I was chatting with, writer and co-founder of the literary consultants BubbleCow, Gary Smailes after the launch of 20 Photographs and 20 Stories, about writing and publishing and stuff. And we decided it would be a fun and good idea to do it properly.
So, here’s what Gary had to say about publishing, how the industry’s changing, how writers can become more empowered and about how he can help.
me: So, BubbleCow. What is it? What do you do there?
Gary Smailes: BubbleCow is a literary consultancy. In essence we help writers to lift their work to a commercial standard. We do this in one of three ways. The first is through editorial feedback. One of our professional editors will provide in-depth and detailed feedback on a writer’s work. The second is through mentoring. This sees a writer working alongside a published author over a period of time. The aim is to not only gain editorial support but to also get constant help regarding the writing process. Finally we offer submission support. Here one of our editors will work alongside a writer to help them produce a synopsis, query letter and fifty page extract of the highest quality. Because BubbleCow is an Internet based company we are able to provide the fastest and most cost effective service on the market.
me: So you cover all the bases! Do you cater for all sorts of writers and abilities – and genres? Or do you have an area that you specialise in?
GS: BubbleCow has developed over time to try and offer a writer all the support they need. The company is a family run business and my wife (Caroline Smailes) and myself are both writers. Before setting up BubbleCow we both worked on a freelance basis in the publishing world. During this time we picked up lots of tips and tricks that would help a writer get published. BubbleCow grew from the goal of trying to take some of the pain out of the process of writers trying to find a publisher and/or agent. In regards to focus we are able to help just about any kind writer. If we don’t have the in-house expertise for a particular genre then we will assign an external handpicked editor. All of these editors work for publishing companies, so they have their finger on the pulse so to speak. I suppose our expertise is in the realities of trying to get published.
me: I’m impressed. That sounds comprehensive. And anything that takes the pain out of publishing can only be a good thing. You’ve been in the industry for a good while, and clearly have oodles of experience – is the industry changing? I’m thinking more along the lines of the internet and POD and eBooks and eReaders and the like. Has BubbleCow had to change? Where does it fit in? Or, as it was set up as an internet company, do you think you were already there?
GS: The publishing world is in the middle of a huge period of change. Only today Google announced that they intended to move into the ebook market. Technology plays a huge part in the challenges that face publishers and it is still not clear just what role eBook, POD and eReaders will have on the industry. One thing that is clear is that it is ‘content’ that is becoming the focus. In the past a book was a format (paper and ink) but today the format is fluid. Readers are demanding that ‘books’ are available in paper format, as well as digital delivery and even in audio.
I think that this represents an opportunity for new writers. In the past a publisher’s role was to provide the finance to pay for expensive printing and marketing. Today it is possible for a writer to write, publish and market their own books. This means that potentially a writer no longer needs a publisher. In fact some writers would be better off financially self publishing and promoting their own work.
I suspect the role of the publisher will change in the coming years. There remains a certain prestige in being selected by a publisher and this will always be the case. Publishers will become the champions of the ‘best’ talent. They will also be the people with the biggest marketing budgets, so focus will shift ever more towards the superstar writers.
me: So you think there’s more potential space (or will be) for those who aren’t superstars? Does this also mean that there could be more room for smaller independent, maybe specialist, publishers?
GS: Perhaps. My feeling is that we are going to see an empowerment of the writer. My prediction is that in the next few years we will see the growth of writers who have developed their careers on the Internet and sell thousands of self published books without a publisher ever getting involved. As it stands today it is the publisher who decides which books they think will sell. As writers get better a promoting their own work it is going to become the readers who make or break a writer.
BubbleCow are already looking at this shift. We have been developing a new package that sees us working closely with a professional cover designer and two self publishing companies. The idea is that writers will come to us for a professional edit and in return we will connect them with top quality industry professionals who will be offer their services at a discount. We are hoping it will take some of the guess work out of the self publishing process.
me: I’d guess there is a lot of guess work that goes with self publishing. As well as acting as (reasonably) efficient filters, publishers employ people who are qualified to do things that writers don’t have to worry about (like cover design, distribution et al). So back to BubbleCow, can you give us an idea on how much it would cost and how quickly an aspiring author can expect to be snapped up by a huge publisher? Or is it not always that simple?
GS: OK. We charge £5 per 1000 words for an edit. This means if you wrote a 50,000 word novel it would cost £250 for an edit. This would be turned around in seven working days. However, our minimum word count is just 1000 words and we find a lot of our clients develop a relationship with their editor and send work a chapter at a time as it is written. Our submission package costs £125 and includes the synopsis, query letter and an edit on the first 50 pages of your book.
Writers get just one chance to impress an agent or publisher and we always advise that they make their work as good as possible. In regards to the time it takes to get published, the answer is ??? As a rule of thumb I would say that you are looking at about 12 months from signing a contract to seeing your book on a book shelf. However, it is not that simple. It is not unusual for an agent or publisher to take months to look at a submission.
The best approach is to send your work to say five agents/publishers at a time. If possible send the initial query by email. If you are sending it to the correct person you can normally get a response in days rather than weeks. However, they will normally ask to see your synopsis and then the full manuscript. If you are lucky enough to get to that point then it’s fingers crossed time.
me: And my next question was going to be: any advice for writers! You beat me to it! Thanks so much for your time and for sharing all of this with us. Is there anything you’d like to add? Any places we can see your work?
Thank you, Gary!