Australian publishing consultant Despina Maclaren dispels the most common myth about self-publishing
Tell us about your role at Tellwell.
My role at Tellwell is to help authors navigate the publishing landscape, so they are able to make informed and educated decisions about the options available to them, and to guide them on what is best for their needs as well as their budget. I adore assisting authors, the day-to-day diversity of my role, and [discovering the] reasons and motivation behind what makes an author want to publish their book. It is a joy to assist them in understanding the process and expectations, offering them advice from my own years of experience in the book trade.
Tell us about your previous publishing experience.
I’ve been in the book industry for thirty-five years, and started out working as a bookseller at Angus & Robertsons’ flagship store in Melbourne on Elizabeth Street. I moved on to work as a bookseller across Melbourne and later became the rep there for Penguin Books. I decided to move to the UK, and worked for Penguin UK and other global and independent publishers, selling all kinds of genres, from mass-market fiction to non-fiction to children’s, education, academic, and professional books.
What are you most proud of? Biggest accomplishments?
I would say moving to South Africa, living there for two years and working for the largest independent publisher in Afrikaans (even though I could not speak the language). I was happy to prove an editor wrong who had doubts I could sell a highly literary Afrikaans list of titles. Not only did I do so, but one of the authors asked me if I would become their agent. Also, jumping out of a plane at 13,000 feet, and setting up my own street food business whilst working a full-time job in London.
What is one myth about self-publishing that you come across?
The main myth would be that self-publishing is vanity publishing. This is far from true, as print-on-demand technology is allowing authors to have more choices about how they can be published. This is giving authors the ability to sell their books independently with worldwide distribution, while maintaining creative control and 100% net royalties. Traditional publishing may not always be the best route for all authors. I say let the readers decide!
What do you encourage authors to look for in an assisted self-publishing company?
I would encourage authors to become well informed about their options before they make a decision. Look at the costs, the option for 100% net royalties, and the people! Expert and professional guidance are paramount.
What questions do you often get asked by authors, and what do you tell them?
Authors sometimes doubt their own work and ask me if it will sell. I ask them: Is it a good story? Have you had others read it? What did they say?
There is no magic formula. We can provide the expertise and professionalism to get their book out to the market in its finest form, but marketing the book is also very important. Marketing the book persistently to readers is essential to creating momentum and awareness of the book. I also give them insight based on my experience of selling books all over the world.
What advice would you give an author considering working with a self-publishing company?
My advice is to ask yourself if you trust them, if you can work with them, whether they offer options that are tailored to your needs, if there are any hidden costs or lack of transparency, and, lastly, do you get to keep 100% of your net royalties? It should be a pleasant and exciting experience overall.
What do you enjoy doing outside of work?
I love spending time with my dogs and cat and hubby at home. I love being in nature and around wildlife. I enjoy reading and cooking, and I love to travel and experience different cultures.
What do you love most about where you live?
I live in the middle of the bush on an off-grid property in Australia. I love the peace and quiet out here, the night sky, being surrounded by nature, and the beauty all around me. Tasmania is a stunningly beautiful place and I feel very lucky to live here. I highly recommend visiting—you will not be disappointed.
What type of books do you enjoy reading? Any recommendations?
I love reading literature and fiction. Anything and everything, really, whatever takes my mood. I have always loved Isabelle Allende’s writing, as it is so visual and rich in description, with serious and deep narratives of events and effects on the characters. One of my favourite contemporary Australian writers is award-winning author Chris Tsiolkas, who is of Greek heritage and from Melbourne, like me. I love how his writing is varied in style but always talks to one extent or another about social norms, boundaries, and identity. For fun, I would highly recommend popular fiction writer Marian Keyes—any of her books are great to take on holiday. The funniest book I have read—for anyone who wants a wacky, mad, insane, laugh-out-loud adventure—is The 13 1⁄2 Lives of Captain Bluebear.