BubbleCow Interview

I was chatting with, writer and co-founder of the literary consultants BubbleCow, Gary Smailes after the launch of 20 Photographs and 20 Stories, about writing and publishing and stuff. And we decided it would be a fun and good idea to do it properly.

So, here’s what Gary had to say about publishing, how the industry’s changing, how writers can become more empowered and about how he can help.

me: So, BubbleCow. What is it? What do you do there?


Gary Smailes: BubbleCow is a literary consultancy. In essence we help writers to lift their work to a commercial standard. We do this in one of three ways. The first is through editorial feedback. One of our professional editors will provide in-depth and detailed feedback on a writer’s work. The second is through mentoring. This sees a writer working alongside a published author over a period of time. The aim is to not only gain editorial support but to also get constant help regarding the writing process. Finally we offer submission support. Here one of our editors will work alongside a writer to help them produce a synopsis, query letter and fifty page extract of the highest quality. Because BubbleCow is an Internet based company we are able to provide the fastest and most cost effective service on the market.


me: So you cover all the bases! Do you cater for all sorts of writers and abilities – and genres? Or do you have an area that you specialise in?


GS: BubbleCow has developed over time to try and offer a writer all the support they need. The company is a family run business and my wife (Caroline Smailes) and myself are both writers. Before setting up BubbleCow we both worked on a freelance basis in the publishing world. During this time we picked up lots of tips and tricks that would help a writer get published. BubbleCow grew from the goal of trying to take some of the pain out of the process of writers trying to find a publisher and/or agent. In regards to focus we are able to help just about any kind writer. If we don’t have the in-house expertise for a particular genre then we will assign an external handpicked editor. All of these editors work for publishing companies, so they have their finger on the pulse so to speak. I suppose our expertise is in the realities of trying to get published.


me: I’m impressed. That sounds comprehensive. And anything that takes the pain out of publishing can only be a good thing. You’ve been in the industry for a good while, and clearly have oodles of experience – is the industry changing? I’m thinking more along the lines of the internet and POD and eBooks and eReaders and the like. Has BubbleCow had to change? Where does it fit in? Or, as it was set up as an internet company, do you think you were already there?


GS: The publishing world is in the middle of a huge period of change. Only today Google announced that they intended to move into the ebook market. Technology plays a huge part in the challenges that face publishers and it is still not clear just what role eBook, POD and eReaders will have on the industry. One thing that is clear is that it is ‘content’ that is becoming the focus. In the past a book was a format (paper and ink) but today the format is fluid. Readers are demanding that ‘books’ are available in paper format, as well as digital delivery and even in audio.


I think that this represents an opportunity for new writers. In the past a publisher’s role was to provide the finance to pay for expensive printing and marketing. Today it is possible for a writer to write, publish and market their own books. This means that potentially a writer no longer needs a publisher. In fact some writers would be better off financially self publishing and promoting their own work.


I suspect the role of the publisher will change in the coming years. There remains a certain prestige in being selected by a publisher and this will always be the case. Publishers will become the champions of the ‘best’ talent. They will also be the people with the biggest marketing budgets, so focus will shift ever more towards the superstar writers.


me: So you think there’s more potential space (or will be) for those who aren’t superstars? Does this also mean that there could be more room for smaller independent, maybe specialist, publishers?


GS: Perhaps. My feeling is that we are going to see an empowerment of the writer. My prediction is that in the next few years we will see the growth of writers who have developed their careers on the Internet and sell thousands of self published books without a publisher ever getting involved. As it stands today it is the publisher who decides which books they think will sell. As writers get better a promoting their own work it is going to become the readers who make or break a writer.


BubbleCow are already looking at this shift. We have been developing a new package that sees us working closely with a professional cover designer and two self publishing companies. The idea is that writers will come to us for a professional edit and in return we will connect them with top quality industry professionals who will be offer their services at a discount. We are hoping it will take some of the guess work out of the self publishing process.


me: I’d guess there is a lot of guess work that goes with self publishing. As well as acting as (reasonably) efficient filters, publishers employ people who are qualified to do things that writers don’t have to worry about (like cover design, distribution et al). So back to BubbleCow, can you give us an idea on how much it would cost and how quickly an aspiring author can expect to be snapped up by a huge publisher? Or is it not always that simple?


GS: OK. We charge £5 per 1000 words for an edit. This means if you wrote a 50,000 word novel it would cost £250 for an edit. This would be turned around in seven working days. However, our minimum word count is just 1000 words and we find a lot of our clients develop a relationship with their editor and send work a chapter at a time as it is written. Our submission package costs £125 and includes the synopsis, query letter and an edit on the first 50 pages of your book.


Writers get just one chance to impress an agent or publisher and we always advise that they make their work as good as possible. In regards to the time it takes to get published, the answer is ??? As a rule of thumb I would say that you are looking at about 12 months from signing a contract to seeing your book on a book shelf. However, it is not that simple. It is not unusual for an agent or publisher to take months to look at a submission.


The best approach is to send your work to say five agents/publishers at a time. If possible send the initial query by email. If you are sending it to the correct person you can normally get a response in days rather than weeks. However, they will normally ask to see your synopsis and then the full manuscript. If you are lucky enough to get to that point then it’s fingers crossed time.


me: And my next question was going to be: any advice for writers! You beat me to it! Thanks so much for your time and for sharing all of this with us. Is there anything you’d like to add? Any places we can see your work?


GS: I would point your readers to our blog at www.bubblecow.co.uk. Anyone who wants to ask advice can email me gary@bubblecow.co.uk or follow us on twitter @bubblecow.

  …thanks Nik.




 Thank you, Gary! 

0 Comments on “BubbleCow Interview

  1.  by  CarolineG

    Thanks Gary and Nik for this interesting interview. I’d never heard of Bubblecow until I read this and would certainly consider them in the future.

  2.  by  Samantha Tonge

    Thanks for a really interesting interview. The rates seem very competitive and i very much like the idea of being able to sub a chapter at a time – budget-wise i imagine that is very attractive to some writers.I’d be interested to know more about the readers BubbleCow chooses. Are they all editors? Some of the larger editorial agencies employ readers who are simply published writers, some of them debut, without much formal editing experience – if i’m paying good money for such a service, i don’t want to give it to someone who is simply one or two steps ahead of me in the publishing game, i want to give it to someone who really knows their stuff.

  3.  by  Nik Perring

    I think your best bet would be to ask Gary himself – he’s more than happy for people to get in touch – and yours sounds like a sensible question to ask (his email’s at the bottom of the post).Glad you liked the interview, Sam! Hope you’re well.Nik

  4.  by  Anonymous

    Forgive me for being picky, but these things cause all sorts of confusion on writing forums…”If possible send the initial query by email….However, they will normally ask to see your synopsis and then the full manuscript.”If you are submitting to US Agents then I would agree with this, but not with submissions to UK Agents. The majority of UK agents do not accept email submissions, and the do not accept queries. A UK submission is unusally the first 3 chapters (or first 10K words) and synopsis and covering letter. So, again, I disagree with the ‘synopsis before full’ comment, since they will already have the synopsis with the original submission – they would not ask for it separately unless it was a US agent.Also 50K is not a novel, unless it’s Children’s Fiction. There are a lot of new writers out ther who submit 50K adult fiction mss and wonder why they are being rejected – very simply It’s Too Short. – NaomiM

  5.  by  Anonymous

    Sorry for typo in “A UK submission is unusally..”That should of course be “usually”.- NaomiM

  6.  by  Bubblecow

    Samantha – I fully understand your concerns and it is an excellent question to ask. In fact it is one of the questions you should be asking before you pay anyone to edit your work. You are correct that some other companies employ editors with very little real experience. At BubbleCow we take pride in handpicking our editors. In fact ALL of our editors have worked (or still do work) for mainstream publishers. When a manuscript is submitted we take great care in placing the book with the most suitable editor. It would be unfair to expect a writer who has spent hours writing and rewriting a work of fiction to receive feedback from a non-fiction editor. We also encourage writers to develop a relationship with their editor. I hope that the editing process leaves the writer a slightly better writer (and the editor a slightly better editor). We encourage our writers to communicate freely with BubbleCow and we will readily explain any feedback provided. In fact I have found that increasingly are regular clients are insisting that they have their ‘usual’ editor. NaomiM – I don’t feel you are being picky. In fact I welcome the opportunity to answer some of your concerns. My experience both as the co-founder of BubbleCow, editor and published writer is that most UK based agents will readily reply to a short well worded email. I have found that this is often the best starting point for the submission process. Agents/publishers will normally come back to a writer asking you to send your synopsis (and probably your extract). Again my experience is that an increasing number of agents/publishers will do this by email. If they then like your synopsis they will request a full manuscript. This is by no means every agents/publishers though more and more are expecting submissions electronically (for the record I obtained my agent using this process). Traditional mail submissions normally end on the infamous ‘slush pile’ a fate that a writer should avoid at all costs. The process is complicated by the fact that it is only agents and the smaller publishers that will accept any kind of unsolicited submissions. Most of the bigger publishers (both in the UK and US) will only accept agented submissions. This brings me to the thorny issue of manuscript length. I included an example of a 50K novel for two reasons. The first was that I was in the middle of an interview and had to think on my feet, so I picked a nice easy number. The second reason was that I had been working on a 50K manuscript just an hour before the interview and it was still fresh in my mind. However, this said your comment that a 50K novel is too short is probably correct. A debate rages on writer forums as to the optimum length for adult fiction novels. The answer is there is no answer. If a novel is way too long then it becomes unattractive to publishers and agents since foreign rights sales are problematic. This is due to the fact that translation costs are charged by the word and a very large novel quickly become financially unattractive. As for too short – well it’s down to genre, publisher and writer.

  7.  by  Leatherdykeuk

    Excellent interview. I'll use Bubblecow myself when I get to a point that I'm not making a loss on my published books!

  8.  by  Samantha Tonge

    Thanks for the reply, BC – glad to hear that you use people with the appropriate experience.Not that i've necessarily anything against published writers doing the job, but they would have to have been in the game a long time and have very diverse experience to prise any money off me!I'm all for editorial agencies, having used one successfully in the past, and i am currently working with an editor – but I would really encourage people to research them first and make it clear at the beginning exactly what you expect for your money.I do like the sound of BubbleCow.

  9.  by  Nik Perring

    Thanks for your comments and questions, folks – and for your detailed answers, Gary.Really pleased this was useful to people.Nik

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