Friday, 6 November 2009

WHO'D BE A (SMALL) PUBLISHER?

One of the most ignorant and annoying things that a frustrated unpublished author can say to excuse constant rejection is, "Kuh, publishers  -  they're only in it for the money, of course." What? So you thought they were in it for a free passage to heaven?

Publishing is a business. So is writing, though a weirdly unprofitable one. Yes, many of us are passionate about writing, so passionate that we do it for peanuts; and many publishers are passionate about publishing good books. But tell me why a publisher should deliberately pay to serve your passion?

Anyway. That's quite enough crabbit for one day because I would now like to introduce you to a woman who is passionate about publishing but who is learning just how difficult it is to survive in it, let alone become rich on it.

Her name is Lynn Michell and she is the woman behind one-woman band, The Linen Press. (Oh, for goodness' sake  -  I've just realised why Linen...) I'd like you to listen to her and then tell me that publishers are only in it for the money. The Linen Press has been running for two years and has published four books. I am not giving you Amazon links, though that would earn me some pennies  -  I'm just showing you the covers and if you'd like to buy one, or find out more, you could (I suggest) do so on the sales page of The Linen Press:

Right, let's talk to Lynn. (And do ask her questions or make comments afterwards.)

Me: How and why did you do this crazy thing called publishing  -  and on your own?

I had run writing groups for many years and had often mulled over the possibility of helping women writers reach a wider audience. The final push came when 92 year old Marjorie Wilson, wearing pink and purple and with three pairs of glasses round her neck, joined our group and I discovered a rare, lyrical voice.  Her memoir of Edinburgh at the turn of the century had to be published. I set up The Linen Press and Childhood’s Hill was its first publication.
Me: I wouldn't know where to start. How did you know or how did you learn?
It has been a huge learning curve for me.  I naively thought publishing was about reading manuscripts and choosing beautifully crafted, thought-provoking books which would sell themselves.  My role model is The Women’s Press.  Remember those striped spines that used to have a stand of their own along with Virago?  As a new writer I worked with Kathy Gale, then MD, for seven years. She always called manuscripts ‘projects’ because she worked painstakingly with her authors until she was satisfied. That is how I work.  I take on a manuscript that shows promise but requires a lot more editing and re-drafting than any big publisher would offer. But the book world has changed and now I dare not take on a writer unless her book has a strong selling hook and unless she can help with the publicity and sales. Stephanie Taylor, author of The Devil The Device and Me, is currently giving readings, talks, and approaching shops so it’s very much a joint effort between publisher and writer.
Me: What about the money side? People seem to think that publishers roll away with loads of profit. Can you spill the beans??
The financial challenge for a small publisher is formidable.  Let me give you some figures:

 - One book costs £4 to produce because I do small runs of 1000. I refuse to compromise on quality and I use environmentally friendly paper and ink.

 - I charge £10 a copy

 - Amazon takes 60% and I pay £1.75 to replace the book. If you do the sums, that's £6 for Amazon, plus £1.75 p&p, and the £4 production costs, so I am actually paying Amazon £1.75 for every book they sell. If readers ordered from my website I would make £6. [Good God  -  sorry, I can't help interrupting. That's horrible.]

- The big book stores charge me 50% mark up get a book onto one of those tables where people stop and browse. If I sell a copy, I make £1.
Me: if you're passionate about publishing, and you're certainly not going to get rich on it, you must have clear ideas about how to direct that passion. How do you decide what to publish?
Because we are the newest, smallest publisher on the block, I rely on my slush pile. So how do I pick the ones to read? First, despite the clear guidelines on my website, I get submissions from men, and children’s stories and chick lit and other stuff I say I do not publish. Second, I can usually tell from the introductory letter whether the accompanying chapters are worth reading. Third, I want a synopsis - not the plot chapter by chapter - but a synopsis, and if a writer does not know what a synopsis is then she too gets passed over. I am looking for writing which makes me think: ‘Ah I’m in good hands here. This person knows her craft.’
And when I get a professional letter, a good synopsis and some engrossing, beautifully written chapters I am fired with enthusiasm.  That excitement never goes away. I love the working bond that develops between myself and my writer.  I am personally involved at every stage of the production and am as proud as the author when I hold it the book my hands. The Linen Press has integrity and passion.  I hope we survive.
I am quite humbled by that, to be honest. It would be so much easier, wouldn't it, to focus on big-selling stuff, commercial books, the ones that tick all the boxes for flying off the shelves? But just as we don't all write those "commercially sensible" books, not all publishers publish them either. So, for all our sakes, and the sake of the future range of literature, we should support these small presses and spare a thought for the struggling publisher as well as the struggling writer.

Now, some of you will be thinking, "Struggling writer or struggling publisher: stop being so foolish and go and earn some real money! After all, no one's forcing you to do this." Well, then where would we all be? Getting Katie Price in our Christmas stockings, that's what. Euuwwww.

I am currently torn between buying Stephanie Taylor's book on The Linen Press website (because more money will go to author and publisher) and buying it from Waterstone's, (because then Waterstone's will be more likely to re-order it and notice it.) No, I'm not torn. Not at all. 

Do check out Stephanie's website. And the domain name that I want to kill her for.

I should declare a semi-interest here. I met Stephanie, Lynn's newest author, some months ago, though I had no idea she was published by Lynn who would later contact me through my blog. Stephanie is delightful and her book LOOKS stunning. I want it. And I am going to insist that neither Lynn nor Stephanie sends me a free copy, because the absolute least I can do is buy it.

Do you have any questions or comments for Lynn? I know she'll be happy to answer them. And I could very easily get Stephanie to drop by, too.

Good luck to both of them and very good luck to The Linen Press.

64 comments:

Thomas Taylor said...

Those numbers are so depressing. I don't live in an English-speaking country, but despite the inconvenience and long waits, I won't order through Amazon any more. I'd rather call a little independent shop in the UK, and they are usually very pleased to hear from me.

I wish the Linen Press well, and say thanks -- my wife and my mother are going to get Christmas presents this year after all:)

Lacer said...

That is shocking about Amazon (feel guilty about all my Amazon purchases now). You'd think in a 'nice' world, that as they sell so many books they could afford to give a little bit more of the cover price back to the publisher!

lyuba said...

Like Thomas, I'm going to encourage everyone I know to buy directly from author's websites, small publishers & independent booksellers, beacuse I realise, from what Lynn says, how much we apiring writers NEED TO SUPPORT THEM, if we are to have any realistic hope of getting something published.
It's quite depressing, nowadays- many publishers are only interested in even looking at work if the author is a "Celebrity" or has a substantial publishing history, as they only want to publish big sellers.

A question for Lynn:
Do you find that the plethora of Writing Courses, How to Books & Writers' Sites have had any effect on what's sent to you/published? If so, how?

Nicola Morgan said...

Probably fair to point out that Lynn's horrible Amazon situation is because her production costs are so high - the good reasons for which she explains. So, it's not the case that all Amazon purchases benefit author and publisher so negatively (negative benefit? You know what I mean!). They do, however, take a high discount from the publisher (and therefore author) and their way of doing business is pretty hard for small producers to manage, I understand.

Nicola Morgan said...

PS - so, yes, buying from indie bookshops or a publisher's own website is the best way, if you can possibly afford it. It's very hard to pay full price when you know you'll get such a big discount from Amazon, but it's a decision we each have to make as well as we can.

Lynn said...

Thank you, Thomas, Lacer and Lyuber for your support. You've cheered me on and I'm grateful. I don't think many readers have any idea how much of a cut Amazon and the chain book shops take but as Nicola says, this is not such a killer if you are a huge conglomerate and can do a print run in hundreds of thousands because then the cost per book to the publisher comes right down and the margin of profit is bigger. Because I am small, new and unknown I can not risk a print run of more than 1000 which pushed up the cost hugely. Our garages and sheds are stuffed with books already.

Vanessa Gebbie said...

Thank you to Lynn and to all those who run the small presses. We NEED you - writers and readers alike. I've just ordered a book and look forward to what I know will be a special read.

Lynn said...

Lyuba, to answer your question: there may well be a fall out from all the creative writing courses on offer, though not the well established and known ones. I get a lot of manuscripts that tell a simple story of a person's life, usually autobiographical, that has no other layers. People are writing their memoirs, sometimes thinly disguised as fiction, not realising that while fascinating to them, these stories do not reach out to other readers. Maybe writers are being encouraged to write memoir and narrative closely based on their own experiences - and that's not necessarily bad - but there has to be some interesting background and historical or social context and memoirs have to raise issues which are common to others.

Lynn said...

Thank you, Vanessa, for your encouragement. I keep thinking there must be a way round all this so that I am not losing money - but so far a solution has evaded me. if anyone has any ideas do please send them in.

Delia lloyd said...

What a lovely interview! It's always so inspiring to hear about these new presses who are running against the tide. (And sobering, to hear the *real* numbers). Good luck, Lynn!

Delia lloyd
www.realdelia.com

Stephantom said...

Hello there,

I'm Stephanie Taylor - one of Lynn's authors (gosh, that sounds posh!). It is a delight to work with someone so enthusiastic about my book and to have such involvement throughout the publishing process. I really feel that Lynn understood what my book was about. A lot of other publishers and agents told me that while they liked my experimental and unique writing they could not see a market and so wouldn't take me on. This is what I love about the Linen Press - the more challenging - the better!! Slowly but surely and with persistence we are getting The Device, The Devil & Me into the bigger bookshops. It has and will take more time, but I feel it has been worth the wait! Thanks to Nicola for highlighting us independents - and to Lynn - for being so brave! x x

Sheila said...

Just to say to Lynn, I bought one of your books ('Missing') at the Book Festival after meeting you as I stood in a queue there. I'm now desperately hoping you got some sort of cut of the bookshop profit! I was really interested to read more about the story behind the Linen Press - thanks Nicola for telling us it.

lyuba said...

Re: Lynn's comment about the content of writing courses affecting what authors send in-Yes,memoirs do seem to be the "Big thing" in a lot of writing courses. I've looked around at a lot of Universities & Colleges offering M.A. s and there seems to be a BIG divide between the longer established courses (e.g. UEA, Glasgow Uni etc) and more recently instituted courses. I recently went to a Reading of work by new grads. at my "local" Uni. and the standard was awful-and very memoir orientated!
Gol what's on offer/the standard of graduate work

Elen Caldecott said...

Mum's Christmas present sorted! Thanks Nicola, Lynn and your authors.

z said...

I'm a small publisher too, and have lost a chunk of my pension every year for 9 years. I had done my business plan on the back of a postage stamp, and it was woefully ignorant.

There really should be a book on how not to be a small publisher. Lynn has left out loads of the costs, such as Pubweb and Amazon Advantage and ISBN purchase; and cover design and typesetting and proof-reading if you can't do it youself.

Why don't we write it, Lynn?

Authors who want their memoirs or experimental writing in print should use Lulu or similar self-publishing - nothing wrong with honesty, and your friends can order copies.

This year is utterly different for me, because I have a new author, Gordon J. Brown, who is a professional sales and marketing man, and he does it brilliantly. I have sold more of his book, "Falling, than all the 22 books in the previous eight years. It is highly skilled, extremely hard work, and often difficult, but he has done it. Go to gordonjbrown.com or fleglingpress.com to get the flavour.

Hey, it is also very difficult to get book reviews nowadays, isn't it Lynn?

Z

steeleweed said...

I am delighted to find someone out their is willing to put quality first. The days are long gone when big publishers used the backlist to support publishing new high-quality work that might not be profitable.
The late Alan Tate (Swallow Press and other imprints) was never able to turn away good writing. One way or another, he would publish it. He worked himself to death doing as much of the physical process himself to keep costs down (and probably died broke.) On the other hand, his publishing represented some of the best literature of this period.

Best wishes to Linen Press.

Nicola Morgan said...

Z - that's very interesting because I was just about to say, in answer to Lynn's request for suggestions, (and actually, she knows this answer as well as I do), that it's down to finding the right author with the right book, and then having the perfect mixture of marketing, hard graft and luck. The luck mainly for the reviews, which can propel success.

And it's interesting because when I talk to writers about how to get published, I tell them they have to write the right book at the right time and send it to the right publisher in the right way at the right time. So, it's worthwhile for authors to turn that around a little, because we always think that publishers have all the power, and to realise that actually publishers need the right author with the right book as much as the other way round.

Which is not to say that the right author + right book is any "better" than a midlist one, just that in terms of earning money (for writer AND publisher, because they are inextricably linked), all those boxes have to be ticked. I find myself writing what i love and earning little from it, and earning a lot more from the add-on stuff, like articles and speaking.

Your problem is how to find the right book; ours is how to write it. And yet at the same time, publishers like you, and writers like many of us (me included, I hope) will continue to put our hearts and passions into the job, over and above what our heads might say. Long may that be allowed to continue!

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

those numbers are horrible!!! I started an Amazon.com boycott months ago, but I'm going to make it official and try to sway others to see it my way.

Anonymous said...

I love the cover for The Device. The minute I finish my NaNoWriMo project--a chicklit novel--I'll send it Lynn's way.

Oh, and maybe toss synopses into the main post? Try to move some units, and all of that? For anyone too lazy to click the link:

Lauren Walker has been keeping one hell of secret: she is possessed by the Devil. Fear of discovery has forced Lauren to be a model citizen with strict, self-imposed rules. She must be ultra good and kind and must avoid church at all costs ...

Breeze from the River Manjeera tells the story of the engaging Neela who arrives in England as a bride for the brutal Ajay. The life that awaits Neela is a far cry from her hopes and expectations. Treated worse than a servant by her in-laws, and unwanted by her husband, she finally escapes in search of independence and freedom.

A bittersweet, turn-of-the-century memoir about the Seventh Daughter, a child blessed with strange powers and an almost pagan reverence for nature, growing up in Edinburgh and the countryside of Midlothian.

In the spring of 1958, journalist Frances Daye is persuaded to follow the trail of yet another woman thought to be the Grand Duchess Anastasia. While she searches for Ania through the avenues and boulevards of Paris, she is haunted by memories of her past and begins to recall a long forgotten tale of her own.

Proe

Nicola Morgan said...

Steeleweed - I'm very much hoping that Lynn doesn't work herself to death or die broke. And yes, it's good to see this passion and desire for quality, isn't it?

Lynn said...

Hey, Anonymous

Thank you so much for putting up the synopses. I wasn't going to turn this blog into a Linen Press advert but you've done it for me. The exchange here is proving stimulating and heartfelt.

.And Tamara, I'll join a Boycott Amazon website.

And everyone, sorry my photo has escaped being uploaded. It's nice to see your correspondent.

David J Griffin said...

A real eye-opener for me, indeed.

Part of my so-called personal writing mantra, is included: "no one says writing is easy". It's easy to add that no one says publishing is easy.

I wish Linen Press (as well as all other independent publishers) every success.

Lynn said...

Maybe I should also say something about the distribution process.

I turned up at Waterstones in Edinburgh with my very heavy bag of 10 of Stephanie's books. The manager finally agreed to take 4. No, they couldn't take them out of my arms. This is what happens: Waterstones contacts the distributor Gardners in Sussex and orders 4 books from the Linen Press, Gardeners emails me and orders 4 books, I post the books to Gardners in Sussex, Gardners posts the books back up to Waterstones in Edinburgh. Amazing.

Lynn said...

So, Zander, it has taken a professional salesman to sell more copies of his novel than you've sold altogether in 9 years! Should writers enroll for business and sales courses before they begin on their novels?

Bobby said...

Thanks for the link to this article Nicola. Publishing is a tough business, and there used to be a time when retailers and publishers worked side by side. What we see with the Amazons of this world is the nature of big business, but things will change over time. In a recession people tend to look back, when times were better, and companies took better care of their output.

We need small presses, because paradoxically they take on more risk than the bigger publishers, as they tend to stick to a specific goal.

The trick is, inevitably, how to make that goal profitable.

Bobby

www.protectthethingsyoulove.org

Anonymous said...

A word about the Amazon issue. It's not even a question of the reader forgoing huge discounts. Lynn can sell a book on her webite for the same price as you pay Amazon for the same book. The first one she'll make a reasonable profit on. The second she'll lose on (a `negative benefit' in Nicola's nice phrase).

At the beginning, Amazon did wonders cutting into the fat in some lazy monopolies. Now Amazon is the fat monopoly.

KforKafka

Jenzarina said...

Thank you for opening my eyes about book websites. All my Christmas presents will be coming straight from the publisher's own websites this year.

What a fascinating post and comments!

Kate said...

Wow that was an interesting interview - makes you realise quite how dedicated some of the publishers are.

Kate x

z said...

I don't agree with boycotting Amazon. They lost money for years, and have a better bibliographic service than many libraries.

It's hard for small publishers, and for the writers who depend on them, but it is good for book-lovers and readers, and that's good.

If you shop at Tesco, Asda, or even Marks, you may be screwing the producer too. Or if you shop on the internet... It's all competition, and we have to brace ourselves and adjust to it.

Nicola Morgan said...

Zander - I don't advocate boycotting amyone (though there may be exceptions!) but I do advocate trying, where possible, to do the greatest good. I think that the greatest good is done when the greatest amount of benefit goes to author, via publisher if there's a publisher. I wouldn't want Amazon to fail (for the reasons you give) but I simply think my money is better spent closer to source and with less of it going to anyone who insists on high discounts. I admit that I often make the wrong decision so please don't think I'm being saintly, but if we even make good decisions some of the time that helps.

And rather aptly, an envelope has just flopped through my letter-box, containing my copy of Device, Devil + Me - HAND-delivered by the publisher (with difficulty, since I live in a secret street which she couldn't find yesterday). And yes, I did buy it from her website. And it does look fabulous and I do like the first few pages, but now I must stop indulging myself and work.

Karen Jones Gowen said...

Question for Lynn-- would it be possible to up the price on your books? Especially if they are beautifully designed (which they appear to be) and well- written. Many readers I know will pay more for quality. I'm not sure how this price compares to U.S. but most buyers expect to pay $15 for even a paperback, although not much more than $20 for a hard cover.

Lynn said...

Zander, citing other conglomerates who are as greedy as Amazon doesn't excuse Amazon's refusal to discriminate between big publishers who can afford their mark up and small publishers who go bankrupt because Amazon rips them off. If Tesco and Asda et al had agreed to sell my books, which they didn't, they may have demanded a big mark up too . But speaking from my own experience, Amazon takes the biggest cut at 60% PLUS post and package to replace the book. You can't excuse that.

Lynn said...

Karen, thank you for your kind comment.

Let me tell you what happened when I walked into a certain unnamed Blackwells and asked the fiction buyer if she would take a few copies of my last two publications. She said:

'We can't sell novels at £10! No-one would pay that much'
'In my experience small publishers don't do well at all. we can't shift their books.'

£10 is already more than the usual £7.99 and that's without all the special offers.

Anna Bowles said...

I must admit I feel increasingly ambivalent about buying anywhere except a proper inde bookshop, and this sort of thing is why.

One problem is, the kind of people who work in creative industries and care enough to buy their books in inde shops also tend not to earn much money to buy them with!

DOT said...

I am so happy the penny dropped late relating the name of the founder, Lynn, to the name of her publishing house, Linen Press.

I constantly miss connections, much to the glee of my girls.

Linen Press sounds exactly like a publisher I would like to work with. I think I might submit my MS under a pseudo name. Dorothy Dot, perhaps.

(I too echo all the comments about Amazon. Will not order from them again.)

Karen Jones Gowen said...

I understand the Amazon issue, yet I can't see where the bookstore in Edinburgh where Lynn wanted to stock was much more helpful. The distribution channel sounds ridiculous and horrendous. I publish with a small press, which has been in business just barely 3 years, and although we want to support and work with the independent bookstore, they don't make it real easy. If my book gets sold out, they don't call to reorder. They only reorder if my publisher calls them. This can get very tedious when you are talking about 100 stores. Yet Amazon is always right on it. As soon as stock runs low, they order more. No hoops to jump through, no phone calls to make. Just an email to the publisher requesting more books. Shipping costs can be reduced by asking them to order more than a few, which they nearly always do, and that keeps shipping low with media mail. There have never been returns either with Amazon. Can't say the same for the indie bookstore. And the publisher often pays shipping for them as well, just to make it competitive and up the order a bit.

I don't think Amazon is the villain here, it is probably most likely due to print and production costs. A small press won't make money unless it can afford to cut costs in production and printing.

I hope for a blockbuster with Linen Press, to make them a huge profit so they can keep publishing the literary masterpiece. And I hope the same for my publisher.

Jemi Fraser said...

Great interview! Very interesting stuff :)

Sharon Mayhew said...

Best wishes go to Linen Press and their writers. I don't think I'll be ordering through Amazon anymore. If I can find the book at the bookstore or the publisher's site.

lyuba said...

I hope for a blockbuster with Linen Press, to make them a huge profit so they can keep publishing the literary masterpiece. And I hope the same for my publisher.


I wholeheartedly agree with that!

Lynn said...

This interview has provoked some strong feelings. Karen, I accept my production costs are high but Amazon takes the cruelest cut.

When The Women's Press was still going (my role model!) a few famous writers loyally stuck with them because MD Kathy Gale worked with integrity and wisdom - Kate Chopin, Joan Barfoot, Alice Walker to name a few. The Women's Press could risk taking on unknown writers - like me - on the back of sales from the established writers. I would love this to happen to Linen Press.

Hema Macherla said...

I am very proud and privileged to be one of Lynn's authors.

My book 'Breeze from the River Manjeera' wouldn't have been published if it wasn't for Lynn. After so many rejections from mainstream publishers, I lost hope and decided to dump it in a dark corner. Lynn rescued it.

Here was a publisher who understood my main character Neela, a young woman from a different culture who came to the UK from India to an arranged marriage.

I was over the moon. Even though I was nervous at first dealing with a real publisher, it was so exciting and Lynn made me feel at ease . Ever since, she had been my mentor. Working with her has been a joy and a learning process for me.

She nurtured my book and is still as passionate as I am about Manjeera. She tirelessly explained everything to me, sometimes staying up until the early hours, shutting down the outside world for weeks on end.

Manjeera took off. I was awarded a 'Reading Hero' By Sarah Brown at Downing Street, and had invitations from the great Indian associations like TANA,(Telugu Association of North America) in Chicago, and Albuquerque. Early this year MANJEERA was entered for The 'Big Red Read' and was runner up,voted by readers. I have taken part in book-festivals, library talks and book signings. I have done interviews with BBC Radio in London, Birmingham and Leicester and appeared on Britasia TV.

Lynn, this is all happening because of you. YOU made my dream come true.

Love YOU lots,
Hema

Nicola Morgan said...

Just thought you might like to know that if I'm feeling a little tired today it's because I was reading The Device, The Devil and Me until far far too late. 100 pages in one go and it's a very very long time since a book did that to me. Thanks, Stephanie and Lynn! It's not a book I'd recommend to everyone, because I'm finding it pretty searing and traumatic, (though utterly riveting, which is the main thing) and it's not a book for most of the men I know (but it is a women's press, so that's obvious), but for a deep and no-holds-barred dissection of and insight into mental illness and loss, it's very very well done. Stephanie should have a good career ahead of her (and a pretty good one behind her too!). Mostly, thanks for producing a book in which the strength of writing is balanced by strength of plot. And I have high hopes of the second half too...

Lynn said...

Nicola, DDM is a raw, heart-breaking and blackly funny novel but - without giving too much away - just wait until you get to the ending!

Cara said...

I think it's important for writers to realise that not all publishers are just 'in it for the money' and this interview is a valuable insight.

I designed the cover and restored the (truly ancient) photographs for Childhood's Hill. It was a huge and time consuming project and what Lynn could afford to pay me worked out at about 50p an hour but it wasn't something that I took on for money, it was for the love of the book.

There are people out there working for the love of the project in question so do keep the faith if you are trying to get something published.

Anonymous said...

This is a very interesting insight into the world of small publishers and those numbers are very intimidating.


Lynn, you ask 'Should writers enroll for business and sales courses before they begin on their novels?' and I would without a doubt say no, that is not the writer's role. I do believe however that anyone who is trying to sell books professionally (ie, small publishers) should as this is a fundamental skill that anyone who sells a product should have and that a lot of people who are in it for the love of the product lack.

Neither publishers or authors should have to rely on an author's PR and sales skills to sell books. It is terrible business sense for the press to only be able sell when the author is gifted at sales and it is unfair on authors to publish their work when you aren't able to sell it.

I do hope that you're managing to sell your books which all sound fascinating. It's wonderful that someone is publishing authors like Hema and Stephanie and making their dreams a reality.

Christine Coleman said...

Hi Nicola
Thank you so much for this post - I found it fascinating to hear Lynn's story, and then explore the excellent Linen Press website.
I found all the comments encouraging in a weird sort of way - I've been learning a lot about publishing recently, so I was already aware of the huge discount demanded by Amazon. I like the way these comments answer and challenge each other - I , too, feel ambivalent about Amazon, - as an author,published by a small independent,(Transita) it's an excellent shop window for readers' reviews. My book, The Dangerous Sports Euthanasia Society was published 4 years ago, and my 28th review was posted there this July.

Unfortunately, Transita had a short but brilliant life - it brought out 32 new novels between April 2005 and December 06.
Most of us,their authors, put a lot of effort into promoting ,not just our own, but our fellow-'Transisters' books. Nikki and Giles, the publishers had under estimated the difficulties of getting their books into (and more importantly, out of) the book shops, and had to pull back from novels (they publish Howto Books)

I may now be heading in a similar direction to Lynn - I belong to a talented writing group and I'm the muggins who's stuck my head over the parapet and dipped my toe in the water of publishing (yeh, I know - mixed metaphor!) I'm starting with my own novel, and if I manage to break even,I'll haul the others onto my bandwagon,(NovelPress) and see where it leads.
I know it'll be a rocky road, but one of these years, I might be in a position to offer to take on book from people beyond our small group.

Lynn said...

Dear Anonymous, I was being facetious about the sales courses. Bet you know that. It's not a question of using authors as salespeople so much as taking on a writer who wants to promote her own book and who already has a head start - like Hema Macherla who has been supported by her Telugu speaking associations. And it's not just the small publishers who have one eye on promotion. I spoke to two literary agents recently both of whom said that they find it almost impossible now to sell a new writer to a publisher unless they can see a strong publicity hook or a celebrity connection or something for the media to seize on. They both said that the literary novel is hardest of all to sell. This is the world we live in and we have to adapt or find an alternative course.

I edit books because I'm good at it and I love doing it. No-one has forced me into it. It's a challenge I willingly take on because my heart is in it. Mea culpa!

lyuba said...

Publicity hook/celebrity connection?...yes, sounds about right. Julian Clary, Paul O'Grady and Sandra Howard are all near neighbours of mine and all of them have had a couple of books each published recently- doubtless without the increased difficulties of being an unknown name.
I'm not saying that Julian, Paul or Sandra are less able writers than the "unknowns" like myself, by the way, simply that this is a clear illustration from my recent experience of the validity of Lynn's comment.
Problem is, I don't see any way to change it- people will always be attracted to familiar names first, won't they?

Cathy said...

I'm interning for Lynn and I'm pleased that her article has stirred up so much discussion! However I don't think it is the book shops that are the biggest problem for small publishers, we are after all stocked in Borders, Blackwells and Waterstones now!
The problem is that the press seem completely uninterested in reviewing The Device The Devil and Me. Until it is reviewd by a couple of big publications, the public will not know that the book exists.

If anyone wants to take a look at some quotes and publicity for DDM, click here http://docs.google.com/View?id=dfqdspz2_1wfb853fk

Cathy said...

Ooops, or copy and paste the link!

Lynn said...

Cathy, you're absolutely right. It was only when a double page feature about Childhood's Hill appeared in the Scotsman that this poignant memoir started to sell. There was a photo of Marjorie Wilson together with her personal recollections of a time long ago- and that sold books.

Nicola Morgan said...

cathy said: "The problem is that the press seem completely uninterested in reviewing The Device The Devil and Me. Until it is reviewd by a couple of big publications, the public will not know that the book exists." The thing is that most books are not reviewed in the press for the very simple reason that far far far more books are published than could possibly be reviewed. This is nothing to do with small publishers, just an inevitable fact for anyone. I know people well published by big publishers, who have not had decent review coverage, despite having written books that readers love. We cannot sit around bemoaning this - it's competition with a great deal of inevitable luck thrown in.

The newspaper literary editor also has to trust the publisher's back copy blurb and press release - I know books that would never get reviewed simply because those two things are so badly done. The Lit Ed won't even open the book - because yes you sometimes can judge a book by its cover and when you've got a couple of hundred arriving on your desk why would you go further than an over-written, over-long blurb that doesn't give the essence of the book? I'd love to give you examples but...

Remember, you're talking to a children's writer here and children's books are notoriously poorly covered in newspaper review sections. And I mean really poorly. But we have to face facts - i'ts how it is, and the advertisers' demands are another part of the equation in press coverage.

I have in the past reviewed for the Guardian. Each time I've done a children's supplement, I've been sent literally hundreds of books, of which I was allowed to pick 10 - and that was for a SPECIAL supplement: the figures for normal reviewing are even starker.

A newspaper review also does not always have much effect (though sometimes it does, of course.) The slow-burn word of mouth is generated in different ways and we cannot wait for a newspaper reviewer to pick our book up and complain when they don't. It's not going to get us anywhere.

Just as we need to understand authors and publishers, we also need to understand readers, especially reviewers, and when the facts are against us we have to find another way. In my view, newspaper reviews are the icing on the cake and lovely for the author but not worth angsting about. I wrote about this in the last issue of The Author.

Nicola Morgan said...

Christine - for some reaons I missed your excellent comment. I was really interested to hear what you're doing - huge luck to you and your group. I think it sounds like an excellent idea.

Watch this space for news of the literary consultancy that I'm about to launch - pen2publication. Although it's aimed at writers wanting to become published, more than self-publishing, it's all about making your book as good as possible, so your group might be interested in some of the professional services we offer. Although I'm not open for business quite yet, and therefore haven't told anyone the web address, it's not terribly hard to find...

lyuba said...

Cathy,

I was wondering, have you thought about approaching local press, free mags etc. with a ready-made review and asking if they'd publish it? Maybe it's worthwhile for your company to pay for a regular ad space in the paper and use that for regular reviews and adverts for the books you're publishing? Maybe Writing Magazines, Lit.Mags, Uni Newspapers etc. are potential review spaces? Ideally, it'd be best to get an independent review,but perhaps if an outlet hasn't got an onsite reviewer, they'd be more willing to print something ready-made? You could maybe get folks to do independent reviews with the promise of a free book as payment, if you advertise on a blog like this, with lots of writers reading it...Personally, I'd jump at such an opportunity, because I'm such a book addict!!!

Lynn said...

I think we may have finally exhausted this topic but I do want to thank you all sincerely for your wise and supportive comments. It's very encouraging to know there are so many of you cheering on small publishers like Linen Press. And a special thank you to those who have ordered books from my website.

Good luck with the writing.
Lynn

Lynn said...

PS

Yesterday's Guardian (G2) has a long article titled 'How Waterstone's crushed the publishing industry.'

Nicholas Spice, publisher of the London Review of Books, says 'Waterstone's has lost its literary soul in stooping to compete with supermarkets and..WH Smith.'

Mark le Fanu, general secretary of the Society of Authors, says 'The emphasis given to the few is staggering...The big corporate publishers dominate the shelves and squeeze out smaller publishers.'

I think they've been reading our blog!

Nicola Morgan said...

I don't entirely agree with the Guardian article. What is Waterstone's supposed to do in the face of supermarkets using books as loss leaders? It's the removal of the NBA that has done it, and the stupid price-cutting of Harry Potter 5, notably by WHSmith, with others following. And we should blame customers (us) too, for being too keen (even if understandably) to have everything as cheap as possible

Christine Coleman said...

My son forwarded me that Guardian article about Waterstones and I had much the same thought as you, Nicola, about the ending of the NBA. It's probably been down hill all the way from then, for authors.
Meanwhile I'm plodding along with our own project, NovelPress.
Sink or swim!

Anonymous said...

Keep the Both Thumbs Up!
Need a Advice

Stroppy Author said...

>But tell me why a publisher should deliberately pay to serve your passion?

Er, because they are making money out of my books, so why should they NOT pay me a decent rate for them? It's my good fortune I have a job I enjoy - if a surgeon loves his/her job, we don't expect him/her to do it for free. Likewise writers.... I expected a bit more of a hard-nosed commercial attitude from you, Crabbit - after all, you have a shoe habit to support!

Nicola Morgan said...

Ooh, Stroppy author - there's me thinking we could have an argument but we can't [shame!] because you misunderstood what I meant by "pay". I didn't mean they shouldn't pay us - GOD NO!!! - I meant they shouldn't be expected to make a deliberate or predicted loss because of us. When a publisher has some high-selling books, that can create a profit which enables them to take risks and make some losses (even maybe some deliberate ones) but I certainly don't expect a business or individual to choose to lose money for the sake of my words. Of course, if someone were that generous, it would be absolutely lovely, but it's unreasonable to expect it. Isn't it? To expect it fails to understand what business is. And writing ought to be able to survive as a business, by having profitable elements that can fund the heart and soul less profitable parts. I think.

Stroppy Author said...

Oh dear, you're right we agree and can't have a fight ;-) I must say I get particularly cross and stroppy when people seem to think publishing owes them a living from writing even if they are not very good at it. Absolutely it is a business. And we could have a huge discussion about the distribution of funds within that business, and how important the profit imperative should be or whether - for instance - there are moral duties, too (to support struggling readers, blind readers etc)... but not now :-)

pierre l said...

I will start off by admitting that I arrived from Vanessa Gebbie's blog and I have had time to read all those comments during my lunch hour; hence apologies if I say something silly.
I did a Find in the comments looking for the word "return" and found Karen Jones Gowen's comment. Let me start off by saying that I do buy a large number of books direct from small (or not so small) publishers (including Salt, Snowbooks and Monday Books) and I have had excellent service from all of those. But I still buy from Amazon and BookDeposistory. It is also worth mentioning that I was an avid reader of Emma Barnes' weekly Snowbooks figure (sadly, no longer available, due to the huge amount of work required).
To get two copies a Linen Press book in Waterstone's nationwide would require the printing of 600 copies (assuming 300 branches). And anytime in the next 18 months, they could return the unsold copies and ask for their money back. That's unfortunate but it's what "sale or return" means. I understand from various sources that Amazon simply do not return books (I suspect that they order from Gardners if they have a sale of a slow-moving book, and keep stock of things they are selling well). In most cases, returned books are pulped because they are soiled, or it's just too difficult to manage them. After all, you couldn't expect Gardners to just empty the boxes of random books from various book sellers, sort them, inspect them and put the clean ones back on the shelf (all for no extra money).
It sounds as though we are talking about a very small publisher indeed (and I will look into her books) and that direct selling for people who know what they want is the answer, and Amazon to catch the other customers.
In view of the production costs, perhaps the selling price is too low.

Lynn said...

My short letter about the Waterstone's article is in The Guardian tomorrow. So they tell me.
Lynn