What is the relationship between author and publisher?

December 11th, 2017 by Sofia Fernandez | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on What is the relationship between author and publisher?
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A few weeks ago the author of 2016 Man Booker shortlisted novel His Bloody Project, Graeme Macrae Burnet, and Saraband founder and owner, Sara Hunt, visited the University of Stirling to discuss the relationship between authors and publishers. The interview was held on a Wednesday evening, with tea and biscuits to accompany the charismatic talk for the creative writing and publishing students.

His Bloody Project became the largest-selling book in the Booker shortlist after being shortlisted for the 2016 Man Booker Prize the past year. However, Burnet’s success first started with his union with Saraband when working on his first novel, The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau. Just like all good stories begin, Graeme submitted the manuscript of the novel to different publishers before Sara called him. 

The starting point of this magnificent story commenced with Burnet finding an agent who was willing to work on the manuscript. After some editorial work done, the manuscript was sent to different publishers, all of which rejected Graeme’s novel. That was the point when the possibility to send the novel to independent publishers arose.

He got interested on Saraband thanks to the description on their webpage about their new Contraband imprint, that was seeking crime fiction, “but not purely crime —  centering on the originality and quality of the narrative, either crime fiction, thrillers, mystery or noir”. He thought, “well, here you have a quirky novel, set in France and written by someone who’s not French”. Burnet describes The Disappearance of Adèle Bedeau as a character study, “it is a sort of crime novel, but it doesn’t easily slot into a specific genre. It is all about the character”.

Saraband originally started in 1994, dedicated mostly to illustrated non-fiction books but, as publishing was evolving, in 2014 Sara and her team decided to create Contraband imprint, “kind of crime related but not genre crime particularly”, something different that would not fit into a publishing standard. She explains Saraband’s motto would be to provide books with quality or passion more than genre or fitting in a particular market.

Hunt found the manuscript impeccable and fitting into what she wanted for the new imprint so she decided to call Graeme, who was in that moment painting the ladies toilet of a building. He giggled while affirming “it is not easy to make a living as a writer”. Nevertheless, Graeme told us that all the recent events have had a very big impact on his life. After the shortlisting of his second novel by the Man Booker Prize he was immediately invited to a high profile events such as the London Book Fair. He explained that as a “newbie” in the field he decided to attend all events as they were all big and beautiful opportunities, but obviously it got pretty exhausting. However, despite all the social appearances, he already finished The Accident on the A35 published by Saraband this last October 2017.

Then, the students were given the opportunity to ask the guests, and the eternal question arose among the audience, “why did you decide to set His Bloody Project in a city of Scotland that is not your hometown?” Burnet argued that imagination is emphasized when you are in a foreign place, “sit down in a place without a phone or a book and you’ll be surprised by all the things you can reckon”, he proposed.

When another student asked Graeme what moved him to write he advised to be authentic, “looking for commercial trends to inspire some writing might not work”.  And that is something he and Saraband share. Hunt explained, “if something is on trend that’s a bonus – for us it’s about quality and having passion for the book”.

An intrepid publishing student asked then whether, after all the success he’s been through, other publishers have offered him to publish with them. Graeme appeared very open to share it with us and Sara. He did receive other offers but “every relation with an author is different”.  He felt Sara had done an amazing job and built a great relationship. Burnet is very comfortable with Saraband. “It is very difficult to find someone that believes in your work at an early stage and holds the faith on it”. Moreover, Sara feels fine with Graeme moving to other publishers, “it’s not bad to have authors going to larger publishers because it gives you advertising. It is fruitful anyway”, she said.

The clock was marking the last five minutes of the hour, but Sara and Graeme kept telling us the most encouraging stories to make the work in publishing an amazing place:

Sara: “It’s important to have faith in the people you are working for”.

Graeme: “It is striking to have freedom to write about what you want”.

Sara: “Saraband’s thing is that with Contraband we are keeping authors, not trends of novels”.

Graeme finished the talk with profound feeling and advice to the audience “but do not to give your heart because then it hurts more. However, if it is your passion, it will never stop. It never crossed my mind to stop”.


Sofía Fernández Becerra

So, You Want to Be a Publisher?

March 14th, 2017 by barbora_kuntova | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on So, You Want to Be a Publisher?
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We can all picture it – a guy or a revolutionary woman (because, let’s be honest here…) 50 years ago, in an office where the walls are bookshelves, smoke is curling up at the ceiling, there’s an old typewriter, and piles upon piles of (unread) manuscripts. This is the idea of what a ‘publisher’ does. This is the romanticised version of the job from times long gone.

Fast forward to the present, and adjust your image of a publisher:

  • bookshelves are still cool to have if you’re a publisher, though there has to be some order, and also, you need space for more vital things so keep it down to one or two
  • smoking is a big no inside the office
  • typewriters? Not even computers older than 7 years. You have to move with the flow if you want to make it in this business. With the flow and the technology, really.
  • you may still have piles upon piles of manuscripts – though, sadly, they are now mostly emailed, because who can afford to print what is basically a book, and pay shipping for that on top of everything?

Then there is the word ‘publisher’ – who is she, really (see what I did there)? Is a publisher one who works in a publishing house? One who replies to your emails with ‘sorry but your manuscript does not fit well with our image, keep trying though’? One who finds the next big thing in the world of bestsellers? One who puts together the layout and design of what is soon to become a book? Or the person who makes you notice that there is an interesting title being released this spring, through the media campaign? Or one who tweets and updates other social media on behalf of the publishing house?

All of them are publishers, one way or another. In order to have a successful publishing house you need several things:

  • time and space (it can be your bed, indeed)
  • a budget (we’ve learned at the latest SYP Conference that things can be done well on a very small budget)
  • a good team

People are essential in this business. You need them to read the manuscripts, pick which one will make it (which sounds like a scary but very exciting thing to do), edit it, edit it, edit it, proofread it, typeset it, design it, market it, print it, sell it. I don’t know about you, but this doesn’t sound like a one person job to me. And like with everything in your life, you need people you can rely on.

So, you want to be a publisher – a vague term, though often mistaken for a very concrete job description. If you want to be a part of the world of publishing, you need to find a cranny, get yourself in there, and know that you might end up doing whatever is needed to be done. You need to know that publishing books is a time-consuming, exhausting process, often not really appreciated by the public – nobody cares you were the one who made the book happen. The important thing is that it did happen.

As publishers (editors, marketing teams, sales teams, proofreaders, copy-writers, designers, typesetters, interns, etc) we are invisible to the world, working to get the best of writing out to you, the reader. We don’t have our names on the book covers. We rarely even have them printed anywhere inside the book. But we love what we do, we believe in the process, and we are very passionate about our jobs.

Oh and, if you are a writer, keep writing those words. Keep sending manuscripts. Don’t let us destroy your dreams with rejection emails. We want your words, heck, we need your words. We would not exist if it weren’t for those who write. So write.

Yours sincerely, 

Barb Kuntova

Visiting Speaker: Peter Dennis – Leckie & Leckie.

February 8th, 2015 by Heather Margaret McDaid | Posted in Blog | Comments Off on Visiting Speaker: Peter Dennis – Leckie & Leckie.
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The first Visiting Speaker session of 2015 was Peter Dennis, Publishing Manager at Leckie & Leckie. The company has a goal to produce ‘high quality education resources for the secondary school market’, which includes textbooks and revision guides.

comm gordonMere weeks into starting his job, the company was sold on to Granada Learning, the first of many to acquire the company who are now (happily!) part of HarperCollins. He began in a house in St. Andrews, working in ‘an attic next to a printer and a bearded gentlemen who quietly got on and made the books.’

Part of his job is drawing the budget, from the costs and sales projections to the pricing of the book itself. You need to look at the market and justify the need for the book, and look at the competition to hit the right price mark. Too high and no one will buy it, too low and you’ll lose your profit.

He also commissions the books, so needs to brief an author (or the team of authors) so they know exactly what’s expected. Standard templates and chapter features for ease of creation and continuity are key throughout.

The instigation of the company’s real growth came from winning the Scottish contract for past papers; there was a definite need to expand and working in a rural area can only go so far. Rural companies and publishers are not doomed to failure, he adds, but there can be a limiting factor in terms of growth.

The current SQA changes, moving to the Curriculum for Excellence, is the first overhaul of this kind in Scotland’s education sector for about 20 years, so it’s a big threat to the company as their entire list is technically gone, but also an opportunity spiralling from that need to create a new range of excellent products.

This is almost a good thing, as he notes that Leckie & Leckie was beginning to run dry with topics they could create books for. As there was no real change, the scope to expand into became narrower; they tried smaller subjects with smaller cohorts, topics like Graphic Communication and Home Economics, but there weren’t many places left to go.

7bb576f7-9b3b-4e3d-a49e-f0492d143d44To create an authoritative text, you need to wait until the tinkering by the SQA is done. “People want to have something that they can open up and use,” he explains; they need to be patient at times in order to create a high quality, accurate product. Within that there are additional opportunities to spark interest and differentiate themselves using exercises, hints and tips, word banks, glossaries and so on.

The process, editorially speaking, can be much the same as with trade as there is a back-and-forth needed to refine the initial manuscripts and get them to the required standard; this is aided by peer reviews, which also gives the author a sounding board during the writing process. Author input doesn’t stop there. They help with design aspects, making sure the diagrams and images used are correctly placed and accurate.

As for the future of publishing, he says, it’s digital. They’re looking to expand their content onto a digital, interactive, fee-based platform. Being part of a larger company mitigates the risk of embarking on this project, something which they likely could not afford to risk quite yet themselves. It is new, but with tightening school budgets, they would offer free samples and justify that the appetite for such a service is there from both sides.

In Scotland, we’re lucky to have a stable curriculum, where other countries in the United Kingdom have a more volatile and politically sensitive system. In that situation, it can be a boost to publishing, but can also prove difficult to plan ahead.

Throughout his time with Leckie & Leckie, he feels that the Scottish education system itself, being different to elsewhere in the UK, made them able to retain their brand identity despite being acquired by numerous companies, which is a nice thought to end an interesting talk!