A calculated risk led to success for A Calculated Life

Anne Charnock
Opinion - Fiction Friday, 14th February 2014

Debut novelist Anne Charnock searched for two years for a publisher, and finally self-published. Then Amazon offered her a contract. She has since been in contention for two awards, pipped to a Kitschie this week by Ann Leckie.

Last summer I received an email from an acquisitions editor at Seattle-based 47North, an imprint of Amazon Publishing. The tone of the email was friendly and unassuming. David Pomerico asked if I would like to find more readers and if I would be willing to take my novel, A Calculated Life, out of the world of self-publishing. He offered me a contract without giving the impression that he expected me to jump at the opportunity.

In fact, I accepted with enthusiasm! Two weeks after receiving his email, I signed a contract and ten weeks later my novel was re-released with a new front cover. The Seattle team edited my novel to incorporate house-style punctuation and US spellings. And, I’m horrified to admit, the team caught a good handful of typos. This month I received two further mind-shattering emails. I learned that my novel was one of seven works nominated for the Philip K Dick Award 2013 and a finalist for the 2013 Kitschies Golden Tentacle Award for debut novel.

I originally self-published my novel because I ran out of options. I failed to find a literary agent or publisher after two years of sending out submissions. It was a crushingly slow process. My novel is short compared to other science fiction and fantasy novels, so perhaps it wasn’t too surprising there were no takers. Nevertheless, one agent asked to see the next book that I wrote, and two agencies requested the full manuscript. Subsequently, I learned that women science fiction writers have struggled in recent years to secure publishing contracts in the UK. Was this a factor in agents’ minds when I was touting A Calculated Life? I’ll never know.

The upshot is that I have a publisher based nearly 5,000 miles from UK shores. My experience to date has been wholly positive. Last summer, the 47North team worked hard to ensure an early release. During the book’s cover redesign, I was invited to comment on six design concepts and I was involved at every stage with the back cover blurb, with the copy-edit and proof-reader remarks. The communication stream has always been smooth. If I ask a question by email I receive a response either the same day or, bearing in mind the time difference, by breakfast the following morning.

I don’t know how other authors work with their publishers. I only know 47North. I deal with my editor and the imprint’s head of publicity, who are based in New York, and with an author relations team in Seattle who deal with any queries about royalty statements, marketing or, for example, any book events that I might attend. On the subject of sales and royalties, I receive clear up-to-date data and frequent, regular royalty payments. Although I can’t give contract details, I will say that Amazon Publishing is author-focused.

The downside of my contract with Amazon Publishing is that my novel is almost invisible on the high street, and most of my sales are in ebook format. I appreciate that this would be an unattractive proposition for some authors. However, I didn’t have a childhood dream of seeing my book on the shelves of my favourite bookshop, as I came late to the idea of writing fiction. My relatively low print sales are of little concern to me. I’m simply delighted to be finding new readers.

The most unexpected spin-off from signing with 47North is that I’m interacting every day with other Amazon Publishing authors. We have an online forum that acts as a support group. It’s a fun virtual space where we can share knowledge and ideas. We write guest posts for one another’s blogs. I’ve learned a great deal in this author group, which is a major bonus for me as an un-agented author.

Casting my mind back to last summer I recall another reason I was excited about signing with Amazon Publishing. It has a positive attitude to short-form fiction and I knew short stories would be the next focus in my writing. Although my current work-in-progress is not appropriate for 47North, I am receiving help in finding another home for this work within Amazon Publishing. I did hope that by self-publishing my novel I would eventually find a publisher. Not all self-publishers have the same goal because they have achieved healthy sales with a high royalty rate.

In my own case, I was feeling positive in the weeks before David Pomerico approached me with the offer of a contract. I’d written multiple blog posts from the Hay Festival and I’d written reviews of all the shortlisted works for the Arthur C Clarke Award. So I was building more visibility and making a few contacts. By the summer of last year, I’d completed the research for several short stories and a second novel so I decided I just needed to keep writing and something would eventually snag the interest of a publisher.

I still don’t know how 47North came across my novel among all those thousands of self-published titles. However, I hope to glean some insight in April when I visit Seattle, for the first time, to meet the team.

Anne Charnock's debut novel A Calculated Life (47North) was nominated for the Philip K Dick Award 2013 and the Kitschies Golden Tentacle Award. Her journalism has appeared in New Scientist, the Guardian, International Herald Tribune and the Huffington Post. www.annecharnock.com

Photo: Yvette Owen