Self-published/ indie authors? What do you think of them and what can we do differently?

Question for you all: self-published/ indie authors – do you read them (other than me, obviously!)?
I must admit, although I’m one myself and I like to think my books are alright, I DO still feel pleasantly surprised when I read something by another indie and find that it kicks ass and isn’t riddled with childish spelling errors. It’s a stigma that is hopefully being eroded as people like Kevin Ashman, Gordon Doherty and Mel Sherratt sell increasing amounts of books, gain more critical acclaim and in some cases win deals with the likes of Amazon’s Thomas & Mercer, but it’s still definitely an issue for authors like me.

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Mel Sherratt and myself at the London Book Fair in 2014.

I employ professional cover designers for my artwork and an incredible editor who’s worked with people like Jilly Cooper, Bernard Cornwell and Ben Kane to try and make my books good value for money but for every indie that does that, there’s certainly one or two that don’t think it’s worth the money (or simply don’t HAVE the money to employ professionals) and just put their books out in what’s essentially an unfinished state. It makes all of us look bad.

Things are changing though – even traditionally published authors are starting to put out books on the side that their publishers maybe didn’t have a place for. Glyn Iliffe continued his fantastic Odysseus series without a trad-publisher, Douglas Jackson put out his War Games by himself, and my favourite book of of 2014, A Day of Firewas self-published by the authors. It gives us all a real freedom to try things we might otherwise not have been able to (my own novella Knight of the Cross, for example, was a fun spin-off I’m sure a traditional publisher would have had no time for).

Glyn Iliffe, author of the excellent Adventure of Odysseus series.

Glyn Iliffe, author of the excellent Adventure of Odysseus series.

So…have you read any self-published books recently and if so – were they any good? Were they worth the money?
And most importantly…what can we, as authors, do to convince readers a self-published book is worth a punt?

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A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii review

A Day of Fire review

by Steven A. McKay

It’s nice being a writer. Sometimes other writers ask you to read their book before it’s even been published which is a real privilege, especially when it’s Ben Kane doing the asking.

I’ve been a fan of Ben’s Roman novels for years now – I was even reading his Spartacus on my phone when I was in hospital last year waiting for my son to be born!

He’s been supportive of my own writing too so I was more than happy to take a look at A Day of Fire, the new novel he’s written in collaboration with five other hugely successful historical fiction authors.

I must admit I was a little apprehensive when I started the book. Of the six contributors, Ben was the only one I’d ever read before. And on top of that, the idea of a book written by so many different people seemed like it might be a disjointed affair, with varying styles clashing and no real sense of unity.

I was wrong.

Very wrong.

The first chapter/section, “The Son”, is written by Vicky Alvear Shecter and follows a young man learning about love and sex. I was drawn in immediately, despite the fact I wouldn’t normally choose to read about this kind of subject. The characters seemed real and it was a good way to start, with the suggestion of tremors just beginning to affect the city.

The second part, “The Heiress”, by Sophie Perinot, was similar to the first but this time we mostly follow a girl, with more lessons in love. Wait! If you’re like me, that sentence might have put you off, but you shouldn’t be. The tremors are growing and so is the tension. This is very powerful writing – in my notes I’ve put “10/10 – Excellent!” at the top of the page for this section. This isn’t your typical Mills & Boon romance, this is historical fiction at its very best.

Ben’s chapter, “The Soldier”, comes next and it’s a timely departure, taking us into the world of a retired old legionary who hopes his gladiator will win and earn him enough money to pay off his debtors. The focus here isn’t on the power of sex, it’s about money. There’s a very funny part which lightens the mood of the whole piece as things really start to get dangerous and people begin desperately trying to leave the doomed city.

Part four, “The Senator”, by Kate Quinn centres around someone ‘important’ for a change, and for all his wealth, power and influence he’s shown here to be just as inconsequential as everyone else in the face of the falling rocks and showering ash that’s drowning Pompeii. There is much horror, sadness and savagery in this piece but I still found it a strangely uplifting and hopeful chapter.

E. Knight’s penultimate section, “The Mother”, shows us a pregnant mother-to-be, trapped with the rest of her family as the volcano destroys their home and her baby tries to come to life in a city that’s destined to die. Despite the horribly depressing premise, the love and warmth of the interactions between the family members keeps things from becoming oppressive.

The last chapter, “The Whore”, is by Stephanie Dray and is a stunning, moving finale that closes things perfectly. We have two sisters trying to escape the dying city, helping those around them without even knowing at times why they’re doing it. As the end approaches, the fear and sense of futility is never far away, but when it finally comes the over-riding emotion isn’t despair, but HOPE.

I feel honoured to have been able to read this incredible book before almost everyone else.

It tells the tale of a truly momentous historical event – one that we still talk about two-thousand years later. But here we see the people, feel their hopes, fears, dreams, regrets, lust and love. History is truly brought to life.

Yes, in places it’s sad and it’s a wonder that the whole thing isn’t overcome with the sense of depression, given the subject matter. As the city, and its populace, dies we see real human goodness at work as families and strangers come together to try and help one another and the reader is left, not with a sense of futility, but with a sense of hope.

I went into this expecting it to be alright, since Ben Kane was involved. In the end I found myself reading the most moving book I’ve read since I first read Jon Fowles The Magus almost a decade ago. Each one of these authors deserves a huge amount of praise for putting this impressive piece of art together. Do yourself a favour and pre-order this excellent book NOW!

UK readers:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI

 

 

USA readers:

http://www.amazon.com/Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI

A Day of Fire – Q&A with Ben Kane

Next Tuesday, November 4th, A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii will be released. It’s a collaboration between Ben Kane, Stephanie Dray, E. Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn and Vicky Alvear Shecter. I’ve read an advance copy of it and will post my review here at the weekend. In the meantime, I was lucky enough to talk to one of the book’s authors, Ben Kane (I’d love to have interviewed them all, because they all play an equal part in the book’s success but there’s not enough hours in the day!).

Read on….

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Ben Kane

Hi Ben, thank you very much for taking part in this Q&A session. I’ve just finished your new novel, A Day of Fire which is a collaboration between yourself and a few other histfic authors and describes the last days of Pompeii. First of all: why Pompeii? It’s been done before, probably most notably by Robert Harris in recent years. Were you confident you’d be able to come up with a story that added something new to the mix?

Pompeii remains one of the most identifiable events in all of history. The attraction of writing about it was too great to resist. I didn’t really think about whether we’d add something new – I was so thrilled to be writing about it that I didn’t care! Hopefully, we will have added a layer of poignancy to the story, by writing about six different characters, and their families/friends/enemies.

There are six of you in total, that have each written a section of A Day of Fire. How exactly did the project come about? Was one person responsible for gathering you all together and driving it along?

It was the brain child of Kate Quinn, Stephanie Dray and Sophie Perinot, I believe. They’re all friends. Kate recruited me – when she asked, I said yes at once.

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Did you know the other authors before you started work on the book? I have to be honest, I’ve not read any of their other work, but I plan on changing that now!

I ‘knew’ Kate Quinn a little from a couple of internet fora, but I had never met the others. It’s great that you will now be checking out some new authors because of our book.

How was the synopsis worked out? Did one of you take the lead to come up with a basic plan, then everyone throw in their own ideas before you all settled on the outline?

We followed the timeline of the eruption – and weaved our stories around that, being careful not to have them ALL about the crunch event!

Pompeii - Garden of the Fugitives, image by Lancevortex

Pompeii – Garden of the Fugitives, image by Lancevortex

Obviously you’ve written quite a few of your own novels by now, so how did you find this project? It must have been really strange to try and fit your piece in among the others without it being too stylistically different or losing track of the overall plan.

In this respect, I was lucky. Due to the way the project unfolded, I wrote my story before anyone else, which meant I didn’t need to think of anyone else’s stories. When they had finished their pieces, I had to change a few things so that they all meshed together, but I found that fun and interesting rather than annoying.

Just some of Ben's books

Just some of Ben’s books

Your own chapter is different from the others, with the focus on an old soldier rather than a bride-to-be or a prostitute kind of thing. I thought it provided an interesting – and welcome – change from the other pieces and came at just the right time. Was this done on purpose?

Yes and no. I could have written about a serving soldier – those are my usual characters – or a civilian. I decided to go for a mix between the two – a veteran, with a gambling problem. I hope it worked.

Now that it’s about to be released, what do you think of the book overall? Where does it stand in your canon of work, in your opinion? I must admit I found myself welling up at certain points, it’s so powerfully written.

I really like it. At the start, I was a little wary – I hadn’t read the work of most of my co-writers. However, I found their stories to be great reads. I have no idea how it stands in my canon (no one’s ever said that before!) of work. Only my readers can judge that. I’m so pleased it touched you!

Pompeii and Vesuvius, image by High Contrast

Pompeii and Vesuvius, image by High Contrast

And A Day of Fire is self-published too. I find this a big surprise, to be honest. I’d have thought the publishing houses would have been fighting one another to put this out there! Not just because it’s a good book, but because each of you has a ready-made audience.

There’s a story in there…we did have a mainstream publisher on board for a while, but they pulled out for a number of reasons. Rather than continue to waste time looking for another publisher, we decided to self-publish and see what happened…

What’s next for Ben Kane? Any plans to write more books with other authors? You and your mate Anthony Riches could probably come up with something good, eh?

Ha! I would love to write other books with other authors – it’s finding the time. For the moment, I am sticking with my next novel, Eagles at War. That’s set in Germany, in 9 AD, and concerns the disastrous battle in which Rome lost 3 legions. It’s out in April 2015.

Speaking of Mr. Riches, how’s the Romani Walk fund-raising going? You have a new film out soon, isn’t that right? Are you, Tony and Russell (Whitfield) going to do it all over again next year?

(For those of you who don’t know, the #RomaniWalk is a mad event that I’ve done for the last two years, walking silly distances for charity, wearing even more silly amounts of Roman armour.) We raised over £26,500 this year, which is about £7,000 more than last year. Not bad! We had a film made of the walk, yes, which is looking for a home! We may or may not do another walk next year – it depends a little on the TV situation. 2016, definitely!

Ben, Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield in full Romani Walk mode!

Ben, Anthony Riches and Russell Whitfield in full Romani Walk mode!

Thanks for talking to me, Ben, I hope A Day of Fire finds a huge readership. It honestly deserves it and, considering the price it costs for the Kindle version histfic fan have no excuse not to buy a copy!

Thanks very much for interviewing me, Steven, and for reading and enjoying the book. Cheers!

A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii is out on November 4th, but you can pre-order your Kindle copy NOW from these links. It will also be available as a paperback on the 4th if you prefer that format. Do yourself a favour, don’t miss this brilliant book, and be sure to check back here over the weekend to read my review!

UK readers:

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI

USA readers:

http://www.amazon.com/Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI

A Day of Fire – A Novel of Pompeii by Ben Kane et al

I’ve been very lucky to get an advance copy of a new book, Day of Fire – a novel of Pompeii by some of histfic’s finest writers, including Ben Kane who’s supported me since before Wolf’s Head was even published.

I wasn’t sure how well the book would work, being a collaborative effort with sections written by different authors and, to be honest, I’ve never read any of the contributors’ other work (apart from Ben, obviously).

I’m glad to say I’m loving it. I mean really loving it. I think it’s safe to say this one of the best books I’ve read in the past five years at least – it’s fantastic. Which is just as well, as it would have been pretty awkward for me if I’d thought it was shit after agreeing to review it…

You can look forward to a Q&A with me and Ben in the next couple of weeks, before I post my review.

In the meantime, you can pre-order the novel on Amazon. It’s only £3.15 in the UK (I assume it will be the same ludicrously low price in the rest of the world). Click the cover image below to check it out!

http://www.amazon.co.uk/A-Day-Fire-novel-Pompeii-ebook/dp/B00NI5CBXI