Tuesday 23 December 2014

The Joy of Editing

The author’s dilemma
It’s tough for writers sometimes. They spend months, maybe years writing, then editing, polishing, and perhaps sharing with critique groups and beta readers. They may send their work out several times and have it rejected. Perhaps they look at it again before it goes out the next time. Then finally comes the day that the work is accepted.
And then the serious editing begins.
Yes, it’s tough for the author. Fortunately, though, by the time we go into full editorial mode, we’ve usually had the script a while and the writer has gained some distance. They’ve also grown as a writer, so it leaves some space for negotiation. 

Creative editing     
We’ve just finished a cycle of publication and I’m now about to settle down to the editing of the next batch. I’ve kind of missed it. Yes, sure it’s great getting your hands on a finished book yet one of the most creative acts for the publisher is working with an author to make sure the book is the very best it can be.

Saturday 29 November 2014

Small Press is not Vanity Press

I was rather dismayed recently to have one of our authors say to me. “I’ve never worked with the vanity press before.”
None of the imprints I work with are vanity press. In fact, they’re pretty traditional because:
·         We don’t charge authors to be published
·         We don’t publish everything that is sent to us.
·         Everything that is published goes through a rigorous editing process.

Tuesday 4 November 2014

Fool proof?


That final stage before we upload to the printers is so crucial. We’ve edited three times at least: the structural edit, the line edit and the copy edit. Now we proof read and we do that after the text is camera ready. Some odd mistakes can creep in at the end.
Here are a few examples of what we’ve found recently:
·         Some formatting jumped and some strange line-throws appeared as a document was changed from Word into a PDF. We think that this was because the original document had been written on a Mac and paragraph breaks were forced.
·         A couple of words collided into each other. We had to put the spaces back in. 
·         One story was written as a letter. We used a special font for that. Every other paragraph reverted to our Normal style.

Sunday 12 October 2014

The Joy of Working with the Small Press

Limited or unfettered?
It may be harder for a book to get noticed if it is published by the small press. The unit cost per book may be higher and this at some point may cramp sales. They do come and go a little. I recently finished an article about the short story market only to find one of the imprints I was describing had shut down. Yet there are some clear advantages of being published by the small press.

Friday 26 September 2014

The Proof Read: the trickiest edit

On average, there are fifteen spelling or grammatical mistakes, typos or formatting quirks per published book. To get to this average we include some self-published books that are dire, some absolutely perfect ones (rare) and the vast majority that have between five and twenty such problems.
Can we improve this? And how do we get to even this level of what is, after all, mainly correctness? There is more right than wrong and we want to keep it that way.

Monday 15 September 2014

Print-on-demand – why not?

I was somewhat saddened to see that authors whose publishers use print-on-demand are precluded from the Sunday Times’ short storycompetition. Yet print-on-demand is a gift to small press. The big companies that operate this system can link publishers up to distributors and provide small presses with a system whereby they don’t pay for any printing until the book is sold. Admittedly unit cost is a lot higher but there are no warehousing or shipping costs and books don’t lie around aging: they are only printed as they are needed. The higher unit cost to the publisher results in only a slightly higher recommended retail price. Print-on-demand has been used for educational and academic books for some time now.

Confusion with self-publishing
Yes, many companies that provide self-publishing services to writers will use print-on-demand. Again this will avoid warehousing costs and guarantee freshly printed books.  But some self-publishing companies and self-publishers themselves use other methods. And several small presses use print-on-demand technology. These include Bridge House, Crooked Cat and Unthank. These houses use the normal selection processes, rejecting a lot, and each book is treated to a full editorial process by experienced editors.  
At that point, doesn’t print-on-demand become quite virtuous? There are no wasted resources, it is better for the environment and for the customer. Even the writer benefits; the publisher can take a risk with a title that is not going to sell millions but is still useful to a niche group of readers.

Self-publishing has come of age
In any case, self-publishing is a more respected act these days. Many self-published books are actually better written than some traditionally produced ones. More often than not a full editorial process has taken place. Sometimes, an out-of-print title can be brought back to life. It’s a good option for a “how to” manual, a writing experiment or for any book with an unusual readership.
The main problem for many fiction writers who self-publish is finding their readership. Again, because the writer uses print-on-demand, at least they are risking no cash even if they have risked a fair amount of time.   

Hopefully soon print-on-demand will be more widely accepted, even by the Sunday Times.


Friday 29 August 2014

Rights and Short Stories

Most writers of short stories will sell their stories several times over. I use the word sell slightly ironically. Very few writers or even publishers make a lot of money from short stories – unless they’re really well-known and put together a single author collection.

Sunday 17 August 2014

Going over to the dark side

Something Hidden
This is Bridge House’s latest anthology and came out just before Christmas last year.  It is a collection made up of entries to our 2011 short story competition. We asked for darker stories and we sure got them. Each one of them leaves you feeling slightly uncomfortable. This poses two questions. Why do we read? Do we always expect a good outcome?

Monday 4 August 2014

Editing short stories electronically

I’m currently editing short stories for an anthology that comes out shortly before Christmas. There’s very little to do in what I would call the first structural edit. We had four times as many stories submitted as we needed so all of the ones we selected really work quite well anyway.
There were just one or two instances in the twelve I edited where something didn’t quite make sense – not because the story was ill-conceived but because there was a small problem with the language.
Nevertheless this time I’m going for three stages of editing – all conducted electronically. I thought it might be useful to describe this process here.

Saturday 19 July 2014

Every text should have one – a fresh-eyed edit

Writers, particularly less experienced ones, often worry that substantial changes might be made to their texts during the editorial process. They worry a little that the story may be lost or skewed. They’re also worried about the amount of work that may be involved.
It’s actually quite unlikely that an editor will ask for major changes to the story. After all, they have accepted this story for publication.  They like it!

Friday 20 June 2014

Towards a bestseller

We all want one – publishers, writers and even readers. For readers it’s confirmation that the work’s likely to be good.  For publishers and writers it means more money and greater justification of their existence. It also becomes a pressure point. Bloomsbury can never be the same again after Harry Potter.
But how does one get there? Many books are just as good if not better than the ones that become bestsellers. What makes the difference?

Thursday 5 June 2014

The last few instances before the book goes to press

You think you’re ready but actually the last few processes are complex and time-consuming but it is all very exciting.

Is it ready?
Has it been proof read? Is the formatting correct? Is the author’s name correct? For goodness’ sake, is the author’s name correct? On the spine as well?

Thursday 15 May 2014

The ever-evolving writer

Someone I follow on Twitter has just asked do we ever want to edit earlier work. I would say the answer is “yes” for most writers and publishers. We move on all the time. Many writers, I know, often want to edit their work as they read it aloud at author events. Recently I watched one I admire pause as she read the opening to her novel that she’d read many times before. She stumbled on the word “suddenly”.

Wednesday 23 April 2014

Giving away books?

There’s a lot of talk at the moment because of World Book Night about giving away books. It would surely be, you might think, the last thing a publisher would want to do. Each unit has its manufacturing cost and other pro rata costs – warehousing, delivery, discounts to wholesalers and retailers, editorial services, design service and of course royalties. And yes, even e-books attract many of those costs. Okay, there’s no print, shipping or warehousing costs but all those techie skills cost something and the bulk of the other skills remain. So yes, we treat the words “free” and “give away” with some suspicion.
However, it isn’t all that simple, really. 

Review copies  
Traditionally we always give a few of those away free. There’s no guarantee that they will lead to sales and there is not way of tracking this reliably but they never do any harm – not even the bad ones!

Cheap-almost-free books for learners
In a former existence I was a private tutor who helped young people struggling with reading. I used to buy books from a certain publisher that disturbs both publishers and writers by repackaging books and selling them very cheaply. I defend this on two levels:
·         The parents would never have afforded the books at full price
·         The young people developed a love of reading and went on to buy books from mainstream sellers and mainstream publishers.

Second-hand bookshops
Publishers and writers both sigh. Oxfam is one of the biggest bookshops in the UK. We shouldn’t mind because this is a charity. Personally I’d rather pay a fair price for the book, one that I know will benefit both writer and publisher, and make a donation to the charity. Then you’d expect me to say that.
I do have to remember also that I bought from a second-hand book shop the first book I ever read by an author who went on to become a favourite. Thereafter I would buy her books as soon as they were out in hardback.
And better, actually, that people read than don’t read, if they really cannot afford to do it the proper way.

This is a charity that accepts donations of books. However, do look carefully at how they accept books. Donations have to be useful to them and made in an organised way. If you care about getting books to people who need them but can’t get them, they’ll show you how. And a monetary donation may be more useful than an actual book.

In the spirit of World Book Night 2014
Okay, so the first ten people to DM us with why they think books should be given will get a randomly chosen YA book. You may like to have the book sent to a friend or an organisation.

Sunday 16 March 2014

The Life Cycle of a Book

We’re talking here about the post-publication life-cycle of your book. Each published book goes through certain stages and we look here at how shelf-life may be maintained or even extended. 
The initial buzz
Release day approaches. Press releases and product information sheets go out. The author launches the book, some book shops arrange signings, maybe there’s also a cyber-launch and perhaps the author goes on a blog tour. There is a buzz of sales activity and the rankings on Amazon go up.
Reviews and book clubs
The first reviews come in. Some book clubs might obtain the text. Some more serious reviews then come in. It’s great to have all 5* ones but actually all reviews help; they inform the readers of what the book is about and they raise awareness. They also keep your book appearing on searches.
Drip feed
Sales settle down to a trickle. Yet if you have several books trickling sales you may still have a torrent. The proactive author anyway will massage this quite successfully.
When you next book comes out you may successfully sell several earlier works, particularly if they have a connection with the new one. Even if they don’t, the new book brings your name nearer the top of the list.   
The proactive author
This author makes sure they are always visible – but does it in such a way that they are not saying “Hey, look at me,” all the time. They will use social media sensibly – maybe 80% of the time being cheerful and friendly and responding to others, only 20%  talking about their own work and then never as a direct sales pitch though it’s always okay to announce the release of your book and any events you’re organising. And they’re never daft there.
Proactive authors are also willing to go and talk to people - festivals, writing groups, schools, even if it’s not precisely about one particular book but perhaps about writing, being a writer or about a theme in your book.
Proactive authors must also be proactive in seeking these opportunities.  
Many writers, of course, prefer to spend their time mainly writing. That is fine, but the trickle will be slower in the “drip feed” period. Consider also that you may not be able to write 24/7 or even 8/5 and a balancing activity may well be welcome. Each writer must find their own perfect balance. Note, however, many successful indie writers admit to working seven days a week and spend 50% of their working time writing and 50% marketing.
Worth a thought?          

Saturday 22 February 2014

Working with your editor

How can you better best?
We’re always keen to know, particularly when an author is new to us, how well that author can react and respond to editorial comment. Any professional will make any text they send to us the best it can be. That can be part of the problem: how do you make your best even better. Do not fear; there are two mitigating circumstances here:

Monday 10 February 2014

Why authors and book covers often don’t mix

New authors frequently have a very good idea of what they would like their cover to look like. More often than not, however, they have very little say in it and even if they are invited to make suggestions much of what they suggest is impractical.
When we think about covers we have to think about the following:

Monday 20 January 2014

The final 20%

Decisions about whether to publish or not can be very difficult. A text can have everything going for it:
·         It tells a good story
·         It is well written
·         It suits what we’re currently aiming at
·         It’s written by someone we’ve published before and we know:
o   We can work with that person
o   They sell well
·         The text doesn’t need all that much editing.