On the ups and downs of being part of a writers' collective
As a writer, I spend much of my time alone, my main contact with other folk being via social media. Keen to explore whether there is an alternative, I’m delighted to welcome Triskele Books to my blog.
Triskele Books is a writers’ collective of five, plus a hand-picked selection of associates, which was established in December 2011. They have published fourteen books, had three launch parties, and blogged, guested, hosted and announced our presence to the world at every opportunity.
With no further ado, I’m going to let Triskele take it from here…
This may sound as if we are a Prosecco-swilling, jet-setting, bar-raising, happy-smiling team of friends, talents and team-workers. But that’s only one side of the story. Like every great show, there’s hard work behind the scenes. And since we chose this route to reaching readers over other publishing options, the least we can do is be frank about what goes on behind the curtain. Here Triskele spills its truths, so gird your loins and bring your wellies.
It takes time. Triskele members all ‘knew’ each other for years via successive critique sites. The key attraction was not just the quality of writing but how we dealt with feedback. No flouncing but serious thought given to constructive criticism. Incisive input with detailed, yet tactful, editorial notes. We aimed to make each other’s work better; the best it could be. We all swore, cried and cursed. It wasn’t pretty, yet the books began to shine and the benefits lasted.
Triskele Tale 1: JJ Marsh
Last week, I wrote the final set of editorial notes for one of our new associates, thankfully, with the thumbs-up. This is the book’s fifth incarnation and I’m sure the author would happily set fire to the thing rather than face another rewrite. It’s a real slog to read a manuscript three, four, five times, no matter how brilliant. This is the grunt work of a collective – what Five Directions Press call ‘sweat equity’. But the willingness to get it right while sticking to the original vision brings alchemical results, for all of us.
We disagree – on a variety of issues. Not a lot, but we do. Finding compromises via email or Skype, three countries and two time zones often leads to frustration and impatience. We’ll argue over launch expenses, blog-post appearance, tone of feedback, thrust of commissioned article, choice of image, workload balance or website arrangement, but the one area where we must agree, unanimously, is approval of new work – our own and that of potential associates. If four of us want it desperately and one doesn’t, we won’t take it on. Likewise, our own books must meet our self-imposed standards.
Triskele Tale 2: Catriona Troth
While working with our designer on the cover of my second book, I had a very clear idea of what I wanted. Trouble was, short of being able to afford an artist to create images from scratch, I was limited to what I found on sites like Shutterstock.
And that’s where things started to go wrong. I knew I was compromising, but what I couldn’t see was that I was compromising in the wrong direction. But someone else, equally committed to the book but more dispassionate, could.
“I’m not happy,”I was told. “That cover is not going to attract the right audience. You’ll be letting yourself down.”
Starting over was a pain – for me and for our long-suffering designer. But it was the right thing to do. And therein lies the power of the author collective.
It takes effort. We share the ongoing duties via a rotating hotseat, but each of us contributes at least a full day each week to the collective. Like a demanding puppy, Triskele requires constant training and frequent wet wipes. We can’t afford to get lazy. Each of us has to watch the market, the genres, the opportunities, the reputation and the image. Our challenge is to add something useful and beneficial to everyone, whilst minimising workload and boosting our collective (while maintaining our own blogs, writing articles for magazines, guest blogs, our Facebook page and holding down a day job).
Triskele Tale 3: JD Smith
I hate writing blogposts because for the majority of the time I hate reading them. I don’t have the time to read much for pleasure these days. Blogposts for me have to have a very specific purpose, and to write even non-fiction I need to have a specific goal or story to tell. Much of the time I feel I’m running out of ideas. I should probably try to think of them more as ‘reports’ of what I’ve done, found or achieved, but then they’d probably just be a rewrite of someone else’s blogpost…
As well as being absolutely fabulous, we’re also a bit shit. Each member has strengths (yay!) and weaknesses (get over it). Whilst we panic, overstretch, lose patience, strop, sulk, slack off, forget things and shout, like any group of people who work together, we love each other to bits and get on each other’s wick. The trick is constant communication, renegotiation, soothing, encouraging, arse-kicking and celebrating every hurdle we leap.
Triskele Tale 4: Gillian Hamer
I am the boring bank manager. The financial guru of the gang. It means being sensible, po-faced and business-like when arty and creative members want to discuss metadata and Dylan Thomas. I like organisation, which I need to crunch numbers. One minor disaster springs to mind: trying to reconcile who was owed what after a very busy and successful launch when no one bothered to record their own sales or knew how many books they’d brought in the first place. But we made the best of the situation. That’s one of the things I love about the collective – we’re all ‘tryers’. We do our best. Doesn’t mean we don’t make mistakes, but it does mean we don’t make them twice.
We’re not the finished article. We stop and check and rework our methods frequently. Policies have to change, methods need to alter, roles must be shifted, communications simplified. Triskele is an experiment and we often take wrong turns. That’s fine as long as we learn from each one and make improvements. Moreover, we seek out other collectives to find out how they do it. Change and adaptation is essential, and even when we think we’ve struck that mythical balance of perfection, it always needs a regular MOT.
Triskele Tale 5: Liza Perrat
For our June 2013 London launch, we decided it would be easy enough to pick up the party food ourselves and carry it to the launch venue. We didn’t bank on the hot summer day, the sidewalk crowds, the tooting traffic, or the actual distance from M&S to Foyles. On arrival, we realised we had no napkins. I raced out into the busy streets in vain. Napkin-less, hot, sweaty and smelly, I made it back to meet our guests. Three hours later, we realised we’d gone completely overboard, catering for a thousand rather than a hundred. Lesson learnt: simplify the catering arrangements. Oh, and check the venue’s cupboards, you might just find a pile of napkins.
So, there’s no blueprint for a collective. We make things up as we go along but have a whole lot of fun doing it.
You can find out more about the collective’s journey, including our accidental BDSM association, in The Triskele Trail.
Jane: I am gradually working my way through Triskele’s prolific output, but can thoroughly recommend JJ Marsh’s Behind Closed Doors and Catriona Troth’s Ghost Town.