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Adventures in Self-Publishing

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Self-publishing still has a bad rap amongst some writers, who see it as ‘vanity publishing’.

That’s good news for the rest of us, who see it as a brilliant opportunity to get our work out there without having to wait for permission from traditional gatekeepers.

Obviously though, if you are self-publishing, it’s important to maintain high standards.

Artisan Authors

According to Guy Kawasaki, author of APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur (Amazon.comAmazon.co.uk), self-publishing at its best is akin to artisan producers such as makers cheese or craft beers. It might not be ‘hands on’ in the traditional sense, but done right, Kawasaki believes it’s an artform all of its own (listen to this great interview on Blogcast.fm to find out more).

Teaser Trailer for Mad Geniuses

At the weekend I’ll be releasing the first ever Clear-Minded Creative Micro-Manifesto.

It’s called The Career Masterplan for Mad Geniuses and it will be completely free to download!

You can watch the teaser trailer below, which explains a little more about it. The trailer was filmed and edited entirely in the iMovie app on the iPad.

If you enjoyed it, please share! The usual buttons are below, or you can CLICK TO TWEET.

Subscribe now to be notified when it goes live!

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Editor and Publisher Thom Chambers

Not only does he spell his first name the same way as your man out of Radiohead (sorry, couldn’t resist), Thom Chambers is a very talented bloke.

He  edits and publishes a beautifully designed monthly e-magazine called In Treehouses, which is inspired by Kevin Kelly’s influential concept that an artist only needs 1,000 True Fans to make a living (highly relevant for anyone wanting to be a Clear-minded Creative).

I’ve been reading In Treehouses since the beginning, and the latest issue is an impressively in-depth look at a topic very close to my heart as a writer – the future of publishing. So I was delighted when Thom agreed to answer my questions about what makes him tick creatively:

Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

I’m the editor and publisher of In Treehouses, which is a free e-magazine designed to help people reach 1,000 True Fans.

A True Fan is defined, pretty much, as someone who buys everything you create, who reads everything you write – someone around whom you can start to build your microbusiness.

Beyond that, I’m currently the marketing manager for a design and marketing agency in Cheltenham, England. As of May, though, I’m setting out on a new adventure and exploring uncharted waters by starting a digital publishing house. I can’t give too much more away on that just yet, but you can follow @intreehouses on Twitter or subscribe to In Treehouses to be kept up to date as things develop.

At the moment I’m living deep in the Hampshire countryside, working on an ebook that’s going to help people get a start on the journey towards their True Fans.

I’ve had lots of readers asking for help in the early stages – rather than reaching 1,000 True Fans, they’re more interested in how to reach one or five or ten to begin with. The great thing is that it scales. The things that will get you one True Fan will also get you your second, your hundredth, and your thousandth. So I’m writing an ebook to help people get over that first hurdle and get started on the journey.

And then there’s the latest edition of the magazine, although at the time of writing I’ve only just finished the latest one. I’m taking a breather for a day or two before starting the next edition.

The current edition of In Treehouses

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

It’s evolved, really. I wanted to work online and I wanted to create something stickier than a blog, so the magazine was a result. All the same, it took a few nudges from blog posts and the like to get started.

As soon as I started on it, though, the magazine felt natural in a way that blogging never did. I like being able to multitask with it – to do the writing, designing, editing, publishing, promoting, and so on.

One doesn’t have that control with a blog – you’re bound by the constraints of HTML and your own coding abilities a bit more. The magazine played to my strengths, really, and my desire to make sure all aspects of the experience were up to standard.

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

One has to, I think. I’m still working full time at the moment (although doing so remotely, so thankfully there’s no commute) and I’ve had to set myself a fairly strict routine of when I can work on the magazine and the creative side in general. I’m up at 5 most days, working for a couple of hours before I start the day job, and then put in another hour or two at the end of the day.

I’m putting in fairly anti-social hours for a few months so that I can reap the benefits longer-term, really. It’s winter, there’s not a whole lot on, and I’m living in a fairly rural part of the world so there are few distractions. It’s good, it forces me to focus on the work and get stuff done.

When you’ve constantly got temptation and are having to turn stuff down to work creatively, it can be easy to start to resent the creative side. It can start to feel like something that’s holding you back from going out with friends or whatever, rather than something on which you want to be working.

I look at what I’m doing now and the way I’m living now as a short-term thing, though. Come summertime I’ll have left full time work, so will be able to balance things a little more.

How do you define success?

Emerson said, “As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions”. I’ve always held to the idea that success is to be able to see the life you want to live and to set about creating it.

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

In terms of the creation, I couldn’t do it without the technology. Being a digital magazine, I’m reliant on computers – that said, I’m no expert so am limited far beneath the extent of the design software that i use (Adobe CS). It’s nice to know the possibility is there, though.

And technology is at the heart of the way I promote the magazine, too. I’ve never advertised it and only ever done a handful of interviews, so the only way it spreads really is by people talking about it organically and spreading the magazine via digital word of mouth.

As for the negatives… it doesn’t affect me too much, but I’m intrigued by the lack of value placed on digital art. The digital world has created new opportunities for musicians and writers to pursue their 1,000 True Fans and sell digital versions of their work, but because computers have such visual possibility and one sees a thousand incredible images every day online, it’s hard for digital art to have value. Art (and photography) has become a screensaver and nobody wants to pay for that.

It seems that, unlike music or literature, we only value art and photography when we can have the physical version of it. Digital doesn’t work.

Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?

I have interviewees and the occasional contributor, but it’s mostly all me. Partly through the necessity of running such a small operation, and partly because I believe in the power of the individual to make something great, rather than the power of the collective – which has the power to spread the idea. Maybe it’s just a controlling thing, but I think there’s more chance of creating something remarkable when you’re working solo.

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

Yeah, naturally. The community is how the message of the magazine spreads, which is great. There are always cheerleaders who don’t need pushing to tell others to check out your stuff. Even though I prefer to create the magazine alone, it’s written for the community and for their enjoyment. When R.E.M. play live, Michael Stipe often introduces their biggest hit – Losing My Religion – with the words “this is your song, we just wrote it”. I like that idea, that once you’ve created something successful then in a way it becomes the property of the fans and the community.

I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

There’s the saying, isn’t there – you don’t wait for the spirit to move you, you have to move the spirit. I think that’s the best way. You’re never going to be on top form every day. To drop in another cliche, even Shakespeare wrote bad plays. It’s about turning up and doing the work and accepting that some days you won’t feel like doing it. And then doing it anyway.

Thanks Thom for taking the time to answer and sharing your knowledge! What do you think? Why not say hello in the comments.

As well as being able to get the current issue for free, you can also buy the first 6 issues of In Treehouses in a handy 120 page ebook called The Almanac (they are no longer available to buy individually).

Note: This is of course an affiliate link, so I can sit back and watch the money roll in whilst I plan how to spend the endless hours of leisure that will make up my early retirement (if only!)

Hande Zapsu Watt

Clear-Minded Creative Types #6: Novelist/Editor Hande Zapsu Watt

Hande Zapsu Watt

Most writers dream of having a novel published; this week’s Clear-Minded Creative Type has achieved that goal and more besides. Now involved in an exciting new international literary project which has strong links to Scotland, Hande Zapsu Watt shares her story so far and how her habits and environment have shaped her life and work.

Please can you describe who you are and what you are up to at the moment?

I’m a writer/editor/translator/teacher/student, so in short, a little all over the place but I guess that’s what happens when you can’t sit still.

I’ll try that again with a little more clarity:

When I wake up, I’m never quite sure who I am. I dream a lot, almost every night, crazy vivid dreams that seem to go on for hours. I see grizzly bears taking over the world, snipers dropping out of the sky, machines looking for lost souls…so it usually takes a wee while to adjust.

After my first cup of coffee, I’m an editor. I edit my own work, other people’s work (sometimes as a favour, sometimes as a job) and recently I have become the editor of The Istanbul Review.

After my second cup of coffee I am a writer. I write paranormal/historical novels using the pen name Mina Hepsen (www.minahepsen.com). Depending on the day and publisher deadlines, I also work on my (I hesitate to use the word ‘literary’ so I’ll say ‘non-genre’) novels.

There is Through the Dust for example, a novel I have been working on for about five years. It’s slow going. It’s not the lack of ideas or direction, but the fact that my main characters are so hopeless, so afraid… in order to write them, I need to put myself in their heads and I can’t keep it up for too long. It makes me mopey and pessimistic (I like to think of myself as an optimist) so I’ve been writing it bit by bit.

After my third cup of coffee I’m a student/tutor. I’m studying Creative Writing (final months of my PhD) at Edinburgh University and I also run English Literature tutorials there. It’s a continuous round of writing the thesis, preparing classes and grading papers. It takes up time but makes for a nice change and gives purpose to cup number three.

Later in the day, after an episode of House or Dexter or True Blood, I am whatever I need to be. Sometimes that means translator: I recently translated a book from Turkish into English called Black Milk* by Elif Shafak (out this April from Penguin). Sometimes that means more editing or writing. And sometimes it means trying hard to do nothing at all.

Did you always know what you wanted to do (creatively) or has it been a process of trial and error to get to the point you’re at now? If it’s the latter, how did you decide what to focus on?

No, not at all actually. I always knew I wanted to try and change the world, to help people in some way, but I never imagined myself as a writer.

When I was very young I wanted to be a lawyer. The idea was simple: to save innocent people and make lots of money while doing it which I could then spend on charities. I soon fell out of love with that idea.

Hande in Morocco

The desire to be a doctor hit me next. I was 14 and spending my weekends working as a volunteer at a hospital in Istanbul. It was going really well, I was imagining a future filled with saving lives. And then one day I was waiting for a lift next to a young girl in a wheel chair. It was obvious she was a cancer patient and not doing well. Her hands were pale and limp. She had lost all her hair. It took me a moment to notice that her oxygen tube had fallen away from her nose. She couldn’t breathe, but she wasn’t struggling. There was no panic in her eyes, only a plea. She didn’t want me to help her. I called out to her attendant who was gossiping with the guy behind the information desk. That was when the doctor dream ended.

I toyed with the idea of being a biologist next. The Human Genome Project wasn’t complete yet, and genetics looked like it could produce cures for the suffering. The summer I turned 16, I was at Smith College studying science, working on dissection skills and DNA gels. The next summer I was back to medicine, but this time it was psychology. A few months working at a mental institution cured me of that notion and fast.

Finally I decided politics was the way forward. If I couldn’t keep innocents out of jail, if I couldn’t cure their cancer or fix their mental states then I could work on world peace (surely that was a cure to all of the above?).  I studied Political Science and Philosophy at Tufts University in Massachusetts.

I’ve already carried on quite a bit, so I won’t get into my forays into the realm of politics. Safe to say I got a good look, saw a lot of grey and decided it was not for me. Then through some luck and a lost bet, I got a letter from a publisher saying they wanted to buy my book. I had been writing since before the first career dream; poems, stories and finally a novel written during Ancient Russian History and Politics in Modern Japan classes. I loved doing it, but I had never seen it as a career possibility. I was too realistic for that.

So much for realism. I’ve published four novels and two children’s books since.

Hande, drawn by Oguz Demir

Have you organised your life in a certain way/made sacrifices in order to continue to be creative?

I think I touched on the ‘organized your life’ bit with the answer to your first question. I’m not kidding about the cups of coffee. I find I can’t write well if I fall out of routine, so I try to stick to it as strictly as possible.

There are, of course, grieving periods. Those days following the end of a novel after the elation has dimmed at having produced something complete. The world feels wrong during those days. I like to travel if I can, to exchange ‘wrong’ for ‘new’.

How do you define success?

Giving love, being loved and doing what I love. If I have all three and am managing to survive, I’ve succeeded.

What in your opinion are the positives and negatives of technology when it comes to both creating and promoting your work?

Togo, Africa

Technology is both brilliant and utterly frustrating. It is absolutely brilliant in terms of having knowledge at your fingertips. I recently had to describe dead bodies being pulled out of a river and had no clue how to do it. Would they be blue, black, bloated, rotten…what would happen to the eyes, the mouth, the hair? I keep lots of text books at home for research, but some things are just not covered in basic Anatomy books. Online, I can find the information I need in minutes…it’s all there.

Technology is also great to connect with readers. I love the letters I get through my website, love to browse pages where people I’ve never met are discussing characters I made up. I even like reading criticisms, if it’s not just a random rant they can be very useful to take things on board, to see your own flaws.

But the internet can also make things a little difficult. More and more, publishers rely on e-books and online selling which means they can spend less money on print runs, and very little money promoting your work. You need to promote yourself online, to stand out somehow amidst the millions of texts available. You need a website, a blog, a Facebook page…you need to tweet. And if you don’t, well you might be lucky and reach the readers anyway.

Maybe your publisher will spend the cash and rent one of those neat window spots for your book in Waterstones, or maybe you’ll get a fabulous review and people will flock to the stores making Blackwell’s want to order a whole load of copies. But in general it’s hard to stand out without jumping on the technology wagon. And jumping on that wagon means Time.

For me it also means frustration. I love writing back to emails, but tweeting? I’m terrible at it. I can’t fit any of my thoughts into that word limit so I end up talking about the weather. Literally.

Do you collaborate with others or prefer to work alone, and why?

Collaboration is great with people who work the same way that you do. I like getting things done. Everything on time, everything in order (I grew up in Germany and often feel that that part of myself comes from my time in Munich).

Unfortunately, not many creative people I know like to work that way. That’s why I was so lucky to find Oguz Demir, who I did the children’s books with. Not only is he a brilliant artist, but he sets due dates and keeps them. And it’s been the same for The Istanbul Review.

My partners Miriam Johnson and Victoria Harben are not only hard working, but they are fast too. We had our website up and running in three days and now, only two weeks after the project begun in earnest we’ve already had contributions from Paulo Coelho, Elif Shafak and Ludmilla Petrushevskaya (We are taking submissions at the moment for our inaugural review, so for all you creatives out there do have a look!)

 

Namibian Sand Dunes

Is community important to you – either local or online – and if so, why?

Community is definitely important. Not only the people and their tendencies but also the architecture, the weather, all of it put together. It’s hard to explain, but there are places in the world where I can write, and other places where I turn into a sponge. Nothing comes out.

I know that sounds a bit strange, and I’m still not sure what exactly accounts for this odd phenomenon but I’ve been able to narrow it down a little. I can’t write at all in New York, Amsterdam or Paris. I can write for a few hours a day in Istanbul, Boston and Miami. But Edinburgh is where I am most efficient and I am sure it has something to do with the community here. Maybe it’s the gothic architecture, but I rather think it’s the duality of the city and the people in it. Active and passive, hopeful and pessimistic, rainy and sunny: the city of walking rainbows.

Oh, and I can’t write on a cruise ship. Pretty random I know. Sorry, I don’t think I’ve answered your question very well.

I’ve always found consistency difficult in terms of learning a craft and then practicing it regularly – is this something you’ve mastered and do you have any advice on how to maintain this?

I can’t claim to have mastered anything really. As for advice, for those who hope to make a living through their creative work I would say: know the truth (the odds, the process, the reality behind getting your work out there), work hard and don’t give up.

And writers? Find creative things to do with rejection letters. Origami swans is one way to go.

Thanks Hande for the extremely interesting insights and excellent advice. What do you think? Share your thoughts  in the comments.

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