IndieBRAG needs readers

Because of the absolute explosion in the self-publishing market, IndieBRAG is being inundated with titles, which need homes! In order to select an award winner, these titles need to be read and help is needed. If you enjoy discovering new gems of literature and are willing the spread your enthusiasm, please do check them out.

Who We Are

We represent a group of people who are passionate about reading self-published or “indie” books. We call ourselves the Book Readers Appreciation Group.

Why We Exist

Our mission is to recognize quality on the part of authors who self-publish both print and digital books.

Who We Honor

We award a B.R.A.G. Medallion™ to the book of an Indie author based on the recommendation of our reader group.

The website is If you are interested, please fill out the contact form on the site. IndieBRAG pays for the ebooks and there is no pressure-volunteers can read as many or as few books as they like.

Next up for review…

The next book up for review is Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat. I am overwhelmed by the beautiful cover design and the pleasingly thick paper in this POD book. It’s gorgeous to look at and luscious to handle, and although I’m only 50 pages into it, the writing is drawing me in, strongly. I am looking forward to curling up with this book when my daughter falls asleep tonight!

The series  “From Mainstream to Indie” is ongoing.  Please contact me if you know of any authors who would like to speak on this topic.

Review: Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly


What a pleasure to have found an enjoyable self-published work of “pure” historical fiction (“pure” meaning, to me, the imagined lives of true historical figures)—my favorite type of story!  Vivaldi’s Muse is as professionally written and well put together as any mainstream-published novel of this type. This engrossing novel explores the life of Annina Giró, protégée of the prolific Baroque composer, Antonio Vivaldi.  The story is set in sparkling 18th-century Italy and skillfully depicts the cutthroat world of the operatic performer and the fickle musical tastes of the time…

Annina always wanted to be an opera singer, and when she meets Antonio Vivaldi when he is in residence in her hometown of Mantua, she knows exactly where she wants her future to lie. She aims to achieve that goal even as she experiences hopelessness, abandonment, and a destructive rivalry between herself and her professional nemesis, Chiara. Ultimately, through the help of a generous but lascivious benefactor, Annina is able to follow her dreams to Venice and beyond, but must pay a hefty price for these dreams…

Author Sarah Bruce Kelly brings the musical world of 18th-century Venice alive. The author herself is a professional musician and scholar of music history, and one couldn’t imagine a more suitable author to write this book, as the love and passion for her subject is deeply embedded in this story. The fine details about the business and the art of the opera, the portrayal of Venice herself as a major character, the affecting and sensitively rendered descriptions of Vivaldi and Annina and their evolving relationship, as well as the strong sense of atmosphere and foreboding, have been well executed, allowing everyone—not just aficionados of Vivaldi’s music or the opera—to enter into this private world.

Annina’s victimization by and the intense and vicious rivalry with Chiara is faintly reminiscent of the relationship between Chiyo and Hatsumomo in Arthur Golden’s wonderful Memoirs of a Geisha. The animosity between the rivals kept the level of tension in the story high in Memoirs, and does the same for Vivaldi’s Muse. This reader would  have enjoyed learning more in depth about Chiara—what made her act so abominably and with such commitment to Annina’s downfall..

The author also adroitly illustrates the extroverted, hot-headed nature of the Venetians, as exemplified in this humorous exchange between gondoliers witnesseJd by Annina and her sister Paolina:

 “Bauko!” shrieked one gondolier, “you idiot! You’ve wrecked my boat!”

“Ti xe goldon!” rejoined the other, “you ass! It was my right to enter the canal first!”

Fury mounted and they reviled each other as the offspring of assassins and prostitutes.

“Spawn of a bloody executioner!”

“Bastard of a hideous whore!”

Fists waved and pounded into palms, and faces contorted. With a vehemence that would make the devil blush, they each defamed the other’s female relatives down to the remotest cousin. Finally, his passion spent, one of the men calmly gathered his oar and gave the other the right of way. (p 54)

What wonderfully descriptive writing!

In fairness, I must mention a few minor distractions that I noticed in the text—one being that the writing occasionally glides quickly over events in a “talking rather than showing” manner. I do realize that the number of concerts or events covered in this time period were substantial and that, given the size of the book at over 400 pages, something had to give, but I did find this device a bit distracting.

I found very few—perhaps four or five—typos in the book, but they were significant enough to draw me out of the story for a few minutes each. I think one more copy edit would correct that problem. And finally, there are moments in the novel when a modern phrase slips in, something so out of character for the 18th century that I had to pause. For example, the phrase “now she was talking” (taken as contemporary jargon rather than a literal phrase) on pg 242 was a bit of a shock. Another was on pg 269: “’Blast,’ he thought, ‘the party is underway!’” I don’t know if this Briticism was used in 18th-century Venice…

Despite these minimal distractions, I highly recommend Vivaldi’s Muse. Once again, I don’t understand why a mainstream publisher would bypass an engaging work like this one. With professional marketing and a snappier cover design, this delightful and absorbing novel would be an irresistible find on any bookstore shelf.

Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly. Bel Canto Press, 2012, 437 pp, paperback, 978-0983630401

Disclaimer: A copy of the novel was sent to me gratis from the author.

Battle of the Book Review Blogs

I was asked to join the “Battle of the Book Review Blogs” at–and I thank them for inviting me! I have much respect for this blog, as it aims to “put a spotlight on the emerging world of independent and e-publishing, as well as new authors in traditional publishing” through “QUALITY” (my caps) reviews…meaning intelligent, in-depth, and thoughtful reviews–exactly the same goal I am pursuing here.

This is a friendly competition for votes for excellent independent book review blogs. No matter who wins, I hope that more people are exposed to the world of quality Indie and self-published books–that is the ultimate goal here. If you enjoy this blog, I would appreciate your support! Thank you!

A few more notes on Oleanna

The review of Oleanna is up on the HNS website; the link is

To expand a little, I was touched by this book, by it’s very poignant starkness. As I wrote in a twitter feed: “Oleanna: a gentle tale with quiet depth, atmospherically stark yet richly detailed like the culture and people of Norge herself. Beautiful.” The prose was simple yet expressive; no fancy writing gimmicks or extraneous details, but every word was carefully chosen.

So many themes were touched upon in such a delicate and understated manner:

-a woman’s place in society (just as in Eucalyptus and Green Parrots);

-having choices or living for duty;

-the rural vs. urban society theme;

-women’s suffrage; and

-the struggle of continuing on and coping after being left behind.

Some of these themes were expanded on more than others, but the novel gave a satisfactory overview of what was going on in Norway at the time. I do wish the history had been explored in a little more depth, integrated a  little more robustly into the story, as this is a time period and a situation I  (and I’m sure many readers) know nothing about and have not seen any HF set in before. However, too much historical material would have ruined the ambiance of the novel, so I say this with reservation.

The cover is absolutely appropriate and quite lovely. The layout needs work, however- what looks like double spaced text (but the author informed me that it’s not) is a bit distracting, the footnote on pg 140 needs an asterisk, and the footnote on pg 170 is in the middle of the text (needs to be moved beneath the text).  There are a few typos. HOWEVER, these are truly small details, and I only say them for a possible benefit when reprinting.

Overall, I recommend Oleanna. I truly enjoyed this tale and still experience flashbacks of some of the scenes from the book.

Interview with Joan Druett: Straddling Two Worlds

“It’s no longer an either/or world. It’s both and why the heck not?” — James Scott Bell

You are a prolific writer and have been published by various major publishing houses, such as Simon & Schuster, Algonquin, and Random House. . . . Although you write in various genres (with the maritime world being the overarching theme), such as mystery, biography, and maritime history, let’s focus on your journey from mainstream to Indie publishing through your historical novel, A Love of Adventure (previously Abigail).

Abigail was first published in 1988 by Random House, and then in paperback by Mandarin and Bantam. How did your original publisher find you?

As so often happens, it was a case of who-knows-whom. The novel was written in the middle of a burst of passion for the stories of whaling captains’ seafaring wives and daughters, and read by an interested friend with publishing contacts in London.  He passed the manuscript to a friend there, who handed it on to a professional reader, who loved the book so much that she harried him into giving it to an agent. From there, it went to the publishing director of Macmillan, who thought it was “a smashing book,” and also to another agent in New York, who handed it on to a good friend of hers, who was a senior editor for Random House.

As you can imagine, it was a very exciting time. Suddenly, out of the blue, two major houses had bought my seafaring adventure!

With so many contacts in the big publishing houses, why did you decide to self-publish A Love of Adventure (Abigail)?

The eBook phenomenon fascinates me; I truly believe that it is the most exciting development in publishing since the invention of print. I have blogged about it a great deal on my site “World of the Written Word,” and followed the fortunes of a large number of Indie authors, becoming more intrigued as the months go by. The idea of self-publishing an eBook as an experiment became irresistible, and Abigail, being my first novel, was the natural choice.

After looking at all the alternatives, I decided to do all the formatting myself, with just two conditions: that it would cost me absolutely nothing, and that I would share what I learned with the world, via my blog. This I did, ending up with seven “tutorials” that ranged from preparing the manuscript through designing the cover to the ePublishing process.  These garnered so much interest that I created a dedicated blog, “KindlePublishingHints,” and transferred the tutorials, in descending order, onto this. It pleases me greatly that in the one month since this guide went up, over 200 people have used it to create their own books.

 And why choose to publish as an e-book instead of in print?

I have been sent many self-published print books for comment or review over the years, and have often been dismayed at their quality. Print-on-demand seems to be particularly bad, in this respect. The alternative of having proper print-runs means the problem of storage—one author told me that she ended up storing unsold stock in the crawl space between the floor of her bedroom and the ceiling of the lounge below!

And I truly believe that eBooks are the popular reading of the future.

How much input on title or cover design did you have at the big houses (compared to the freedom of self-publishing)? When searching on, I came upon a rather racy mass market paperback cover from 1989—would you classify your novel as romance? Do you think it was marketed to the correct audience?

Having control over the title, cover, and general design is a huge incentive for self-publishing. I was never happy with having a girl’s name as the title, as it limited the audience to women, and I knew from male readers that it was a book that appealed to men as well, particularly because of the whaling and seafaring scenes.  So I certainly don’t believe that it was directed to the correct audience.

And the jacket designs!  I was given no say in these at all, and none of them, in my opinion, reflected the thrust of the story. As for the Bantam paperback, you should have heard my shriek when I opened the carton! Later, when the Mandarin paperback came out, a newspaper featured both covers, side by side. The Mandarin version was sedate in the extreme, being a rather plain girl at the ship’s wheel, while the Bantam one (which features a bosomy female in Regency frills being ravished by a muscle-bound male) was captioned “Abigail and her shirtless friend.”

Well, it really was rather funny, I suppose. But it was a particular pleasure to design the cover I had wanted all along for the eBook: a ship disappearing into a spectacular sunset.

It seems that you straddle two worlds at the same time: that of the mainstream and that of the Indie. Can you compare and contrast the two “worlds”? What is it like being on both sides of the fence? Do mainstream publishers give you a hard time about publishing an Indie e-book? Do you feel as though you don’t fit in with Indie authors?

I’m rather used to straddling two worlds, being a maritime historian as well as a novelist.  However, you are right, because there is a huge contrast between traditional and Indie publishing. There is nothing like working with an editor who loves your book, but wants to make it even better. Not only do you have a sense of direction, but it is confidence-building, as well.

But it only lasts until the book goes into production; while your editor keeps an eye on the process, and is available for answering questions, he or she has moved on to other authors and other books, so that the production process becomes more and more impersonal. When the book finally comes out (and remember that this is many months later), you are handed over to a publicist, but this is a finite situation, too.  Authors are strongly encouraged to do their own marketing, and before the month is out, they are completely on their own.

I enjoyed the sense of power and independence that ePublishing A Love of Adventure gave me, but had the advantage of a professionally edited book to work from, plus the confidence given by years of experience. I notice that a lot of the Indie authors who contact me feel uncertain about their self-editing skills, no matter how many writing classes they have attended, and many of them go on to say that they have hired an editor—which is a very good move, I think.

And you are right again—I do feel a closer connection with authors who are self-publishing after being traditionally published, than I do with newbie Indie writers.

I still haven’t found out what my mainstream publishers think of this experiment in self-publishing, but am very conscious of their possible reaction.  For instance, it makes pricing the books rather tricky. I am currently writing a fifth Wiki Coffin mystery, to follow the series of four that were published by Minotaur/St. Martin’s Press, but feel it is probably a good idea to wait until they bring out the first four as eBooks, so that I don’t underprice them by too much.

What are your thoughts about the quality of Indie books right now and how has the quality changed since you first began your SP project?

As I mentioned before, I found the first self-published print books disappointing, but those that have arrived on my desk more recently have certainly improved. I think this might be a result of Indie publishing becoming respectable. More established authors are going for the experiment, which raises the quality, so that newbie writers have good examples to follow.

Likewise, the formatting of self-published eBooks has certainly improved. I noticed that in the publishing guides put out by Kindle, the need for thorough proofreading is constantly stressed; as they say, having a lot of typos can mean three stars instead of a five-star review.

Can you give readers a sense of what your process of self-publishing was like? What were the advantages and the pitfalls?

My best answer to this is to recommend the running blog I wrote while I was going through the process, at  It was an intensive, deeply engaging experience.  And, what’s more, it was fun!

If you could offer aspiring SP authors the three most important lessons you learned while self-publishing, what would they be?

Proofread, proofread, and then proof again. And get your formatting right. It’s the only way you are going to end up with a professional-looking result.

Choose a jacket design that looks good in thumbnail—make it eye-catching but plain rather than fussy. It’s your major marketing device.

Let the world know what you’re doing, through social media such facebook, facebook groups, and twitter. Facebook is particularly good, as you connect with people who are doing the same thing, and who have great feedback to offer.

Finally, thank you very much indeed for posing such pertinent questions, and giving me the opportunity to share what I learned while ePublishing A Love of Adventure.

Next in the “From Mainstream to Indie” series

I am working on an interview with prolific writer Joan Druett, author of the recently re-released historical novel,  A Love of Adventure:

Set in the 1850s, this novel follows the adventures of a sea-captain’s daughter as she struggles both to learn the truth about her father’s death and to claim her inheritance, the brig “Pandora.” It is a tale of love, mutiny, and life aboard the whaling ships of the last century. (from

AND the Wiki Coffin series of seafaring mysteries based on the events surrounding the fates of the ships of United States South Seas Exploring Expedition, set in the mid-nineteenth century.

Joan is not only a fiction author but also a maritime historian and writer of nonfiction on maritime topics including women’s roles in the nautical realm. You can read about her publications and background on her website: We will be talking about her journey from mainstream publishing  to Indie, as she has recently re-released her above-mentioned historical novel as a self-published e-book.

As for the next review, I will be publishing the link to the HNS review of Julie K. Rose’s Oleanna and some further thoughts at the beginning of August.

Interview with Margaret Muir: From Mainstream to Indie

When contemplating the pitfalls in Indie publishing, we forget at times that pitfalls exist in mainstream publishing as well. Margaret Muir, author of Sea Dust and four other historical fiction novels, talks about some of these problems and explains why she eventually chose to self-publish. Welcome to Margaret Muir and thank you for doing this interview!

Your books (The Condor’s Feather, Sea Dust, and The Twisting Vine, for example) were originally published by Robert Hale in the UK… How were you originally picked up by Robert Hale? Did you seek out an agent or did a publisher find you? Can you describe the process you went through?

Ten years ago, apart from journalistic articles, I was unpublished as an author. Having only recently been inspired to write a novel, I joined a rather elite writers’ critique group. This included a couple of multi-published British authors. Having read extracts from my first manuscript, one of these authors (who prefers to remain anonymous), suggested I contact her agent in London.  I believe she mentioned my name to him, so when I sent in my sample chapters, after being instructed to make several major changes to the story and its contents, my historical fiction novel was accepted for representation. My own experience was, therefore, similar to Helen Hollick’s – a case of knowing the right people.
Once in the hands of the agency, the manuscript (Sea Dust) was submitted to one of the major publishing houses but was rejected. It then went to Robert Hale Ltd, who accepted it for publication. The offer, however, was very nominal, but as a new author, I was over the moon and accepted.

Robert Hale is an independent publisher with an excellent reputation-what was it like working with them?

Hale Books (London) is a very well-respected and old, established family business. When I joined their stable in 2004, this small publishing empire was overseen by octogenarian Mr John Hale. Working closely with their very professional staff on my first three books was a real pleasure, but staff changes over recent years saw a loss in the previous intimacy and subsequent lessening in standards of the finished product (in my experience).
One thing I did not realise, at the time of signing with Hale, was that they were in the business of producing hardback books to supply to the British libraries. These were high-quality publications with commissioned artwork for the jacket covers. But only about 400 copies were ever produced at a commensurately expensive price. Hale Books were never distributed for sale through retail outlets and, apart from sending out a handful of review copies, there was no marketing.
By 2005, I had written my second book under the title Through Glass Eyes but the company rejected my choice of title. It was, therefore changed to The Twisting Vine. This was a disappointment to me. The story features a French Bru doll which hovers in the background throughout the 25 years of the saga. I felt my title was appropriate but bowed to the publisher’s wisdom. (I have subsequently reverted to my original title.)
Another problem which occurred with this novel was that the agent had held the manuscript back for six months before presenting it. Later the publisher told me I should have followed up on Sea Dust immediately. Heigh ho! I felt I had no control. I was being managed and published but not necessarily to my best advantage.
The Black Thread followed in the same publishing style – library copies only. And like, Sea Dust, even though it sold out completely in a matter of weeks, it never went into re-print. In my opinion, the cover image for this hardback was dark and depressing but this was out of my control.
Written in the contract was a clause that Hale could retain paperback rights for six months following publication of the hardback. But, at that time, Hale did not follow up with paperbacks, so my historical fiction novels never went any further.
By the time The Condor’s Feather was published, the staff at Hale had changed several times and the professionalism from the new young editorial staff was lacking. Edits were not followed through, and review copies were sent to inappropriate locations. Sadly this was only the fault of a couple of staff members, but, for me, it reflected on the company.

When and why did you eventually decide to self-publish all of your books?

In 2010, my fifth book, Floating Gold, was published by Hale under my own name, but it did not sell well. I had argued with Mr Hale that a seafaring adventure of the Horatio Hornblower style, written for a male readership, with no romance or female characters, would not perform under a woman’s name. He said I had an established British readership (through the libraries) and he wasn’t prepared to let me use a pseudonym. I argued that my female following would not be interested in a classic age-of-sail maritime adventure. Floating Gold was published in 2010 but it went to print with about 150 uncorrected editing errors and performed poorly. Six months after publication, I asked Hale for reversal of my rights and was granted them on all five novels.
In my view, all my titles were dead in the water. They had never seen an audience beyond the walls of the UK lending libraries, had never been offered to retail outlets, and never been presented overseas, including the USA. I decided, therefore, to self-publish my books in paperback, not with a view to making money, but to giving my books a new lease on life and letting them breathe again for a while.

Can you talk a bit about what you found in the self-publishing world when you started on this path?

To use a cliché, as anyone who has ever looked into self-publishing knows, it’s a jungle out there. Dozens, if not hundreds of companies are offering to ‘publish your book’ – but at a cost! And the cost involved can be staggering. I personally know authors who have been stung for thousands of dollars in up-front costs, and, as a result, have thousands of copies of their much-loved masterpiece gathering dust in a garage. It is likely the whole experience has soured their hopes and killed their writing dreams. The advice I would give anyone proposing to self-publish is – do your homework first, and be very wary.
Not wishing to be inveigled into such schemes, I opted for Lulu. <>
This American company will produce books for you as a self-publisher on a POD (print on demand) basis. They even supply the ISBN free of charge. If you only want one book, that’s fine – and you will only ever pay for one book. Nothing more. I can’t speak for Smashwords or Createspace, as I have never used them, but I believe they operate on a similar basis.
Books produced by Lulu appear on Amazon, but one must remember that a book on the internet will not sell itself. You must still do your own marketing and promotion.
From a physical production point of view, Lulu is relatively simple to follow. There are explicit instructions and templates for uploading your Word document. Creating a jacket cover is as easy as transferring an image from your computer and following a few easy steps. You don’t have to be a computer wiz to do it. Plus, self-publishing gives you full control over your jacket or e-book cover, and with photo-shop programs, you can produce an appealing design which will help sell your book.
Once your book is finished (within hours, once you get the hang of it), your only financial obligation is to buy a single copy. If you want to make changes to the book – then you upload your revised WORD document and produce another. Again you must pay for it. But this has to be better than parting with thousands of dollars.

What are your thoughts about the quality of Indie and e-books right now?

Indie books: Regarding Indie-books, I can only comment on standard-sized Lulu paperbacks. In my opinion the external quality is very good, both in paper and jacket covers. However, the book’s content, the quality of the written word, syntax, presentation of dialogue and paragraphs, and spelling, is up to the author.
E-books: Generally, the biggest problem I have encountered with self-published e-books is the poor quality of formatting. A poorly formatted book can be most distracting for the reader. This may deter the buyer from purchasing any other e-books produced by that author.
Having self-published in paperback, I then looked at the e-book market and saw the potential. Initially, Belgrave House published my books in various e-formats but, with a few minor edits occurring in this edition, I resolved to republish.
I was attracted to Kindle Direct Publishing (KDP), because several fellow authors I know are doing well with sales through this outlet. With this in mind, and not being computer savvy, I opted to use a professional formatter.
As with paper publishing, one is again confronted with similar problems. There are companies popping up all over the world offering all manners of file conversion services, and at very varying degrees of cost.
Having checked out several companies in UK and US, I opted for http://www.custom-book-tique <http://www.custom-book-tique/> in Canada. For a cost of $125, I can have my Word document formatted to a Kindle mobi-file and upload it to KDP within 3 days. The result is a very professional, and I am delighted. So far, I have uploaded three of my books to KDP and have two more pending.
Overall, I would say the finished appearance and quality of indie paper and e-books is greatly dependent on the author and the road he/she wants to take.

Do you have any suggestions for authors who are considering self-publishing?

I can only re-iterate: do your homework, thoroughly. Visit lots of sites which are offering publishing help, and read other writers’ experiences on blogs such as this.
But first, work out what you want as an end result. If you are looking for instant fame and fortune, then forget it. Ask yourself, are you prepared to do your own marketing and promotion? Are you wanting a book produced in a matter of weeks rather than waiting for a year for a publishing house? Do you have money to burn or are you operating on a limited budget?
Then there is the question – how long are you prepared to keep submitting manuscripts to agents and/or publishers and being rejected? If you have confidence in your work, have had it well edited and proofread, then I would recommend taking the plunge. Publish your first book and then start writing another.
As I said, with Lulu books, promotion and publicity is up to you, but even some of the large publishing houses expect their writers to source reviews and use the social networking sites to best advantage.
As for me, by next month, I will have all five of my books published on Kindle with KDP. I am also completing the first sequel to my age-of-sail adventure but, rather than submitting it to Hale Books, then waiting a year for it to be produced and another 6 months before I can request return of my paperback rights, I am about to self-publish in paper with Lulu and with KDP Select as an e-book. Both will be available in September.
It is an exciting, fast-changing time in the publishing industry which is offering plenty of opportunities for the writer. Technology is advancing at a rapid rate and self-publishing processes are getting easier.  But, keep in mind, a badly written book is still a badly written book even if it appears in a gilt-edged cover. I wish you luck.

In conclusion I would like to thank Andrea for inviting me to share my experience on the Queen’s Quill. I would also like to extend my thanks to Bob Tanner, my past agent (died 2009), for giving me a kick start in the industry, and to Robert Hale Ltd for putting my by-line on five books.

For more information on Margaret Muir
Ref: <> <>

Review schedule for the rest of 2012

The review schedule for the remainder of 2012 has changed a bit, thus:

August: Vivaldi’s Muse by Sarah Bruce Kelly (also further commentary on the August HNS review of Oleanna by Julie K. Rose)

September: Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

October: The Concubine’s Gift by K. Ford K.  and Blomqvist by Michael Hickens

November: Saving Gerda by Lilian Darcy, and Unbidden by Jill Hughey

December: The Other Alexander by Andrew Levkoff

I will work in these other books that I have committed to (due to a lack of willpower and being way too intrigued by the content to turn down!) during this year as well; my time is becoming more manageable now, so I will be able to review more than a single book per month.

-the next two novels in the Sea Witch series by Helen Hollick

Loud, Disorderly, and Boisterous by Adam M. Johnson

Wanting Rita by Elyse Douglas

Andy Leelu by B.L. Gautam

Requiem by Bill Kitson

On the list for next year are more intriguing titles:

Malinalli of the Fifth Sun by Helen Heightsman Gordon

Absolom Rex by K.L. Coones


I was just looking around the Indie B.R.A.G site to see what was new and I came across these gems that I am adding to my review list for 2013:

Ashford by Melanie Rose: Seventeen year old Anna is a naive American orphan, delighted to find herself on a tour of Europe in the spring of 1939. A feeling of camaraderie with all mankind thrills her as she mingles with throngs of foreigners, but her joy is short-lived. WWII shatters the world.

As fathers and sons, husbands and brothers dive grimly into the trenches, Anna is left stranded in England, disillusioned and afraid. However, this worldwide catastrophe may be the perfect catalyst to mature Anna into the brave young woman she longs to be. Even as the world is shadowed with disaster, Anna finds friends in the kindly Bertram family.

In the midst of all that threatens to tear her world apart, will she find a place to truly belong?

After the Rising by Orna Ross: When Jo Devereux returns to Ireland after an absence of 20 years, the last thing she expects is to end up writing a family history. Growing up in Mucknamore in the 1970s, with her village riven by the divides of a previous time, Jo found family pride brought her nothing but heartbreak and loss. Now, unearthing seventy-year old secrets of love and revenge in a time of war, and a killing that has haunted three generations, she begins to understand why.

In revealing astonishing truths about her mother and grandmother, Jo is brought face-to-face with her own past and her intense relationship with Rory O’Donovan, who still lives in Mucknamore.

Add to that list the Montfort series by Katherine Ashe. How can a person be expected to keep up with all the quality novels out there???

A Focused Chat with Author Helen Hollick: Let’s Get the Story Out: Mainstream and Indie Publishing

Helen Hollick’s story and publishing history have strongly influenced my thinking about Indie books. It is one of the reasons why I believe so fervently that HIGH-QUALITY (because yes, sadly, many Indie books are still not high quality) Indie novels can be the equal of any mainstream book out there.

I want to share her story with readers who self- or subsidy-publish because, through her journey, she gives us important insights on the publishing world in general and how to succeed even without the backing of an agent or a mainstream publishing house.

Thank you, Helen, for sharing your story with us. If you are an author who has been previously published by a mainstream house and now self-publishes and would like to share your story with readers, please contact me. I would love to run a series on this topic.

How were you originally picked up by Heinemann (UK) and Sourcebooks (US)? Did you seek out an agent or did a publisher find you? Can you describe the process you went through?

I was very, very, lucky.

I had the good fortune to become friends with the wonderful Sharon Penman. I had written to her (back in the days of real letters on real paper) saying how much I had enjoyed Here be Dragons. I mentioned that I was attempting to write a book, but I doubted it would be anywhere near as good as hers. Some while later I received a reply from her saying “If you can make a four page letter as interesting as yours, I can’t wait to read the book!”

I was then lucky enough to meet with Sharon for a coffee when she was next in London – and it was so delightful to talk to an accomplished writer about history and writing. Generously she offered to read my first two chapters and, bless her, she pointed out all the technical errors, such as over-long sentences, point of view changes, author’s voice.

I took on board all she had said, finished the book and sent it to her agent (with a covering note from Sharon.) The agent took me on.

Some short while later, Heinemann approached the agent hoping to tempt Sharon to their lists, but she was contracted for several more books to her own publisher.

“I have her protégé though,” said the agent.

That was it, I was signed.

The result was The Kingmaking, Pendragon’s Banner and Shadow of the KingThe Pendragon’s Banner Trilogy.

I was picked up much later by Sourcebooks (read on….)

On your website, you say that in 2005 you had a disagreement with your agent—can you expand on this? Is what happened to you a common problem between authors and agents these days?

 If you notice above I didn’t mention the agent’s name. Unfortunately, yes, we had a major disagreement – although I had lost faith in her quite a while before 2005. I had not felt that she was “on my side” for quite a while. Several ideas that I had sent her for possible novels had either been ignored, or come back as “not worth bothering with”; nor had there been any marketing for my fifth novel, A Hollow Crown – or any apparent enthusiasm for my published books. I trusted her though, assumed she was doing her best for me.

I was wrong. She had lost interest.

I realised this when I had poured my heart and soul into a new project –  Sea Witch. The agent wanted me to write something different, Pirates, because Johnny Depp and Jack Sparrow were all the rage. Nautical novels abounded, but most were Patrick O’Brian, C.S. Forrester type novels, aimed at a male readership; there was very little – to none at all – fiction of a similar nature to the Pirates of the Caribbean movie. Certainly nothing for us adult Jack Sparrow fans who wanted some swashbuckling adventure, with a bit of fantasy and a very drool-able hero. I looked for books to have a “pirate fix,” couldn’t find any, so wrote my own. Sea Witch just poured out of me. I was in love with Captain Jesamiah Acorne, the moment I met him.

Unfortunately, the agent did not have the same crush on Johnny Depp and was not interested in rogue pirates. She wanted me to write Treasure Island for teenage boys. I wanted to write Frenchman’s Creek with a touch of supernatural for adventure loving grownups. I was told the manuscript I had submitted was rubbish (it came back with red lines scrawled across it, and words such as “This is so-o boring, yawn” written over it.

On the telephone she told me she couldn’t bear to read that nonsense again, so I had better find myself another agent – and by the way, Heinemann were not going to reprint my backlist, wished me luck for the future, and put the phone down on me.

I was utterly shattered. That cliché of “felt like she had been kicked in the stomach” –  I assure you, it really does feel like that.

I spent two weeks sobbing, completely devastated. Then picked myself up and decided I did not need her. What had she done for me the past few years anyway? Absolutely nothing. What did I have to lose to try and start again?

I have since come across several other authors who were similarly “dropped” by agents who, to put it bluntly, could not be bothered with mid-list authors and their backlist and out-of-print books.

If you have a good agent who backs you to the hilt, is there to encourage and assist because he or she knows you are a darn good writer with a lot of untapped potential – then support that literary guardian angel to the best of your ability. A good agent is an absolute treasure! A bad one is about as useful as a chocolate teapot.

 I, along with many other readers, loved Sea Witch, and you have a proven track record of marketable writing, so I’ve got to ask why isn’t the series being mainstream published?

Thank you, several top authors have said they think my Sea Witch Voyages are probably my best work (although other readers prefer the straight historicals – I suppose it all comes down to preference, doesn’t it?) I put my heart into writing Sea Witch – I even wrote on Christmas Eve and Boxing Day, taking a break only on Christmas Day itself. The words literally poured from me, I don’t remember writing half of it, as the story wrote itself.

After being dumped by ex-agent and Heinemann, I touted my backlist and Sea Witch round a few publishers. No one wanted to know. Two reasons: sales figures for my historical fiction were poor, because beyond the first book, Kingmaking, and a little for my 1066 novel Harold the King (US title, I Am the Chosen King), there had been no marketing. No marketing = no sales. And who wants to take on a has-been author?

I received some positive appraisal for Sea Witch, but again and again I received back, “We like this, but it does not fit our publication list – it is not easily marketable.”

I soon realised that I wasn’t being snapped up because I was considered a “failed” author – and because publishers like easy-to-market genres. Square pegs in square holes. Sea Witch is cross-genre, it is historical adventure fantasy – not quite one, not quite the other.

And mainstream publishers do not like taking a punt on the unknown. Nor on dumped authors. That was not going to stop me though.

Sea Witch was going to be launched – I was determined to prove that ex-agent, and all those publishers, wrong.

In the end, you decided to self-publish (SP). Can you talk a bit about what you found in the self-publishing world when you first began your search for an appropriate outlet?

I realised that my only choice was to self-publish. It was a risk, but I figured even if I only sold one book a month it would be selling more than no books at all – and I couldn’t live without sharing my characters with other people, I couldn’t just let them “die,” to not be in print and “live.”

So I found a small independent company – who had an even smaller mainstream imprint. I did pay towards Sea Witch being published – basic set-up costs – but soon after publication I was moved to their miniscule mainstream offer, which meant they covered the cost of production. It was not ideal because the company was very small, they had staffing problems, and as it turned out, financial problems as well, but all my books were in print, including Sea Witch and two more “Voyages,” Pirate Code and Bring It Close.

The company was in trouble, so with new office premises, new, enthusiastic staff who knew what they were doing, it re-launched under a different name, with good intentions and high aspirations. I was happy to back them because having been let down by the “big boys,” I wanted the Indie side to do well. Things were not smooth though, and a lot of their clients, including myself, were eventually seriously let down by the managing director when the company went broke. All the staff, I must add here, were lovely – absolute gems. They were stung as much by the company owner as much as us authors.

Being honest? The quality of my books published by Discovered Authors/Callio Press was less than acceptable. But the few years that I was with them tied me over, kept me in print (and not at my own expense) and perhaps more useful, I had a very sharp learning curve about the dos and don’ts of independent publishing.

The one big thing that assured me that I was doing the right thing (even with a company that was not as good as it should be) was that I was approached by Sourcebooks, Inc of the USA. The M.D. had always loved my Arthurian books and approached me for the American rights. I had full control over my books, so I signed up.

And God Bless my American readers, thank you, I am doing really well with my straight historical fiction!

As with other publishers, though, Sourcebooks is not interested in the cross-genre Sea Witch series.

If I ever figure out why publishers do not want good books I’ll let you know.

Why did you choose your current SP company, SilverWood Books?

I had met with Helen Hart, the director of publishing and owner of SilverWood, at the London Book Fair. I instantly liked her, her vision, and her honesty. When I realised that Callio was about to go belly-up, I contacted her again, asking for more information about going with her company – assisted publishing. I briefly considered literally going self-publish, doing it all myself, but I have very limited technical skills, and being frank, I’d had enough of my books looking unprofessional. I wanted them produced to a quality standard.

It was expensive – nothing worthwhile is cheap, but I’d had a small legacy from my mother’s estate, and decided to use that for my books.

Best thing I ever did!

Have the conditions surrounding the SP market improved or deteriorated since you began your search?

I think improved, as far as hard copy books are concerned. Although there is a long, long way to go, and reaching that position of “respectability” is up to self-published authors.

More recognised mainstream traditional authors are turning to self- and assisted-publishing for their out-of-print backlists. The big publishing houses are often not interested in old backlists, so authors are becoming empowered to “do it yourself.” As I said above, even one book a month is better than none at all.

Also, there are a lot of talented writers out there who, for various reasons, cannot get published in the conventional way – maybe because their plot is, like my Sea Witch Voyages, “outside the box.”

The development of Kindle and e-books has completely opened another market for Indie writers. It is quick, easy, and cheap to upload an e-book.

But sadly, cheap is the word….

You are an advocate of high-quality self-published books that adhere to the standards of mainstream publishers. Can you tell readers why you believe adhering to these standards is crucial?

Cheap, amateur, unprofessional, poor quality. These are the words usually – and sadly, often correctly – associated with self-published/Indie books.

Indie authors only have themselves to blame because too many do not take care in the production of their work, and what is more alarming, too few fail to realise why quality, professional production is important.

As UK editor for reviewing Indie published novels for the Historical Novel Society, I have found some absolute gems – novels that I cannot understand why mainstream did not grab them. But, oh dear, I have also been sent some sad, sorry books to review. Not from the writing point of view – I never even got that far because the layout and presentation was incorrect.

You do not see mainstream, traditionally published books with double spacing between paragraphs, or the text aligned to the left (and therefore with a ragged right margin). Nor do you find novels published by the big publishing houses dotted on every page with obvious errors – or with one word (called “orphans”) or one line (called “widows”) stuck all on their own on a page.

What amazes me are the number of authors who complain about a rejection on these grounds – look at it this way, if you go to buy a new dress, would you be happy, on getting home, to discover that the hem was not sewn up, and the buttons were uneven? If you buy a new tyre for your car, would you accept it with a bald patch, or a slow puncture? No, you would not.

If you pay good money for something you expect to get your $’s worth.

So why do Indie authors expect readers to buy, and read, a book that is incorrectly and somewhat shoddily produced?

To be fair, not all authors realise these errors, some who I have contacted and explained the incorrect layout, etc, to have responded with grateful thanks, gone away, reprinted, and ended with a fabulous book, well worthy of boasting to be every bit as good as a mainstream novel.

Isn’t that what authors want?  For their pride and joy to be as good as – if not better than, other books?

E-books are often badly set, because authors have discovered that they can upload to Amazon themselves for a cheap outlay. But without learning how the technical side of publishing a book should be done, all that is happening is that e-books are now getting the reputation of being cheap, shoddy, and poorly produced.

I can see the time rapidly approaching when serious Indie authors who care enough to produce their books properly (see below) will be the ones paying to have their books printed as “book” books, while those who are not so bothered about ragged right margins, who do not see the importance of a professional editor and cover designer, and are quite happy with comic sans as a font, will be content with Kindle.

Fair enough, at least then we will all know where we stand.

If you could give aspiring SP authors advice on how to be successful in self-publishing, what are three crucial points you would want them to know?

 1. Use a professional editor – full edit, copy edit, and proof read. Yes, I know it’s expensive, but if it is worth doing, it is worth doing it properly.

2. Either get professional assistance or learn how to publish your book professionally. Sorry, but double spacing, comic sans font, and left justified text is not a professional appearance. If it is worth doing, it is worth doing it properly.

3. Get a professional cover designer. Your cover is not just an image plonked on the front to make the book look pretty – it is the shop window to what is inside. You can, and we do, judge a book by its cover.

If it is worth doing, it is worth doing it properly.


Helen Hollick also has a number of blogs that readers can enjoy: (where you can find links to other sub-blogs) and To view the a list of her books, including her latest guide for self-publishing, Discovering the Diamond, please see the home page of

*The title of this interview is a play on one of her blog titles.