Lucy Ellis,The Kindle and the world of publishing: Interview with novelist Helen Cadbury

This blog is part of an ongoing series focused on the Kindle, drawing on the experiences and perspectives of final-year English Literature student, Lucy Ellis. These blog posts are being written as part of Lucy’s first project on the Project Management and Research undergraduate module at Cardiff University.

Part 3

1 Helen cadbury image

My last couple of blogs on the Cardiff Book History blog have focused solely on the impact of the Kindle from the perspective of the reader. However, before a novel reaches a pair of warm hands, sitting on an old armchair with a cup of tea, it goes through a brutal and lengthy process known as publishing. Therefore, in order to fully understand the impact of the Kindle, I need to explore this other crucial side. And what better way to find out than asking a real life author who’s been through the process herself?

Helen Cadbury is a York-based crime writer who released her debut novel To Catch A Rabbit in May 2013. After starting out by entering a competition with a novel she’d written at university, it has received dozens of positive reviews and is still going strong. Published by the newly launched Moth Publishing, To Catch a Rabbit is available both in print and in Kindle edition. Being a fairly new writer plunged into a very different publishing world, I was interested to hear about Helen’s personal experience and her thoughts on the Kindle’s technological and societal impact.

How did you come across Moth publishing? And how has the experience from finishing To Catch a Rabbit and getting the book onto the shelves been?

I saw that there was a competition looking for new northern crime writers to find the titles which would launch a new imprint. This was going to be Moth Publishing, a partnership between a publisher called BEPL and New Writing North, the ACE funded writers development agency for the North of England. I thought I had finished the book in 2010, when it was the novel I wrote for my MA in Writing at Sheffield Hallam University, but I polished it up for the competition and then when I was one for the four winners, I was assigned an editor, who helped me get it ready for publication. So it took several more edits to be actually finished! Waiting for it to appear on the shelves and waiting for people’s responses was nerve-wracking! But Moth is a small, human-sized enterprise and has been very supportive. New Writing North also gave us press training and took us to meet agents in London, so I now have an agent too.

The publishing industry has changed a lot with the introduction of eBook. What are your views on self-publishing and did you ever consider doing it yourself?

Personally, I don’t think my book would have been anywhere near as ready for the market had I not had an editor, and other members of the publishing team, to give feedback and for me to collaborate with. I think self-publishing is a great idea for established writers who have the rights to their own backlist, because they can control the distribution, but I think for a new writer, you’d miss that essential element of quality control. I don’t mind if people buy the paperback book or the e-book, but we did get into a massive free giveaway promotion, which I was a bit uncomfortable with. I understand it helps boost ratings, but I’d rather people commit something to the transaction, given the years of work I’ve put in. 99p is fine, but nothing is nothing, and can attract a zero value attitude.

Are you a Kindle reader yourself? How do you think the Kindle has revolutionised the publishing industry?

I read books and on Kindle. I think it’s an interesting time because e-book sales soared initially but I understand they’ve now levelled out. However, Amazon as a massive online monopoliser is a different threat. I like bookshops, but I admit to liking convenience too. I’m worried about the treatment of staff in Amazon warehouses and the fact that Amazon don’t pay proper tax, but it’s a paradox. The relationship between social media, which I use a lot, and an instant online selling platform, is essential to mass distribution.

I’ve noticed that To Catch a Rabbit and the other four authors’ books from Moth Publishing are available to borrow free with Amazon Prime. Do you find these exclusive eBook deals effective and how has the shift towards the Kindle affected the book’s marketing strategies?

I honestly don’t know if anyone uses the borrowing function and whether we’ve made any money out of it (I only have access to sales figures 6 monthly). I do know that paid sales went up in the wake of a huge free give-away in June, but not when it was repeated he following month. Probably a good thing to do when the books first came out, but I don’t see the benefit in repeating it until we have a second title to promote.

The customer reviews on Amazon are very balanced between Kindle and paperback readers, do you find Kindle and print have attracted different audiences?

The only negative has been some reviewers who got it for free were therefore reviewing either a genre or a sub-genre that they don’t really like (the person who said they hated anything with policemen in, for example!). I haven’t done a study of who read it on what, but I have received, to date, 60 reviews on an average 4.5 star score, which I’m incredibly delighted with. As a debut novelist I’d have been happy with about half a dozen! Social media had a lot to do with this and the free giveaways will have boosted the book up the rankings so it started to appear in people’s suggested lists. Print books sell very well at events, as people really like a signed copy, as well as the opportunity to meet the author and answer questions. In those cases, I am often told that they only want a real book. So I think there is clearly a reading public that wants both options.

If you’d like to find out more about Helen and To Catch A Rabbit, visit her website on http://helencadbury.com/, or follow her on Twitter @helencadbury.

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