Getting into writing – an interview with Steven Kay, founder of Sheffield Authors

Sheffield Authors pic

Name: Steven Kay. I started writing my first novel The Evergreen in red and white in 2008. I tried to get it traditionally published but without success, so I was faced with binning over 2000 hours of work or trying to do it independently. So I set up my own 1889 books publishing label ( ) . I have since gone on to publish 11 other books – some my own work, but also work of other writers. I am constantly on the look out for new projects.

Why did you start your publication?

(I’ll answer this as founder of Sheffield Authors and talk about that.)

The hardest thing about indie-publishing is finding readers – you are competing not only with more trusted author “brands” but also with other forms of entertainment. Why should a reader choose an unknown author? I set up Sheffield Authors  to pool resources from authors around my home city to try to go, at least some small way, to countering the London publishing bias. To create a “brand” that perhaps we could build. We now have 34 authors signed up – all unique, all producing quality work.

What is the most gratifying element of publishing the written word?

Without hesitation when someone you don’t know gets in touch to thank you for having written your book. To know you’ve touched or entertained someone, makes up for the graft that goes into it.

What are your happiest memories in your writing/publishing career?

From a personal point of view:

  • seeing my book-launch being advertised up on the big screen at Bramall Lane (the home of Sheffield United),
  • seeing the campaign to get a headstone for Rabbi Howell bear fruit on the back of my novel. (Rab was the footballer my novel was based on – he was buried in an unmarked grave.
  • being able to send nearly £1000 to the charity War Child from author royalties donated from the short story compilation I put together: Joe Stepped Off the Train.

From a Sheffield Authors perspective: the success of our annual Off the Shelf Sheffield short story competition. Having 42 entries and seeing 60 or so people gather on the night to hear the winning entries. It just shows what we can achieve collectively.

How do you handle success and failure?

Failure is the only one that is hard to handle, and the one most authors encounter the most. You have to learn by your mistakes – value them for what they teach you. If you want to succeed, then you just have to keep trudging on, giving it your best shot. It is particularly hard being ignored by literary agents – but if your product is good enough that doesn’t have to be the end of it. Don’t let their apparent aloofness put you off.

What makes you write when you’re exhausted and your fingers ache?

I never do. You don’t produce your best when you’re exhausted. I save routine work for when I’m exhausted: typing, formatting, emailing. Creativity deserves your best “you.”

What is your advice to young and new writers?

Do it for the love of writing itself. That way you stand a chance of retaining your sanity, and will produce your best work. You should write something because it feels right, not because you are trying to please or impress someone else.

Are you a traditionalist or a digital? (paper or eBook)

Both – you have to embrace both. Why would you rule out a route to getting readers? No matter how much more I prefer a physical book, I use an e-reader too: until I can move into a house with a library attached it is partly necessity.

Do you blog?


There are some bits of writing which you can give away for free. Things you are motivated to write, which won’t go in a book, and don’t work on social media.

I’ve had people read my blog and say to me that I had put into words what they had been thinking. That is a writer’s job for you.

Do you self-publish?

Many of people in Sheffield Authors do, though generally we prefer the term “indie-publish” to “self-publish.” Just because you don’t traditionally publish it doesn’t necessarily mean the quality is less. They are all great books in their niche or genre. Some our authors have had huge successes both through traditional routes and indie-published e-books. Double Carnegie medal winner Berlie Doherty, for example, has achieved her success through traditional routes.  Sarah Denzil’s indie-published Silent Child topped the international Kindle best-sellers list this year.

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