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.)
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.]
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?
- 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.
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.