Wednesday, 6 June 2012

In it Together: Triskele Books

 For the second in my series on writers' collectives, it's a pleasure to talk to Liza Perrat, Gillian Hamer, and Jill Marsh, whose books are the first to be launched through new collective Triskele, who have just held their formal launch in London . With a focus on books that have a strong sense of place, Triskele is a group that seems to have got its marketing and creative heads firmly screwed on, so open your notebooks and pay attention!

1. You have chosen a great focus for your collective - how did that come about, and how important is it to have that focus?

Focus and brand were amongst the first things we discussed. Since we all share a passion for “place”, location as a focal point seemed suited to our books. Quality too, was crucial. It took a lot for us to lose the snobby-looking-down-our-noses view we’ve long held about self-publishing, but the knowledge that we were all equally fussy and focused was a big selling point and it has worked well. The ‘location and quality’ concept also makes it easier to market ourselves and hopefully, recruit more Triskelites in the future.

2. Several small publishers have entered the market and done very well in recent years (Peirene and And Other Stories always come to mind) by having both a particular focus and a very strong brand image - what are you doing to keep the Triskele brand distinctive and clear?

Right from the start, we were very concerned about image and design. Having an identifying, recognizable logo backed with strong themes of time and place seems to be working well. Jill came up with the Triskele logo, the origin of which represents what we stand for: three independent circles resembling three scrolls, joined to create something entirely new. And of course, its Celtic connotations tie-in with one of the author’s settings and two of their family origins.

We all had a similar vision for the website design –– simple, clean and bold –– which our designer, Jane Dixon-Smith, executed perfectly. We have no doubt the image will develop over time, but we are all very happy with this starting point.

As for the distinctive brand, when future authors join up, we would expect a similar kind of commitment to quality and to marketing one another’s work as well as one’s own.

3. How does the money work? At Year Zero we absolutely never exchanged money and what to do about money was one of the reasons we ultimately went our different ways. How have you sorted things out to avoid any trouble later?

Triskele Books is a non-profit collective, as each author retains her own rights and profits but for the collective to get started, there had to be a certain, equal, financial commitment from each of us, from the beginning. At the moment Gilly is the financial manager, whereby she opened a separate bank account and deposited an initial float, which was soon matched by the others to cover website, promotional material, design and launch. Gilly sends out bank statements whenever funds are spent and, as and when we need to add funds, we do so, in equal sums. With something like this, trust is mandatory. None of us would have embarked on such a project without total and absolute trust in each other, not only for the financial aspects, but also on an emotional, and nitty-gritty editing level.

4. How difficult is it developing a brand devoted to both a narrow niche and quality within that niche when you're friends?

We’ve found that our friendship is an asset. True friends are those you: 1) would never consciously offend, 2) continually support and encourage, 3) are able to be completely honest and open with, should a problem ever arise.

As for a narrow niche, we see our work as having a pretty broad appeal. We’ve just released two crime novels and one historical fiction, and see our future as including many other genres, not to mention locations. If it’s great writing with a strong sense of place, we want to know. Triskele is a springboard, a platform to promote quality independent writers. It’s also hard work. But when you’re working hard with people you like and who share your ideals, it feels suspiciously like fun.

5. One of the main reasons many people self-publish is to maintain absolute editorial control. Your collective is dedicated to quality and making each book the best it can be. If it ever came to it and the rest of you thought one author's book wasn't up to scratch and they wouldn't change it, who would get final cut?

We all have to agree, unanimously, on any decisions concerning Triskele. We will never publish a book that does not have the full backing and agreement of the other members. This is a collective, and we work things out through discussion. Jill and Gilly faced a tough time a few months back, and got through it by talking and discussing. There are six of us on the Triskele ‘board’ and despite being spread over Europe, we are able to make difficult decisions, fight fires and respect one another’s opinions. We don’t see that ever changing. So if a book wasn’t up to scratch in the eyes of one or more members and the author was resistant to change, we’d have to part company.

6. What are the main things you can do as a collective you can't do individually?

The main thing is sharing workload in terms of editing, marketing and promotion. Each member is allocated certain tasks, which the others know will be done to the best of her ability. Manuscript critiques, editing and proofreading are far more effective in a threesome, rather than trusting one’s own unseeing, unobjective eyes. We rely on each other for all these things, and take comfort in the knowledge that these mammoth tasks are far less daunting when shared. Not only that, but the pressure not to let the others down is even more of an incentive. Lastly, we provide that essential boost when one of us is running low on confidence or energy.

7. Pooling resources and having a diverse skillset like you do is a fabulous bonus for a collective. If people are thinking about starting a collective, how much emphasis should they place on this side of things when deciding on membership, and how should they weigh that against their titles?

Founding a collective is not something to be taken lightly, but we believe our very diversity of skills and styles can be an asset in terms of providing a variety of books for different types of readers, as well as the promotion side of things.

First and foremost, we believe you should look at quality, or level, of writing. Don't join with someone who can talk the talk and has thousands of Facebook and Twitter friends, but who lacks the skill, or ambition, to match your level of writing.

Then look at organization: who can do what. Who has business sense, financial nous, organizational skills. Who can market, and where.

But the most vital thing is, who is reliable, trustworthy; someone you’d be happy to go into business with in the real world, because even though this isn't a company set-up in the strict sense of the word, the commitment is identical. As you know, Dan, there’s a lot of hard work and energy involved in self-publishing, and no ship can afford to carry unseaworthy passengers.
The first three Triskele books are
The Charter by Gillian E. Hamer
Behind Closed Doors by JJ Marsh
Spirit of Lost Angels by Liza Perrat

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