From publisher to author: An interview with Margaret Hamilton

Last week, in the Double Act series, I featured several authors who had also become publishers. Today, I’m featuring someone who went the opposite journey, from publisher to author, and in between also took on many other roles in the industry.

MargaretHamiltonBisforBedtimeWMargaret Hamilton AM is one of the most respected and versatile figures in the Australian children’s books world. She has been involved in children’s literature as a librarian (at Parramatta City Library), as a bookseller, a publisher and a parent. In 1987 she left her position as a director at Hodder & Stoughton Australia to begin Margaret Hamilton Books with her husband Max. The company built up a reputation for high quality children’s books and was dedicated to the philosophy ‘that children have a right to the best of everything, especially books’. Margaret Hamilton Books won many awards and had considerable success on the world market. It became a Division of Scholastic Australia in 1996, where the imprint remains. Margaret’s passion for picture books, her enthusiasm for the world of Australian illustrators, and her recognition of the need for wider promotion of picture books, have led her to Pinerolo, the Children’s Book Cottage at Blackheath. She has been involved with the Children’s Book Council of Australia for many years and is currently on the National Board. Her Order of Australia Medal was received in 2008 – ‘for service to the arts through the promotion of children’s literature and literacy and through support for authors and illustrators’. She has also received the Lady Cutler Award, the Dromkeen Medal, and the Nan Chauncy Award, amongst other honours.

Margaret, you’ve had an amazing and varied career in the children’s books industry. How did you get your start?
When I left school I began work at Parramatta City Library. Although I wasn’t a reader as a child, I discovered I liked the books and relating to the children. One of my lecturers when I studied Librarianship was the legendary Maurice Saxby. He turned me on to children’s books and they became a lifelong passion. When I left the library I worked for a while in a bookshop, experiencing the commercial side of books.
As a publisher, you worked for a big company–Hodder–and then later started your own publishing company, Margaret Hamilton Books. What prompted you to do so? And was it like, going from the corporate publishing world  to the small-press world?
At Hodders I was Director in charge of publishing – the only female on the board! I was responsible for Hodders entire list, but children’s books were my favourites. It was after I had my daughter and my husband had extended the house that we started our own company. It meant I could be home for my daughter and concentrate on children’s books. As with being the only female on the Hodder board, I knew that our small company was up against the big boys. We had to be as good as them, if not better. So I continued to attend the Bologna children’s book fair and promoting our books everywhere. After ten years in publishing we became a division of Scholastic with a five-year employment contract. So working for a UK based company then for a multi-national based in New York were both very interesting insights into world publishing.
You have written and edited several non-fiction books about the children’s books scene, but last year your first picture book, B is for Bedtime, illustrated by Anna Pignataro, came out, garnering much acclaim. And there’s another picture book on the way. How did you make the transition? Have you always had ideas for picture books, or is this a new direction altogether for you? And what was it like, working with an illustrator on your own book?
The publication of B IS FOR BEDTIME was an absolute thrill for me – after over 30 years of publishing other people’s books, I was now an author of a published picture book myself! It’s very exciting how b is for bedtimewell it’s doing in the US – up to its third printing. I had always been very shy of showing publishers my work but plucked up courage and sent that to Little Hare. They will be publishing the next book COUNTING THROUGH THE DAY next year. Anna is illustrating that as well, and doing a magnificent job. I suppose being around and working with the best of Australian picture book creators, some of it has sunk in.
You’ve always been a strong supporter of picture books, and illustrators as well as authors. Which picture-book creators have most impressed or inspired you, over the years? 
That’s like asking me for the favourite book I published! I used to say that I didn’t have favourites, that all the books we published were our babies and we hoped they’d grow into award winners! I’ve worked with many of Australia’s picture book creators and am very proud of them. I’m also proud to have published books which are now classics and still available today – like THERE’S A HIPPOPOTAMUS ON OUR ROOF EATING CAKE by Hazel Edwards and The GRUG series by Ted Prior. I’m also extremely proud of the books Margaret Hamilton Books published: several by Patricia Mullins, THE VERY BEST OF FRIENDS by Margaret Wild & Julie Vivas (winner of the Picture Book of the Year Award), MY DOG by John Heffernan & Andrew McLean (multi award-winner), WHERE DOES THURSDAY GO? by Janeen Brian & Stephen Michael King and publishing Glenda Millard’s first book UNPLUGGED! illustrated by Dee Huxley. Glenda has gone on to become one of Australia’s most successful authors. All of these people are still creating superb books and continue to inspire me.

Pinerolo Cottage in winter

Pinerolo Cottage in winter

You are a founder of the lovely children’s book centre in the Blue Mountains, Pinerolo Cottage. Can you tell readers about the Cottage, and what happens there?
Pinerolo the Children’s Book Cottage (www.pinerolo.com.au) has the largest collection of original artwork from picture books in NSW, also a collection of picture books and reference books. We run one-day courses in creating picture books. I’m usually joined for the day by an award-winning author or illustrator. Recently the fabulous writer Glenda Millard was here for a record number of participants. I also love talking to groups of school children and to groups of adults, some of whom have come on a bus trip to Blackheath. The Illustrator in Residence program provides inspiration and mentorships for illustrators working on a project. I enjoy mentoring authors and illustrators, helping them in the development of their ideas. Most notable success recently is Lesley Gibbes, with her first picture book SCARY NIGHT, illustrated by Stephen Michael King, which was a CBCA 2015 Honour Book.

Pinerolo Cottage in spring

Pinerolo Cottage in spring

You’ve won many awards for your significant contribution to the children’s book world, including the Dromkeen Medal, the Nan Chauncy Award, the Lady Cutler Award, and Order of Australia, and more. And you’ve seen the children’s books scene evolving over many years. What are some things you’ve observed, in terms of trends, over those years?
I believe I’ve been extremely fortunate to have stumbled into a career in publishing. It’s been very stimulating and demanding but also very satisfying and fulfilling. That’s probably why I can’t retire! There’s always another wonderful writer or illustrator coming along and I love seeing them succeed. The Australian publishing industry is now recognised throughout the world. There was some nervousness a few years ago as publishers felt the threat of ebooks. However, they have come through this and are continuing to publish beautiful picture books. Sharing a picture book with a child, or a child reading it themselves, is a tactile experience that cannot be replicated on a tablet. Children especially are returning to real books and it’s such a pleasure to see so many beautiful Australian picture books being produced. Authors like Andy Griffiths are saving the book trade. His treehouse books have been number one on the bestseller lists. Top of the list for all genres. That’s a huge achievement.
I’ve also been involved with the Children’s Book Council of Australia for many years. It has undergone a change in the last few years and is now run by a National Board. I am Deputy Chair of the CBCA National Board and am finding it challenging. I’m also very hard at work with the Committee for the CBCA 12th National Conference which will be held in Sydney in May 2016 (http://cbca.org.au/NatConference.html). Also next year the 70th Children’s Book of the Year Awards will be presented in Sydney – where it all began in 1945. Maybe after that I might think about retiring!

 

A brand-new model: interview with Lou Johnson, of The Author People

Lou JohnsonThe whole business of being an author today has changed a great deal, in a time when the publishing industry is going through rapid transformations. And so today I’m very pleased to present an interview with Lou Johnson, one of the founders and directors of The Author People, a brand new kind of business which aims to help authors negotiate these tricky times.

Lou is highly regarded within the international publishing industry. She has over twenty five years of publishing experience, including senior roles at Random House, Allen & Unwin and Simon & Schuster Australia where she was Managing Director between 2010–2014, overseeing a period of transformative change and the establishment of an Australian publishing division. She is also currently on the board of The Stella Prize. Her book industry representation includes Joint Vice-Presidency of the Australian Publisher’s Association (2012–2014) and membership of the Book Industry Collaborative Council (BICC) established by The Dept of Industry & Innovation (Dec 2012–June 2013). She is a regular panelist and speaker and has judged, chaired and developed numerous industry awards and initiatives.

Lou, the Author People is a very different concept to what’s around now in terms of publishing and author services. Can you tell us about it? What can an author who signs up with you expect?

We know that people’s love affair with authors and their books is as strong as ever but the way in which they discover, share, buy and interact with them is changing, driven by technology and the rise in social networking and online member communities.  As a result we have found that authors are now looking for an alternative and more collaborative approach from their publishers.

The Author People is author and people centric and we want to give people meaningful and direct ways in which to engage with authors and also pave the way for authors and people to interact in the future in ways yet to be imagined.

We see the relationship between authors and people transcending individual books, book format types and geographical borders.We really want to streamline the connection between authors and people by providing a different type of publishing approach, really relevant promotional support and a direct global transactional capability. We view our relationship with authors as one of co-producers and are very clear that there isn’t necessarily a one size fits all approach. If we are also representing authors we will be looking for opportunities beyond books like licensing, brand partnerships, content sales and events.

In terms of the audience, the whole focus is on making it easy for them to engage with and access authors and their work and we are working on the premise that we and the authors we represent will be responsible for creating that interest and demand, rather than the traditional reliance on retailers to do that.

Our promotional strategy is focussed on outreach so we can help bridge a connection between authors and the people who may be interested in them. This is largely driven via social media but we can also incorporate more traditional PR activities. Ultimately what we are trying to do is enhance or amplify authors’ own connection with people.  Our website is also a key component of this as it serves as an easy portal  for people to get to know a bit more about individual authors and purchase their books. In addition to our own shopping cart, we will have a number of local and global retail partners links on our site.  Our paper books are also available for any bookseller who would like to stock them via Ingram Content Group and ebooks available to multiple retailers globally via a third party distributor.

Apart from a different outlook, another key difference between us and other publishers is that we have an entirely different business model and structure and have also re-engineered the supply chain to support a more direct author/people link as well as flexibility, condensed production timelines and a lower cost base that we can pass the benefits of onto authors and their audiences. We also differ from traditional publishers in that we don’t provide advances, though we underwrite the development and promotional costs and still work with a royalty structure. Royalties are calculated on a case by case basis depending on scope, though in the majority of cases we would be offering higher than industry average royalties – especially for ebooks. In instances where we also represent authors we retain a commission on any additional revenue opportunities we source for them.

How did you and co-founder and director Tom Galletta first come up with the idea?Tom Galletta

The idea was borne out of the insights I gained through many years working in publishing. There is so much value that traditional publishers still offer but I felt there was a need for a disruptive approach to conventional publishing in order to be relevant in a continually changing environment and could see that authors were increasingly questioning the value of the traditional publishing approach. My thinking was further refined during my time as part of the Book Industry Collaborative Council and the final gap we identified was very much influenced by the findings of the Do You Love Your Publisher? survey research project conducted earlier this year, co-produced by authors Harry Bingham (in the UK) and Jane Friedman (in the US) http://www.thebookseller.com/news/authors-call-better-communication-publishers which has just been reinforced by the Macquarie University research.

I had been thinking about my own venture for some time and finally resigned from my role at Simon & Schuster last year to give myself the space the develop my thinking. Tom doesn’t have any background in publishing which was really important to me as I felt that I needed the input from someone external to industry. I approached Tom to help me with the business modelling and we worked out very quickly that it made sense to become partners.

What has it been like bringing the concept from idea to reality? What were the challenges and discoveries?

Exhilarating and terrifying in equal measure, though my time in the industry and specifically my role as MD at Simon & Schuster served as a very good apprenticeship. Having said that, there has been an enormous amount to learn along the way and a huge amount of multi-tasking so one key challenge is managing our own work processes and resourcing and staying calm and focussed. Getting the right partners is also crucial.

You were a publisher for many years. What insights do you think you bring from that side of the industry? What about Tom?

During my time in publishing I developed a deep understanding about the functions and value publishers can provide but also what can be done differently if you approach things through a different lens.  I also participated in enormous change and it’s not slowing down. I feel that in order to be successful in this environment its critical to be open minded and adaptable and that the exisiting industry paradigms don’t really support that. Given I have a really detailed understanding of the areas that I feel are getting in the way of that I thought we’d create a new paradigm.

Tom brings a really refreshing external and impartial view which further serves to challenge exisiting industry thinking. He also worked previously in artist management and digital so he brings a lot of insight, experience and capability from his previous roles.

You also have access to a team of partners with extensive knowledge of the industry. Can you tell us something about them and their roles?

Tom and I are the nucleus of The Author People and work with an international network of partners and providers. We’ve featured our founding partners on the website but none of them are employed by us or work exclusively with us and we will continue to build our network. We are a proverbial “lean startup”. That is an integral element of our business DNA. Our leanness, efficiency and expertise enables us to pass on all the value and benefits to authors and audiences.

The first books you’ve helped to bring into being have just come out. Tell us about them, and their authors.

Our first author was Adrian Simon. There is a big backstory to the relationship between the two of us. Adrian really liked the concept of The Author People and wanted to work with me so bringing his book to the world was another driving force behind bringing the vision behind The Author People to life. Adrian is the son of Warren Fellows, the infamous heroin smuggler who was imprisoned in Bangkwang Prison in Bangkok and later wrote the best-selling book The Damage Done. Adrian’s own story is extraordinary and its very exciting seeing him able to finally tell the other side of the story in his memoir Milk-Blood: Growing Up The Son Of A Convicted Drug Trafficker. However, Adrian’s book is just one way for Adrian to tell his story and connect with people so we are working with Adrian to develop other mediums like speaking events, partnerships and other content forms.

Our second author is ABC Northern Tasmania’s radio host and start up guru Polly McGee. Polly and her debut novel Dogs of India are a perfect fit for The Author People. Polly is an innovator and a natural connector, and Dogs of India also comes from her own “lived experience,” which is one of our key content areas. She originally crowd funded Dogs through Indiegogo, which served as a brilliant proving ground for her and the novel (as well as raising $8,500 for Vets Without Borders). Dogs of India is my favourite kind of book. It’s an enormously entertaining, warm and witty novel that packs a powerful message into a velvet glove. It is quite likely that Polly’s next book will be entirely different and may not even be fiction and our model completely support that.

What has been the response so far from booksellers and readers?

Authors love it, booksellers are supportive of it, especially our affiliate partners and it’s too soon to comment on the reader response but the early signs are good.

Where are you hoping The Author People will be, five years from now?

Thriving!

Seriously, we expect the business to continue evolving just like the external landscape. Our vision is to have the capability and flexibility to continue to diversify to ensure an ongoing deep relationship between authors and people as technology continues to develop and book forms continuing to evolve along with the ways people can interact with them and their creators.

Guest posting on Felicity Pulman’s blog

I have a guest post today on fellow author Felicity Pulman’s blog. Entitled, ‘A time traveller between worlds’, it’s about how my multicultural background and turbulent family history were more than bit players in turning me into a writer, and particularly a writer of fantasy and other speculative fiction.

Here’s a short extract:

One of the reasons why I took instinctively, from a young age, to reading and later writing fantasy, and also fiction with supernatural elements, is linked to something right at the heart of my childhood. Of course it’s often so for every writer, but in my case it has to do with something very particular. For the classic fantasy tropes of the journey between worlds, the sojourn in strange places, and the sudden irruption of a different, disturbing reality into the everyday is at the heart of my own lived experience as a bilingual person of multicultural background, with a family history that is to say the least, rather complex.

You can read the rest here.

Introducing MenuChef: guest post

menu chef picCross-posted from my food blog.

Our whole family has always had a great interest in food and cooking, and my entrepreneurial nephew, Edouard de Martrin Donos(brother of talented Paris-based chef Alexis Braconnier) has parleyed that interest into a brand-new start up in Sydney with two of his friends: a company calledMenuChef, which offers an unusual new service, turning your home into a fabulous venue for a fine dining experience. To explain the concept, the story behind it, and what’s on offer, I invited Edouard onto the blog. Enjoy!

Introducing MenuChef, 
by Edouard de Martrin Donos

My story
My name is Edouard de Martrin Donos, I’m the CEO of menuchef.com.au.
I am a French & Australian entrepreneur, growing up in a large French Australian family that combined the best elements of a successful family reunion: extraordinary dishes & passionate entertaining dinner.
Food & cooking always took a big part of my life as well as that of my whole family (my brother is a celebrity chef in France). I grew up in a family where everyone knows how to cook and shares the same passion of multi-cultural dishes and flavour explosions to bring the true essence to our plates. We always have organised big feasts for family and friends when great food and animated debates were crucial part of these reunions.
I have built my company with two of my friends, Olivier and Chris, who share the same vision and passion of entertaining at home.
Our concept
We want to share our vision and change the way that people think of dining: why dine-out when you can dine-in?
At MenuChef we believe that professional chefs can get out of their kitchen and give you an exclusive access to their world. We want our customers to experience an extraordinary culinary and entertaining adventure in the comfort of their own venue.
What do we offer?
We offer a private & premium personal chef service where the chef will cook for you and your guests.
Also, we are offering some great culinary experiences to choose from:
  1. Romantic dinner to impress your special someone
  2. Cooking class where the chef comes to you and teach you how to cook your dream dish.
  3. Special events for a unique and tailor-made gourmet catering for any corporate or private function (High Tea, Wedding, Celebration, Seminar, Christmas party, etc..)
How does it work?
We know how tricky it can to host a dinner with the stress of cooking, organising and cleaning. This frees you up so you get all of the the pleasure and none of the pain!
STEP 1: Simply jump on the website, select your menu online based on your taste, inspiration and budget. Book your selected menu based on your selected criteria (cuisine type, chef, menu range).
STEP 2: Your chef will contact you and will do the grocery shopping for you.
STEP 3: The chef will come to your door at the date and time indicated on your booking and will cook for you and your guests.
STEP 4: Your chef will serve you and your guests and clean up before leaving.
How do we select our chefs?
Our chefs are selected based on their cooking skills and professional cooking CVs. We have a strict recruitment process that the chef must follow in order to integrate the menuchef team. The chef’s final selection is done with our critic’s team (Bloggers, critics and menuchef representative will validate the chef during a booking trail).
Once the chef is validated, the chef will establish his/her menus and will set up a profile visible on the website. After a final review, the chef is ready to get his/her first booking for menuchef.
For more details, visit us on www.menuchef.com.au or call us on 1300MENUCHEF (636 824)
Email: valetservice@menuchef.com.au (customers)

Double Act 4: Dianne Bates and About Kids Books

In the fourth of my series on author-publishers, I’m interviewing Dianne Bates, who is in the early stages of setting up her own publishing company, About Kids Books.

Author of 130+ books, Dianne (Di) Bates is a full-time freelance writer. Di has worked as a newspaper and magazine editor and manuscript assessor. She founded Buzz Words  in 2006. Di is a recipient of The Lady Cutler Award for distinguished services to children’s Literature. Her website is http://www.enterprisingwords.com.au

Dianne-Bates

First of all congratulations on starting About Kids Books! What motivated you to start your own publishing company?

For many years I aspired to setting up a national children’s magazine; (I’d worked on Puffinalia and NSW Department of Education School Magazine). When I landed a job as editor of the national magazine Little Ears and saw how the owners went broke very quickly after investing a lot of time and money, I changed my mind, especially as I didn’t have any contacts (such as distributors) in that industry. More recently I’ve been inspired by self-publishers who have managed to set up their own book imprints so I’ve been able to ask a number of them of their experiences. All have given me valuable advice so I feel confident now of some degree of success.

What are your plans for the list? What will you be concentrating on?

I intend to publish quality children’s books for readers up to 12 years (excluding picture books). At the moment I would like to publish three books a year, assuming I find manuscripts which fit my brief. I have a personal preference for social realism, but am open to publishing all genres.

What are the challenges and pleasures so far?

I am constantly challenged by a lack of skill in computing so I need to invest money in employing people who are proficient in this area. At the moment I have someone designing a website for About Kids Books. Meanwhile, I am reading and assessing manuscripts which writers have sent me.

You have been a publisher before–of magazines and websites. How do you think this new direction will differ?

Hopefully I will discover and nurture new authors and illustrators, and help productive authors to extend their lists. Since 2006 I’ve offered numerous writing and illustrating competitions and have discovered talent through my publication of Buzz Words, a magazine for those in the Australian children’s book industry.

What do you think being a long-published author can bring to your new career as a book publisher?

Certainly over the past 30 and more years I’ve made many contacts in the industry, which as anyone can tell you is filled with generous people. My ‘name’ might result in people wanting to purchase the books I’ll be publishing and thus help defray costs.

Any advice for aspiring author-publishers?

Like any new venture, you need to do your homework: for example, check out printers, designers, distributors, book clubs and library suppliers before you take the first step. Having some capital behind you is also a must!

PS: Di Bates contributed a guest post earlier this year to my blog about her magazine, Buzz Words. You can read it here. 

Double Act 3: Michael Wagner and Billy Goat Books

In the third of my series on author-publishers, I’m interviewing Michael Wagner.

wagnerMichael Wagner is the author of more than 70 books for children which include the much loved, 20-book Maxx Rumble series (still in print after 11 years); a collection of delightfully silly and warm-hearted stories about a family called The Undys; the best-selling picture bookWhy I Love Footy; and many more.

Prior to becoming a children’s author, Michael worked for ten years as radio broadcaster with the ABC, wrote and produced award-winning television animations, and wrote everything from copy to songs and comedy. His latest challenge is starting his own micro-publisher called Billy Goat Books, with the first book, Pig Dude: He Can Do Anything! published in late August this year.

First of all congratulations on starting Billy Goat Books! What motivated you to start your own publishing company?

Thanks Sophie. Well, to be honest I was motivated by two things: fear of rejection and the desire to, sometimes, just sometimes, have total creative control over my work.

By ‘fear of rejection’ I mean that I’ve recently discovered that some of my writing just doesn’t appeal to many publishers, even though it has widespread appeal to kids in schools. I speak in schools a lot and often test stories out. In 2014, I wrote a book called Pig Dude: He Can Do ANYTHING! When it felt ready to read, I tested it in a dozen different schools, and I was thrilled by how it went. It received an overwhelmingly positive, and very spontaneous reaction, maybe the best reaction I’ve ever received for any of my books. I felt like I was onto something.

But, when I sent it to a couple of publishers, it was fairly flatly rejected. Feeling a bit taken aback, I took it back into schools and tested it again. Once again, it got that big, positive reaction. But something told me sending it to more publishers was likely to be a time-consuming and, most likely, fruitless exercise. (I may have been wrong, but that’s what my instincts told me) And I didn’t really want to face a string of rejections with something that seemed particularly viable to me.

Now, having something of an entrepreneurial streak, I decided to publish it myself. It was a relief not to have to go through the submission process and I felt excited about being able to get started straightaway and about having so much more creative control over one of my books. Something about that really appealed. So I formed Billy Goat Books and published Pig Dude: He Can Do ANYTHING!Pig-Dude-Cover

What inspired the name of your press?

That’s actually a tough question. I tried about a million names, including Chilli Pepper Books (too suggestive of erotic fiction, apparently), Sparky Pepper Books (too random), Rocket Boy Books (too nothing), Bugle Books and Toot-Toot Books (both of which have flatulence connotations), etc, etc, and finally settled on Billy Goat Books. I like the playfulness of the name and the slight masculinity. My books are often quite boysie, so it felt right to me. And it hadn’t already been taken, which was a surprise, so I grabbed it.

What are your plans for the list? What will you be concentrating on?

As it costs quite a lot of money to created illustrated, printed books, I’ve decided to grow quite slowly – probably by only a book or two a year for the first few years. And, as I have a stockpile of my own stories ready to go, I plan to learn the business with books I’ve written.

I think, in a way, that’s fairer on other authors, because after a couple of years of learning how to create and sell books, I’ll be much better placed to provide a valuable service for others.

So, for now, it’ll just be my writing, but with the help of various illustrators, depending on who suit the different titles I have lined up.

What are the challenges and pleasures so far?

For me, there was an enormous learning curve. To minimise costs, I taught myself to design both the cover of a book and the interior pages – something I’ll have to learn all over again with each book, unless I employ a proper designer. That meant teaching myself software programs like InDesign and Photoshop – not easy!

And there are jobs like writing a contract for an illustrator, working out printing specifications, setting up distribution, creating Billy Goat Books, its brand and website, organising publicity, etc, etc, etc.

It’s a big job and probably best entered into completely naively, because knowing too much would be quite a disincentive. It’s best just to take it one job at a time.

On the other hand, if you’re creating a text-only ebook, the job is MUCH smaller. Printed books with illustrations are at the more difficult end of the publishing process, ebooks with only text are quite straightforward by comparison.

But, for me, learning new skills is exciting and having control over the product is extremely creatively satisfying. And when you hold what you’ve made in your hands for the first time, you know you did it yourself. So, on balance, I’ve enjoyed it immensely.

What do you think being an author can bring to your new career as a book publisher?

I think the big advantage many authors have is that they can test their material on their target audience. That takes a lot of the guesswork out of the publishing process.

Of course it’s not definitive. There are many successful books that would be incredibly difficult to read to an audience – like Goodnight Moon, for example. Really intimate books like that one are perfect for reading one-on-one, but might not work well with an audience. So not all fantastic books would test well. But when a book feels wonderful when it’s being read to an audience, chances are it’s worth publishing.

Being in front of kids many days a year allows authors to road test and refine some of their material and I think that’s a huge advantage. You really get the hang of what your audience likes when they’re sitting in front of you.

Any advice for aspiring author-publishers?

Hmm? Beware. If you’re printing illustrated books, it’s a lot of work and not cheap. But it’s very handy if you’ve been unable to land a publishing deal with something you truly believe in (having tested it with audiences), to be able to publish it yourself. Self-publishing or micro-publishing is a bit of a safety net, meaning you don’t have to simply shelve a manuscript you really feel is good enough (as far as any of us can tell that about our own work). It’s a fallback position, and that’s something authors have never really had before.

 

Double Act 2: Julian Davies and Finlay Lloyd

Julian Davies

In the second of my series on author-publishers, I’m interviewing Julian Davies, one of the owners and founders of Finlay Lloyd, a non-profit publisher which has been going for nine years.  Julian describes himself as jack of a number of trades – writer, potter, painter and front-man for a non profit art gallery, The Left Hand. As well as publisher of course! He has lived in the mountains near Braidwood, New South Wales, for much of his adult life. The author of five novels, he has also written various stories and essays.

When and how did Finlay Lloyd start? What motivated you in the first place to start your own publishing company?

Finlay Lloyd was begun by four people – Phil Day, Ingeborg Hansen, Robin Wallace-Crabbe and me – all with somewhat varied interests in making books, but joining together to form a press with different values from mainstream publishers. Phil and Ingeborg had a background in producing inventive, beautifully set and designed handmade books, and had an interest in publishing fiction and poetry. Robin, a well-known writer and artist, had also designed books in his youth. I wanted to offer a counter-model, however modest, to commercial publishing. Our aim was to make

Phil Day

Phil Day

well-designed paper books while encouraging and supporting the sort of inventive writing that the big presses were too risk averse to back. It was important to me that FL was non-profit – we do not pay ourselves at all – in contradiction of the dominant paradigm.

How did you initially persuade booksellers to stock your books?

I simply got on the phone and called every bookshop I could locate, explaining what our intentions were. I made it plain that we were supplying firm sale, but that we didn’t want shops to buy books they couldn’t sell.

Have your aims and strategies as a publisher changed from the beginning? How?

Through the nine years since the establishment of the press our values and methods have remained consistent, but with the departure of Ingeborg and Robin from Finlay Lloyd, Phil and I have settled into a pattern where we discuss everything but he sets and designs the books while I act as editor and deal with publicity and sales. Our partnership has become closer and more interactive (hence his doing almost 400 drawings for my novel Crow Mellow). We envisage the press evolving to mainly undertake collaborative projects, whether between us or with others.

Crow Mellow cover 2Has working as a publisher impacted on your own career as an author–whether that be positive or negative?

I’ve found helping other writers realise their projects as well as possible an intriguing and valuable experience. It has given me a greater perspective on writing, publishing, and bookselling. Although this was not my intention in starting the press, Finlay Lloyd has finally provided a means to publish my own books in an inventive, unconstrained way, free from the commercial imperatives of the big presses.

What are the challenges and pleasures of small-press publishing, in your experience? Any memorable anecdotes?

I’ve found the many aspects of making books both rewarding and challenging – the demands on my time have been considerable. I’ve often wished I could clone myself in order to cope better, but my family likes to remind me that one of me is quite enough. Perhaps the keenest pleasure has been learning at close quarters how other writers think as they respond to editorial input.

flsmallsAny advice for aspiring author-publishers?

Because the book industry has been in such flux in recent decades more room has opened up for small presses. With their business model under threat, the big presses have withdrawn from some aspects of publishing. Furthermore, computer setting and the reduced cost of printing have made the process far more accessible. With these factors in mind, I’d suggest that anyone entering publishing may be brave but not necessarily as foolish as it might appear. I’d also suggest that having a broad and perceptive curiosity about all aspects of writing, typography, design and book production is a prerequisite as rare as it is obvious and valuable. I can’t stress that enough. There is a plethora of badly made books out there in the world. Small publishers should be self-critical and nimble enough to reinvent what they do imaginatively