Dr. Alison Baverstock is the Course Leader of Kingston University’s MA Publishing programme. She’s contributed enormously to the industry over the last 25 years. She lectures and consults nationwide and has run multiple campaigns for reading and publishing, most notably being one of the founders of the Kingston Readers’ Festival in 2002. Her countless published works include The Naked Author, A guide to Self-Publishing and How To Market Books. Caitríona Marron from Words, Pauses, Noises was lucky enough to sit down with Alison and hear her thoughts on self-publishing, the role of the writer today and her tips for Kingston’s aspiring writers.
How does your academic research influence your teaching and writing?
I find my research is hugely important to my teaching – teaching without being involved in research would feel slightly hollow, and it’s invigorating to have this lively bunch of minds available to discuss new ideas and see how they respond. Over the years, probably the most reliable source of new ideas has been my four children. They constantly challenge me, and it’s always stimulating to have your ideas stretched and hence developed. I am a very curious person and so often find new things to think about. For example, when I was expecting our first child, I read information for pregnant women that was rather patronising. It made me think about the best tone of voice to use to parents, and this was stored away years later when I co-wrote three titles on parenting. Nothing gets wasted in my life!
How important is knowledge on the publishing industry for MA creative writers?
The MA publishing course is a great way to know the industry, and any knowledge about an industry you hope will invest in you is probably beneficial in the long term. But I think it’s important that you shouldn’t let that direct the way you write. Involvement in marketing is best done once you’ve finished the writing; you should not let it sap the momentum you have for writing. Writing comes best from the gut – rather than the marketing brain, and my heart always rather sinks when people tell me they have spotted a market gap and decided to fill it.
I’ve got to mention the massive growth in self-publishing. What changes does that have on the role of writers, editors and publishers today?
In a sense it’s getting us to concentrate on essentials; emphasising the vital roles of writer and editor. Self-publishing allows the writer to become more informed about the processes of publishing, but it’s still vital to have their work edited to ensure it’s readable.
The formal publishing industry isn’t the only option for sharing work these days and self-publishing offers writers a rich resource of information on who is reading them, and how – much more than a royalty statement twice a year. Armed with this, authors can build a strong data profile on the performance of their material – and if they subsequently decide to accept external investment from a traditional publisher, they are unlikely to be completely compliant! Self-publishing has considerable ability to change the balance of power within publishing.
Your book, The Naked Author, A Guide To Self-Publishing, leads the writer over the high jumps in self-publishing, and really explores the process. So from your extensive research and lengthy experience in the industry, what type of writer is suited to self-publishing?
There are so many goals from self-publishers that it’s difficult to generalise, but above all self-publishing enables writers who want to complete something. For those who want to sell their work, self-publishing suits those who are proactive, keen to follow up leads, and aren’t squeamish about selling themselves – but these are the same qualities that traditional publishers look for these days, given the difficulty in tracking down the market for work.
At the other end of the scale, self-publishing works very well for personal projects of importance. I have self-published a memoir about my father, and in that it now exists, and I have written what I wanted to record, I am happy. No one else need share it.
In short, self-publishing allows for different degrees of publishing, and many more opportunities.
How do you get your writing engine running? Do you have any quirky routines, or a favoured writing fuel? (Coffee, chocolate, fizzy sweets?)
I write early in the morning when it’s quiet. When I’m writing a book, I wake naturally at 5am. I enjoy working in the office at the top of the house, so I can look down on the trees and see the sky gradually change colour. I have a cup of tea in my special Penguin classic mug (bought for me by my MA Publishing colleague, Judith Watts), and stay in my dressing gown. And for a couple of hours, the clock is ticking, so it’s almost a race against time before the rest of the house starts to rise. And there aren’t any emails coming through at that hour, so no distractions. It’s about making yourself feel comfortable, and having beauty around you. I always treat myself to an attractive calendar (preferably Vermeer or John Singer Sargent).
Networking seems to crop up everytime in regards to publishing. What advice do you have for a writer trying to gain connections in the publishing world?
I believe that networking should be done with discretion, and it should be a two-way process. It’s very important to give back – people can sense insincerity, and one-way connections generally don’t last too long.
Any events we should mark in our literary calendars?
The Kingston Connections Festival next June – this is the inheritor of the Kingston Readers’ Festival slot, but working in a bigger collaboration with The Rose Theatre, Creative Youth and the Royal Borough of Kingston. There are events happening in Kingston all year around – we live in a very vibrant place. Visitors are always welcome at the MA Publishing Masterclasses on Monday nights.
And finally, any tips for Kingston’s budding writers?
Well, you’ve made a good choice with Kingston! The students are really spoilt for choice from the huge amount of seminars being put on. And I would encourage the MA students to access other talks that are happening like publishing, psychology, and even music. I happened to attend a lecture on ‘Happiness Economics’ last year and found it thoroughly interesting. Variety is good – finding out about something that is relatively new to you can really make you feel creative.
A thoughtful outlook on how self-publishing has opened the boundaries for writers and their aspirations, but also a wise reminder to keep our gut instinct a priority. Time to take advantage of KU’s wide selection of seminars and workshops. Keep a weather eye on Words, Pauses, Noises for other interesting interviews and creative works!
Don’t forget, Kingston students, that our competition closes on the 31st! Get those submissions in before the deadline for your chance to be published (and to win some money). Check out the rules on the competition page.