Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Cressida Ellen Schofield

Today I have a guest: Cressida Ellen Schofield. I'll let Cressida fill you in on who she is and what she does.


An Independent Author’s Journey From Pen and Pad to Pendrive and iPad 

My story is, in all probability, all too familiar. I discovered my love for creative writing as a youngster. Aged seven, to be precise. An avid reader from a very early age, I decided one day that I wanted to be an author, spent my pocket money on a hard-backed notepad and commenced with my very first attempt at writing a book. The story was concerned with a young girl who moved to a rural community and, upon seeing that the majority of the local children rode, became pony-mad herself and aspired to own her own mount. Of course, this was blatant plagiarism of a pony book I had just read – Jill’s Gymkhana by Ruby Ferguson – and, thankfully, I achieved nothing more than about thirty pages of unoriginal drivel. Nevertheless, I was hooked. Aged fourteen, I completed my first full work, another pony book called The Wednesday Rabble, which again was pretty grim. Since then I have constantly been working on at least one project and have completed five full length books, three of which I have felt confident enough to submit for publication. I have also found my particular niche: a curious hybrid of black comedy and contemporary women’s fiction.

Not that it has been a straightforward journey. Eight years ago I was going through the usual disillusioning process of packaging up first chapters of my novel, Noël, and sending them to various agents whom I had identified as being potentially suitable in the Writer’s and Artist’s Handbook. Following a few encouraging rejections (yes, such a thing does exist!) whereby I was informed that my writing and concepts were of good quality, I received the holy grail of responses. A London agent requested to see the full manuscript. In short, I received a positive response to the full book and, after a change of title and a considerable re-write – and I would advise any budding writer that this is highly likely to be requested or even demanded – I was told that my book was ready for submission. This was it! It was finally happening.

Then everything went ominously quiet. A month or so later I received the literary equivalent of a Dear John letter. My agent informed me that, regretfully and in the advent of the credit crunch, untried authors were becoming increasingly difficult to market. So I was dropped. I have come to learn that this isn’t uncommon either and if I have any advice for any would be writer it would be this – grow yourself a thick hide! Publishing is an incredibly hard industry to crack and can be quite simply soul destroying, but only if you allow it to be.

Therefore, heartbreaking though it was to come so close to physical publication, I remained undeterred and persisted with my writing. Granted, I wasn’t successful on that occasion but it could not be denied that my writing had enough about it to be picked out of the slush pile, and that was not something to be disregarded. Nor are agents in the habit of dishing out compliments unless they mean it! Encouraged, I set about writing a new book. Having long since graduated from Jill Crewe and Jackie Hope to Jilly Cooper and Jackie Collins I wanted to write a ‘pony book for grown ups’, and is how I was inspired to write Incapability Brown. The story is concerned with the eponymous Izzy Brown, a twenty-something Londoner, who manages to lose her job, her home and her boyfriend on St. Valentine’s Day and, as a consequence, ends up taking a residential position as a nanny-slash-groom in rural North Yorkshire, despite having no experience with kids or horses whatsoever.

It was whilst I was writing this book that my attention was brought to the phenomenon that has become Kindle Publishing Direct (KDP). In a market where the book charts were dominated by celebrity autobiographies, TV tie-ins and cookbooks, agents and publishers were shying away from untried authors unless they could guarantee a good return, leaving no scope for the development of an unheard of writer. Nevertheless, there was a demand for my book and no writer wants to watch their beloved manuscript sitting gathering dust instead of being read. Unwilling to fork out for vanity publishing, I considered my other options. KDP seemed ideal. It would allow me to release my work on a free platform and at the same time give me complete control over marketing and design. It would also allow me to choose what to do with any proceeds. In addition, unlike traditional vanity publishing, there is no stigma attached to digital self publishing. Indeed, having attended a creative writing session run by the Faber Academy in June 2012, it was made quite plain that the big publishing houses are fearful rather than scathing of the boom in self publishing. This is why authors who gain popularity at an elevated rate, such as E.L. James of the 50 Shades trilogy fame, and who first published her work on a fan-fiction website, are snapped up very quickly by the publishing houses.

Another upside of KDP is that I am not tied to contracts and deadlines and instead can fit my writing round the confines of family life and what I refer to as my Necessary Job. I can take no pleasure in dispelling the common myth of large advances that allow the writer to quit their nine to fives and write full time. These happen incredibly rarely and should not be presumed to be the norm.

Self publishing via KDP is quite straightforward, provided you do your research first. I found the free e-book, Building Your Book For Kindle, a most useful reference. This book, available on Amazon, sets out everything a budding writer needs to know about formatting their manuscript so that it is readable on all available digital platforms, not just Kindle but also any tablet, smartphone, PC or Mac, explains how to set up the necessary Amazon and KDP accounts and gives advice on the format and design of book covers as well as the use of graphics and tables within the book itself. One thing I cannot stress enough, however, is the importance of having at least one other person proofread your manuscript. I am a very particular individual by nature, but even so, when one knows a book as thoroughly as you do one’s own, it is so easy to miss a typo here or a missed comma there. A fresh pair of eyes can mean the difference between a professional end result and sloppy presentation. A further consideration is to pay especial attention to the intricacies of the KDP royalty system. I can offer no further advice other than take time to read about all the options, and choose the one that suits you best.

Then came the fun part. I uploaded the final version to KDP, told all my friends and family and pursued a rigorous marketing campaign both on Facebook and Twitter and also via good, old-fashioned avenues such as leafleting, noticeboards and alumni magazines. I also made the decision to donate 100% of my royalties from any e-book sales of Incapability Brown between three charities: Redwings Horse Sanctuary, Dogs Trust and Help for Heroes. All three charities are relevant to the plotline of the book and are also all close to my heart. I contacted each charity and asked their permission to do this. Not surprisingly, they all agreed and have been very supportive.

Since all this happened two years ago I have enjoyed a consistent level of sales, sent several donation cheques to the three charities (and received some lovely letters in return!) and set up various social media platforms, including a website containing two blogs, Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest. In addition, I have also uploaded Noël to KDP, this being a black comedy telling the tale of four generations of the combative Bingham family who have all returned to their childhood home for Christmas. I am currently working on three new projects: a novella sequel to Incapability Brown and a sequel to Noël, the latter being the second instalment in The Magpie Cottage Chronicles. The third is a stand-alone black comedy, entitled Always Friday and Monday, which will be presented to agents via the orthodox process upon completion. After all, whilst I am an Independent Author and proud to be so, there is still no harm in pursuing every available route into the industry either!

Cressida Ellen Schofield lives in the UK and currently has two books published on Amazon Kindle. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and her own website.

And with that, I bid you adieu and I'll see you on Friday.

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