Friday, 14 September 2012

Interview #7: Kim Donovan

It seems the world of mainstream publishing is in a panic over the advent of e-books and the power of social media to reach readers.

Author Kim Donovan, publishing pioneer
Many publishers and literary agents are worried their days are numbered, fearing a similar fate to record label bosses who are now shaking their heads wondering how on earth they allowed the music business to slip through their fingers.

Writers now have a golden opportunity to go it alone. And to make it big in a way that was not previously possible. No longer is there a gatekeeper barring their entry to the world of publishing.

We’ve heard about Amanda Hocking, John Locke, Kerry Wilkinson and, most famously, E L James’ Fifty Shades series, and their go-it-alone gold rush stories.

Well, let me tell you a story about another publishing pioneer. Someone who is bravely hacking her way through the jungle of children’s book publishing and whose path may well be the one in which others follow in the future.

Let me introduce Kim Donovan, author of St Viper’s School for Super Villains and one of the creative minds behind the independent publishing collective Electrik Inc.

She told me: "I’m one of the co-founders. We’re a collective of children’s writers who have joined forces to publish our own books to a professional standard. We all have MAs in creative writing from Bath Spa University.

"Author co-operatives are brand new in self-publishing and as far as we know there is no other group like our one specialising in children’s fiction in the UK."

Brave new publishing
collective Electrik Inc
(note the switched
'k' and 'c' in the spelling...
 now that's neat!)
St Viper’s is the first book to be published with an Electrik Inc logo. It is aimed at seven- to nine-year-olds.

"One of the reasons I wrote St Viper’s was that I couldn’t find enough good books at the right level for my son when he was between seven and eight years old.

"It’s a hot topic at the moment."

She quotes from the latest issue of mslexia, which says teachers in three quarters of the UK’s schools worry about boys’ reading. Apparently, last year 60,000 boys failed to reach the expected reading level at age 11. The National Literacy Trust’s Boys’ Reading Commission found 62 per cent of boys would rather watch TV than read, compared with 45 per cent of girls. And nearly a third of boys said they couldn’t find books that interested them.

Mmm, worrying indeed.

Kim's son Christopher was an advanced reader when he was seven or eight. He soon found Horrid Henry, Astrosaurs and Jeremy Strong's books too easy, but the Michael Morpurgo books his friends were reading to bridge the gap proved too sad for him. Kim wasn't keen on formulaic, team-written books like BeastQuest. If they helped reluctant readers to pick up a book, then fine, but she found other parents agreed with her that booksellers could fill their shelves with much better stories.

It was this insight that led her to write the first St Viper's book, inspired by her son's love of super heroes, which she turned on its head to come up a school for super villains.

The book has had a great response from children, parents, teachers and booksellers who all shared her misgivings that this crucial age group was poorly served. Kim thinks the market has improved since she first wrote St Viper's.

Kim’s journey to become a crusading children’s author and publishing maverick is an interesting one.

Her background is in the health service. She has worked as a midwife, a nurse and as a hospital manager, where part of her time involved writing health strategies.

Although she always wanted to be a writer, this wasn’t quite what she had in mind. She signed up for an MA in creative writing for young people at Bath Spa University. She also did work at publishers Chicken House, reading the manuscripts from the slush pile. During her studies she was encouraged to write realistic teen fiction and she was signed by an agent at PFD on the strength of her MA work. Sadly, she never saw any of her work published. Her hopes and dreams were dashed when PFD closed its children’s list.

Many people would have been crushed. Not Kim. She began to consider doing things herself.

Meeting like-minded writers Janine Amos, Jenny Landor and Kay Leitch led eventually to Electrik Inc.

"We are not self-publishing, here," she told me. "We edit in-house - no one ever edits their own book - and we pay for illustrators, graphic designers, ebook formatting and printing ourselves.

St Viper's School for Super Villains by Kim Donovan
 "We then do the publicity and distribution ourselves. It’s hard work, but it’s exhilarating because we keep 100 per cent control."

They plan to publish their books both as print versions and e-books.

Kim believes Electrik Inc is a taste of the future for writers. She doesn’t think mainstream traditional publishing houses will disappear altogether as their distribution power will always be needed. But she thinks authors will be expected to do most of their own publicity via social media outlets like Twitter and Facebook.

I wish Kim and Electrik Inc the very best of luck. I think children’s authors of the future will one day look back and thank them.

And I can confirm St Viper’s is a great read and a beautifully produced book. I look forward to reading more in the series.

* Thanks to Kim and Electrik Inc for speaking to me and sending me a review copy of St Viper’s. Please visit their website, which is absolutely jam-packed with information about their venture. There are some great blog posts about the trials and tribulations of setting up and running an independent publishing collective.


  1. Love the name Electrik Inc. Very clever. And I am sure you are right that this is the way forward for most writers. Wishing you lots of luck with it.

  2. Electrik Inc are an inspiring group of writers. I came away from my chat with Kim with plenty to think about.
    Thanks for your interest, Wendy.