NWF: The Future of Publishing: Scott Pack with Dominic Hoey

Scott Pack’s been around the UK publishing block. He was the head of buying for book retail giant Waterstones for six years, before venturing into publishing via indie publisher The Friday Project and HarperCollins. In Scott’s session, he talked candidly with Dominic Hoey about the ‘doom and gloom’ of the publishing industry, and some of his latest ground-breaking publishing endeavours: crowd-funding publisher Unbound, and the champion of out-of-print books, Abandoned Bookshop.

“There is a perception that the publishing industry is fucked…” started Pack, when asked about the current state of publishing. But this attitude comes from publishing’s reliance on an antiquated business model. Essentially, publishers pay authors an advance based on guessing how many books they’ll sell – and this advance is signed for six, twelve, or even eighteen months out from that book appearing in bookstores. Now advances against royalties are dropping, but Scott reckons the publishing industry will keep on ticking – if only because it’s too big to completely die.

A slightly morbid sentiment to start on, perhaps, especially considering the outstanding innovation of Unbound – think Kickstarter, but for a select number of passionately championed books – which in itself has the potential to shake-up the old publishing model and the way books are bought, made, and distributed.

But crowdfunding changes not only the book-making processes, but also how people interact with books. Crowdfunding publishing, Pack says, brings the reader and author closer together – and sometimes more literally than you might think. Somewhat like Kickstarter, Unbound consults with authors to offer a range of ‘perks’ for pledges. These can range from digital copies of the book to exclusive events, signed copies – and in the case of Mr Bingo – an insulting Christmas Day phone call. Essentially, your readers are also funding your promotion, and while the average book on Unbound sells for £20-25, their average pledge is £40. For authors with an existing platform, engaging with the market in this way can be quite lucrative – unlike a traditional publisher, Unbound split profits with authors 50/50.

Pack’s newest brainchild is Abandoned Bookshop, which he co-founded in 2016. Abandoned Bookshop takes forgotten out-of-print books and gives them a second life in the ebook market. Pack circumvents the usual bookish media channels, that often do not publish reviews of ebooks anyway, by wrapping his titles in a larger story. ‘Publisher hunts for forgotten detective novelist Clifton Robbins’ reads the title of this Guardian article, in which Abandoned Bookshop are seeking relatives of Robbins in order to pay out royalties. There’s no doubt that wrapping a story around a book like this works well on digital media, and “it’s not rocket science to take out-of-print books and make them available again,” but it does have the potential to inundate a small publisher with amateur genealogists.

And what of the New Zealand publishing scene? Pack started out his time in New Zealand at Christchurch’s WORD festival a month ago. Since then he’s seen a fair number of our bookshops. “Books here are bloody expensive” states Pack, but it’s clear that those working in publishing are passionate. There’s innovation going on here, too, with new ventures like arts crowdfunding platform Boosted which just supported Hinemoana Baker to the tune of 17K, but it’s still hard for New Zealand books to break into the US and UK markets. This is something Pack hopes to change when he returns to the UK – hinting at some possible Abandoned Bookshop New Zealand releases.

Yes, perhaps that old, rusting publishing model needs a bit of a makeover – but with enthusiastic arts champions like Pack and Hoey, I don’t doubt that publishing will continue to thrive.

Event attended and reviewed by Emma Bryson

Breaking the Rules, with Paul Beavis and Julia Marshall

So how do you get published by an award-winning children’s publisher?cv_mrs_mos_monster

Gecko Press are known for the quality of their books, both locally and internationally, but Mrs. Mo’s Monster is the first time they have taken on a first-time author.  One of the rules in children’s book publishing is that you shouldn’t have a yellow cover. Well, author Paul Beavis and publisher Julia Marshall broke this rule, and a few others…

It seems like a very good time to sit down and have a chat about breaking the rules and the journey behind Mrs Mo’s Monster.

Paul Beavis is reading at the Auckland Writer’s Festival this Sunday at 12 noon and 1.05pm. 

monster_sketch_to_final

From sketch to final

The publishing journey with Gecko
Julia Marshall: What does it feel like, being published for the first time?

Paul Beavis: It’s like wearing a new pair of shoes; it still doesn’t feel like me. It doesn’t feel like it’s my book out there. My book is this kind of scruffy thing I sent in and we worked together on. I had been working on getting a children’s book published for close to 12-13 years.

PB: There was a cut-off date for unsolicited manuscripts on 24th April last year. And I had a version which was still very rough; and I was working on a better version, but I thought I haven’t got time, and they are just down the road, so I printed it out, rushed it down to Gecko and dropped it off.

JM: I was mortified to hear from Paul that you almost didn’t send us your manuscript. We were receiving so many manuscripts, and they were piling up and piling up … so we thought we would just test  to see what would happen if we said only send us your picture book MS if you’ve been published before, if someone in the industry says it’s worth a shot or if you’ve been through a MS assessor.  

All these ‘no’s’ were to try to whittle the rejections down. You didn’t fit any of those criteria.

The art of the rejection letter
JM: It’s a difficult thing, the rejection letter. We do have a standard rejection letter, mostly because it is not possible to give good feedback in a short time. 

PB: I could hold an email rejection letter up from about 50 feet and most authors would recognise what it looks like. [With Gecko] I got a postcard back saying I’ll hear back in 12 weeks time, and I thought well, I’ve heard that story before…

JM: Quite a nice postcard though…

PB: And I kept the postcard, it’s the Who’s Hiding one.

JM: Now we have a Mrs. Mo postcard for all our submitted  stories. 

pp_julia_marshall_singlePB: I really was at the end of my tether with the whole process of receiving rejections – I couldn’t make the book any better than the 4th version I had sent around (Gecko Press had the 3rd) – then one Monday night June 15 5.54pm this email came in saying; ‘we don’t normally do this, we don’t normally take unsolicited manuscripts, but we love Mrs Mo’s Monster, and we would like to publish it.’

JM: Aren’t we lucky? Just shows that it is good to be at the end of the road. I think it is interesting this business of being a first-time author. It is important to feel a trust with your publishing company. You did know about Gecko Press from…

PB: I had picked up Gecko Press books in the UK, but it wasn’t until I came over to New Zealand that I recognised the name. My girlfriend, a teacher, had taken me to Children’s Bookshop in Kilbirnie. And there I found I am strong and Death Duck and the Tulip and Poo Bum and I thought ‘who the hell is publishing all these? I really didn’t think you would be interested, that’s why I took so long to send something off.

Julia Paul Vida Kelly_Mrs Mo's launch

Julia, Paul, and Vida Kelly at the book launch for Mrs. Mo’s Monster

JM: : It was a very collaborative process publishing Mrs Mo. The whole thing was very, very nice, and we had enough time, and we also worked with Vida Kelly. When it arrived I thought ‘this is good’ and it made me laugh, and was light-hearted. I know you didn’t think it was about manners but it is to me, at least a bit. Paul says it is about children trying things out for themselves. So we were good with the ‘yes’, and it was a lovely process working with Vida Kelly.

PB: When first going in to Gecko to meet Julia and Jane, I knew that it was the right home. Occasionally I threw my toys out the pram on certain things, but some of the suggestions were just spot on. Particularly with the ending.IMG_0386[1]

JM: We cut out a gatefold and stretched the ending.

PB: The whole end line was all on one spread, and Julia, Jane & Vida wanted to take the end line and put it on a single page. I didn’t think it would work.

JM: I wanted to be able to turn the page and have the pause, because that’s important. We’ve been thinking about it with digital books vs physical books, the importance of the pause, and what’s on the page and what’s not on the page.

PB: Reading the book to a live audience, you do suddenly realise the power of the page turn; it’s one of the strong points of the book.

JM: And when you read it out at the launch. That can be a moment when you realise it is either a goer, or it’s going to be a nice book but… Sometimes you don’t know that until the last moment.

PB: In the latest reading in Gisborne, I actually brought two of the younger children up and they read the Mrs Mo part and the monster part, and I filled in as the narrator, and there is a dynamic to the story where it says; ‘and off he ran.’ That works well as a narrator. And you do the page turn, and the kid starts again, and you find all these extra levels, that may have been there, but they weren’t really planned, happy accidents, uncovered through editing, until there’s just the bare minimum of text.Mrs_mopage-4-final-version

JM: The genius of simplicity. There’s a wonderful bookshop in Newcastle, Seven Stories,  she/the owner  immediately connected Mrs Mo’s to The Tiger who Came to Tea and said it was going to work really well as a read-aloud, and they are very much a read-aloud kind of a bookstore.

PB: I think if you look at the final book, you think ‘this must have been an easy title for Gecko to publish. But I will send through the original version, and it shows Julia and Gecko Press’s vision saying; ‘there’s potential here.’

JM: We have never published a first-time author before because we normally choose books that are fully-formed. For me it was difficult to choose a half-formed book because it hadn’t got to its final stage. There is a leap of faith in there, and it’s only now that I am more confident about the leap of faith required.

PB: I understand looking at earlier versions, why rejections came back from publishers. It was quite empty-looking, there was not much text. And that is why reading Duck, Death and the Tulip filled me with so much confidence.

The cover and how not to over-egg the puddingmrs_mos_monster_v4
PB: Working on the cover was a really good collaborative process of sending stuff through to you and Jane and Vida. My friends in the UK who work on picture books said it took about 3 months to do the cover and I thought we seem to have a very tight timeframe to fit this cover in to. We turned it around quite quickly, I thought. Because it was a clear idea.

The cover from start to end 

JM: With the cover, I like it when it is my role to say ‘that’s not working for me. I don’t know what it is that isn’t working, but it isn’t working as it is’. That whole collaboration thing works well, especially when you are in the same town as the author.

We had to stop Paul overthinking things. I got taught that long ago by Jill Livestre from Archetype. At the last minute I said, ‘I’d like to change that word,’ and she said, ‘You just remember that and focus on that word and you won’t see all the other ones you’d like to change’.

PB: I had a black and white dummy I had worked up, and I have a notepad note saying ‘stop fiddling with it’.

JM: Well, there is a stage that you get to, when another change is not going to make anything better.

PB: You’re just over-egging the pudding.

JM: I love that expression, over-egging the pudding. We don’t want to over-egg the pudding.

monster!

An exclamation mark that didn’t earn its keep

I am always a bit careful about exclamation marks and I think they are very easy to overuse. There’s the line that sticks with me; ‘An exclamation mark is like ketchup, good meat don’t need it, and bad meat don’t deserve it.’ And so always I try to take away the ! and see whether the sentence is strong enough without it, or is it a really working-hard ! I took the story while I was editing to Julia Eccleshare who is a Guardian reviewer, and she said no, get rid of them. So I was happy.

Releasing Mrs Mo’s Monster out of the attic
JM: When the book was released, that was terrifying for you, wasn’t it?

Gecko_PaulBeavis_1303b_lrPB: I have friends in children’s publishing in the UK, they gave me all this advice, and…

JM: “We’ve only got two weeks’, you said, ‘we’ve only got two weeks ‘til we’re dead and
gone.’

PB: This is what I was told by people I know who work for big publishers; they’ve got a book coming out every week, or two weeks. Whereas Julia and Jane have got one a month coming out. And they don’t over-egg the pudding with their books. That was a bit of a blind panic, but I panic easily.

JM: It was a blind panic, but you’ve got to have all your eggs in… all your ducks lined up, and if you are missing a duck, its hard to put it back again.

PB: Using the Facebook page to drive traffic, create downloads for people… all of that stuff is great, to build up interest.

JM: Doing all that stuff, like how to draw a monster, it’s been a really great thing, because its so teacher friendly, and its funny.

Editing the text
JM: We were reading it out a lot. I’m most comfortable with text, Vida with illustration. For me, not showing in the text what you are saying in the pictures, that’s what I’m busy with.

PB: At one point we were thinking of removing the line ‘And together they started to mix’, then we reinstated it and it became the perfect line. It was telling you the story, but there needed to be an introduction.

IMG_0388[1]

JM: It was a lot more waffly. We took out slight moralnesses. It’s nice that process, when the text is fully yours. The phrase that is repeated ‘What is this you do’ – technically you could edit that down, but it is necessary to the voice of the monster.

PB: I didn’t mind anything being changed, but I didn’t really want that line to go. When it got to that part of the discussion in the email, Julia said: technically this is wrong, but it sounds right. It was a real confidence booster finding those guys knew the story. It wasn’t just a matter of changing the pictures, but the text as well.

JM: Publishers aren’t always very good at saying what we do, but I think the process where you have more than one person working on something, and giving it their absolute best and their undivided attention… and that collaboration where everybody has confidence in everybody because there is no ego, but everybody bringing a special care and knowledge.

PB: Without the collaboration with Gecko Press, Mrs Mo’s Monsters wouldn’t be near this good. I still look at it and wonder how it got made.Gecko_staff_1257_lr


Thank you to Julia and Paul for this amazing insight into the first-time publishing process.

The full interview is available here for those who are interested. If enough people are intrigued by this piece, I will publish a follow-up about the submissions process for various publishers, as Julia and Paul both had a lot of interesting things to say about this process. Please leave a supportive comment below!

Interview recorded and edited by Sarah Forster

Check out www.mrsmosmonster.com, and follow the Facebook page here for more about the book and its creation. You can win a copy of Mrs. Mo’s Monster here. 

Bookselling serves an astonishing role in society (A review of ‘Midwives and Meddlers’)

Midwives and Meddlers, 8 March, 4.45pm, The Embassy

‘Bookselling serves an astonishinmax_porterg role in society’ says editor Max Porter, who has found it a privilege to shop in the standard of independent bookshops that we have here in Wellington. I am certain he would be further impressed if he had a chance to shop throughout the regions, to which the presence of great out-of-town booksellers Carole Beu (Women’s Bookshop, Auckland) and Stella Chrystosomou (Page & Blackmore, Nelson) attests. I also know that Penny Geddis from Otatara Bookshop was somewhere in this audience, showing the love that all of these incredible booksellers have for the written word.

This was a fantastic way to beginning my Writer’s Week proper. Hearing such a talented editor speak with such a talented writer, as Eleanor Catton most certainly is, was a real joy. Porter remarked wryly that the full house must show how much of a fan we all are of editing – of course it was Catton who was the star attraction, and seeing her converse with somebody on equal terms was very enlightening, as well as entertaining.

eleanor_cattonCatton’s first question for Porter centred on a comment that Germaine Greer made to her (loudly, during another person’s session) during the last festival, that ‘There is no such thing as a good editor’. So what is the point of an editor – what role do they play? Porter answered this and more – the types of editing, from proofreading through to what he calls ‘in the trenches’ edits where every line needs work – and commented that due to the ‘unfortunate focus of the economic imperative’, the creative editor (as he is) is an endangered experience.

As you may have guessed from the opening sentences, Porter has a personal tie to bookselling, having been one himself. He believes that booksellers on the whole tend to make good publishers, as they ‘know how to communicate the validity of a writers word’. There are close ties between hand-selling and publishing, in particular.

‘It is a privilege to have a writer on your list who you will follow wherever they need to go’

While Catton made life difficult at times for her publishers, simply because her endeavour in writing The Luminaries was so ambitious, Porter asserted that there was never any doubt within the publishing company (Granta) that she would pull it off – mainly because Catton herself was so confident in the work. Though there was an amusing aside when Catton joined Twitter – two hours later, she had an email from Porter with ‘Twitter?!’ as the subject line, and #murderweapon in the body…

Porter picked this book up halfway (ish) through the process of publication, as Catton’s previous editor Sarah Holloway departed the company. Catton asked him whether there was anything that may have been different if he had begun with the book, which Porter evaded rather neatly by talking about other authors – particularly some poor soul that he had to pack off with a full first draft as it had turned into something they weren’t ready for and that he thought was the wrong direction for their career altogether. Porter was incredibly good at not naming names – disappointingly!

Porter said one of the important things an editor should contribute is not only that a line is wrong, but why it is wrong, and further, what the writer could do to fix it. He describes himself as a generous editor, as his delete sign always has a question mark on it, as the best way for a writer-editor relationship to proceed is to work together through knotty problems.

Catton didn’t speak at great length about The Luminaries, but we did learn that she doesn’t see it as fitting in the genre ‘historical fiction’ – I think rightly, it is more than that; but lovers of this genre may demur. We also learned that she is aware of the danger for her as a creative writing teacher to fit into an editorial role, and how wary she is of being a ‘midwife’ for their work.

This was a fascinating session, on a fascinating topic. I feel certain that everybody who was there from the industry came away intrigued. The quality of the audience questions suggested that many of them were either in the industry, or currently working on their own writing. The people who came to see our Ellie were possibly a bit disappointed as she spent a lot of time interviewing Porter, but there is always The Book Council Lecture to get their fill of the endlessly interesting Eleanor Catton. You’d better book quickly, as I have heard ticket numbers are getting very low.

By Sarah Forster, Web Editor

Eleanor Catton is delivering the inaugural New Zealand Book Council Lecture on Tuesday 11 March at 4.45pm. If you have tickets already, get there early, as it will be a tightly packed audience lining up to hear Eleanor speak. If you don’t have tickets – get some!

Book Review: A Book is a Book, by Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins

This title will be available in bookstores from 1 November.

This book is being published to celebrate thecv_a_book_is_a_book twentieth anniversary of the Whitireia Diploma in Publishing, of which I am a graduate. There is no more fitting a celebration of this programme than a book about books, and this one comes with all the trimmings – a hardback, the dust jacket, and a cover as beautiful as the dust jacket.  It even includes a bookmark with trees on the world of it – inserted in the appropriate place, of course.

This beautiful little book acts as a philosophical treatise about books and their place in people’s worlds. This is poet Jenny Bornholdt’s first book for children, and the illustrators’ whimsical work fit Jenny’s her beautiful, light, meaningful words seamlessly.

Each page of this book is unexpected, as I read and re-read it I fall in love with new pages. My 3yo loved the verse ‘A book is a door because it opens into a house. A house is like a book because it has a door.’ I think the pieces on where you can read a book are my favourites. I have often wished somebody would come up with a waterproof book, so that I could read safely in the bath. I can’t remember how often I dipped a corner of a book into the bath by mistake as a kid, and how sad I was when it never quite fitted the bookshelf again.

I was pleased to see that illustrator Sarah Wilkins has not stuck with the traditional form of the book throughout – it is I am certain much easier to climb a tree holding an e-reader – this nod to the now is welcome to those of us that divide our reading between e-readers and paperbacks.

I am very happy that there will be an exhibition of the art from this book, which is by Sarah Wilkins, and it is certainly an exhibition that every bibliophile in Wellington (and further afield) should hustle themselves and their children along to. This book deserves to be treasured by generations to come, and I am certain the overseas market will enjoy it just as much. A perfect gift for booklovers of all ages.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

A Book is a Book
by Jenny Bornholdt, illustrated by Sarah Wilkins
Published by Gecko Press & Whitireia Publishing
ISBN 9781877589929

Publishing buzz – links to the latest articles on publishing in New Zealand

The world seems to be abuzz at the moment about the state of publishing. As well as the standard cry of the change that e-books are wreaking on the publishing industry, here in New Zealand we have the issues created by online bookstores selling without requiring GST to be added to sales, and major publishers and distributors pulling out of their NZ bases.

And everybody is talking about it. So, instead of doing another big article ourselves – though we are aware that we are still lacking a good round-out of what has been happening with the educational publishing sector since Learning Media pulled out – here is a guide to what you may have missed in domestic, and some international media.

Firstly our own articles:

The future of New Zealand Publishing – Our feature writer Jillian Ewart wrote a great article about the future of New Zealand publishing, featuring Sam Elworthy talking about the challenges of the US market and how we are echoing this on a smaller scale and Lincoln Gould talking about the taking away of internationals and where this leaves the industry. Booksellers Mary Sangster, Rob Smith, CEO of PaperPlus and Peter Greenberg can all see smaller publishers stepping into the breach here in New Zealand, and Peter Dowling from Oratia Media backs this up.  Read on…

Children’s Trade Books in the NZ Market: the pulse is strong – After the first article was published, we had a lot of enquiries wondering – what about children’s publishing in New Zealand? Scholastic NZ remains one of our strongest trade publishers, with a list of 40-50 new titles each year. Random House and Penguin will continue to publish some children’s books, and Duck Creek Press and Gecko Press remain strong.  New Holland continues to publish in the nature books for children area as well.

New Zealand articles:

Is this the end for New Zealand publishing? – A weekend feature in the Dominion Post saw commentators talking about a new way of telling stories. Fergus Barrowman, Sam Elworthy, Finlay Macdonald, Lincoln Gould, Geoff Walker, Robbie Burton, Graham Beattie, Mary Varnham and Stephen Minchin all have a say, and this is a reasonably well-rounded view of the issues involved, and shows a commitment by our major players to carry on telling our own stories.

Ideas on Sunday morning, Radio NZ – Chris Laidlaw took publishing in NZ as his theme for a 45-minute chat last Sunday morning.  “Chris Laidlaw sits down to discuss the future of New Zealand publishing with Fergus Barrowman of Victoria University Press; Kevin Chapman who headed up Hachette NZ until it was closed earlier this year; and Melanie Laville-Moore of Allen and Unwin. Also, Jeremy talks to Tom Rennie of BWB about a new e-book series; and Peter Rigg, the co-owner of Nelson bookshop Page and Blackmore.”

NZ Herald Consumer-watch: Hardcopy books live on – “Sales of ebooks in New Zealand have exploded in the past six months, industry experts say, but the future of Kiwi books may lie with small, independent publishers.”

International:

Books don’t want to be free – how publishing escaped the fate of other culture industries http://www.newrepublic.com/article/115010/publishing-industry-thriving

Similarities of the Irish and New Zealand publishing industry – Gill takeover is a good news story

Article pulled together by Sarah Forster, Web Editor, Booksellers NZ