Wednesday, 10 August 2011

very small is very beautiful

One of the joys of being published by a small press is the sense of involvement and collaboration throughout the process. Not just the writing and editing process, but the whole business of producing and marketing and selling the book. Some may argue that it is the writer’s job to write and the publisher's job to publish - a simple division of labour. I disagree. I have no wish to hand over my novel to someone else and forget about it. I find the whole publishing process intensely interesting, especially since this is my first (and quite possibly only) chance.

First, the editing. All publishers will offer some editing - most with a great deal of commitment. I am lucky enough to have an editor who also happens to own the company (Linen Press Books), so between us we are pretty focused on creating the very best ‘product’ we can. The first stage focused on the manuscript as a whole. My editor suggested a number of structural revisions: a new beginning; bringing in a character earlier; writing new scenes to create empathy for one character; working on making another character more spirited. And in the process I discovered two new sub-plots which needed to be written. Once these were done, we began going through the manuscript, chapter by chapter, by email. My editor tidies up a lot at a superficial level (I’ve discovered various writerly ‘ticks’ which I was barely aware of) and makes suggestions for rewriting some whole sections. She is very good at putting her finger on the issues that need addressing, making appropriate suggestions and then letting me address them in my own way. This process will take months – the novel is about fifty chapters and we get through two or three per week. Simultaneously, she is working with another writer, Sophie Radice, whose novel, The Henry Experiment will be published early next year, so it’s all go. Mine is due to come out around the same time.

Then there’s the cover. As a painter, this has been one of the most exciting bits so far. I have heard of writers who feel upset and angry because their covers do not reflect the content of their book. I was directed to a wonderful photographic images site (Arcangel-Images) where I browsed for many happy hours, finding photographs which reflected the atmosphere and themes of my novel. My editor did so too, and there was quite a bit of to-and-froing until we found an image we both loved. This was then handed over to the designer to create the cover design.

Now we are approaching the marketing stage. This is where the big difference between the small independent publisher and the ‘big boys’ becomes clear. If you are published by one of the large houses, you may be assigned a publicity person and there may be some money in the pot for marketing. This might include your novel being sold in a prominent position in the bookshops (although not for very long, unless it turns out to be a best-seller). The publicity for The Making of Her will be entirely down to myself, my editor and her hard-working intern, as will persuading bookshops to stock it. This feels like a mountain to climb – but a fascinating and challenging one. As someone who is happy (ish) spending vast amounts of time alone with her computer, the thought of going out there and talking about my book is daunting, to say the least. But it’s also exciting. It's bringing out my latent extravert. I’ve drawn up a marketing plan. I am planning to take some evening classes in public speaking and I’m learning how to write a press release. Hema Macherla, Linen Press author of Blue Eyes and Breeze from the River Manjeera has been really helpful in answering my questions about how she approaches bookshops. I’m going to have postcards printed to hand out to everyone I know or meet. I'm researching literary festivals, book groups and libraries, local papers and magazines. This is the easy bit. The hard part will be making myself go out and talk to people. I suspect it may be like my search for an agent: a lot of knocking on doors and a lot of No, thank you.

Recently Linen Press have withdrawn their books from Amazon because every sale costs them £3. Yes, that’s right. Amazon takes 60%. So The Making of Her will be available through the Linen Press website, through Gardners and in chain stores like Waterstones if we can persuade them to take it. The indies may stock it but their turnover is generally small. An individually tailored marketing package and a personal approach seems to be the best, and only way forward.

Of course, the likelihood of selling a large number of copies is small and we don't know whether it depends on good reviews, articles in magazines, the grape-vine or just good luck. But you know what? After years and years of rejections and knock-backs, I consider it a huge privilege to be involved in the process of creating and selling my book. It may never happen again. So I'm going to do my best to enjoy every minute.

22 comments:

Neil said...

Congratulations! I hope you continue to enjoy the whole process - it's a very exciting time. I had certain concerns about being taken on by one of the very large houses, of being a small fish in a very big pond, but in fact I am with a literary imprint of a major publishers, that publishes only 20 titles a year, and has a very small team, so my misgivings were unfounded as they operate just like a small press. That personal touch, where you are involved in every stage of the process, is really precious, I think especially for your debut.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thank you, Neil. :)
Your situation sounds great, and your marketing has been very effective. Must be so exciting to experience all your work coming to fruition and so many people knowing about your book.
Susiex

Neil said...

Thanks Susie, it is a real pleasure to know that my book is still being bought and read by many people every day. After over 4 months the marketing push is long over, but it seems to have taken on a life of its own, with new reviews and features coming out somewhere in the world every few days still. I think this is what publishers hope for, that the seeds they plant will grow and multiply.
I wish you the very best for your book - when is publication day?

The Time Sculptor said...

A fascinating read Susie. You are obviously approaching this exciting new experience in a really energetic and positive way, and being quietly determined to do your very best for your precious baby. I'm sure all this work will pay off and I wish you lots of luck and tons of book sales!
Jane Gray

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Neil, seems like your book has touched something in the zeitgeist - there's a real longing in many people to 'do a Waldon' and return to solitude and nature. No wonder it has spread by word of mouth.
My publication month (I don't have a day yet) will be February next year.
Jane, thank you - have just been looking at your lovely blog. I wanted LL as my agent, but she turned me down! All the very best with your novel.
Susiex

Christine Donovan said...

Susie I self published through a printers who regularly produce books, and some of my experience is pretty similar to yours. Don't worry about bookshops, I've found mostly they're more than willing, even Waterstones, but it helps if you know someone there, and you've go to jump through a couple of small hoops.
I absolutely agree about Amazon, I sell my novel on there through my own seller account, so you actually end up with marginally more than the cover price, although it comes up as out of stock, which puts some people off.
I must admit I was so sure I knew what I wanted on the front of my book that I made my husband take the photo himself, it's a good thing it's his job. It worked out lovely, but it's an option if there wasn't a photo you liked.
I fully understand about the publicity, I've done quite a bit and found it all terrifying, (live radio was worst)but in the middle of it I always started enjoying it. I'm at a literary festival in Sept, right on show, and it's starting to give me sleepless nights.
It sounds like a great experience so far, and I really hope it stays that way.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Good for you, Christine - and congratulations on getting into bookshops and (especially) onto live radio - I would be utterly terrified! And standing up in front of people at Litfests is pretty scary too. Hope it goes really well.
Susiex

Debs Riccio said...

Oh god, now I can't stop browsing through the amazing images ion the Arc Angel website - another procrastinatory tool, thanks Susie! Seriously, though, I am in rapturous envy of you - when I get published I want to enjoy it as much as you are! Well done x

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Debs, they are beautiful, aren't they - so inspiring!
My wish for you is that you are browsing soon for your own cover.
Susiex

Derek said...

Hi Susie, I have you down for three books minimum, according to my last scrying session! It's brilliant that you're immersed in the whole process end-to-end; that way you're bound to get more out of it. And don;t fret too much about speaking to independent bookshops (and Waterstones too)- remember that they LOVE dealing with writers on a personal basis. It's all about making sure they have time and space to talk so you can engage them with your enthusiasm. Here's to publication day!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thank you, Derek. :) What's 'scrying', by the way?
Susiex

womagwriter said...

I love Linen Press books - congratulations on your publication and I look forward to seeing the book when it comes out.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, womagwriter - I saw your lovely blogpost about Linen Press a while ago.
Susiex

Susie Nott-Bower said...

LYNN MICHELL WROTE:
I run Linen Press and have been working with Susie on her blackly funny novel The Making of Her.

Susie, your blog is very generous. I do worry about my authors writing marketing plans and tramping the streets and hawking their books in Waterstones. As you say, isn't that the publisher's job?

If Linen Press was a big, wealthy publishing house with a roomful of PR people, the answer would be Yes. But there is only me and I spend most of my time working closely with authors on their manuscripts. You won't get that kind of detailed input from the big guys. They might give you some general comments but then its over to you to re-write your manuscript. I'm not sure how much money is spent on publicising a new author either. I suspect the pots of gold are reserved for the household names, chefs and footballers.

Linen Press may be moving toward a different, collaborative model of publishing in which we all pool our skills and the reap the rewards every time a new publication comes out. Already, instead of egotism and competition, my writers are supporting one another and sharing their experiences. It is very rewarding to watch. Perhaps we will evolve into a cooperative press.

Susie, it is a pleasure to work with you. You are a perceptive writer and easily translate my suggestions into a better, more polished draft. I look forward to your chapters arriving in my inbox and your writing makes me laugh out loud.

Look out, everyone, for The Making of Her, early next year. I'm biased - but I think its fabulous.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Sorry, guys - this looks very self-serving! Lynn tried to post on this on Strictly but it wouldn't let her, so I've posted it for her.
Susiex

Derek said...

I think it's lovely that Lynn is so engaged with her author. Now, if I can just convince her that Linen Press need to take on Brit thrillers...

Anonymous said...

You have a great attitude, Susie, and deserve much success.

Sam xx

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Sam! :)
And Derek, you'd have to go through a rather painful operation first (LP only publish women!!!)
Susiex

Caroline Green said...

I'm also published by an independent publisher and have found it to be so friendly and welcoming. Am always banging on about this, but Piccadilly Press make me feel part of a family..
Enjoy every minute Susie - you deserve this!

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Thanks, Caroline - and you hit the nail: that's the lovely thing about being with a small press - it does feel familial and friendly.
Susiex

Kate Harrison said...

Susie, I can't believe I missed this news - something to do with moving house and countries, maybe - but this is fantastic and incredibly well-deserved. I was privileged to read the first part of TMOH and it really is terrific - and I am so happy it's found a perfect publishing home! I'm not surprised it's been picked up by your publisher and I look forward to reading the book next year.

Susie Nott-Bower said...

Oh, Kate - what a lovely surprise. Thank you. Your comments at the end of your course gave me a huge boost. I do hope you are enjoying the sun and everything else and that your own writing is going splendidly.
Susiex