Thursday, 23 February 2012

The Top 13 Things I Won't Miss About Publishing Companies - Simon Cheshire

This is that seven-year project.
The cover's done, but the
book isn't (a-hem)...
Here's a shot of me at Shakespeare's
Birthplace. For no reason whatsoever.
At the moment, I'm working on a couple of projects, one of which is something I've been trying to get right for about seven years now. Seven. Years.
It's getting there. Slowly. In ye olden days I would, by now - a few months off having the manuscript completed - be hopping about nervously trying to get a publisher interested, frantically bugging my poor agent to send the first chapters out to anyone who'll listen, and feeling crushed and heartbroken when phrases like 'not for us' or 'perhaps with some extensive editing' started turning up in emails.
But this is not ye olden days. Not only do I not really anticipate a mainstream publisher offering me a contract ever again, pace the current state of the industry, but I'm not sure I'll ever seriously think about touting for one and going through the whole hopping/ bugging/ crushing cycle again.
The new ecosystem of publishing means that it's far more sensible for me to assume it's self-publishing all the way. And now I've realised that, a strange sense of illicit freedom creeps over me. A bit like getting out of school for a dentist appointment and then your mum letting you have the rest of the afternoon off too.
It occurred to me that, despite many good experiences, there are a number of things about mainstream publishing I definitely won't be sad to leave behind...
  1. The editorial phrase "but some children might not understand that." (Don't get me started!)
  2. Having an editor say "this is brilliant", then having the manuscript turned down 'cos Ted in sales was slightly doubtful about three sentences on page six of chapter 4.
  3. Horrible jacket designs that "absolutely everyone in the office really loves."
  4. Children's publicity departments who have no contacts in schools whatsoever.
  5. Being asked by publicity departments what contacts I have in the media (NONE! For god's sake, that's YOUR job!).
  6. Being asked by publicity departments if I have any great ideas for promoting my book (THAT'S! YOUR! JOB!)
  7. Coming up with great ideas for promoting my book and then realising that what the publicity department actually meant was coming up with great ideas for promoting my book which require no time, effort, money or thought.
  8. The magical journey which starts with "the whole marketing team is really excited about this one" and ends in two lines of misinformed advertorial in the Burnley Express & Star.
  9. Having the same hair-uncombed, unshaved, quickly-snapped-at-home headshot that the sales guys HAD to have NOW, turn up on other people's websites for ten years.
  10. Never, ever, not once, ever being invited to a publisher's office party, funded out of petty cash that could have bought a quarter page advert in a national magazine.
  11. Emailing the only person at the publishing house who ever appears to get anything done, only to find she's left the industry and New Person is just delighted to be working with me.
  12. Being told that a title is going out of print "with great regret" and then being asked if I want to buy the remaining stock or have it pulped.
  13. Having a manuscript turned down multiple times because "it's a difficult sell" then having it become my most popular self-published book.
  14. Ooo, look, a re-done ebook cover
  15. Aaaand... insert assorted other whines and gripes here...!
Moan, moan moan! When will we authors ever shut up, huh? Probably quite soon now, because we're getting nearer and nearer to the point when all our editing, and our marketing, and our jacket designs, and our publicity, will be down to us entirely and we'll have nobody to moan about but ourselves.
I do want to stress that, to be fair, I've been very lucky with my publishers, especially Piccadilly Press who still publish my nine Saxby Smart detective titles and who are the very apex of brilliance - their help and support has been something I'm enormously grateful for. Those guys are worth their weight in gold.

And here's another
That said, I can't help feeling that publishers have only got themselves to blame for the mass exodus of writers to indie publishing (not to self: must stop calling it self-publishing. 'Indie' sounds far more hip). I've just redone the covers of some of my ebooks, to make them stand out better at thumbnail size and to conform to the slightly 'flatter' ereader screen proportions that leave a blank stripe either side of a regular jacket image. It took me a day to re-do the artwork, then half an hour to upload the new images to Amazon, then three hours to upload them to Lulu (grrr!!). Result: done, dusted, on sale. Can you imagine, just imagine, the time, money and hair-tearing it would take to have that same, reasonably simple process done in ye olden days?
Doesn't bear thinking about.

Simon Cheshire is a children's writer who'll be your bestest friend ever if you buy his ebooks. 
His website is at http://www.simoncheshire.co.uk/ 
And his blog about literary history is at http://bookhistorystudies.blogspot.com/



32 comments:

George Fripley said...

Ah...you lucky man...the thought of being rejected by a publisher gives me goosebumps...I should probably write about it! I have been told my books are simply not in the right genre...won;t sell etc, and to date they haven't done that well, but then again, nobody knows about them.

I have two books out and I went through Night Publishing as they helped with cover design etc (not my strong point). Getting the books in the public eye is difficult, but at least I have something to work with now.

Jan Needle said...

good on yer, simon. i wish i'd written that, it touches on every point gnawing at the inside of me skull. the only good publicity person i had was a woman who knew little about publicity, but a great deal about drink, which is a reasonable trade off, i suppose. at least she stopped you getting depressed at her incompetence. thanks for making me smile.

Susan Price said...

I so identify with this, Simon! The horrible cover that 'everyone here loves'! Oh yes! Being asked for publicity contacts and ideas - having books pulped after a couple of years...
The most beautiful cover design one of my books ever had was scrapped because W H Smiths (so knowledgeable about the arts, after all) didn't like it, and replaced by a horrible, muddy, blah cover which, yes, 'everybody here thinks really works!' I didn't.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Oh YES!!! I identified with all of this - so clearly it infects every area of publishing. Such a thoroughly cheering post. And I could add the last AWFUL thing that happened to me - and which I certainly won't miss - which was an agent asking me to tout for 'recommendations' from my supposedly starry writer friends, trying to get them to read and punt my new novel because no publisher would look at a manuscript without one 'in the current climate.' I actually did it and I go hot with embarrassment at the thought of it now. Profound apologies to anyone I so harrassed. And I entirely identify with that feeling of being let out of school for the day - these days I'm happy about my writing in a way I haven't felt since I was young!

Anonymous said...

You wrote 'elicit' when you should have written 'illicit'. And I'm afraid the cover of your new book looks amateurish, to my eyes.
Other than that, I'm genuinely glad you feel freed from the frustrations you list. I wish you all the best. Only, don't forget to budget for a proofreader, will you? (I'm very good.)

Linda Gillard said...

Incredible. I can't believe that every one of these awful things (apart from what was related to being a children's author) also happened to me. I thought I'd just been particularly unlucky! You mean, we all suffer like this?

Commiserations, Simon, and thanks for the sort of blog that makes one want to cheer for (what used to be) the underdog.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Er ... perhaps Anonymous (above) would care to name him or herself?

Dennis Hamley said...

I agree. Catherine. People who feel free to make hurtful remarks but aren't prepared to put a name to them are, I have always felt, beneath contempt. I propose that all anonymous comments are automatically rejected. And if Anon finds a speling mistake or sign of amateurism in this comment, then GOOD. Contact me about it. I am easily found. Unlike you.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

I agree, Dennis - think all anonymous comments should be automatically excluded.

Ann Evans said...

Great post, Simon, and love the covers.

Jenny Alexander said...

Fantastic! Made me smile as I ticked them off - yep, that's happened to me... yeah, I hate that... And I was glad you also gave one of your publishers a big thumbs up, because although all that bad stuff happens, it can still be a marriage made in heaven when it works.

Rosalie Warren said...

Thoroughly enjoyed this post. I'm a relative newcomer to the world of publishing - both the trade and indie kind. Still trying to find the balance that's right for me.

And I agree about excluding anonymous comments. It's fine for people to disagree, but they should be prepared to name themselves.

Wishing you well with your ventures, Simon.

Dennis Hamley said...

Me again. Simon, I should have said - brilliant post. And (mainly!) great comments too. It's wonderful to realise that I needn't think any more that it only happens to me. If I had £1 for every time I've been told 'everybody in the office loves it...' or 'We are all really excited here...' (what a marvellous scene that conjures up), I wouldn't need to work ever again. And George, now you know what you've been missing!

Dennis Hamley said...

By the way, Anonymous, you don't need a comma after 'amateurish'. It destroys the shape and sound of the sentence (try reading it aloud), holds us up as we read and seriously compromises your professed abilities as a proof-reader.

Anonymous said...

Sorry to have irritated some of you by being anonymous. I didn't want to have to sign up and create a profile, but then I realised I could just tell you who I am.

My name's Lorraine McCann. And I stand by my remarks. I think it's helpful to point out errors. I don't think you really want them in anything you write, and I was being sincere when I said that self-published authors should budget for proofreading because that's one of the services you lose when you go it alone.

I also stand by my first impression of the book cover. It's just my impression, of course, but as another of Simon's points was being freed from bad cover art, I thought it was apposite to feed back that I didn't think it was all that strong.

I think it should be possible to wish someone well without having to say everything's awesome.

Anonymous said...

Dennis,
I take your point about that comma, but commas are highly subjective (unlike using the wrong word). It felt like I wanted it when I was typing, so in it went.
L.

John A. A. Logan said...

Hi Lorraine
a) The first "strength" of Simon's new coverart is that he chose it, loves it, his subconscious, which produced the book, is happy with it (as it wasn't with the pro efforts sometimes).
b) Of all prospective readers, children are most likely to feel a "good vibe" from a cover that is in synch with the author's vision for the story.
c) The very idea of a cover being "strong", as in a strength you can objectively see, and the professional straining to achieve that degree of marketable "strength" is perhaps indicative of how lost commercial publishing can get...and why the quality of its covers (and editing) can sometimes sink so low (while claiming to strive for the heights).

Lastly. on another subject, the "We love this here so we will do it our way"...comments from the commercial pros...which soon changes to silence or sullenness if the results are not instant profit...this is straight out of the Napoleon Hill/Dale Carnegie school of talking a project up...I think they all talk things up to each other sometimes to "make it all come true"...and then when reality hits and the spell breaks they melt away like phantoms, running to talk up the next new thing...
The absolute opposite of a way of working which is geared to sustainable quality output...and so we have the corruption and dissolution of publishing in the UK and USA over recent, and not so recent, years...much like banking, politics...same principles apply!

(And I like dinosaurs on book covers!)

Simon Cheshire said...

Hi all! I'm not sure whether it's heartening or upsetting to realise that we've ALL endured the same publisher-related stuff over the years.
Lorraine/ Anon: 'illicit' has been corrected, you're quite right to point it out. And you are indeed fully entitled to your opinion on the cover for The Frankenstein Inheritance I ought to just say, though, that this is the only one of my indie-published covers that's been done by a professional... and, umm, everyone in the office really loves it.

Simon Cheshire said...

OMG! I missed out a full stop after the word 'Inheritance'. Apologies.

Simon Cheshire said...

Sorry, me again.
Lorraine/ Anon: it's just occured to me that you probably meant the ebook covers, not the new project? In which case, I ought to say that those designs are done by kids, for kids, and we grown-ups aren't supposed to like them, as such. Just saying. The cover for Frankenstein was sketched out by me, then improved and assembled by an artist pal.

Katherine Roberts said...

Thank you for identifying yourself, Lorraine - you can also use "Name/URL" without creating a profile, if that makes things easier.

Yes, I agree that ideally authors indie publishing should budget for a good editor, proof reader and cover designer. But the budget might not stretch to all three, and I believe Simon made the decision to have his cover art drawn by his readership... i.e. children... in an effort to appeal to them? (I remember reading an earlier post about that on this blog.)

Anyway, this kind of discussion is exactly what blogs are for... not so much nitpicking about commas and odd spelling/grammar errors that slip through, but informed feedback is very useful.

What do others think about Simon's cover art? Would you buy them for your children?

CallyPhillips said...

1) Typos (or typo's) happen - yes even in penguin classics my friends not only in blogs. Since I started publishing I'm amazed how many I now notice in 'professionally edited' books.
2) Of course proof-reading (or proofreading, or proof reading) is important but to assume that professional writers cannot proof read (or proof-read, or proofread) their own work is folly. Can proof-readers write creatively? (answers on a postcard please.)
3) At the end of the day content is king rather than punctuation (as formerly anon amply illustrates in her style, commas or comma's are 'subjective'...) funny because I am currently editing, removing the excessive commas or comma's or COMA'S (it feels like) given that Butcher's Copy-Editing suggests the important thing is that the sentence reads as simply as possible (and mine, like formerly anon, certainly don't, with all those commas!)
4) Clearly humour or humor (depending on where you live) is also subjective... but may I suggest that Simon has been more than charming on being pulled up for a typo. Dissing his cover design just suggests that maybe this isn't the book for you - or should we not judge a book by its cover? Nice that other people will leap to his defence.
5) Like 99.9% of authors on this site (and probably in the world) I have experienced many of the things Simon rails about - same in world of screenwriting friends, whereas in the theatre I was simply told that unless I was Chekhov my stage directions would be ignored or freely adapted by the set designer.... there does seem to be a recurring theme that those who profit out of the creative, MUST know more than the creative and I'm glad it's a lie many of us are now getting over.
6) Yes, taking the responsibility on ourselves will open us up to criticism but hey, we are all beginning to realise we are not alone - and all we can do is our best - if someone doesn't like my books or my punctuation they don't have to buy them or read them. And guess what, both language and publishing are constantly changing, mutating and evolving so getting stuck on 'rules' is a bit of a worry.

And by the way. My dog proof-read and copy edited this comment so any complaints should go to him. And if you don't find any of it funny, don't worry, you won't be alone. But I hope I've not made a mountain out of a typo. I don't know Simon at all but I think I can wager money on the fact he does know the difference between the words elicit and illicit and that's the main thing. Great post, Simon and I hope the positives have more than made up for the negatives in response to your truthful commment on 'the industry'.

AliB said...

I do sympathise with established writers who can't get accepted (and enjoyed Catherine's current e-book very much). The problem for the unpublished writer is how to judge if a book really is 'worth publishing' if he/she has never been accepted into the 'old' marketplace. (Yes, we can gather opnions, but it's not quite the same as an industry professional having said 'yes'). Actually my main source of frustration at the moment is in even getting a response from one of those so-called 'gatekeepers'. Rejection I can live with, but it seems to be accepted policy with many agents and publishers (large and small) simply never to reply to a submission of something that may have taken several years to write. Isn't that just plain rude?
Thanks for an interesting post - and the opportunity to sound off!
AliB

Dennis Hamley said...

Come back all I said, Lorraine. Sorry. I'm glad I know who you are now and in that spirit I think what you said is perfectly reasonable. Yes, Simon did use the wrong word (though it's amazing how, when you are typing quickly, you can write a homophone without realising. Two days ago I wrote an email which used 'hear' for 'here' three times and it was lucky that I read it through before I sent it). And yes, you are quite right about commas and their subjectivity. I only wrote what I did to be awkward and because I was feeling stroppy.
But I think I'm still right about the comma in that particular sentence!

julia jones said...

From hideous experience I do think that the closer one is to a piece of writing the more vital it becomes to cosy up to a nice objective eagle-eyed proof reader. I say cosy up to becuse my puctucation and spelling are so terrible that I have to inviegle my partner into reading the TSS first before I dare send it to the professional (who charges by the hour) Rather like needing to clean and tidy the house before the cleaners arrive.

Jan Needle said...

talking about pedantry/ expertise/ the mysteries one was apprenticed to, when did the good old 'literal' become a 'typo'? i'd never heard the word until long after i left the newspaper industry. dare one suggest it might be (WAIT FOR IT) an americanism? OMG, DMC and hallelujah!
(i just made up DMC. stands for dog my cats, doncher know...)

Debbie said...

I can proof-read my own work, but I do have a tendency to read what I think I've written rather than what I've actually written. Which is where a fresh pair of eyes comes in handy from somebody who can be objective. But I do find that changing the font works wonders - reorganises the words on the page and then the errors leap out at me!

Pauline Fisk said...

Back to the original post - Simon THANK YOU for a highly entertaining post which speaks for us all and everybody for the entertaining conversation and look no commas but this is typed on my iPhone which is always tricky if not downright dangerous.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Thanks, Ali - but I can assure (reassure?) you that even when you're supposed to have a track record you can wait and wait and wait for somebody to get back to you, even with the courtesy of a rejection! Everything that has happened to Simon has happened to me with different kinds of books- and as Cally knows, with plays too. And isn't it interesting that we're all saying the same thing!
But you also raise an interesting point that is well worth debating - what is a writer who may be just starting out to do? Publish and be damned? Keep trying the conventional routes? I have no easy answers to any of this because I've come through those conventional routes and have enough confidence now to decide when I've got it right. Or to decide that I can risk failure - because the only answer to failure is to fail more, fail better (was that Samuel Beckett, can't remember!) But I don't know if I would have felt like that thirty years ago - and Kindle is a very public way of making your mistakes. The only advice I can give - and it's borne out by what a number of eBook writers and indie publishers are saying on US blogs - is to perhaps acquire a body of work of some kind before publishing. Partly this is because you need to have more work ready to go, if something does well. And partly because it's in writing and keeping on writing that you see where you are going wrong. And then you go back to previous work and rewrite it in the light of experience. But I don't think you can wait for ever. Sometimes you just have to leap in. But I'd be interested to know what others on here think.

Linda Gillard said...

Proof reading backwards works. You see what's there, not what you think is there. Obviously you have to read through forwards for meaning, but reading backwards will spot the double "the".

I recently put one of my backlist novels on Kindle. I decided to see if I wanted to change anything after 5 years. I hadn't read the pb before & I was appalled to see how many errors had been missed by my copy editor, by the proofreader and by me.

I corrected them and I now dare to hope the e-book is error-free. If it is, I will have achieved something not many traditionally published novels achieve. But as the Amish say, "Only God is perfect."

(In case anyone wants to prove me wrong, the book in question is A LIFETIME BURNING. )

Dennis Hamley said...

Yes, to change the font and also the size is a good way to proof more accurately. I'd not thought of reading backwards, Linda. Sounds good. I'll try it. I hate it when errors persist in printed books. Anyone who's read my Deasd Ringer and nothing else will go through life thinking I spell publicly 'publically'. Others are going to think either that I believe Germans make plurals with 's' like us, or that one German bomber flying on its own is a Junker 88 while if another joins it they become Junkers 88s. I swear this wasn't in the proofs I corrected. Some over-zealous and far from knowledgeable copy-editor must have done it at the last minute. But if you look at the Kindle ed of CJ Sansom's Dissolution you'll find that near the end of Chapter 30 (89%) the formatting suddenly completely disintegrates for a whole page. And this was done by a major publisher, Our indie efforts are pretty good by comparison. If I were Sansom I'd be FURIOUS.

misha herwin said...

You make a very important point here Simon that publishers don't have any connection with kids. I've had my latest book turned down because it wasn't simple enough for kids to understand. OK. I'd take that on board if I hadn't done the research. Anonymously of course. Year 5 read the sample chapter and answered questions on it which showed me how much more they understood and could predict that I had imagined.