Tag Archives: Publishing

Clickbait Books – A Publisher’s Response

Recently, the ‘Big 5’ publisher Simon & Schuster signed a deal reported to be worth $250,000. So far, no worries. But when the author of their acquisition is a (very loud) mouthpiece for the ‘alt-right’…things start to get a little cloudy. (Note: I’m not going to write names here – they’ll get no online kickbacks from this site!)

I have other work to do today, so here’s a pre-emptive list to cover some important things before we begin.

  1. I have done my homework and dutifully read a number of articles previously written by this mouthpiece.
  2. Yes, I understand what ‘Freedom of Speech’ really means – including the fact that it does not have anything to do with necessity of platform entitlement.
  3. No, I do not condone the censorship of any book.
  4. And yes, I know that publishing is a business that needs to make money to survive.

Okay, good.

What’s the real problem here?

Words are powerful. As publishers, we have a responsibility to all of our readers (current and future), to provide a platform which is diverse and inclusive. In which readers are able to see themselves in a light which is empowering, not degrading.

So why can’t Inspired Quill just sit down and keep our mouths shut? This deal doesn’t affect us, right? We’ll likely never be in the same league as any of the Big 5.

Thank goodness.

If being in their league means taking on a clickbait book in order to be ‘edgy’ and make money, then we want no part in it. Staying quiet in the face of such an issue would be to passively legitimize it – and that’s not going to fly with us any more.

To clarify, we’re not upset at the fact the book is going to be available for the public to read – heck, unflinching optimists might even say that it might pull a handful of people into realistic dialogue (I know, I know). We’re the last ones to suggest that any book should be ‘banned’.

The issue we take with the likes of the aforementioned book is that Simon & Schuster are actively legitimizing and normalizing behaviour and ideas that are damaging to the well-being of many different groups. They’re making money from clickbait negativity.

“Hey guys! Antagonise people for kicks, denigrate numerous already-marginalised groups to whom you have a greater privilege*, and we’ll plaster your face in every bookshop window in the country! And we’ll protect you with ‘Freedom of Speech’ clauses! Sound good? Your advance is on its way.”

“A rising tide lifts all boats.”

You don’t need to tear others down, and make them inferior, in order to rise up. In reality, there is no ‘bigger piece of the pie’ – there’s enough pie for everyone. Coming from a place of fear is the easy option. And for a company with as much clout as Simon & Schuster to swoop in and capitalize on that fear is, quite frankly, disgusting.

Being negative or silent is the ’safe’ approach. So we won’t be. Our tagline is ‘Positive Publishing’ – not because our books are schmaltzy tales with sweet endings where the protagonists ride off into the sunset – but because we wholeheartedly believe that every single one of them adds value or enrichment, however small, to whomever reads it.

Anyone in this industry will tell you that remaining optimistic is pretty exhausting. I’ll readily volunteer that during the six years I’ve been running Inspired Quill, there have been more than a few struggles and moments where I just sit back and ask myself ‘what’s the point’?

Then I remember the importance of books. The potency of their words and how they have the ability to make people realize that they are not alone. Their ability to lift people up and to create a dialogue amongst two strangers that – before reading about the inclusivity of the other in a book they’d taken to heart – may have looked at one another with suspicious glances.

Books are cultural artefacts. They give us ideas of what’s possible in the world, and they’re a very powerful tool for learning about self-identity (especially for youngsters).

A positive outcome

I can say, at least, that this debacle has had one positive effect. It’s given Inspired Quill the kick it needed to stop mumbling about social enterprises and win-win situations.

From now on, we’re going to stand up, square our shoulders, look inequality, injustice and fear in the face and say:

“We see you. And while we may never stop you completely, we will still do whatever we can to make it happen. We see you, and we will not shirk our responsibility any longer.”

Now begins the process of considering the best ways to make that happen.

Three things learnt in my first year as a published novelist

Just over a year ago I was on the brink of achieving a lifetime’s ambition (and let me assure you, it’s been a long life), ready to celebrate the publication of my debut novel yet aware that what was a huge leap for Anne was a miniscule step for womankind. I was brimming with gratitude for the support I had already, while bracing myself for the inevitable disappointments that lay ahead. As I mark my novel’s first birthday, it seems a good time to reflect on what I’ve learnt in the last twelve months.

The novel as baby metaphor is surprisingly apt

Clichéd it might be, but getting a novel published is very much like having a baby, especially in the age of infertility treatment. The parallels are many: the false dawns, setbacks, and let downs on the journey to conceive; the nine months or so of gestation as the novel grows (in quality, if not in size) until ready to emerge as a viable book; the countdown to the launch date and the sense that this book/baby has got to come out whether the mother/author is ready or not; and finally the pride in this new entity as friends and family gather round to admire.

The parallels continue once the baby/book is out in the world: the parents have to grow into the role their baby bestows on them, just as the writer becomes an author by virtue of her book and, no matter how much we might have imbibed from the experience of others, it’s very much a process of learning on the job. I’d thought about this, as well as about how having novels at different stages of development is like parenting a family, but I didn’t notice for a while that the analogy also applies to that stage where you look up from your own creation and realise that there are billions of books and babies and most people are indifferent to yours.

Parents must learn that, while they might lay down their life for their child, they’ll make a lot of enemies if they trample on other people’s children in the process. Parents must also learn that other people’s children might have genuine virtues that their darlings don’t possess. So when Junior gets only a non-speaking part as a lamb in the school nativity play, his parents still turn up to cheer him on and congratulate the infant Mary and Joseph on their performance on stage.

Similarly, I’ve learnt that I’ll fight for my own book with an energy and shamelessness I never knew I possessed. Despite being an introvert and shrinking violet, I’ve said yes to every offer of publicity (including an anxiety-inducing appearance on a local TV network) and been hyper-vigilant to opportunities to push my novel without being pushy. Meanwhile, I’ve continued to review others’ novels on my blog, and to celebrate the success of those I’ve particularly enjoyed.

Readers are lovely and feedback is ace

Having published a number of short stories, I had some experience of reader feedback on my words. But a few sentences in the comments section of an e-zine, albeit much appreciated, is small beer relative to the response to a novel. Although I maintain that reviews are for readers not writers, I can’t help revelling in my novel’s reviews. While readers forge strong connections with fictional characters, relating to them as they relate to people in real life, writers also value affirmations as evidence that we are not writing into a void.

Of the myriad special moments, I’ll highlight just a few: the reviewer who suggested a song for my playlist; the woman who walked into one of my library events frantically trying to finish the last chapter; the review from Spain; the woman, who had had a similar life experience to my character, Diana, who mentioned on Twitter that if she ever decided to share her secret past with her friend she’d give her a copy of Sugar and Snails. For any writer published by a small press, whose voice is often drowned out in a noisy marketplace, reader endorsement of any kind counts for a great deal.

It’s all about trust

I took a big risk last year publishing a novel on a challenging topic in a way that resonates for me personally with a publisher I’d never heard of. I didn’t know that Inspired Quill would make such a good job of it, nor did I know that readers would be so readily engaged. Additionally, as I said at my launch party, I worried that those who did read my novel would discover that I was even more weird than they’d thought. But, like my protagonist Diana, I had to learn to trust the key players in the process: the publishers; potential readers; my characters; myself. I’m taking that trust into my next publishing adventure, when my second novel, Underneath, comes out in May next year. Steve isn’t as heroic as Diana; in fact, keeping a woman imprisoned in a cellar, he’s a fairly disturbed and disturbing man. You’d certainly be advised to steer away from him in real life, but I trust we’ve done enough on the writing, rewriting and editing for readers to take a risk on his story.


In honour of its first birthday, Sugar and Snails is available in Kindle format at only £0.99 / $0.99 until 31 July 2016.

Amazon UK

Amazon.com

A Matter of Priority

Why we’re not just about the money, (money, money)

One thing that sets us apart from other publishers is our status as a non-profit organisation. We’ve been this way from the very beginning, because we’ve always believed that giving back to the world around us is more important than our ability to make personal profit. That’s not to say don’t care about money, or wish to be unsuccessful- far from it. The more books we sell, the more we can give back to those around us, and help create more great stories. It’s a positive feedback loop!

We’ve established a number of projects since opening our doors. We have a mentor program, which you can read about here in ‘Our First Mentee’ blog post. Publishing can be an incredibly selfish business. Each and every one of us at IQ has been told ‘be careful’, and ‘it’s not about what you know, but who you know’, which makes for an unfriendly and seemingly-impenetrable industry. Teaching someone the ins and outs of working with a publisher is incredibly important to us. Nobody should feel like their ambitions are being blocked.

We’ve also been developing writing workshops to bring to deprived areas, in order to teach people essential life skills and encourage communication and creativity. What better can a publisher do than want to encourage others to both read and write? It’s win-win-win for us, after all! If you aren’t willing to give people the tools to enjoy your work and encourage them to create their own, you might as well not have an audience.

Additionally, our authors work hard to help others as well, whether it’s running marathons or leading literary activities: Tracey Scott-Townsend gave a writing workshop as part of the inaugural ‘Lincoln Inspired’ literary event in 2014, of which Inspired Quill was a sponsor, and Matthew Munson regularly attends community workshops and talks about his life as an author (and walks marathons! In winter! In the dark!)

Not to mention the profit percentage gift to partnered charities for the books Write for the Future and Sugar and Snails. It might not amount to hundreds of pounds each quarter, but it shows our commitment to really trying to push these methods of ‘giving back’.

Remember, every single time you purchase one of our titles, it helps us to give back that little bit more to the community – enhance a service we’re already providing, work a bit more on our newest project, or make a direct donation to a partnered charity.

We were just born to give, it seems.

(For more information about what we’re doing to give back, head on our to our ‘Give Back Pledge’ page and learn more, or contact us to ask any questions you might have.)