Self published novels are often scorned but two businesswomen tell Neil Hudson how they plan to tear up the rule book for aspiring authors.
When friends Sarah Gate and Jade Byrne first pitched their idea to create an online self-publishing platform where writers would get help and advice and would always earn more than them, one Yorkshire business leader told them to forget it, adding they would make more money stacking shelves in Tesco.
A year on and the pair are forging ahead with their plans and hope to prove their critics wrong. Their website, Dandylion Publishing - a kind of ‘fair trade’ publishing model - has launched, they have five authors, with more work being submitted all the time.
Most importantly, though, their books are selling. Even in America.
Jade, 26, from Leeds, is a public relations manager for a Bradford finance firm, before which she worked as a proof reader at a publisher, turning out magazines for the oil and rail industry.
She explains: “We sat down with a man from the chamber of commerce - they were running a new start-up advice day. I bounded in there with all my enthusiasm and he just looked at us and said it was a complete non-starter, our business plan was rubbish and we would make more money stacking shelves in a supermarket.
We wanted to be a bit fairer for people with genuine talent out there. One of the founding principles behind Dandylion was that we would never make more money than our authors from their book.Sarah Gate, 28, co-founder of Dandylion Publishing
“It was a knockback but it didn’t dent our passion for the idea. Now the website is live and we’re selling books.”
So far, the duo have five authors, including one from America, with book sales coming in thick and fast. Books sell for £2, which gets the reader a password-encrypted downloadable file. Meanwhile, writers get to chose from one of three packages, aptly named after famous authors - Dickens, Austin and Fitzgerald, the former yielding £1.50 per book for the author and the latter £1, with the different packages offering a sliding scale of editorial involvement.
“One of our aims was that we didn’t ever want to make more than the authors. And the readers know not just anyone can go onto our platform and publish whatever they want, which is what happens with some of the more well known online publishers.
“It’s also not like a book shop where everything is in hardback.
“A lot of people are sceptical because of how the industry is - they’re looking for the catch but there isn’t one.”
She adds: “People who have written the books may not have marketing skills or proof reading skills or even the time to devote to that. From a writer’s perspective it can be mind boggling, because you just do not know where to start. You have to pay up front and writers don’t necessarily want to do that. That’s where we differ. We’re kind of between the two worlds, offering the editing services to those who need it and a fair deal when it comes to selling.”
Originally from Newcastle, Jade came to Leeds Metropolitan University to study English literature and it was while working part time at Costa in Headingley, she met Sarah, 28.
“We just clicked. Sarah was only there for about three weeks before she got another job but we kept in touch.”
Some time later, after Jade had been made redundant, the pair were chatting one evening over dinner, when the idea for their business came to them.
Sarah, from Hartlepool, who studied journalism at Trinity and All Saints College in Leeds (now Leeds Trinity University) and who now works for a Government-funded Leeds-based social care charity, is equally enthusiastic about their business.
“It all started because we were chatting about what we’d like to do. We both loved reading and I was writing a book at the time and we said we’d like to go into publishing but didn’t really like what some of the established online platforms were doing.
“There’s the old-fashioned established model of the traditional publishing house, of course, where you send your work off and wait but it can be a soul destroying process. There’s no guarantee it will ever see the light of day, because they get so many submissions. J K Rowling is a great example - she submitted her work to lots of publishers and was turned down.”
She goes on: “Things had to change because of the internet. I think people do still look at old fashioned publishing model as being something of merit. People want to go down that route and hold their book in their hand and see it on a shelf in a shop. Of course, they will reach for that first and perhaps they do look at self publishing as a second option but that’s not necessarily the way it should be.
“The alternative is to go to one of the online platforms, where you upload your work. The only problem there is people who have had nothing to do with your book will take a huge commission for giving you that platform - sometimes up to 75 per cent. And they reserve the right to put your book in a sale, or to sell it for 1p, or just give it away for free.
“Writers can spend years working on their books, so our view was always ‘who are we to come along and say we’ll take most of the money you make?’
“One of the founding principles behind Dandylion was that we would never make more money than our authors from their book. So, this benefits them but it also benefits the reader.”
Jade continues: “On the other hand, readers know that not just anything is uploaded to our site - they know it has been looked at and edited, that the story will make sense and it will have been spell-checked and so on.”
Sarah adds: “We wanted to be a bit fairer for people with genuine talent out there. I think there’s a concern across a lot of creative industries: design, filming, journalism even, that there’s so many people out there doing it for free it’s difficult to make a career out of them.
“Self publishing has become massive but it’s also lost some of its credibility. We offer books to readers but they know the writer is being paid fairly for it. We’ll never put books in a sale and the writer will always earn equal or more than we do. It’s a fair deal for the writer and the reader.”
Dandylion Publishing sells books at a flat rate of £2 per book but aspiring authors will always earn the same as or more than the company
Jade’s first book: Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman
Jade’s favourite book: The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Sarah’s first book: Flowers in the Attic by V C Andrews
Favourite book: Birdsong by Sebatian Faulks