Publishing Careers

To all the ‘modest successes’ wondering where to go with their next book

Eoin Purcell

The doom first
Who wouldn’t be depress by reading this (Reg Required) article in The Bookseller (but actually a cull from The Herald which is free online and here):

The result? Publishers can no longer afford to take chances and authors who have enjoyed modest successes over many years are suddenly being dropped in favour of potential big hitters.
“They could be on their way to writing an opus, but will not be given that chance,” says Kean. “Ian Rankin, for instance, wasn’t an immediate success but his publishers stuck with him because they saw his potential. That wouldn’t necessarily happen now.”

The article’s main focus is Book Clubs but is concerned too with the side effects:

“The downside is that if someone goes into a book shop and buys the books that Richard and Judy have recommended, perhaps they won’t buy other titles,” he says. “There is no doubt that there are winners and losers in this. That’s something I feel slightly disturbed by. There is a sense that it is very much about corporate dealing.”

So where is the light?
Well here it is: if you happen to be one of those modest success squeezed out by the bigger publishers, I am happy to say there are tonnes of smaller, pluckier and braver publishers just waiting to do the job. Perhaps large advances won’t be forthcoming, maybe the massive campaigns the big ones can pull off will be a memory, but we can publish and publish well. We can drive sales and sell rights just as much as the conglomerates and we are always eager to try things.

What is more you will find modest success to a large publisher is a very nice little success to a smaller publisher. So maybe you have one or two or three books under your belt and your publisher is no longer on board. Maybe you have modest sales and a small but loyal fan base. I say you have a good platform and room for growth.

Get in touch, if not with Mercier (where I work) than someone else. The world of publishing doesn’t begin and end at the top five or even the top ten. Don’t be the victim of a dreaded publishing trend, buck it and move onto new and hopefully happier one.

Waiting for e-mails, letters and calls

Publishing in Ireland – The way it is

Eoin Purcell

It’s a compliment really
That so many of the large publishers have Irish office here. Penguin run a neat little operation that has launched some great Fiction and Non-Fiction, as does Hodder. MacMillan has Gill&MacMillan an arrangement that gives Gill the best of both worlds, an independent publishing strategy with multi-national back up.

It is understandable from their perspective. Ireland is an extension of the UK book market in many ways. Hundreds of UK titles are sold here and we speak English after all.

If rumours (based on job adverts) are true then Random House is set to join their fellow giants in publishing a separate list into the Irish market.

Personally I welcome them.

Issues do arise
As you might imagine though, the presence of these companies has some negative side affects for Irish publishers. The first and most obvious is to increase the level of competition, the second advances and the third marketing prowess.

Not only do we compete with books exported from the British market which sell well here too, but we are forced to compete with their native Irish titles as well.

The size of the advances that the larger groups can pay is huge compared to most Irish publishers and so in commissioning too they have a distinct advantage. Talented authors know that they are likely to get a bigger advance and access to larger sales and marketing teams than if they stay with an independent house.

Personally what I find the most impressive is the ability of these large groups to pull off marketing and trade promotion coups. If you had witnessed the huge displays for this book in Dublin in the last few weeks you would be impressed too (to boot it has sold about 9,000 copies in 3 weeks according to Bookscan which is very impressive in this market).

It is a symptom of the problem that the book in question was the sixth book by an author who was nurtured by an Irish publisher before being poached by Penguin. When all is said and done though I am sure the increased sales of the first four books with no marketing spend is something of a consolation.

How do we cope
All this has the effect of pushing local companies into a tight spot. Without the resources of the larger companies we are forced to rely on clever commissioning, smarter marketing and on building market share in areas where these larger companies do not publish.

Of course in the long term that is not a winning strategy. In the long term we need to be competitive with the larger players. It requires us to adapt to their presence and to challenge them with innovative books and products. It requires us to find and publish new and distinctive talent that sells in Ireland and beyond the borders of our island. There are great examples out there to copy, we just need to look.

Most of all it challenges us to be better everyday, to be more creative in our thinking, more effective in our execution and to every day push the boat out. I’m not there yet but at least I know where I am going and I think I know how to get there.

Come along for the ride?

Are you Pushing the boat out?

Eoin Purcell

That’s what friends are for
One of my good friends is a person I have huge admiration for. I doubt he realises how much, as he spends a good deal of time looking outward and comparing himself to others, rather than taking stock of how much he has actually done in his life.

One of the reasons I admire him is that he has overcome adversities the like of which I cannot even begin to understand. Another is that he regularly refreshes my viewpoint by throwing a curve-ball into a conversation.

Just such an occasion occurred this weekend and jolted me out of a certain reverie. He asked me if I was pushing the boat out. He didn’t mean was I ‘having a cracking party’ or ‘celebrating’, he meant was I working as hard as I could.

He reminded me of the harshest lesson I have ever learned (the details are best left unexplored for now), that complacency destroys achievement. And by reminding me of that he made me ask the questions that help me avoid that lesson being repeated.

The complacent among us
Complacency is one of my major weaknesses (development areas in PC Speak). It is a truly funny weakness. I strive for a goal so hard and so long that when I achieve it I think I am sorted. I take a break and then get back to work thinking that I am working at the same level that got me to where I am but in fact I am taking my foot off the gas a little and becoming lazy. I am not pushing the boat out.

Its remedy
This has bitten me in the ass a few times in the past but now I have a few tester questions that try and jolt my sense of complacency:

⁃ Are you working as hard as you can?
⁃ Are your rivals working harder than you?
⁃ Is someone beating you at something you consider a strength?
⁃ Are you achieving you goals? (Key question)
⁃ Are you heading the right direction?

You want the answers to be Yes, No, No, Yes, Yes. To my mind anything else is trouble.

Why you might ask is this relevant to publishing?
Because it is an industry where smart, energetic and driven people work. There will always be hard workers, smart workers and often brilliant workers at companies that publish into your and other markets.

If you don’t match or exceed their efforts then you will fail. Maybe it won’t be spectacular, maybe it won’t be a hugely noticeable thing at first but five years down the line when your list is anemic and their list is kicking yours, you’ll know all about it.

This is especially true for the Irish market for reasons I’ll talk about tomorrow. So if I am ever fearful that complacency is creeping up on me, I asked myself those tough questions, act on the answers and redouble my efforts.

Enjoying this new found blog enthusiasm

PS Check this site out.

I Am Moving On

Eoin Purcell

Times They Are A Changin’
Following some thinking, a great deal of planning, not to mention a small amount of stress and second guessing, I have decided to move on from Nonsuch Ireland. I have very much enjoyed my time there and the work has been exciting and challenging not to mention fun!

With team changes, departures and new arrivals I have worked directly with six* talented and capable individuals in the Irish office, all of whom have an enormous amount to offer publishing or any trade they choose to pursue. What is more, as a team, they have really built Nonsuch Ireland into an impressive and growing history publisher. There is still considerable growth ahead for Nonsuch and I wish everyone at Nonsuch the very best of luck. I know they will do great.

So where to?
Well its actually a pretty big shift for me. I am moving to the Real Capital of Ireland, Cork [wikipedia] AKA “The People Republic of Cork”. I will be joining Mercier Press in April as Commissioning Editor.

Mercier was established in 1944 so I am moving from one of Ireland’s youngest Publishers to one of her oldest and most established publishers.

It will mean a shift in a lot of factors, from lifestyle and personal to professional and perspective. Overall it is just about the most amazing move for me as you will see if you look over the company’s rich and varied list (here). I am excited by the prospect and the opportunity not just to work for such a great company but to grow with the job and to drive such a diverse list.

But first some downtime
I have been smart this time though and set aside some time for decompression. It will allow me to build my energy, catch up with my reading, find a new place to live and perhaps even get that trip to Westport to this place if I have my way.

Felling Pretty Good

*[Not forgetting the four excellent support staff from Irish Corporate Outsourcing who have worked with Nonsuch providing external services since 2004 or the people at our sister companies in the UK and elsewhere.]