Wednesday 25 July 2012

Contacting your publisher

I took a look at another “small press” publisher yesterday. Actually, they weren’t so small. They have about twenty imprints, a handful of permanent staff, they use a lot of freelancers, and have about 100 titles. They’re small in the sense that they aren’t one of the Big Six. They admit to concentrating mainly on mid-list, and as with many indies, all the staff work from home. For some strange reason, many people distrust a lack of office.  Pause for thought there: my husband, senior systems architect for IBM, currently working for General Motors and in daily contact with the US and India, works form the smallest bedroom in our house. If IBM can do it, why not publishers?
My husband’s main gripe is that he spends so much time on the phone in meetings, he can’t actually get the work done. Thank goodness for the time difference. It gives him a clear run in the morning.
Writers and publishers are also busy people. I’ve only supplied a contact telephone number on my publishers’ site because there was the suggestion again that a publisher without a landline phone number and an address is not a real publisher. I don’t particularly like the phone. I find it difficult to speak on the phone and when it rings it interrupts my train of thought. In an email I can give a more measured response. But even email can be disruptive. I actually only go through it once a day in detail, though I will have it on, and will answer any urgent matter quickly. I also tend to let the phone go to voicemail and process all of my calls in one go.
However, an author’s perception of what is urgent and a publisher’s may be different. We find it urgent if a writer has not returned proofs or supplied a bio within the time-frame requested. Writers find it urgent if they have not heard form the publisher in a while. This worries me slightly. I am also a writer and between my writing, publishing and teaching activities, I rarely notice the time going by. With my own publishers I assume no news is good news. That has always been the case.
The small press publisher I looked at yesterday does not even respond to email. In fact they don’t even give an email address. All contact is through a contact form. However, once you are an author and your book is out, you have access to a database that shows how and where your book is selling and that helps you to assess where and when you can give an extra push to sales yourself. Not a bad idea. I’ve managed to contact some of the authors they publish, who are all also published elsewhere, and they all seem happy. Worth considering?
But when should you contact your publisher? Obviously, when you can’t meet a deadline or something happens in your life that is going to hold back publication. Certainly, if you haven’t heard from them within the timeframe that they originally suggested or if you suspect something has gone astray via email or snailmail. And you should be business-like and to the point. Even your discussion of editorial and marketing issues should be calm and collected. Do remember yours is not the only book they’re dealing with.
Publishers are on the side of writers – without them there would be nothing to publish. They want the best possible book and they want it to sell well. We’re all in this together. Allow your publishers to spend their time on what matters most: making great books and getting them out there.        

Tuesday 17 July 2012

Book covers

They remain as important as ever – perhaps more important now that there are legitimate ways of self-publishing, especially electronically. They are also, some claim, one of the clearest signs of amateurism. I recently heard someone who edits for the one of the Big Six claim that “publishers know about covers”. Many authors I know dislike the front cover that the publisher has provided. The publishers defend them by saying that they know what attracts readers and they know how marketing works.I’d actually dispute that the Big Six always get it right and that the indies and self-publishers get it wrong. Bridge House has produced some fabulous covers – including those produced by three professional artists and a professional photographer, but also some rather splendid ones produced by the partners. In fact, we love our covers so much we actually used them to produce a calendar one year.   
For The Best of CafĂ©Lit 2011, we used a stock picture and only spent a few pounds. We like it so much we may well continue to use it, but with different colour ways in subsequent years.   
My son, one for the professional artists who has worked for Bridge House, contacted me recently. He is also a fashion designer and works free-lance. He’d been knocked off his bike and had a broken foot, so was confined to the house. Did I need any illustrations doing? As a matter of fact, I did. One Red Telephone book is just going through the publication process. He has produced the most stunning Red Telephone cover yet. One of the competition winners has produced his own cover for the book we are going to publish. Coincidentally, it is very similar in style to the one produced by my son. Are we developing a house style?  
What must a cover do? It must attract and intrigue. It must be true to the content but there should be no spoilers. It’s useful if the blurb suggests certain aspects of the book and the cover supplements this or even suggests something slightly different; the latter increases the intrigue.                            

Monday 2 July 2012

Working with interns

It’s a sad fact these days that you can’t get work without experience and there is even great competition for unpaid work experience. There’s a lot of talk about the unfairness of this at the moment and employers are being accused of getting labour for free.
But proper internship isn’t about getting free labour and arguably it’s fair that the interns aren’t paid because it takes the employer longer to stop what they’re doing and show the intern how to do it. The intern is also given some training.
How much the intern can gain from their experience depends on what the employer is actually offering.
It’s quite common for internships with publishers to last a couple of weeks. The intern does indeed do the coffee run but s/he gets to sit next to an experienced worker and watches some of the important action, joining in it from time to time.
At The Red Telephone and Bridge House we’ve done this a little differently. We haven’t invited them into the office – we don’t have one. We all work from home. Five interns have worked for five hours a week for fifteen months, swapping roles every three months. They have worked on submissions and enquiries, and taken it in turns to aid the three partners. They’ve been copied into all but the truly confidential emails. They’ve written acceptances and rejections on our behalf and sometimes sent out contracts. They’ve even, under supervision, helped with the selection and editing of texts. 
We haven’t been able to adhere to our rota too rigidly – one partner left, one intern found a job with a magazine and another with a radio station. At times there has been less work on offer. At other times we could have found them much more to do. But they always set to willingly and they have all done well. Even the ones who found paid work managed still to do some work for us. We wish we could offer them full time work but we can’t.
However, we are prepared to give them glowing references and we’ve added them to our list of free-lancers whom we do pay.