Tuesday 18 December 2012

Story Time- make sure you get your books

Book world thriving?
It’s that time of the year again. All publishers and book sellers are busy getting books out there. People are still reading. Parcels are flying around the country – around all countries in fact. This year at least, we haven’t had any problems with snow so we are able to get out orders pretty quickly.
Turnaround times
Normally we’ll get books out within forty-eight hours. We get them dispatched straight form the printer to your door. There are three problems at this time of the year, though: everybody else is also getting their books printed and sent out. Shipping is slower anyway because there are a lot of delivery vans on the road. Also, we have to attend a lot of functions. Christmas is an important networking time. That networking helps to sell your books, so we have to go. Don’t feel too sorry for us, though. It is part of the fun. 
How to be organised
It’s good to do your shopping by the end of October. However, you might just miss out on pre-Christmas sales. Look out for Black Friday – the Friday after Thanksgiving. There are some crazy sales then, including books.
If you order from Amazon rather than direct from your small press indie publisher, the publisher will get less and possibly your royalty will be less. But you are more likely to get your goods on time and you may get a good discount. On the other hand, your small indie publisher might have a sale anyway. You could consider buying next year’s presents now.
A voucher is always good, as it’s awkward buying books for people anyway; you can never be sure that they haven’t already read what you’re offering. Personally I’m always delighted to receive a voucher that can only be spent at a bookshop, online or otherwise. If you’re giving a physical voucher, include a post card of your book in the envelop.
Why stories are important at this time of the year
We face the short dark days now. We can often be marooned at home because of bad weather. What better way of spending our time than surrounding ourselves with stories, whether they be in book, film or computer game format. It’s a time of great stories anyway – Christmas, Diwali, Hanukah and Yuletide. We celebrate the return of the light and enlighten ourselves through absorbing story.
I look at the bookshelf containing the as yet unread books. I relish the time over the next couple of weeks when I’ll just be able to stay in and read. Then I look at the shelf containing the books I have read. I hope that they all bring others some pleasure.     

Saturday 1 December 2012

Publishers’ nightmares

Writers often think that publishers are big bad wolves, out to make writers’ lives difficult. But we’re in the business of making and selling beautiful books and other  texts and we’re as committed to that process as the writers. Occasionally as a publisher I have to bite my tongue. Here are a few things that make me cringe:

Incorrectly formatted texts
We like a straightforward double-spaced, ragged right text, with all but first paragraphs indented. We like you to use the version of this provided by Word. Not all publishers, do, mind, but we do and we specify this. It’s really annoying when people put all sorts of other types of formatting in that we can’t easily get rid of.  And what we ask for is not hard to do.

Manually added footers and headers
As both you and we edit, these end up all over the place. Sometimes we might miss them and they appear in the camera-reader copy just at the time we are about work out page numbers to inform book-sellers about our books. It is so easy to create an automatic header and footer.

Writers who change their email address and don’t tell us    
If you change your contact details, please let your publisher know. There are various stages of editing you need to go through and there are proofs you need to sign off. If we have to chase you, your book’s production can be seriously held up.

Writers who take a long time to get back with their edits, proofs or up to date bio  
Yes, we know, we always send them just as you are about to go on holiday or at the same time as another publisher sends you something. A couple of weeks’ delay is fine. I’m talking here about the ones who keep us waiting for months or don’t reply to our emails or phone calls. For multi-author collections we have a special clause in our contracts to cover that. If it’s a single author book it’s not so bad but we have set your window for publicity and production. If you delay we won’t have so much time to spend on that as by then we’ll be working on the next book.    

Writers who can’t respond to editorial suggestions
I’m talking here about more than just accepting changes in Track Changes. Generally, authors are happy to do this because it is usually to do with typos, grammatical mistakes or house style. I’m talking more about when something isn’t working. It may be generally not working or it may be that it doesn’t suit this imprint. It is a tough call. We know that. You’ve done your best and you’ve polished it like mad and now we’re asking for even more changes. Hopefully, though, you now have enough distance from the work to get a new perspective on it. Often what we suggest as a fix isn’t all that good and usually the writer will come up with a brilliant alternative. Sometimes it is so brilliant that it makes the rest of the text look a little dull and so a new cycle for work begins.
We don’t finish work. We abandon it. But this is all about the professionalism of the writer and the publisher.   

Writers who constantly ask when the book will be ready
The answer is always “as soon as possible”. Whatever reason would we have to hold it back? In our case it is never financial, by the way, as we always keep enough in reserve to produce the next book. See all of the above for why your book may be held up. Of course, this may not be your fault if your work is in a multi-author collection. It’s a little worrying too for as a writer you ought really to be so busy with the next thing that you don’t notice any delay.               

But it’s actually great working with writers
Most of the time, at least.  Which is why when any of the above happen I bite my tongue, take a deep breath and explain patiently what is required. Anyway, these are the exceptions rather than the rules.   

Sunday 4 November 2012

Bios are important

Often we publishers ask for a bio when you submit work. At The Red Telephone we certainly do. Even if the publisher doesn’t ask for a bio, it’s sensible to include a short paragraph about your credentials. This might include mentioning any qualifications you have, anywhere else you are published and anything else which shows that you are the right sort of person to have this type of material published.  The latter is very often to do with how you might be able to help publicise and market the book.
So, you might include something like this if you are just starting out:
“I am completing a Short Course in creative Writing with the Open University. My short story Cats Have Eyes was short-listed in the Bentley Festival Short Fiction Competition, July 2012. I have attended several “open mic” events and am confident about presenting my work in public.”
A more experienced author might write:
“I have a Ph D in Creative and Critical Writing.  I have over 30 texts in print, including Butterfly Wings (Alexander, 2009) and The Turning Mind (Spider, 2101) which are similar in genre and style to what I am proposing here. I am experienced in conducting workshops in schools.” Note how the writer who could actually say a lot confines herself to what is important to the project she is proposing.

Why publishers find them important
Although a text will be accepted or not on its own merit, it is useful to the publisher to know a little about the writer. If the text is borderline the bio may help the publisher to decide.
The one from the less experienced writer tells us that the writer is probably used to being critiqued so can react to criticism. She is serious about her work. Other people have rated her work well. She is confident about presenting her work and she may influence her own sales.
The second one confirms that she knows a lot about writing.  In fact, if we’re thinking about rejecting maybe we should take another look.  She’s certainly experienced in reacting to editorial criticism.  She will get behind the book and she’s probably already quite well-known in the circles where we need to make this book visible.
Neither of these, though, give us much sense of the personality of the writer. Possibly a publisher who proactively requests a bio is looking for precisely that.

Bio for a commissioning editor
A 100 word bio:
“I write fiction for children aged 7-12 and short stories for adults. I have published six novels, thirty-five short stories and sixty pieces of flash fiction.
My latest novel Miss Maplethorpe, is for children aged 9-11 (Grey Dogs, May 2012). My stories appear in magazines, anthologies and online publications. Water (June 20102) was short-listed for the Brooker Short Fiction competition.
I have a Masters in Writing for Children (Conty, 2009) and I lecture in Creative Writing at Rundle University.
I make frequent school visits where I read from my work and conduct creative writing workshops.
I enjoy walking and singing”.

How long should a bio be?
As long as the publisher specifies. This can again be a deal clincher. If the publisher is a little uncertain about your script, your professionalism in adhering to the request can persuade that publisher to take a risk with you.
Length can also be a matter of common sense too, especially if the bio is for the reader. We do like to find out something about the author, especially if we want to read more by them.
A few examples follow. Note how if they’re for the reader they tend to be third person. You should always include details of your professional web site.   

For a piece of flash fiction
Flash fiction can be anything from six to a thousand words and the bio should certainly never be longer than the piece itself. It should give a quick definition of the writer and tell the reader where to find out more.
“John Doe writes poetry and flash fiction. Visit him at www.johndoe.co.uk"

For a piece of very short fiction
This should be no more than fifty words plus web address. It gives a little more professional information.   
“Jane Doe writes literary short stories and prose poetry. Her poetry collection Beachcomber is published by Brent Books. Her short story The Lamp won second prize in the prestigious Langton Shorts Competition.
Jane lives with her family in Suffolk and when not writing helps to run the family garden centre. www.janedoe.com 

For longer short fiction
This could be between seventy and a hundred words.
“Fred Blogs writes science fiction and fantasy. His novel ZeroTimes comes out with Zen books in July 2013. His Palenter series is published by SF publications. He is currently working on the ninth novel for this series.
Fred’s short stories have won several prizes, including the 2010 Granter Cup. He has published two collections – Steel Bridges (2009) and Green Islands (2010), both published by Period Books.  
He lives with his wife and two daughters in Devon and works as a full-time writer at his converted chapel. www.fredblogs.com

For inclusion in a single-author volume
This can be much longer and may include some history and testimonial material.

“Jilly Blogs always wanted to be a writer. She has combined a career in nursing with her writing and finally gave up the day job in 2009 to write full time, spurred on by the success of her novel Winthorpe (Granthorpe 2008).
She has four novels in print and Oaks is her second volume of short stories. The first, Rainbows was published in 2010.
Jilly has a long list of published short fiction: in anthologies by both small and big publishers, magazine and online sites. She is also an avid blogger and you can read her words of wisdom on her blog www.mywords.com.
A .N Norton  said of Winthorpe “Jilly Blogs has delighted us with her unique voice. Her prose keeps the reader engaged and she has a strong sense of story. Will she be the long-awaited replacement for Maeve Binchy? ”
Jilly lives with her family in a London penthouse. She spends her time writing and travelling up and down the country to visit various literary festivals where she is a popular visitor.          
Read more about her and her books on www.jillyblogs.com"

Keep your CV up to date.
Publishers frequently ask writers to provide their own bio. Even if you get published by a big publisher and the publicist produces the bio for you, you will be asked to provide material for it. So it’s important to be really strict about keeping a generic bio up to date. Note down every success, every positive review, every public engagement and even every course or conference you attend. You’ll never use all of it in one go. You will have to select quite carefully the details to provide in relation to every project. But if you’ve kept that CV up to date at least you’ve got plenty to choose from.  

Read bios and learn  
Not every author bio is brilliant and you need to read these as critically as you would any other text. You can learn from others, nevertheless.  

And finally one other important fact: writing a bio can make you feel good about yourself.  Sometimes we forget just how successful we are actually being.
Happy bio-writing.           

Wednesday 31 October 2012

Some covers that work

Some covers that work

It goes without saying that we like our own covers: we would never have accepted them if we didn’t. So, I’m not going to talk about ours. I’m picking a handful I like by other publishers.
I heard someone imply the other day that self-published books showed by their covers. I don’t completely agree with that. Sure, full-time publishers know a lot about marketing and may incorporate subtle messages into their designs. But in terms of just being aesthetically pleasing, there are actually some very good ones produced by self-published authors and some very bad ones produced by mainstream publishers.
As a reader I find an attractive cover important. It needs to reflect the style of the book and show me that the book is something I would enjoy.
I’ve used the Amazon Associates images so that you can click though and find out more about each book.

The First Night
This cover is beautifully mysterious and fits the content of the book very well. The blue night-sky background to a scene of nature is exactly fitting as this is where the action takes place. This cover symbolizes the combination of real life and another dimension that makes the book so fascinating.

The English German Girl
(Small press)
This is obviously a book set in the 1930s and 1940s. The red lettering in the title shouts out a warning and is perhaps reminiscent of how red is used in the film Schindler’s List. The cover has a sepia tint and there is an old steam train in the background, almost as a watermark. The little girl holding her suitcase symbolizes the Kindertranpsort child. It promises and delivers an exploration of this puzzling time.

I love the greenness of this cover. The pages of the book itself are edged with black and this adds to the mysterious appearance. The claws and the claw-like hand suggest some horror. Just right for this time of the year.

And not just because of the name “Michael Morpurgo” on the front cover though that of course will recommend a good read. The dog is very realistic and extremely cute. The shadowy helicopters suggest war but there is a soldier holding hands with a child. So, Morpurgo, a dog, and a gentler side of the military. Yes, worth a read. The cover did not lie.

The Mortal Instruments 2 City of Ashes
I confess I have not read this book. But I am attracted by the title. The girl in the sky intrigues me – probably because two of our books are using a similar technique on their covers. The title suggests something dystopian and although there is a lot of that around at the moment, each take on what might happen is different and some interesting futures are being developed. This cover invites me to read.

Please Mrs Butler
Now that I read most books electronically, I’m beginning to collect children’s picture books. You just cannot replicate electronically the experience of holding a picture book and sharing its pages with a child. An App on a tablet just does not deliver in the same way. I could probably include all of the books by Anthony Browne, Allan Ahlberg, Debi Gilori and a dozen nor so others here.
I’ve chosen this one because I like the busy-ness of it. It suggests the book will give us some fascinating glimpses of everyday life. It also reminds me a little of a Lowry painting.