Tag Archives: Self-publishing

Can publishers make shorter fiction popular again?

Tales of the Unexpected by Roald DahlMy favourite collection of short stories is the incredibly eerie TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED by Roald Dahl, quite an unexpected departure from what he’s most well-known for.  I came across this collection when I was a teenager, and I remember feeling so surprised at how difficult it was to find other collections of short stories in bookshops.

Traditionally, only short stories by well-known authors have been successful in the book market, so publishers are rarely able to publish collections by less well-known writers.  Yet short stories have always been a way for new writers to gain recognition, either through writing competitions or having short stories published in magazines, before going on to write longer fiction.

For me, the market is ready for short stories and shorter content given the growing popularity of e-reading devices, and the snatched moments from our busy lives that we give up to read.  Digital devices all support shorter content, and in this format content can be priced accordingly.  Just as I want to read the first three chapters of a submission before committing to more, I imagine people would love to read a sample of a writer’s work before buying their full length novel.  That’s why Kindle sampling has been so popular.

More risks can be taken with shorter fiction and non-fiction, but I believe there is a long way to go.  Releasing digital short stories are a way that my clients ‘keep hold’ of their readers between publication of their ‘big books’.  These are always popular.  Agency author, Belinda Jones, compiled the anthology Sunlounger, which consists of over 40 short stories by different authors. It was published this summer and sold over 20,000 ebook copies in the first two weeks.  What got me thinking about this in more detail was an excellent article I came across on how short content can be used by publishers in the digital world:  The Digital Middle.  Amazon Publishing in the US has already jumped on the wagon, launching an imprint called StoryFront dedicated to short fiction and poetry, and Kindle Singles mentioned in the article.  More publishers now have digital only imprints, for instance Harlequin’s Carina Press, so it’s likely that more will follow suit.

Just as the printing revolution of the 19th century saw reading material become more widely accessible  –  snatched readings of the latest serialised novel in the back of a stagecoach  –  so now people are able to download bite-sized content in an instant. Perhaps, with this instantaneous magic of the download and the endless possibilities of updating, sharing and engaging with digital texts, this kind of drip-feeding of content is due to come back into the limelight.

Front cover of a serialisation of 'The Three Musketeers' by Alexandre Dumas pere (1803-70) late 19th century (engraving)  Books in tablet computer and smartphoneKindle


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20 days ’til Christmas: The Literary Agency Advent Calendar

In the run up to Christmas, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency will be posting an entry from one of our authors each day, offering anything from writing tips and their inspiration, to Christmas memories and their wishes for the year to come.


Karen Ross

So this time last year, my chance of getting a book deal seemed only a little less likely than the prospect of waking up on Christmas Day to discover Ryan Gosling gift-wrapped at the end of my bed.

December 25th came and went. The closest I got to Mr Gosling was a DVD of Crazy, Stupid, Love.  And as for that book deal . . .

. . . But I DID have a book:  written, revised and parked on the hard drive of my computer.  I thought it was quite good, although the publishing industry seemed mysteriously to disagree.  I heard many sob stories about ‘publishing in turmoil’.  I was warned, ‘All the really good literary agents get three hundred queries a week – and take on about four clients a year.’  I was advised,  ‘Self-publish and hope to make a splash’.

But then I discovered there’s another way for a writer to get noticed. 

Actually, the whole thing was an accident.  I was playing around on Twitter instead of, er, working, and I happened to see a Tweet about a writing competition.  What appealed to me about this particular contest was that the deadline was the following day – and there was a prize of £1,000.

Before anyone could say, ‘You’re supposed to be writing a thousand words today’,  (if only my dog could talk, perhaps I would become the prolific writer I aspire to become) I observed myself responding to the deadline.

First three chapters:  PRINT

Synopsis:  PRINT

Application Form:  PRINT


And that was how I came to enter the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2013.

You’ll be thinking I won the Competition, right?


I made it as far as the shortlist – a lot further than I had ever hoped for – and after the prize-giving dinner, I discovered someone had gone home wearing my coat. . . which contained my house keys. . . which led to a Night To Remember. . . which is a whole different story. . .

. . . And that was the end of that.

Except it turned out to be just the beginning.  Within the space of six weeks, I had acquired an agent and a book deal.  Put simply, the Competition increased my visibility within the publishing industry and jump-started the writing career I’d been chasing for longer than I’d spent believing in Father Christmas.

Your turn next?

 There are dozens of competitions for writers.  I just had a quick Google and discovered there’s currently a £50,000 publishing deal on offer, open to anyone who has never been published or self-published.

Of course, I thoroughly recommend the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2014.  Or if you’re up for a spot of razzle-dazzle, take a look at Bookstar 2014 – ‘the world’s first talent show for writers’ – where finalists will get to stand on stage, and read the opening of their book to a panel of judges.

Talking of which, here’s my top writing tip:  Always read your work out loud.  I find that every time I stumble, or fluff a line, it’s because I’ve written a clumsy sentence.

How will next year turn out?  If you’d like to find out what happens to me and my book,  I hope you’ll follow me on Twitter @ComedyKaren.  I’d love to hear from you – especially if I’ve inspired you to get competitive in 2014.

Karen Ross was shortlisted for the Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize 2013. Her debut novel MOTHER OF THE YEAR will be published by Ebury Press in February 2014. 

Mother of the Year by Karen Ross

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22 days ’til Christmas: The Literary Agency Advent Calendar


In the run up to Christmas, the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency will be posting an entry from one of our authors each day, offering anything from writing tips and their inspiration, to Christmas memories and their wishes for the year to come.

With a special congratulations to Mel Sherratt on today’s publication of TAUNTING THE DEAD

MS 2 bit of colour    Taunting the Dead by Mel Sherratt


Ah, Christmas. That time of year again, where I can settle down in my winter jimjams and furry Rudolph slippers, with a glass of Bailey’s and the Quality Street tin. I can get out my lovingly-chosen-over-several-hours 2014 diary and, Bridget-Jones’ style, sit down with my matching pen.

Dear Diary…

I think for most of us, Christmas and New Year are always a time to reflect. But as writers, often we dwell on rejections, and that one author/writer/producer/ who is always doing better than we are, and the fact that yet another year has gone by without that elusive book deal coming our way. Oh, the angst of being a creative.

During the years, it’s imperative that we find our own paths to tread. Mine has been a very long journey to get to where I am today. I tried twelve years to get a traditional publishing deal before trying out self-publishing (which would never have been written in my diary several years ago.)  Two years on from that and, finally, I can say that today is MY publication day.  My crime thriller, TAUNTING THE DEAD, is published in e-book, print and audio by Thomas and Mercer.

Years ago, I used to be a member of an online writing group, The Novel Racers. Every January we would each set a goal to finish a project, and then we would ‘race’ to get it finished. There were forty of us, at various stages of writing/publishing. The first year I took part, I won and Cal Taylor came a very close second. Cal is another of The Madeleine Milburn Agency clients. We both started out writing women’s fiction – now we both write psychological suspense/thriller and have the same agent.  Yet both of us took very different journeys to get to where we are right now.

People often scoff at New Year’s resolutions but I feel we all need goals to work towards. Something magical happens when you set something down in writing. The mind is a powerful organ and it begins to manifest the things that you need to do in order to achieve those goals. For years, in between Christmas and the New Year, I would write down what I wanted to achieve the following year. Always it would be ‘to get a two-book deal.’ No matter how many times I didn’t quite manage it, that goal still stuck in my mind. And now, finally, I can say this year there WILL be something special underneath my Christmas tree.

So, how about this? Perhaps on New Year’s Eve, write down one or two writing goals that you’d like to achieve in 2014. They can be big or small – or several goals working towards one big dream. And, like me, you might have an extra surprise from Santa next year.

Mel Sherratt‘s novel TAUNTING THE DEAD is published today with a brand new cover by Amazon Publishing / Thomas & Mercer. 

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How to self-publish successfully

MS 2 bit of colourMel Sherratt tells us how she successfully self-published her crime novels in this amazing interview with Guardian Books.

Like so many bestselling authors we know, Mel Sherratt was rejected by publishers year after year because her work didn’t fit neatly into a genre. The last straw was when Mel was turned down for writing a book that was too generic.

This insightful interview with The Guardian illustrates Mel’s sheer determination to self-publish successfully.  Her answers include the tools she needed to self-publish, for instance how she edits her work, where she goes for her book covers, and how she prices her books.  She discusses the advantages and disadvantages of self-publishing in detail and also talks about her relationship with our literary agency and the next stage in her career with Amazon Publishing.

In 2012, Mel Sherratt’s self-published début, TAUNTING THE DEAD, had hit the Amazon Kindle top 100 books, rising to No. 3 in the overall fiction chart and No.1 in police procedurals, thriller and mysteries.

Mel Sherratt is now represented by the Madeleine Milburn Literary Agency.   Milburn recently negotiated a two book deal with Amazon Publishing/Thomas & Mercer for World English language rights.  The Agency is now pitching Mel’s books to international publishers and film companies.

Mel Sherratt with Madeleine Milburn

Mel Sherratt with Madeleine Milburn

Our literary agency represents other successfully self-published authors including Talli Roland and Janet MacLeod Trotter.


Filed under advice, agent, author, Self-publishing

The self-publishing debate

Confused pug

Confused about self-publishing?

The Insider Guide to the Media, Writers & Artists,  interviews bestselling self-published author Mel Sherratt with her agent Madeleine Milburn about the pros and cons of self-publishing in a digital age.

When would you recommend self-publishing?

What lessons can we learn from Mel’s self-publishing experience?

What has Mel’s experience with Amazon been like?

Will it put an agent off?

For all these answers, and more, have a read of the insightful Writers’ & Artists’ interview with Mel and Madeleine.

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