Fifty Shades of Grey from the horse’s mouth

I’ve just met Amanda Hayward of TWCS publishing house, after she answered Q&A’s at Hornsby Library, NSW. TWCS is short for The Writers Coffee Shop Publishing House who first published Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. All the big publishers approached Amanda for the rights, before she and the author opted for Random House (responsible for the copies springing out at my local KMART entrance). I thought how odd, and wonderful, it must be for her to go into her local branch (the same as mine!), which does n’t normally feature books upfront, and know that she made that happen. And indeed she did. Below is how I heard  it happened, direct from Amanda Hayward.

She was a friend of E.L. James before TWCS serialised Fifty Shades of Grey on-line and then produced printed copies. It was Amanda who persuaded the author to publish it as a book. She set up TWCS and managed the process of publication. Amanda had never considered reading a vampire book until she was in hospital and needed something to read. She read Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight series and like so many other 30-up women loved it. She went on to discover Twilight fan fiction sites which, she explained, are sites where fans can write stories which finish the story differently or keep it going after the author has finished it.

She explained that, legally, fan fiction writers have to change the time and context of their book so that it is different from the original work that inspired them. It isn’t defined as plagiarism as the fan fiction writer is coming up with new events and dialogue even though the characters are very similar. She read E.L. James’s serialised Fifty Shades of Grey on a fan fiction site and was convinced it would sell. It took some persuading to convince her author friend likewise and the book had to be altered for it to stand on its own.

Amanda was already a committed member of the Writers Coffee Shop online writing community http://www.thewriterscoffeeshop.com/ (she explained her publishing house bears the same name but they are separate organisations) and knew that this was where Fifty Shades of Grey would reach an enthusiastic audience. She worked with the author to serialise the book on-line there. As demand grew she then produced print-on-demand versions of the book. Amanda described the frenzy of keeping up with the demand and the printing company pulled its hair out trying to meet it.

She explained that you have to put the money for the printing upfront. I was keenly aware of when I self-published in print The Tale of Tully and Juno in 2005  in the UK,  almost selling out of the 1,000 print run.

Book cover of The Tale of Tully and Juno

I’ve just noticed that a second-hand copy was sold by World Books Australia in September 2012! http://www.ebay.com.au/itm/Tale-Tully-and-Juno-Sarah-Menary-0955065100-/261082248566#ht_1429wt_1182 and two second-hand copies are on sale on amazon from US and UK sellers http://www.amazon.com/gp/offer-listing/0955065100/ref=dp_olp_0?ie=UTF8&condition=all) Even with the demand Fifty Shades of Grey had, book chains would not share in the investment. It is all down to the publisher and who knows when demand will stop. It is not worth risking your house for (unless you like the buzz of being positioned right on the edge of destruction or success.) So she agreed with the author to sell the rights to the big publishers, who were already hammering on their e-door. They flew to meet them in New York. What an amazing feeling that must have been, walking into those hallowed offices and calling the shots!

TWCS grew exponentially as a result of Fifty Shades of Grey success. Amanda faced the stark choice of dealing with the growth of the business effectively, or juggling both her own writing and the publishing business ineffectively. She decided she had to give up her writing. She saw the demand to publish other authors who were in demand on online writing communities but unlikely to be taken up by the established publishing industry. It was not an easy choice, as she had published a serialised on-line book before, and it had done well. (She did not want to disclose what the title of the book or her pen name was).

It was clear to me how passionate she was about writing and reading new fiction, which makes her publishing house very attractive to me, even though my books are nothing like Fifty Shades of Grey. On that point, she stressed that TWCS publish a wide range of books, not only erotica. She said that the business is focussed on the romance genre as it is a best seller (as is true with all of the publishing industry) but that they also publish children’s books and are especially interested in Young Adult fiction.

I approached her after her Q&A session and asked her if I could find out how to submit by looking at the TWCS website. She said they had ‘a protocol’ for submitting. I assumed this was the same as literary agencies, but when I looked at it today is it quite a bit more specific and complex than that, but not enough to put off a determined writer. I steeled myself to mention that I wanted to submit a young adult book. She said ‘Has it got romance in it?”. I said ‘Yes” and she said ‘We will definitely look at it then.” And then she had the courtesy and interest to ask my name. Yes reader, I should have had a business card ready to drop into her hand, or at least have given her my name at the outset but I hate to ‘prey’ on established people so I didn’t (better work on at least the business card!) Still this allowed me to experience, first hand, her respect and interest for new writers and I suspect that it helps if you ask intelligent questions during the Q&A (which I can’t say everyone did!)

Lastly, I was amazed that TWCS are so local to me. They were actually based in Hornsby (15 minutes away from me!) Amanda said that she, and presumably the business, are now based somewhere unlisted and a bit further out to avoid endless press attention from Fifty Shades of Grey. I have sometimes regretted emigrating away from the UK, one of the major hubs of the publishing industry. Now I find that I am on the doorstep of a publisher who heralds the beginning of a sea change: where readers control who gets publishing success as well as big business.

This is how I heard Amanda Hayward’s words but we all know about Chinese whispers: things can get misrepresented when the hearer passes the information. If  TWCS or E.L. James feel I have misrepresented them in any way, please inform me, and I will edit this blog accordingly.

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3 comments

  1. Have you heard of the Writers and Artists Yearbook? Availlable at Hornsby Library! Also a great resource for inspiring types as it identifies publishers and relevant genres. http://www.writersandartists.co.uk/

    1. upcycleblog · · Reply

      Yes, I’ve been using The Writers and Artists Yearbook and it is the key reference for submissions. Given submissions slush piles turning into mountain ranges these days, I am looking at other approaches while I submit my book and will explore online writing communities in the future with a view to perhaps serialising a novel to demonstrate demand. I’m glad Tresilian is helping, I wish I could give you an injection of sleep to make up for all you’ve lost!

  2. Sarah Menary · · Reply

    Postscript to my piece above: I went on to work for the now doubly notorious TWCS for a year promoting their authors. Just after I left, this company was sued by some of the employees I had closely worked with! I now work for Allen & Unwin which I much prefer.

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