The mammoth list of off-the-beaten-path book recommendations, brought to you by our HNS Conference panel

shopJulie K. Rose, Heather Domin, Audra Friend, and I presented a lively panel at the HNS conference in St. Petersburg. Members of the audience shared many suggestions for off-the-beaten-path books, and although we started out with a six-page handout of  these novels, I’m sure the length has increased considerably…so Heather Domin has graciously compiled a comprehensive list of our recommendations plus those from panel attendees. I can tell you that my heaving TBR pile is about ready to topple with additions from this wonderful list! Happy TBR pile-building!!!  (the list can be found at


This list began as a panel at this year’s HNS Conference called ‘Historical Fiction Off the Beaten Path’, which I co-presented with Andrea Connell of The Queen’s Quill Review [AC], Audra Friend of Unabridged Chick [AF], and author Julie K. Rose [JR]. The purpose of our panel was to show readers the variety of historical fiction available to them, and to show writers that there is an audience for every story. The four of us came up with a short list of books published in the last five years that fall outside current trends in historical fiction:

• lesser-known locations and/or periods
• unusual protagonists or points of view
• lack of famous historical figures
• POC  (persons of color) and/or LGBTQ characters
• characters with physical differences
• mixing of genres or sub-genres
• unusual choices in style or structure

To that list we’ve added all the books suggested by the panel audience, with the intention of starting a miniature database on our websites. This list is not exhaustive and will continue to grow, so check back to see what’s been added, and please do send us your own suggestions!

Ancient World

Alcestis by Katharine Beutner (Greece)
HD, JR: genre mixing (mythology), unusual setting, LGBTQ
Part Greek mythology, part women’s fiction, part metaphysical rumination, part literary opus, with a bonus lesbian liaison — this book defies categorization, and the result is a truly unconventional historical novel. -HD

Augustus by John Edward Williams (Rome)
[panel] unusual style (epistolary)

Daughter of Kura by Debra Austin (Paleolithic Africa)
HD: unusual setting
Set on the plains of Paleolithic Africa, this story of a young woman’s journey from matriarch to outcast paints a fascinating picture of our early human ancestors without the use of fantastical elements. – HD

Lavinia by Ursula K. LeGuin (Etruria)
JR: unusual setting

The Sweet Girl by Annabel Lyon (Greece)
AF: unusual setting

The Wedding Shroud by Elizabeth Storrs (Etruria)
HD: unusual setting

Thunderbolt: Torn Enemy of Rome by Roger Kean (Carthage)
[panel] LGBTQ protagonist, genre mixing (action/adventure)

Written in Ashes by K. Hollan vanZandt (Egypt)
AF: unusual setting

1st Century

Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray (Rome, Egypt)
AF, JR: genre mixing (magical realism), unusual setting

The Soldier of Raetia by Heather Domin (Rome, Germany)
JR: genre mixing (adventure/romance), unusual setting, LGBTQ
One of my favorite books. Beautifully written and engrossing. You feel transported in time and place. -JR

2nd Century

Eromenos by Melanie McDonald (Rome)
AF, HD: unusual setting, LGBTQ

3rd Century

Agent of Rome series (The Siege and The Imperial Banner) by Nick Brown (Syria)
HD: unusual setting, unusual protagonist

6th Century

The Dragon’s Harp by Rachael Pruitt (Wales)
JR: genre mixing (fantasy), unusual setting

7th Century

The Woman at the Well by Ann Chamberlin (Syria)
JR: unusual setting

8th Century

Seidman by Erich James (Iceland)
HD: YA, genre mixing (paranormal/romance), unusual setting, LGBTQ

The Cross and the Dragon by Kim Rendfeld (Francia)
AC, HD: unusual setting

Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay (China)
JR: genre mixing (alternate history), unusual setting

9th Century

The Bone Thief by V.M. Whitworth (Wessex)
HD: unusual setting

11th Century

Illuminations by Mary Sharratt (Germany)
AF: unusual setting

Shadow on the Crown by Patricia Bracewell (England)
JR: unusual setting

12th Century

Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin (England)
[panel] unusual protagonist

13th Century

A Thing Doneby Tinney Sue Heath (Florence)
JR: unusual setting

Cuzcatlán Where the Southern Sea Beats by Manlio Argueta (Pre-Columbian South America)
[panel] unusual setting

Something Red by Douglas Nicholas (England)
HD: genre mixing (horror)

Sultana by Lisa Yarde (Spain)
HD, JR: POC main characters, unusual setting

15th Century

A Prince to be Feared by Mary Lancaster (Romania)
AF: unusual setting

I, Iagoby Nicole Galland (Venice)
AF: unusual setting

16th Century

Equal of the Sun by Anita Amirrezvani (Persia)
AF: unusual setting

In the Garden of Iden by Kage Baker (England)
AF: genre mixing (light sci-fi)

The Queen’s Rivals by Brandy Purdy (England)
[panel] unusual protagonist

The Raven’s Heart by Jesse Blackadder (England)

Tom Fleck by Harry Nicholson (England)
HD: unusual protagonist, no famous figures
A delightful, folksy adventure set in rural England and Scotland, this novel uses a likable everyman to tell the story of ordinary people in an extraordinary time, including a rare look at Jewish life in Tudor England. -HD

17th Century

The Book of Seven Hands by Barth Anderson (Spain)
JR: genre mixing (paranormal), no famous figures, LGBTQ

The Midwife’s Tale by Sam Thomas (England)
AF: unusual protagonist

The Orphanmaster by Jean Zimmerman (Amsterdam)
AF: unusual setting

The Tito Amato series by Beverle Graves Myers (Venice)
[panel] unusual setting, unusual protagonist

The Tsar’s Dwarf by Peter H. Fogtal (Russia)
[panel] unusual protagonist

White Heart by Julie Caton (New France)
[panel] unusual protagonist, lack of historical figures

18th Century

Perfume: The Story of a Murderer by Patrick Suskind (France)
[panel] unusual protagonist, genre-mixing (horror)

Sea Witch by Helen Hollick (“Pirate Round” South Africa to the Caribbean)
AC: unusual setting, genre mixing (fantasy)
A pirate adventure with wide appeal starring a multidimensional and charming rogue. -AC

Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perat (France)
AC: unusual setting, LGBTQ
A bittersweet, multilayered tale that will touch your heart, told in a humble yet strong and powerful voice during a time of revolution and female suppression. –AC

The Blighted Troth by Mirella Sichirollo Patzer (New France)
AF: unusual setting, genre mixing (Gothic)

The Mirrored World by Debra Dean (Russia)
AF: unusual setting

The Tale of Raw Head and Bloody Bones by Jack Wolf (England)
AF: unusual setting, genre mixing (horror)

19th Century

Bone River by Megan Chance (America)
[panel] unusual premise, genre mixing

Burning Silk by Destiny Kinal (France and America)
AC: unusal setting, unusual protagonist
A sensual and sensitive story written in lush prose. –AC

Butterfly’s Child by Angela Davis-Gardner (Japan, Illinois)
AF: unusual setting

The Crimson Petal and the White by Michael Faber (England)
[panel] genre mixing (literary, romance)

Daughter of the Sky by Michelle Diener (South Africa)
AF: unusual setting

Gillespie and I by Jane Harris (Scotland)
AF: unusual protagonist

Gods of Gotham by Lyndsay Faye (New York City)
AF: unusual setting

Island of Wings by Karin Altenberg (St. Kilda islands)
AF: unusual setting

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna clarke (England)
[panel] genre mixing (magical realism)

Miss Fuller by April Bernard (America)
AF: unusual protagonists

Parlor Games by Maryka Biaggio (America)
AF: unusual protagonist

Slant of Light by Steve Weigenstein (Missouri)
AF: unusual setting

Syncopation: A Memoir of Adele Hugo by Elizabeth Caulfield Felt (France)

The Family Mansion by Anthony C. Winkler (Jamaica)
AF: unusual setting

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker (New York City)
AF: genre mixing (mythology), POC main characters

The Luminist by David Rocklin (Ceylon)
AF: unusual setting

The Master by Colm Tóibín (England)
[panel] unusual style

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (America)
[panel] unusual protagonist, time-slip, genre mixing (mystery, literary)

The Personal History of Rachel duPree by Ann Weisgarber (South Dakota)
AF: unusual setting, POC main characters

The Oracle of Stamboul by Michael David Lukas (Turkey/Ottoman Empire)
AF: unusual setting

The Rose of Sebastopol by Katharine McMahon (England, Crimea)
AF: unusual setting

The Thing About Thugs by Tabish Khair (England)
AF: POC main character

The Transformation of Bartholomew Fortuno by Ellen Bryson (America)
[panel] unusual characters and premise

The Virgin Cure by Ami McKay (NYC)
AF: unusual protagonist

Whip Smart: Lola Montez Conquers the Spaniards by Kit Brennan (England, Spain, France)
AF: unusual setting

20th Century

A Different Sky by Meira Chand (Singapore)
AF: unusual setting, POC main characters

Cascade by Maryanne O’Hara (New England)
AF, JR: unusual setting, no famous figures
Complicated, frustrating, very real characters and a lovely evocation of 1930s America, beautifully written. -JR

Dina’s Lost Tribe by Brigitte Goldstein (France)
[panel] time slip (1300s), unusual premise

Fires of London by Janice Law (England)

Oleanna by Julie K. Rose (Norway)
AC, AF, HD: genre mixing (literary), unusual setting, no famous figures
A gently told tale with quiet depth, atmospherically stark yet richly detailed. -AC

Our Man in the Dark by Rashad Harrison (Southern U.S.)
AF: POC main characters

Seal Woman by Solveig Eggerz (Germany, Iceland)
JR: genre mixing (literary), unusual setting, no famous figures
So beautifully written and so present and real — I felt like I was reading a biography and not a work of fiction. -JR

Skeleton Women by Mingmei Yip (China)
AF: unusual setting, POC main characters

Small Wars by Sadie Jones (Cypress)
AF: unusual setting

The Concubine’s Gift by K Ford K (China, Nevada)
AC: unusual setting, genre mixing (fantasy)
A tastefully handled and respectful exploration of sexuality and a lightening-fast fun read. -AC

The Detroit Electric Scheme by D.E. Johnson (Detroit)
AF: unusual setting

The Edge of Ruin by Irene Fleming (New York City)
HD: unusual setting
This short, fast-paced mystery is set in the early days of the American film industry, with an ensemble of quirky characters, an unusual setting and premise, and an interesting peek into a little-known world. –HD

The Farming of Bones by Edwidge Danticat (Haiti)
AF: unusual setting, POC main characters

The Orchardist by Amanda Coplin (Pacific Northwest)
AF: unusual setting, no famous figures

Coming in 2013

Heirs of Fortune by Heather Domin (Germania) [JR]
Hetaera by J.A. Coffey (Greece, Egypt) [AF]
Medea by Kerry Greenwood (Greece) [AF]
Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson (Ice Age Europe) [HD]
The Golden Dice by Elizabeth Storrs (Etruria) [HD]

3rd Century
The Far Shore by Nick Brown (Syria)[HD]

6th Century
The Secret by Stephanie Thornton (Constantinople) [AF]

7th Century
Hild by Nicola Griffith (Britain) [AC, AF, JR]
The Sword Dancer by Jeannie Lin (China) [HD]

9th Century
The Traitor’s Pit by V.M. Whitworth (Britain) [HD]

11th Century
Godiva by Nicole Galland (Britain) [AC, AF, JR]

13th Century
Sultana: Two Sisters by Lisa Yarde (Spain) [HD, JR]

18th Century
Benjamin Franklin’s Bastard by Sally Cabot (America) [AF]
Revolutionary by Alex Myers (America) [AF]
The Purchase by Linda Spalding (America) [AF]

19th Century
Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Iceland) [AC, AF, JR]
Cinnamon and Gunpowder by Eli Brown (nautical) [AF]
Linen Shroud by Destiny Kinal (America) [AC]
Palmerino by Melissa Pirtchard (Italy) [AC, JR]
The Ghost Bride by Yangsze Choo (Malaya) [JR]
The Last Runaway by Tracy Chevalier (American Midwest) [AF]
The Mask Carver’s Son by Alyson Richman (Japan, France) [AF]
The Mountain of Light by Indu Sundaresan (India) [AC, AF]
The Outcasts by Kathleen Kent (Texas) [AF]
The Movement of Stars by Amy Brill (New England) [AF]
The Rebellion of Miss Lucy Ann Lobdell by William Klaber (New York) [AF]
The Specimen by Martha Lea (England, Brazil) [AF]

20th Century
Above All Things by Tanis Rideout (UK, Himalayas) [AF]
A True Novel by Minae Mizumura (Japan, America) [AC]
The Book of Fate by Parinoush Saniee  (Iran) [AC]
The Lion Seeker by Kenneth Bonert (South Africa) [AC]

Additional Resources

Europa Editions
Historical Novel Society Review Index
Historical Novel Society Indie Reviews
Unusual Historicals
Royalty Free Fiction
Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours

Jean Gill’s Song of Dawn

Jean Gill’s Song at Dawn, a Global Ebook Awards winner, is on my review list. Although I haven’t reviewed it yet, I do want to share a promotion for this book, in case anyone would like to read it before I get a chance (which may be quite a while). Feel free to post your opinions here if you do!

The promotion is for a free e-book version of the novel. You can read an extract from chapter 7 to get an idea of the author’s writing style before plunging in or just get the coupon code at Redeem your coupon at

Synopsis from website:

winner jacket1150 in Provence, where love and marriage are as divided as Christian and Muslim. A historical thriller/romance set in Narbonne just after the Second Crusade.

On the run from abuse, Estela wakes in a ditch with only her lute, her amazing voice, and a dagger hidden in her petticoats. Her talent finds a patron in Alienor of Aquitaine and more than a music tutor in the Queen’s finest troubadour and Commander of the Guard, Dragonetz los Pros. Weary of war, Dragonetz uses Jewish money and Moorish expertise to build that most modern of inventions, a papermill, arousing the wrath of the Church. Their enemies gather, ready to light the political and religious powder-keg of medieval Narbonne.

Interview as Helen Hollick’s “Guest of the Day”

Thanks to Helen for giving me the opportunity to tell my story. It was fun to write this interview, but I was absolutely stumped by the dinner guest question (pressure to perform in front of all the conference attendees) and Helen picked me up and dusted me off, thank goodness! Enjoy!

On another note, I am way behind in the Battle of the Book Review Blogs and voting closes on Monday, September 3…if you’d care to vote, please go to

Thank you to those readers who have voted for The Queen’s Quill; you’ve made my day!

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.

Quick links of interest…

This article covers the basic problems in the self-publishing field that my colleagues and I continually emphasize to indie authors:  

1) Bad editing

2) Quantity over quality

3) Lack of gatekeepers

4) Crappy covers


Thank you to Stephanie Moore, who introduced me to this wonderful site, which I am joining now that I know about it…:

indieBRAG, LLC provides enlightenment of the readers, by the readers, and for the readers of self-published books.

  • According to publishing industry surveys, 8 out of 10 adults feel they have a book in them. But traditional or mainstream publishers reject all but a tiny percentage of manuscripts. Historically, this has presented a classic catch-22, in that you had to be a published author in order to get a publisher.
  • The advent of self-publishing companies and print-on-demand technology has changed this. Now anyone can publish a book and the number of books being self-published is exploding, reaching into the millions annually. However, there is virtually no control over what is published or by whom, and industry experts believe that upwards of 95% of indie books are poorly written and edited.
  • Compounding this problem, these books are rarely reviewed in The New York Times Book Review or by other leading sources. Additionally, the reviews and ratings at online booksellers are often provided by the author’s friends and family, and are therefore unreliable.
  • There are professional book review services and bona fide writing competitions within the self-publishing industry that certainly help address this problem. However, none provide an independent, broad-based and reader-centric source to advise the public which indie books merit the investment of their time and money.
  • This is precisely the reason that indieBRAG, LLC, and the B.R.A.G. Medallion™ exist. Our company fills a critical void within the publishing industry by providing enlightenment of the readers, by the readers, and for the readers of self-published books.