Thursday, 28 July 2011


Musings on POD Publishers & The Music Business


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I'm heading off on holidays for a week and I will be checking in here on and off. I'll be some posting some articles I've posted over the past year that drew considerable interest and comment. This one - "Musings on POD Publishers & Music Business" was first published as a two-part piece, but here it is in full.



About fifteen or more years ago, I set up a music band management and promotions business with a work colleague. It just struck me recently about the similarities between publishing now and what we did then. With the advent of digital Print-on-demand publishing, it seems to be that in the past 8 years, so many more authors are following the trend followed by many musical artists years ago.

Let us be clear, POD and subsidy/vanity publishing, whatever you wish to call it, and there is considerable debate about what actually differentiates the terms, effectively means, the author, (read musical artist), contributes in a financial capacity, as well as a marketing capacity, to the production and promotion of their book (read artistic work). While the traditional and Independent publishing world argue the toss over the credibility and acceptability of the artistic output (read product) in the consumer world, time and technology march effortlessly on.

So where exactly are we? Why is it acceptable that a recording artist can go into a studio, without a recording contract, invest in a producer/sound engineer, produce a digital format of an album of songs and go to a professional press-production label, without the promise of a "contract" and, yet, be accepted as a legitimate musical artist. While the argument might be that the band/artist is effectively "self-publishing" by printing their own musical performance posters, submitting themselves to radio stations/tv stations, without formal representation, they are still taken seriously by the high street retailer.

I have worked in the music promotions business, and I can only speak of Ireland and the uk, where a band/artist can present a finished studio product to a distributor (read book wholesaler) and they will gladly fulfill the product to stores without little question. I can vouch for both retailers and logistical distribution, as I have also worked for many years as a manager in both environments and that this is a natural and practical understanding of the product flow of musical artistic endeavours.

My company took bands from a launching point and did everything from booking studio time, looking after the production and presentation of a demo for radio/tv stations, or record labels, gig bookings, as well as general consultation for artists. Our brief and task was to take a band or artist to a stage where they were presented professionally.

When I compare the publishing world and the music world, it seems there is at least a 10 to 15 year development gap between the two. In POD publishing, its the small unknown writer who is challenging and doing things differently, looking for independence, and prepared to financially invest at risk of failure. This is the way it was musically 15 years ago. So if we can look at music and see a direct thread as to where the future is going, it looks pretty interesting.

Forget about the small guy in music, Radiohead, and other so-called stadium rock bands are now releasing download only albums. The biggest selling single last year 2006-7 was Gnarls Barkley, Crazy, originally released as a download only single. More and more musical artist are being only signed up by big record labels, sometimes long after they have come to widespread prominence by their own promotional endeavours. The reality is that most musical artists have a huge personal prominence long before the ever sign to a major musical label. There's little work for the label to do other than expand across continents and make the letters bigger on the billboards.


So what does the future hold for the writer in the changing publishing world?

Let's first look at the person at the end of this line, from the writer's first thoughts of putting pen to paper, through the publishing process, whether it be traditional or the POD/Subsidy channel, all the way to the buying reader browsing a bookshop or the Internet on-line sites. It seems, perhaps, it is the reader who is often lost or forgotten in the food chain of the book world. There may be many who would consider the reader at the bottom of the chain, by virtue of consumption, and sheer numbers of people who say they are avid readers. I think this is the nub of the change for the reader and how they are viewed in the vast literary chain. Print-on-Demand, hmm...Demand, the word takes on much more meaning when you look closely at the buying and reading consumer. There was a time when radio, books, but predominantly newspapers, were the forums the general public used. A time, when without the advent of modern technology, literacy was considered an added bonus, not a necessity to actually survive, as it is now. The advent of TV and the Internet has very much changed how people receive the information and stimulation they want. Effectively, the process and format of how people receive information has greatly changed.

Demand, let's look at that word again. It says something about what we as people want in the time we live in. The writer demands the recognition they think their work deserves, and you might also argue, that they deserve. The printers have long dispensed with the age old typesetter, stooped over a printing press with a "y" and a "w" held tightly between thumb and index finger. The modern digital printer demands that the technology they have can turn out at least 20-30000 books per day. (See the link for Calvin Reid's article on Lightning Source on this site). The logistics manager of your average book wholesalers demands that his product flow and supply chain is efficient and immediate so he can optimise warehouse pallet space. The retailers demand that they have access and availability to every possible book the reading public might want, and of course, at the cheapest prices. I hear you say, "What about the publisher? What do they demand?" Let's leave them stew for a while and go back to our humble customer and reader, the person who actually keeps this whole damn thing going. Who are they?

If we are to believe the saying - there's a book hiding away in everyone - then the real truth is that the book buying consumer is both the reader and writer rolled in to one. No writer is born a writer, we all go through our personal form of reading apprenticeship. We know what we like and we read what we like, some choose to ultimately replicate, and if they have a gift, to finally originate their craft. This is the magic of the written word. We writers demand that our voice be heard. The journey of the reader is no different than any human instinct, to survive, to identify, and most enjoyably, to explore and share the experience.

Now, let's go back to the publishers who seem to be stewing along nicely. What do they demand? The writer would say that they demand a mass popular book with a global market for every submission to them. The reality is different. With the massive surge and flooding of the information market, publishers demand trends so they can fulfill them with books. Publishers demand fads and whims because they are now owned by the daily news media groups, and like baying seals at the aquatic waterworld at feeding time, they just want their food thrown to them. They demand that the "Traditional Publishing Empire" be held in the elite esteem that it was a hundred years ago. A time, when most ordinary gentle folk couldn't even write their own names. While the elite perception might remain the same in tradition publishing, the reality has vastly changed. Some 15 years ago, with the rise of the newsprint media groups founded by the Murdocks and Maxwells of this world, the publishing playing field has been reduced to 5 or 6 key players, following the consumption of many medium sized publishers. Thought the publishing world has an even louder and more controlling voice, its message has greatly weakened by these changes.

The arrival of digital print-on-demand technology has shifted things quite a bit. The rise of POD/Subsidy presses has given more writers a voice and a new, more accessible avenue of publication. Traditional publishers have had to reluctantly embrace this technology, for out-of-print back catalogue titles which they are not prepared to do large off-set print runs of. But this is only happening because the quality and cost of the two print methods are coming closer and closer together. It's also interesting that some POD publishers who have a very successful title on their list are actually starting to use off-set print for their bigger titles. This demonstrates that the future lies with a combination of both print methods. We have already seen the lines of description blurred between POD/Self-Publishing/Vanity publishing. I've been through all the arguments, the definitions, the blogs, the forums, the bias, but the reality is that we are in an publishing industry were no-one quite knows where the lines of definition begin and end. I think the lines are so blurred now that it is no longer about who pays for what, where the money flows, what terms are in what contract, or who is producing the best quality and best choice for the buying reader. The bottom line is another book is born and the reader, as always, should be the person who decides what is bought and read.

I will finish by touching on technology again. Espresso! No, it's not a cappachino or coffee. It's a 5 foot by 5 foot machine which is a mobile POD machine. There are five operating in the US at the moment in book chains. The customer goes in to the store, orders from a database, and in a few minutes, the book is printed and bound there in front of them. Think about it, any book, anywhere, any publisher, once it's downloaded to the database. The stores, like the suddenly defunct book wholesalers, would need no shelf space, only a digital inventory. I suppose they would operate like a kind of Internet cafe. Hey, maybe I was wrong about the cappachino! By the way, Espresso (EBM - Espresso Book Machine) - the company are currently negotiating to have a machine installed in a store in the uk this year. Be afraid...be very afraid, the only jobs left might be for the author to download directly to the database linked to the machine, and the humble buyer to read it! Sounds pretty efficient to me!
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Tuesday, 26 July 2011


Man Booker Baker's Dozen Smiles on Canadian Eyes


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The baker's dozen longlist for this year's Man Booker Prize for Fiction was announced earlier today. The list features four first time novelists and no less than three Canadians! Independent publishers greatly outnumber the large trade houses with Seren Books, Oneworld and Sandstone Press making their debuts.

The 13 titles were chosen by a panel of five judges (Matthew d'Ancona, Susan Hill, Chris Mullin and Gaby Wood) and chaired by author and former Director-General of MI5, Dame Stella Rimington. A total of 138 titles were considered for the longlist.

Julian Barnes (England)
(Jonathan Cape - Random House)

Sebastian Barry (Ireland)
(Faber)

Carol Birch (England)

Patrick deWitt (Canada)
(Granta)

Esi Edugyan (Canada)
(Serpent's Tail - Profile)

Yvvette Edwards (England)
A Cupboard Full of Coats
(Oneworld)

(Picador - Pan Macmillan)

Stephen Kelman (England)
(Bloomsbury)

Patrick McGuinness (Tunisia/England)
(Seren Books)

A.D. Miller (England)
(Atlantic)

Alison Pick (Canada)
(Headline Review)

Jane Rogers (England)
(Sandstone Press)

D.J. Taylor (England)
(Chatto & Windus - Random House)

Title extract links courtesy of GalleyCat.

The longlist will be reduced to a shortlist of six books and announced on Tuesday September 6th at a press conference at Man Group's London headquarters. The winner of the 2011 Man Booker Prize for Fiction will be announced on Tuesday 18th October at a dinner at London's Guildhall and will be broadcast on the BBC.


'We are delighted by the quality and breadth of our longlist, which emerged from an impassioned discussion. The list ranges from the Wild West to multi-ethnic London via post-Cold War Moscow and Bucharest, and includes four first novels.'
The chair of judges, Dame Stella Rimington

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Monday, 25 July 2011


What Self-Publishing Meant To Anders Behring Breivik


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The events in Norway over this weekend may seem a million miles away from many of the subjects discussed here. Think again.

Anders Behring Breivik will tomorrow appear in a Norwegian court to answer charges of mass-murder. What is different about Breivik is that his perpetrated attacks on innocent people - and what he saw as the establishment of multiculturalism throughout Europe - was a highly planned and conceived action since the 1990's. On the day of his attacks, he self-published online a 1,516-page manifesto titled, 2083 – A European Declaration of Independence, under the pseudonym Andrew Berwick, using the website Stormfront.org, a white nationalist community. But it does not end there. Breivik made sure armed police took him alive and provided no resistance. The key to his actions lies in the the book he self-published.

Distribution of the book
The content of the compendium truly belongs to everyone and is free to be distributed in any way or form. In fact, I ask only one favour of you; I ask that you distribute this book to everyone you know. Please do not think that others will take care of it. Sorry to be blunt, but it does not work out that way. If we, the Western European Resistance, fail or become apathetic, then Western Europe will fall, and your freedom and our children’s freedom with it… It is essential and very important that everyone is at least presented with the truth before our systems come crashing down within 2 to 7 decades. So again, I humbly ask you to re-distribute the book to as many patriotic minded individuals as you can. I am 100% certain that the distribution of this compendium to a large portion of European patriots will contribute to ensure our victory in the end. Because within these three books lies the tools required to win the ongoing Western European cultural war.

It is common for murderers like Breivik to either kill themselves after carrying out an atrocity, or to meet apprehension and arrest with resistance, but that was never the plan for Breivik. Tomorrow, he will become centre stage, under the full glare of media cameras in court, and probably try to deliver the second verbal stage of his manifesto on his Europe and the evils he perceives within it, if we are to believe his defense team.

Breivik was very well aware of self-publishing and services who could disseminate his propaganda. A further piece from his manifesto - are you paying attention publishing services who don't wield any discretion on what you publish, because Breivik names most of you here:

Converting the Word file to paper
Successful self-publishers today leverage the benefits provided by print-on-demand services, where they don’t need to waste money on printing costs or on inventory and stocking fees.A “print-on-demand” (POD) service, sometimes called publish-on-demand, is a printing technology and business process in which new copies of a book are not printed until an order has been received. Many traditional small presses have replaced their traditional printing equipment with POD equipment or contract their printing out to POD providers. When customers order their books, self-publishing outlets like Cafepress.com and others(see list) will print on-demand as many book as needed and they will also ship them and get payments for them from those ordering. These self-publishing services accept uploaded digital content such as Word or PDF files. However, due to the controversial nature of the content of this book, the individual that makes the initial arrangement has to be careful and may need to cut away certain chapters before using commercial services such as these.
Self publishing services/books on demand services:
lulu.com
xlibris.com
authorhouse.co.uk
unibook.com
createspace.com
webook.com
spirepublishing.com
createbooks.com
cafepress.co.uk
selfpublishing.com
trafford.com
booksurge.com
booksondemand.com
infinitypublishing.com
lightningsource.com
blurb.com
Guide to self publishing:
Intro to e-book format:

Clearly, Breivik has laid his plan out carefully, and right now I am sure there are many publishing geeks gleefully formatting this book for upload to Lulu and CreateSpace and rubbing their greasy hands together at the thought of the dollars rolling in. I'd appeal to all of the companies above to show some human decency to the 100 innocent people who lost their lives at the hands of Breivik and not become another part in his plans and the ensuing media sideshow. Do something you haven't done before - look at the damn shit you peddle for purchase for once.
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Friday, 22 July 2011


Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair Competition


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The Irish Writers' Centre has today launched an interesting showcase style competition for aspiring first-time novelists. You can download an application form here.

From the press release:

Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair Competition

Greetings!


We are launching a brand new competition at the Centre. The inaugural Irish Writers' Centre Novel Fair for first-time novelists will take place on March 10th 2012. The Novel Fair aims to introduce up-and-coming writers to top publishers and literary agents, giving novelists the opportunity to bypass the slush pile, pitch their ideas and place their synopsis and sample chapters directly into the hands of publishers and agents.

A judging panel of experienced industry professionals will be asked to select a shortlist of successful entries, presented to them anonymously. There is no limitation on style, genre, or target market, the only requirement being that the writer has not published a novel before.

Publishers and agents will be invited to come along on the day to the Irish Writers' Centre and meet these writers in person. Each writer in attendance will have a stand at the Fair with copies of the synopsis of their novel, the finished novel itself and biographical material.

Representatives from Penguin Ireland, Transworld, O' Brien Press, Lilliput Press, Hachette Books, Liberties Press, Little Island and Arlen House will be present on the day. Literary agents such as Marianne Gunn O' Connor, Yvonne Kinsella, Emma Walsh, Ger Nichol and Paul Feldstein will also be present.

This is an incredible opportunity for first-time novelists.

For terms and conditions please click here.

Deadline for submissions: November 11th 2011

For more information or queries e-mail:

novelfair@writerscentre.ie
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Thursday, 21 July 2011


To Google+ or Not To Google+ - The Next Step in Networking


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Any of you following me on my Facebook profile will know that I have been experimenting with Google+ the past week or two. Like all new social networks, it takes time to drill out the bugs and make any new service smooth and efficient. Google+ has already achieved that with their basic interface and the circle and hangout facilities look very promising from the perspective of authors and musicians. What is holding Google + back is the fact that the network remains invitation only and the integration with Facebook is pretty basic at the moment. Crucially, I have just managed in the last few days to sync Google+ with my Facebook and Twitter feeds. That's an important step forward for me and for The Independent Publishing Magazine.

About a year ago I began to integrate Facebook more with this site, allowing users to sign in here and comment using their Facebook account, while still maintaining all the facilities offered under Google's products - Google Reader, Blogger, and Buzz, which I did use for a short time. Most followers here will know (or should now know) that a year ago I stopped posting daily news items to the pages of The Independent Publishing Magazine, and I began using my Facebook profile for that purpose. The site here became specific for service reviews, articles and longer discussion. So anyone wondering why I don't post here as much as I used to do, (sometimes up to 6 to 8 posts a day), need to get yourselves on over to my Facebook profile for your daily dose of up to date news.

I am impressed so far with what I have experienced on Google+, and although at an early development stage, Google+ offers something Facebook has not been able to offer - the ability for me to be able to connect with authors, publishers and readers by their status and interest. Now, what do I mean by that?

Up until now, when I chose to impart information to my fan base/followers; any information had to be blasted out to all in the hope that it reached the right person. My readers were not hung up on how I published a book, or what was the best service to use for an author considering independent publishing paths - they just wanted to read my books. Likewise, followers of the site and Facebook profile switched off when I posted and discussed topics on writing or more personal issues on my books. A couple of months ago, I created a dedicated author site for my readers, and decided that the Independent Publishing Magazine should just be about that - the world of publishing.

So, where is the future?

Followers of this site will notice no changes - you have all been magnificent in your support of The Independent Publishing Magazine over the past four years. Many of you joined me on Facebook when I shifted the daily news stuff over there two years ago - and nothing is going to change about that. Facebook friends will notice the news feeds will emanate from Google+ more and more as a source. But what I would say my Facebook followers should consider - if they have set up a Google+ account - is to follow me over there, because that will allow me to more accurately understand fellow authors, publishers, media professionals and readers. I will be better able to tailor my connections with you. I am hoping for a far better connection within Google's circles and hangouts.

The age-old problem using Facebook to promote and connect is throwing the tin of paint at the proverbial barn door. Some of it will hit and make a connection - some of it won't.

This is also all new ground for me, so, for the moment, I will leave you with the above thoughts.

Thank you for all your support and comments.

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Tuesday, 19 July 2011


DBW Insights: David Shanks, CEO of Penguin USA


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Digital Book World has an interview with Penguin USA CEO, David Shanks. Shanks discusses the challenges of publishing in both print and ebook, the future of handselling and high street stores, and also Penguin's involvement in the venture, Book Country.


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Judge Chin Warns Google Settlement Parties on 'A Tight Discovery' Deadline


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Judge Denny Chin once again adjourned the Google Book Settlement case to another in-court status conference on September 15th. Today, in the Circuit Court, it was a case of as you were. It's hard to believe there is any basis for either side in this case overcoming the current impasse since Judge Chin rejected the proposed plans by Google on book digitization in March of this year.

Comments by Judge Chin in today's status conference in the courtroom suggest the 57 year old federal appeals judge will quickly move to 'a tight discovery' deadline which will almost certainly bring us back on course for full litigation. Addressing both parties, Chin remarked pointedly:

"I have a sense that we'll come back here in September and you'll just want more time..." and "Google has all but said they would not accept an opt-in deal."

Indeed. Watch this space.
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Monday, 18 July 2011


Irish Writers' Centre Celebrates 20 Years with Sebastian Barry Reading


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This Wednesday the Irish Writers' Centre will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a free reading by award-winning novelist Sebastian Barry.


The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht, Mr Jimmy Deenihan, TD, will visit the Irish Writers’ Centre on Wed 20 July at 7.00 pm to unveil a plaque acknowledging the financial support of his Department and celebrating the 20th anniversary of the opening of the Centre. The dual celebration will include a special guest reading by Sebastian Barry. It will continue with readings from selected writers and writing groups who h...ave been using the Centre on a regular basis over the past couple of years to meet and develop their work. A reception before and afterwards will ensure that this is going to be an extremely enjoyable occasion, and everyone is invited to join us for this celebration.

The Writers’ Centre opened its door in 1991 and since then has been at the heart of literary activities in Dublin. Over the past few years it has endured difficulties and crisis, but is still vibrant, still tackling new challenges. For example, the programme of prose readings, the ‘Peregrine Readings’, financed by the Arts Council, has visited every corner of Ireland over the past year.

The Minister’s visit will start the celebration of the Centre’s 20th year and there will be an exciting programme of events to follow over the coming months.

About IWC
The Irish Writers’ Centre has long been a hub of literary activity in Dublin, supporting established and aspiring writers throughout Ireland from its base at the heart of Dublin's cultural quarter. It is a non-profit organisation, aimed at promoting the literature and writers in Ireland.

Since it was founded in 1991, the Irish Writers’ Centre has welcomed many award winning writers through its door...s, including Nobel, Costa, Man Booker, IMPAC, and Pulitzer Prize winners. It has also served as an important platform for breakthrough talent, with many young writers giving their first public readings here.

Through a diverse programme of creative writing workshops, seminars, lectures and readings, the centre nurtures emerging talent and fosters relationships between writers and their Irish audience. Our creative writing students benefit from the guidance and insight of successful poets, novelists, and short story writers who themselves have been published.

Many writing groups meet at the centre to exchange ideas and develop their writing, and the staff run a monthly book club, where the public are invited to come and be part of our thriving literary community.

Our doors are always open and the centre itself is a peaceful sanctuary for writers to escape the bustling city that rumbles outside.


Phone 01-8721302


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Wednesday, 13 July 2011


Google and Philadelphia, Here I Come!


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Google today announced the launch of the first branded Google ereader to promote and integrate with their own online bookstore. Developed by iriver, the Story HD will sell exclusively to begin through Target stores in the USA at $140. The device looks alarmingly like a first, or at best, second generation Kindle. I have not seen or experienced a test drive of the device so I am not going to comment on it's specifications other than it offers wi-fi and also a memory card slot. It might be the bee's knees, but the launch and overall package on offer from a mammoth like Google, was...well - a little under whelming. When I posted the news on Facebook earlier this morning - 'rinky-dinky-doo' did spring to mind.

Google claim the benefits of the new device on their blog:

"You can also store your personal e-books library in the cloud—picking up where you left off in any e-book you're reading as you move from laptop to smartphone to e-reader to tablet."

Hmmm, nice...but I don't know whether the cloud is current bad weather or just marketing wheel-spin to cover the deficiencies of this new device. Time will tell, but it is not the most auspicious start for Google and their branded ereader. I don't understand the exclusive deal with Target stores and what the thinking was behind that. In many ways, Google, a couple of years ago, like an expectant mother, seemed to place too many eggs in the Google Settlement Agreement, and the whole muted fanfare of Google's online bookstore and the launch of the Story HD device is looking like a damp squib.

For a start, there is nothing wrong with an ereader for the masses, simple in design and providing access to millions of ebooks in the public domain, but the dogs in the street know the price marker for this device is a lot less than $140. I'd say at least half the price, and maybe then we would have a real game changer for the reading masses, young or old, technophile or technophobe.

In a not unconnected story today, The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News will become the first newspapers in the United States to sell an Android tablet to consumers who sign up for a digital subscription. Now, that is a clever marketing move just when our biggest news media providers are beginning to shutter off online content access.


Like the cell phone market from the 1990's, the more astute managers of content media realise that you have to subsidise the initial cost of the device to draw the consumer in. That's where Amazon missed the open goal with the development of the Kindle, choosing instead for format and exclusivity to control pricing, not just on their device, but the ebook itself. Life doesn't work that way, and once other manufacturers come into the market and catch up - it becomes solely about how low will a content provider go to subsidise the purchased product, thereby allowing access to the network.

From the Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News piece again:

"In late August the publisher will launch a limited pilot project in Philadelphia, offering “more than 100, but less than 100,000″ tablets to subscribers on a first-come, first served basis. AdWeek reported this morning that the number might be about 2,000. If that project is successful, the company will offer more tablets in the future."

This is simple cause and effect. I didn't pay for my first cell phone in the 1990's, it was subsidied wholly by my service provider. They wanted my signature on a contract for a period of time, not the €200 or €300 they could make on me upfront. By the end of the decade, I was paying €20 outright for a device which cost probably about €400. Now, I might be prepared to pay up to €100 for a subsidised cell phone! But right now, in publishing, despite the massive ebook growth, we have it ass about face! It's about the entry price of the reader device and what a content provider can offer.

Sure, in ten years time we might refer to an ebook reader or ebook as a 'kindle', but like your mom asking you to 'hoover' the living room on Saturday, all she will want you to do is to take the vaccum cleaner for a walk. It's nice to become a generic term in the Oxford English Dictionary, but it won't pay any bills.

...and maybe I don't want a yearly subscription to The Philadelphia Inquirer and Philadelphia Daily News, New Yorker, The Times, or whoever else, but by all means, beckon me to your gate - tell me I'm getting something for nothing or half-price, but for god's sake, at least do something for me.
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Monday, 11 July 2011


From Submission To Acceptance | The Memory of Trees


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Sending a manuscript out on submission to publishers for the first time is a little like sending your child to school for the first time. You feel you have done all you can do to prepare ‘the child’ for what lies ahead, but schooling is like publishing – subject to intense scrutiny, assessment and judgement. The brave and talented ‘pupil’ may rise to the top of the class, but it does not come with a guarantee. The feckless, careless and average ‘pupil’ will often struggle in an intense and competitive environment.

Many are called, but few are chosen.

If you are going to attract the attention of a commercial publisher, then the previous statement holds true its message no more brutally and honestly than in today’s publishing climate. When I first began writing in the 1980’s, large publishing houses did have substantial unsolicited submission piles. Back then, publishers were still prepared to invest a great deal of time and energy sifting through those piles to unearth something exceptional or original that would fit their lists. Now, the economics of publishing and increased submission volume has consigned this approach by authors to achieve publication as something of a bygone age. The vast majority of accepted and commissioned work reaching publication through a large publisher occurs via a literary agent, or under certain circumstances, by way of recommendation of a publishing house’s established author.

The present economics of publishing mean an author must ensure a manuscript is highly marketable and as close to going straight to production and print as possible. In other words, the days of publishers seeing themselves as promoters and nurtures of literary talent have long passed. Even literary agents, once tasked with finding and promoting the next generation of authors for publishers, are steadily declining. Agents, like publishers, have pushed that expectation back to the author. Publishers and agents may dispute the current realities; that they are much more fair-minded and welcoming a literary bunch than now depicted, but the experience of authors today is that the olive branch has long withered.

This was why fundamentally after the first eight or so submissions of The Memory of Trees, I gave up with large publishing houses. I felt I was wasting their time as much as I was wasting my own.  At that time, even the large independent publishing houses like Canongate, never replied or even acknowledged my submission. Most of the first eight submissions were snail-mail submissions. I found it utterly prehistoric that modern publishers were still insisting on this form of submission and contact with them.  Sometime around then—2009—An Post, the national post office service in Ireland, withdrew the IRC service (International Reply Coupons).

After about six months, I took to travelling to Belfast and buying postage stamps up there so I could affix them to return envelopes I was sending with my submission or query letters. In the end, I thought, ‘fuck this, it’s not worth it for the time it takes anyway.’ Initially, I thought, ‘how can publishers stay in business communicating this way?’ That’s when the penny dropped – they don’t, because this isn’t how they do business now – dealing directly with authors. Their business is 99.9% with agents, and if publishers expected literary agents to do business this way – well, then they certainly wouldn’t be in business very long. Agents are important in the industry for their connections – that’s their strength – knowing who the editors are and what specifically each editor likes and is open to. It was a bit like wishing you could win the lottery without ever bothering to buy a ticket.

By mid 2009, I redrew my submission map. I focussed entirely on independent publishers and small presses, and switched to batches of multiple submissions, with a priority on those publishers that had climbed out of the dark ages and embraced email submission. It was like a breath of fresh air. The publishing world I had begun to grow steadily despondent with started to emit a light of hope. I discovered publishers like Melville House, Graywolf Press, Dalkey Archive Press, and even publishers like Sparkling Books and Milkweed that had tailored online submission forms ‘forcing’ an author to present a submission as it should be – asking questions on genre, length of manuscript and how the author felt the manuscript was different than other books; requiring author bio’s, competition and marketing information. I wondered why larger publishers could not employ similar efficient online filters to deal with their perceived ‘slush piles’, and I could conclude only one real answer to that – they wanted nothing to do with direct communication with authors. In other words, publishers had reached a point where they saw the author as nothing more than a catalyst for the sales of a book, rather than the writer and originator of an idea. The publisher’s primary customer was the bookseller – certainly not the reader. Perhaps I am a romantic literary fool – but I remember a time when publishing actually worked the way it should work, and publishers like Bodley Head, Penguin, John Calder, Grove, Olympia, City Lights, Faber and Hogarth; all understood that publisher and author branding went hand in hand with creating a community of readers. In the new digital world of publishing – forget that – and you’re dead in the water.

I’ve no idea why publishers should take such indignation from the fact that the modern author or agent will submit on a multiple basis. Just as publishers have revised their remit on publishing books – so too have authors and agents. Publishing is no longer the island of monopoly it once was. Agents and authors have now moved in on the process of publishing, and the challenge to large publishers is to redefine why they believe their companies offer something new and original to the process of publishing a book. That calls for reinventions, and publishers are coming from an industry that has changed little in over a hundred years.

When I began to submit to independent and small presses, I suddenly found the response time dramatically reduced – sometimes down to as little as a week or a few days. It no longer mattered what the publisher’s response was. The very fact that the publisher responded courteously meant a great deal.  Soon, constructive criticism started to filter through from interested publishers, enough that I began to address weaknesses and plot fall-out in my novel. A small US publisher made a tentative offer of publication if I considered a complete rewrite and a complete review of my main character, Carlos. I rejected that offer on the basis the publisher had only seen a synopsis and two chapters, whereas, I had spent ten years writing the novel! Publishers, take note: Don’t ask an author to rewrite if you are not prepared to invest the time to read the whole manuscript!! I wouldn’t ask an architect to redesign my house just because I caught sight of his blueprint of my toilet!! But then, some publishers consider most submissions to them as blueprints of the author’s toilet!!

I also experienced something I had not expected from editors at independent publishers. Several, even though they were not interested in my novel for their house or press, suggested another publisher and even provided a direct contact editor. I continued throughout 2010, convinced I had improved The Memory of Trees to a point I might be lucky and land it on the right editor’s desk. I do think a lot of publishing success is down to finding the right editor and at the right time. I also won’t deny that my contacts as a publishing consultant and industry researcher also helped, but only to the degree that I was unearthing publishers and avenues for my novel that many authors would rather rely on an agent to find a home for their book.

In the past two months alone, two authors I advised about where their books might find a publishing home have secured publishing contracts with the publisher I suggested they should try. Maybe I’m in the wrong end of this business!! Further interest came from the US, but I always felt reluctance from them when they knew I was based in Ireland. For an independent publisher or small press, even with global networking, it is a considerable drawback if you are not based in the territory your publisher publishes in. Global publishing can be a great universe, but it remains a hindrance to publishing in print and ebook.

I made the decision in January 2011, that if I didn’t find a home for The Memory of Trees that year, then I would seriously consider self-publishing it in 2012. I wanted to move on with my next work and 2010 had taken up a great deal of time with submissions and researching publishers. I felt I was starting to lose focus on my next book.

I review many publishing services for The Independent Publishing Magazine. I think we are up to over seventy companies, and in 2010, I began to focus on traditional publishers exploring innovative ideas and grasping the changes in the industry. In late 2010, I reviewed one of those innovative publishers, Maverick House Publishing. Unlike any other Irish publisher, Maverick House had quickly intended their reach and profile into Asia, while also maintaining a substantial presence in Ireland and the UK.  This publisher was unusual from its foundation, because it understood the idea that an Irish publisher could dare to become global, and that when times became tough, it would become the core of their business. In late 2010, Maverick House branched from non-fiction to fiction with the launch of Book Republic.

I reviewed Book Republic as a publishing innovator in early 2011. I was impressed with their view seeing the book not as a physical entity, but as print and ebook, and depending on success, could quickly mould their sales and marketing model to reflect this.  Each book was tailored for its market, and if the market changed, they could react to that market. They launched several books in 2010 expecting to sell a few hundred as a boutique publisher, ended up selling several thousand, and been able to quickly shift their model of business, book by book. That shows an extraordinary flexibility few publishers can adapt to. Their core principal is to treat each published book individually, rather than impose a model that may hurt the book’s sales. That includes making the book available through a multiple of hardback, paperback, Kindle ebook or POD, combined with traditional and online marketing.

I thought Book Republic might be a perfect fit for The Memory of Trees and submitted.  My instinct proved right, and in May 2011, I met their editor Karen Hayes and editorial director John Mooney. I discovered two people who live and breathe books in their daily lives and know the business inside out and are prepared to work with an author and not work against or in spite of that author.

Over the coming weeks, before publication, I will update this series on production to marketing.


You can find the previous linked article, From Inkwell to Submission, here.       
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