book of hers, I’ve been hooked and that is what I’d love to learn from her. How to hook the reader and keep them hooked. Not only that, but how to make your story have such an impact that the reader can still ‘see it’ in their minds many years later. I have two favourite books of hers, Circle of Friends and Tara Road.

Once that was done, I zip back in time to sit with Jane Austen. Now that would be something. I’d just love to be with her as she wrote Pride and Prejudice, I’d love to know what she thought of the characters she was creating and did she ever believe it would be such an everlastingly popular story.

Well, it’s a bit of fun, isn’t it?  Perhaps you’ll find a moment to tell us where your dream apprenticeship would take you.  We’d love to know.

Deirdre

A Good End?

For the past week I’ve been working on the final chapter of my novel.  Following the advice of bestselling author and expert creative writing tutor Sharon Kendrick I wrote the end months ago.  But when I read it again it wasn’t right.  My character had hijacked the love story part of the book since then and it didn’t work anymore.   And that got me thinking about what makes a good ending. 

It’s pretty clear that readers want the hero and heroine to be together at the end of a romance novel.  Publishers, more cryptically, say they’re looking for an ‘emotionally satisfying ending’. 

When I started looking into it a bit more I found this pretty illuminating quote from one of my writing heroines, Jennifer Crusie: “I think romance novels, like any genre stories, must provide a reader with catharsis at the end, and that catharsis is usually found in a ‘just’ ending; that is, characters get what they deserve. The bad guy gets punished, and the good guys get the happiness they’ve been striving for because they’ve suffered and grown and struggled.”   Jennifer knows what she’s talking about.  Not only has she written half a dozen best sellers but she teaches creative writing at Ohio State University.

By Jennifer’s definition to have a happy ending both characters need to grow during the book.   If one of them doesn’t then you can’t have a happy ending.  I think Gone With the Wind would be a classic example of that.  Scarlett was, in my opinion, a spoilt brat from start to finish.  I’d have felt a bit let down if Rhett had stayed with her at the end. 

The other twist on the happy ever after is the ‘duty’ or ‘noble sacrifice’ ending as in Roman Holiday.  It’s one of my all-time favourite films and it makes me cry every time when Princess Audrey choses her duty to her country over her love for Gregory Peck.  Another film classic would be Casablanca.  If Ingrid Bergman hadn’t got on the plane would that have made a better movie?  I don’t think so.  Somehow it’s enough to know ‘they’ll always have Paris’.

But there are romances where the ending seems anything but ‘just’.  For anyone who hasn’t seen or read One Day by David Nicholls I suggest you stop reading now because there will be spoilers.  The book charts the friendship of Emma and Dexter who meet on the night of their graduation in 1988.  Following their lives for just one day each year we see how that friendship progresses and eventually turns to love.

I saw the film before I read the book.  About three quarters of the way through when Dexter and Emma were happily married I thought ‘this isn’t going to end well’.  I was absolutely right.  Five minutes later Emma gets knocked off her bike and dies.  Yes, dies!  How could this heroine, who we’d come to love, die?  It just wasn’t right.  And no amount of quality father/daughter time four years later was going to make me feel any different. 

I felt cheated.  I’d gone to see a romance.  I didn’t want to come out crying.  And Emma deserved her happy ending.  She was good.  Dexter was a bit of an idiot but she loved him and together they’d suffered and grown.  They should have been together.   

However (and there’s more spoilers coming up) even if the hero and heroine don’t both live to see the final scene the ending can still have that required emotional quality.  Me Before You by JoJo Moyes has an incredibly moving ending.  I don’t think I’ve ever cried so much at the end of a book.  It was heart breaking but I understood.

It seems to me that books with endings that aren’t emotionally satisfying are seen as more serious.  They take the book out of the romance genre and lift it to something more literary.  That’s the author’s choice but it’s not a route I want to go down.

I want an ending that makes my characters and my readers happy.  My characters have definitely suffered (by the way does anyone else find themselves apologising to their characters for what they’re going through or is that just me?) and I’m pretty sure they’ve grown.  They deserve a bit of happiness.   And my readers have stuck with us.  I want them to close the book feeling happy too. 

So now I know what I’m aiming for.  Only time will tell if I can actually pull it off!

I’d love to hear what you think.  What do you want from the end of a romance novel?  What are your all-time favourite endings?  And what makes them so good?

Alex

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