Remember publishers' lunches? by Jan Needle

Deadlines – as Ann Evans was saying just a blink ago – doncha just love ‘em? Following the principle that there’s more to life than working, or even writing, I found myself this week towing a twenty foot sloop from the north to the south to launch and berth her with my brother-in-law near Portsmouth. The sun was shining, all was delight. Two days later, soaked, frozen, and exhausted, I noticed the date. It’s Friday evening now. I've just got home. You’ll be reading this, sensation seekers, within brief hours of me finishing it. Okay?

I also came to realize that I’d put a day-specific post on my own blog – – last week, and the event I was talking about, and appearing in, had come and gone. One never knows if anyone reads these things, but if they do, I need to apologise. Or at least get rid of it, quickly. As quickly as the June weather put paid to my hopes of nautical bliss (suntan included).

A third thing, now remembered, gnaws at me. I’ve been giving away a free digest of my thriller Kicking Off as a booster before putting it up on Kindle. My guess is that I should have given the whole thing the final go ahead by now. Not done. Good God, I’ve got to pull myself together!

I’ve never been technically minded. I can do old engines, solve mechanical problems reasonably well, get by when the car breaks down, but the world of the computer is a mystery, through and through. Which is why I decided to take the plunge when my ex-agent sent me a letter from a company that wanted to publish my historical naval fictions as ebooks. Cut out the middle man. Me.

I got in touch with them, heard what they said, and checked out with the Society of Authors if it was echt or some sort of snare for a dumbarse author. Me.

A week later I went to lunch with them in London. Lunched by a publisher! Just like the good old days! I’d probably have said yes to anything!

Not true, but I was impressed. They wanted an original, and I told them the William Bentley books were not available. Matti Gardner (son) is in the process of readying them for the ebook world. The first one, A Fine Boy for Killing, is almost ready to be rolled out.

“How about writing us a novella then, same era, same characters if you want?” they said. “That way the books can feed off each other. People will read the novella, then want to read the novels, or vice versa. And yes, of course you can trail your own epublications in ours. You’ll do the same for us. Makes sense, no?”

Sounds like sense to me, I said. What’s the deal?

“Give us a file, or a copy of the book if we’re talking backlist, and we do the rest. All the scanning, proofing, everything. And we do a cover.”

Still sounded good. But I assumed it would cost me. No, they said. It costs you nothing. We do everything, and consult with you as well. Our USP is good professional books. If we turn out rubbish, the business dies.

The nitty gritty, naturally, was the financial nuts and bolts, the “deal.” Which turns out to be thirty per cent of the cover price, gross, paid twice a year. They take thirty, Amazon takes thirty, the author takes thirty, the taxman, the legal niceties, see off the rest.

I later ran the whole thing in front of the Society of Authors. They said fifty per cent would be better, but that was up to me. And it was thirty per cent of the gross, which was unusual, and not in a bad way.
One good reason to forget work

A backlist book sounded the most useful victim for experiment from my point of view. I told them of one I wrote some years ago about the Rudolf Hess flight. A dark and mysterious thriller about a dark and mysterious man. Or even men…

Bingo, they said!

It is now in the process of preparation. Their turnaround time is measured in weeks, not months. And in the meantime, I’m writing a novella about Daniel Swift, the terrible man who is uncle to William Bentley, the fine boy for killing.

I’m not giving up my own ebook venture, that’s the best thing. Kicking Off will be up soon in a revised edition, followed shortly afterwards by The Bonus Boys, which will also feature Rosanna Nixon and Andrew Forbes.

And the Hess book, if I so wish, will contain information about these books, even sample chapters. Cross fertilization, it appears, might turn out to be the name of the game.

The weirdest thing about this unexpected lunch in London was that all three of us, writer and two publishers, had soft drinks.

How times have changed! 
And another!


CallyPhillips said…
There you go jan. well on the way to being the next ebook phenomenon. Watch out 50 shades eh? Just shows the market is maturing (note I said the market, not the writer!) but it sounds like an interesting relationship in the offing. In my role as publisher of course I only deal with dead people so lunch is'nt really an option.
julia jones said…
Brilliant wonderful stuff! 30-30-30 of the COVER price sounds good to me. There's whole naut fic world out there, not for kidz books like mine but for historicals. They have conventions and things and chat away on an fb site called all things nautical.
Now that's the business side cleared away let's get down tomore important stuff. What were you towing WITH? And what's the mysterious Dutch square-rigger in your photo. Need to know. And also, don't belittle your own practicality. Loads of people can do computers (I can't) but not nearly as many can do the much more important diesel engines (I can't - as you well know)
Dennis Hamley said…
Well on, Jan. That does sound good. I'd like to think I'll have a somewhat similar experience with my own little foray into the genre which you read (and I've incorporated all your suggestions too, which, coming from the master, were brilliant). I sent it to the publishers who are reissuing the books which I (and several others) did for the recently defunct Evans. They promise an ebook deal for all their stuff, so we'll just have to see. it will be a long time before I know. But thanks - you've armed me for the possible struggle ahead.
Jus a minute. You say you towed a boat from north to south on the SEA? And it took TWO DAYS? Stone me.
Sadly, I don't remember ever being taken out to lunch by a publisher. A couple of my agents have done it on occasions, but that was when they expected Great Things of me. One Scottish publisher gave me half a Marks and Spencer meat pie (could have been worse, I suppose) and one agent asked me out to lunch which turned out to be from the takeaway on the corner. Both of these paragons of generosity were Scottish. Not that I'm casting aspersions, you understand.
Jan Needle said…
I'll take the responses in order, like a gentleman (!).

Cally, you've already given me several lunches, even cooked 'em for me. Also oodles of advice and inspiration, which my tired old bonce is still processing. This offer, that came out of the blue, involved me doing NOTHING, except catching a train and two buses. So therefore had to take priority! And after struggling with force six winds and lashing rain rigging my boat in Portsmouth for two days, I'm damn near dead, so you can publish me soon, probably.

Julia - naut fic site? Aha, thank you. I'll check it out. As for the towing, as an ocean tug fanatic, I'd love to say I borrowed the Turmoil or the Zwarte Zee for a couple of days, but in fact the job was done by Viv's old Vauxhall Zafira, by road. And the 'twenty footer' was technically a romantic fabrication. She's a Winkle Brig (called Badsox) and only twenty feet if you include the bowsprit. Sixteen feet on deck, fifteen on the waterline. As to the mysterious Dutchman, isn't she beautiful? But I nicked her off fb, from the wall of my mate Geraint Lloyd Taylor, whose mum and dad I'm just about to drive down to Wales to spend the night with. He goes to work by water taxi every day, so I guess he snapped her in the Thames. Diesel engines is good. What more need I say?

Dennis, same answer. No, it was not upon the sea! I dreamed as a lad of being Captain Jan (wonderful book about tugs by Jan de Hartog) but I can't add up, let alone do navigation type trigonometry, etc, so that was out! As to your terrific book, it was in my mind when I met these two fellers, but they very firmly don't do children's. However, I'm not sure yours has to be a children's book, entirely, are you? Maybe you should think about keeping the ebook rights? The deal most publishers want to do on ebooks makes me think that should possibly be a general rule. Keep the buggers, and look to the future! In the meantime, I'll keep you posted.

Knowing my track record, I might be about to get fleeced!
Jan Needle said…
As a gentleman, Catherine (see above!) I have to say your comment appeared after I'd done mine. And in the old days, I never actually REMEMBERED being taken out to lunch, which was rather the point. Or do I mean the pint, the pint, the pint? Andre Deutsch actually had an in house cook, and the wine was brilliant. As to HALF a pie.... Well, hoots and double hoots!
Susan Price said…
Ooh, I read Captain Jan too! It was one of my Dad's books. I loved it.
As to book world lunches - successive agents have always treated me to good lunches (I think they feel sorry for me), but publishers? A pub sandwich, if you're lucky.
Lydia Bennet said…
sounds great Jan, keep us posted on how this new deal goes! good idea to keep the Soc of Authors involved too, in case of hidden shoals and lee shores. As to being wined and lunched my only experience was when I co-authored some best-selling language books which made a lot of money for the publishers - they didn't even have biccies in the office, but once, over the years of income, once they took us out to - Pizza Express! Livin it large.
Jan Needle said…
Deutsch's then publicity person, a Dubliner called Sheila Murray as I recall, was a great one with a late afternoon Jamesons bottle. I took Jan Mark there once and her eyes popped out like chapel hat pegs. She told me afterwards she'd heard about such lovely people, but never, ever met them! Rosemary Sandberg at HarperCollins was a great luncher, too. One day we came out of a restaurant in Cork Street and I was bumped into (and knocked over) by a tall man in a yellow leather suit. I gazed up from the gutter into the face of Mick Jagger, who apologised profusely as he picked me up and dusted me down. Oooh, I thought, I've died and gone to heaven, I'll never wash again. And I didn't...
Bill Kirton said…
It's great how enthusiastic you are about it all Jan - and so you should be. Along with the rest, I'm looking forward to hearing how it all goes.

I had to sell my own boat a few years back - having to do a 1 hour 40 minute drive to and from her mooring in Findhorn Bay didn't really make sense - so I envy you the rigging work, even in conditions like that.

My sole publisher's lunch was with my then editor, a lovely, perceptive, generous person. It was a real, posh one in London - great food, interesting conversation - but the only specific thing I remember about it was when we were leaving. The editor is about 5' 10" and my wife, who's 5' 1" complimented her on the dress she was wearing and asked where she got it. The answer? 'Long Tall Sally'.
julia jones said…
Jan de Hartog, eh? His ex-wife Angela Wyndham Lewis was one of my mother's dearest friends and I thought she was pretty special too. I was therefore disposed to be thoroughly DOWN on the man who'd thrown her over. I thought he was some sort of historical novelist - had I but known he wrote about tugs.... well that would have been a tricky one for the loyalties.
Dennis Hamley said…
Andre Deutsch's dining room was a little corner of heaven. I was taken out to lunch a lot once. Rosmnary Sandberg was certainly a bonne viveur. Pam Royds when at Scholastic favoured two brilliant Italian places in Holborn, the names of both which I forget, and sometimes My Old Dutch, which did/does marvellous huge pancakes. Then suddenly it all became sending out for Pret a Manger sandwiches and I knew the good days were gone. But I remember a lunch at OUP with Ron Heapy in the private dining room and lunches with David Fickling, always a good trencherman. And even in 2007 I had some great lunches with Walker people in a terrific pub in Vauxhall. No wonder I always wanted to be a writer.
Jan Needle said…
just got back from north wales, so too late to do more than catch up. yes, julia. do read de hartog. men can be naughty, i've been told. what about that second best bed, eh?

and i've also had lunch in that vauxhall pub with pam royd's daughter Caz, of walker books. she pointed out jeffrey archer eating some slop, and i had the extreme pleasure of accidentally treading on his foot as we left. literary criticism on the hoof!
glitter noir said…
Ah, yes, the glory days: my years of publishers with editors and agents. I remember one convention after a wonderful dinner when Brian Hodge kicked back and said, "Man, I do love the perks." We all did, but fewer and fewer get to indulge in that groovy old part of the business. And years ago publisher Michael Korda wrote of how few editors and agents got to expense their drinks. Let's all weep together.

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