Publishers, Editors & Agents

My 2009 Publishing Heroes

[picapp align=”center” wrap=”false” link=”term=hero&iid=7396611″ src=”0/6/7/f/Capt_Chesley_Sully_2705.JPG?adImageId=8803427&imageId=7396611″ width=”234″ height=”343″ /]

Everyone is off writing prediction posts for 2010 (follow them on George’s wonderful tracker), I thought I might take a brief minute or two to consider the heroes of 2009. At least my heroes. I tried to keep it to a small list (5) and I chose them for personal reasons, they may grate with some (and yes I kinda broke my own limit with one of them).

Dominique Raccah – The Innovator
When I saw Dominique speak at TOC Frankfurt I was blown away. She was the breath of fresh air that I had been waiting for in the industry, she is passionate, articulate and insanely clever. She grasped the challenge of publishing in the present age brilliantly and has responded in kind. Her discussion of the publishing continuum has revolutionised my thinking on digital offerings and content and her passion for her company and its future is manifest and heartening. She is at the core of the discussion about how to respond to the challenge of digital content from the publishers perspective and I think she has the answers. She is a hero for 2010, and I suspect for many years to come too.

Mike Cane – The Writer’s Advocate and Alarm Bell
Cane provides solid analysis (caked as it can sometimes be in vitriolic hyperbole). His vision is not even remotely tainted by the fact that it comes solidly from a writers perspective, in fact in many ways that is his strength. Too much for some, he is never shy with his opinion but willing to respond when challenged and corrected.

The Quartet – The Try-ers
They briefly excited the online e-vangelist echo chamber with their hopes and ambitions for a digital only press. They failed. Trying something big and scary and failing publicly can be disheartening, dispiriting and depressing. But the Quartet have dusted themselves off and moved on with a speed and alacrity that is impressive.

James Bridle – The Inventor
James continues to amaze with the work he produces and the ideas he brings to fruition. I heartily recommend following him if only for the sense of wonder you have when you read about his latest project or the awe you feel when looking at the pictures he produces of them.

Jose Afonso Furtado – The Source
A seeming unstinting dedication to reading and linking out to the best stories online in the media, publishing and book sphere, is Jose’ great strength. If you follow his twitter deed you will be connected and in the loop on just about all the trends you might need to monitor.

It’s not a long list, but I think it’s a good one!
Eoin

Ancient Folk Tales of Ireland:

Hawkhill Publishing is a new-ish company under the direction of former Hughes & Hughes buyer Colm Ennis. They had a hit last year with the rather attractively packaged GAA Book Of Days and have released two new titles [If I Trust In You and Playing Dead] in 2009. Their third in 2009 is the reason for this post.

The Ancient Folk Tales Of Ireland Cover

The Ancient Folk Tales Of Ireland Cover


It was the cover that initially attracted me to Ancient Folk Tales of Ireland. I emailed Colm and he was kind enough to send me on an Advance Information sheet. I’m looking forward to seeing the book in physical form. From the AI:

Bringing the original Folk Tales collected by Douglas Hyde, and first presented to the reading public 120 years ago, to the children of today. Six stories from Hyde’s original collection have been beautifully illustrated in a classical Irish setting including old favourites such as ‘The King of Ireland’s Son’ and some lesser know stories such as ‘The Well at the End of the World.’ What makes this collection unique is that the actual language of the original storytellers has been retained to bring the children of today back beside the fire to hear the stories as they were told 120 years ago and first produced in the 1890 edition of Hyde’s ‘Beside the Fire.’
Produced in close association with the Douglas Hyde Estate, with an introduction by his grandson, every effort has been made to retain the original storytelling of the stories while removing some of the more obvious 19th Century influences to present the stories as they were told down the centuries.

IrishTalesOfMystery&Magic
This has been ripe for a re-issue and Colm has a good eye for packaging. I hope this does astonishingly well. It reminds me of the rather lovely packaging Mercier applied to Eddie Lenihan’s Irish Tales of Mystery & Magic.

Good luck to Hawkhill and Colm.
Eoin

Travelling for your career

Eoin Purcell

Random thoughts sometimes spark notions
I have been asked to speak to the students of the NUIG Masters of Literature & Publishing again this year (I chatted with a class last year too and really enjoyed it).

It got me thinking about how committed to publishing Irish people are when they first look for jobs in the industry.

For instance, I was more than willing to move to the UK and (had I the right to) the US for work in a publishing firm. When I finished my history masters I interviewed at a number of large multinationals in the Cambridge and Oxford. I was lucky enough to be offered a job with one of them. Had it not been for the intervention of happy fate, I would probably still be working in UK or multinational firms instead of Mercier Press.

I wonder how many grads are actually willing to make such long moves? Maybe I am unfairly judging, I do know that many people travel for their careers. I get a sense however that if everyone who expressed a desire to work in publishing did work in the UK publishing industry, no English, Scots or Welsh would!

All of this is as a prelude to my real point, which is that if there are any children’s books editors who have the right to live and work in the US this may just be the best job I have seen going for a while. The money line for me:

Provide editorial support for Narnia publishing program

As a tiny resource for those who do want to travel but have no clue where to start, try these:
The Macmillan Graduate Scheme: Does what it says on the tin really. One of the largest publishers gives graduates a chance to shine (or fail rapidly, but at least you’ll know)

Inspired Selection: To my mind THE recruitment agency to deal with in the UK, especially for starter positions in publishing. I found them lovely in the past, always willing to help.

If you don’t know anything about the UK industry, The Bookseller is a source of info that you should not ignore.

Read Snowblog for a small independent publishers perspective.

Oh and check out the Guardian Jobs site too.

If you qualify, you’d be mad not to want the job, and mad not to be willing to travel for it too, that’s all I’m sayin!
Eoin

PS Liking Niamh Sharkey’s blog very much indeed.

Serious Non-Fiction: Doomed?

Eoin Purcell

Bodley Head thinks not
I’m honest enough to acknowledge that if I was the average buyer of books, our industry would be in a fairly fantastic position. Firstly I buy too many (even with a mostly effective book buying bar I’m tallying about 5 or 6 a month) and I buy expensive (a weakness for serious non-fiction and hardback new release genre fiction). I’m rarely swayed by 342 offers unless someone does it across the range when I take advantage to pick up a selection of backlist titles I have eyed for a while (mostly non-fiction).

In any case, I am not the average reader and that makes for a tricky time for serious non-fiction publishers. In fact there have been some signs that serious there will be thin times ahead and the dumping of books by W&N as mentioned twice before on this blog is just the tip of the iceberg.

There is an interesting piece in today’s Independent (the London variety) which paints the market in a very negative light:

Anecdotal evidence abounds that high-quality works of history fail to arouse the level of support in the retail trade that they once did. That, in turn, inhibits editors who seek to commission more of the same.

Dissing retailers is easy enough for most book people but the really harsh words though are reserved for publishers:

Too often, even the most dedicated houses have been content to print good popular history rather than really publish it. That attitude no longer suffices. Given high-street resistance, 50 per cent and more of likely sales for many top-notch histories will soon come from online outlets. Which means that publishers have to toil to recruit and retain virtual communities with a passion for the past.

All this makes the relaunch of Bodley Head as “a list devoted to quality non-fiction” quite a strange and perhaps a brave move. You will find a fascinating article on the topic by imprint publishing director Will Sulkin in Publishing News:
So why The Bodley Head? Why now? What does Random House think it’s doing?

Well, for a start, if you’re a major player in any field then you need to know you’re playing with a full deck. We didn’t have a World’s Classics list, so we started Vintage Classics. (And what a success that’s turning out to be.) We haven’t had a Penguin Press, so we’re launching The Bodley Head.
And this, for the first time, allows Random House to concentrate its formidable resources on the acquisition, design, marketing, publicising, production and selling of quality non-fiction – to become a specialist in the field. It gives the likes of Misha Glenny, Jonathan Powell, Roger Penrose, Karen Armstrong, Simon Schama, Nicholas Stern, Stephen Greenblatt, Norman Davies, et al a purpose-built platform for their wares – somewhere the texts can be hand-crafted and polished by a peerless editorial team and sent out into the world in the best shape and with the best chance of reaching the broadest possible readership.

I like the idea here. Basically he is saying We did it because we could!! How is that for confidence? You have to admire the ambition too.

Hoping it works,
Eoin

HarperCollins buys The Friday Project (Apparently)

Eoin Purcell

From the Girl Friday Blog

Both Clare and Scott update with what little they can share.

The Telegraph has the full story and so too does The Bookseller:

HarperCollins, the book publishing giant owned by News Corporation, is poised to buy out of administration a small publishing house co-run by Scott Pack, the controversial former head buyer at Waterstone’s.

I hope the deal goes through, and that the people involved come out happy!
Eoin

Guest Blogger: Richard Charkin

Eoin Purcell

They Can’t Eat You*
One thing I have learned since I started blogging is that asking can result in only two answers; Yes or No. The rest is variation on a theme.

I first learned this when I cheekily asked to meet Richard Charkin, then CEO at Macmillan, for a meeting at a point when I needed advice and direction. He was very active in the blog world, being at the time the only CEO of a major publisher blogging on a daily basis. He agreed and met me for lunch in London and we had a great chat about publishing, blogging and the future.

So, determined not to let his move to Bloomsbury be the end of his blogging as it seems to have been, I e-mailed and asked again. The result is below:

Charkinblog Banner**

Eoin wrote to me a week or so ago asking if I‘d write a guest blog for him. I had a bit of travelling ahead of me (London-Delhi-London-Berlin-London-New York-London) and so agreed to try. Of course I failed to write a word on the planes as I suffered a mixture of lack of inspiration, fatigue and laziness. But now guilt has reasserted itself and blogging is on my mind.

From December 2005 until September 2007, while I was working at http://www.macmillan.com I compiled a blog. I’ve spent this morning editing out possible copyright infringements and writing a preface because, amazingly, Macmillan want to publish a print version (on demand of course) for students of publishing etc. It made me realize how much I owed to guest bloggers and commentators and friends and how I owed Eoin a short piece for his blog.

Yesterday’s London Times had an interesting piece in the Business News section A novel Idea May Not Be Lucrative. The author’s conclusions are hardly earth-shattering. Most novels don’t earn very much money for their authors (or their publishers) but people enjoy writing books for reasons other than money. What is extraordinary is that the piece is the lead article in the business section of a major newspaper. The fiction publishing industry is tiny and hardly any of it is available to investors (in the UK only Penguin, part of http://www.pearson.com , and http://www.bloomsbury.com , my employers are fiction publishers and quoted companies). Sales of some novels are spectacular but even the most spectacular compare in revenue and terms very unfavourably with, for example, a drug, a car, an airline, or an oilfield.

As an industry we should be very grateful for all the attention (and I am) but why this journalistic obsession with the economics of books and fiction in particular?

Thanks Richard. I know that there are a good dozen readers who will be buying that book and they are not students either! A great way to turn on its head our obsession with media coverage. I’ll need to think a little more about this.
Eoin

* Bob Parson’s 16 Rules (corny and wise, a good combination)
** The Charkinblog banner was sourced from http://charkinblog.macmillan.com/

Is Scott Pack the best thing to happen to Indie publishing since sliced bread?

Eoin Purcell

Probably*
Just reading a rather nice review of 2007 from the lovely people at Fidra Books who I have been admiring from afar for some time (Blog is here and main publishing page here):

At no point did I say that I wanted us to buy a shop and open a bookshop or start developing a trade list but those are by far the biggest developments in our business.

Excellent progress I thought as I read and got excited about how well they would do with their list when it cam out packaged the right way. And then I read this:

The other thing that had a huge effect on Fidra was an email from Scott Pack asking why our books weren’t in more bookshops and Susan Hill pointing out that we should be pursuing a wider range of readers than the collectors who made up the main body of our customers.

Thanks to their well timed prodding our books are now available via Gardners to any bookshop that has an account and we’ve seen sales rise through outlets who wouldn’t have otherwise stocked our titles. Scott agreed with me that the ‘retro’ look of our books wouldn’t endear them to mainstream booksellers and we hatched a plan which will come to fruition later this year to repackage some of our bestselling titles in a contemporary format and launch them as a trade list to be sold into more bookshops. It’s all very exciting and when I saw the drafts for the cover designs that the lovely people at Snowbooks are creating for us I was really excited – I’m looking forward to being able to unveil them here soon.

I am delighted to see this kind of encouragement and engagement between independents. It just makes sense, long may it last. Scott seems very eager to share his expertise and that is very refreshing and exciting, especially when he has his own company to think about. Not to mention his busy blog.

Enjoying the season,
Eoin

*Contested only by the lovely people at Snowbooks of course