From writer to publisher and back again

Coffee in the park cr Judy DarleyLast week I quizzed Darren Laws, founder of Caffeine Nights Publishing, about what it takes to set up a successful independent publishing house. This week we discuss how to balance the roles of writer and publisher.  

Identify the various skills required

“The roles needed for writing and publishing are very different, almost polar opposites. Writing is very insular by its nature,” says Darren. “Publishing is all about creating relationships in the real world rather than the virtual world inside the author’s head. Authors give birth to their babies and have to let them go to the publisher to rear and help make successful children and adults.

Darren points out that each independent publishing house requires a different skillset from their publisher, but agrees that “there are specific skills which are required whatever publishing house you worked for. Communication is a great asset. I talk to a wide variety of people in publishing from authors to buyers to journalists and app developers. Likewise, authors also want to communicate, though primarily with readers.”

“The pleasure of reading and supporting a great novel are both primary interests to the author and the publisher,” says Darren. “Our joint goal is to bring the best possible version of a book to market and to work collectively to those ends. Both require discipline, creativity and the ability to work whatever hours are need to get the job done.”Set aside specific times for your different roles 

“Publishing is pretty consuming,” warns Darren. “There’s always something to do. So I have to discipline myself to wear the author hat at night and in the morning before the world wakes up.”

Dark Country by Darren LawsAs a result, you need to be realistic about your timeframes – it’s taken Darren nine years to complete Dark Country, his second book in the Georgina O’Neil trilogy – the first being Turtle Island.

“This is due to the all-consuming nature of Caffeine Nights and the struggle to finda way to set aside time to complete the novel and not feel guilty about returning to writing,” Darren explains. “The good thing about returning to writing has been connecting with what made me love publishing in the first place, igniting the spark of creativity and fuelling the passion of the author.”

He admits: “Sometimes it’s easy to get lost in the day to day running of a company and lose focus on what is really important and that’s the books. The story of Dark Country itself was more complex than it needed to be and the distance of time allowed me to return to the draft and rewrite, simplifying it. I also loved working with one of our editors on the project and initially told her it was a submission from another author. If it stank I wanted an honest appraisal and not something sugar coated for the boss. We worked very hard to polish it and I can’t thank Sarah Abel enough for her input on the novel to help make it something I am proud to publish.”

Turn your publishing savvy to your advantage as an author

When Darren started redrafting Dark Country “for the umpteenth time” he re-read Turtle Island to get a flavour of the pace of the book and reacquaint himself with some of the characters. “I found myself wondering if there was a way to get the voices in my head reading the book to physically manifest itself in an audio version,” he says. “I definitely didn’t have the skills required to make that transition, so I began auditioning people to read the book.”

Darren knew he wanted a female, American voice to read “what is essentially a very dark crime thriller set in the US. The actor had to be able to commit to not only the grittiness of the narrative but had to embody a diverse range of characters.” Eventually Darren found the winning ingredients in Carmen Beauxbeau, an actress based on America’s West Coast “but with a great range of voice dynamics and acting ability. We discussed at length the sound and feel of the book and the characters and went through several edits to make the audiobook as strong as it could possibly be and Carmen has done a fantastic job in realising the book and characters.”

Darren has taken the decision to publish Dark Country himself. “Self-publishing is very respectable these days,” he says. “We have built a great platform to distribute eBooks and paperbacks so it would seem a little odd to do this independently of Caffeine Nights and as the MD of the company it would seem even odder to go to a rival publisher and try to get the book published.”

Don’t expect special treatment

Darren is adamant that the experience has been no different from publishing other writers and being published by other publishers. “It’s exactly the same process of writing, editing, blood, sweat and tears as anyone else,” he says. “If I didn’t have faith in the book or my own abilities I wouldn’t publish it.”

Darren advises authors considering submitting work to Caffeine Nights to “always read the submission criteria and stick exactly to what is asked for. If in doubt, ask. Remember you are trying to sell not only a novel but yourself as an author and hopefully one we will invest in for more than one novel.”

And if you’re considering setting up your own publishing house?

“Take time to learn the industry and make as many contacts in it as possible. Find a good psychiatrist and either a friendly bank manager or an affable preferably rich family member.”

Enjoy the journey

One of the biggest thrills is when you read a book you instantly know you want to publish,” Darren says. “Getting a buzz from having read a really good manuscript is always exciting. I guess the exciting thing in publishing is that it’s still in a period of transition; even though digital is established, seismic changes are still occurring and the landscape is far from settled.”

He adds: “Paper is fighting back and the death of the bookshop is greatly exaggerated, though many bookshops need to adapt and change their offering to engage old and new readers alike. The exciting thing is being able to help shape the future but not really knowing the outcome!”

In other words, if you have the guts and stamina, go for it!

Darren LawsAbout the author

Darren Laws first writing success came in the mid 1990s, when he won first place in a short story competition for a BBC Radio 4 arts programme. Darren’s crime thriller Turtle Island was picked up by an American publisher, and later republished “as a guinea pig” for Darren’s then fledgling publishing house Caffeine Nights. Darren is now a seasoned author with surreal black comedy Tripping published. The sequel to Turtle Island, Dark Country, is out now, and a fourth novel is in-progress, which is another standalone book outside of his series of Georgina O’Neil crime thrillers.