Stories Inc: A new way with children’s fiction series

stories incRecently, well-known Australian children’s authors and publishers, Susannah McFarlane and Louise Park, announced the launch of Stories Inc., a unique new consultancy service for children’s book publishers, helping them to create new fiction series.  Intrigued by the concept, I got in touch with Susannah and Louise, and asked them a few questions.

First of all, Susannah and Louise, congratulations on the launch of Stories Inc – such a bold and innovative venture! Can you tell us about the concept, and how you came up with it?

Thank you! Stories Inc has been created to cater to what we see as an opportunity and a demand to work with publishers in a more flexible, creative way to produce great book series for kids developed especially to sit within the publisher’s list. Stories Inc isn’t PARKjust a packaging service that a publisher can buy into: we offer a strategic and creative partnership to publishers that allows them to leverage our quite different but complementary skills to make a series for them. Louise brings years of senior educational and editorial experience and Susannah the same in trade publishing and marketing. It means we can help them make books that kids can and want to read.

We each have our own companies, (Susannah, Lemonfizz Media and Louise, Paddlepop Press) and through these we have independently worked with most of Australia’s major publishers – and each other! Five years ago we formed Pop & Fizz to create the Boy vs Beast series with Scholastic, a series that has now sold nearly half a million copies. We developed the concept, co-wrote the series and worked with independent illustrators and designers to deliver print-ready files. Working closely with the wonderful team at Scholastic was critical: not just to leverage their own and considerable in-house expertise, but also to ensure the series SMCFworked for them and their list needs. It was a very successful and fun project – and now we want to do more like it!

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

Stories Inc is really a natural progression, a development of what we are already doing. It spins off the reputation and success of body of work that we each have generated over the combined 50 years of our industry experience and achievements. A lot of the hard structural work was done when we established Pop & Fizz and the decisions and business structure that we already have in place will continue for Stories Inc. While we will continue to work independently as well, it’s incredibly exciting to be developing a partnership that has been both fun and successful.

What do you offer publishers with Stories Inc?

We offer them a suite of services that they can choose from. They may just want an external audit of their list, pure consultancy with recommendations, or they may want us to then work with them to develop those recommendations. And with that, we can deliver anything from a fleshed-out concept that they then develop internally to  the print-ready files for a whole series with marketing plan. The collaboration can be as small or large as the publisher wants or the opportunity suggests.

What about authors? Will you be working with other authors, as creators of individual books in series? 

Yes, absolutely, and illustrators and designers. We are continuing to conceptualise series and package to print ready files but we now looking to commission authors to write within these concepts, rather than writing everything ourselves. This will allow us to offer a diversity of voice and meet the increasing demand. It’s probably worth pointing out however that we can’t accept unsolicited manuscripts: our model is not about trying to fit existing stories and concepts into lists but develop them specifically for those lists.

What kinds of series are you aiming to create? 

That will be driven by what our publishing partners need but our age range covers first chapter books through to young adult fiction

 You have both had very successful careers as authors of series. Can you tell us something about your backgrounds and how you came to be writing series yourselves? 

Louise:

In my last year at Scholastic Australia I was both Publisher and General Manager, heading up the Education division. At that time I had conceptualized, written and ghost written hundreds titles for extensive reading programs such as Reading Discovery, Reconciliation, Bookshelf and more, along with many Trade titles. But it was mostly my extensive work with reluctant readers and indigenous children that had sparked a long love affair with writing for this group as well as the general primary school-aged reader. So, when I left in 2005 I decided to start my own company offering conceptualizing, writing and packaging services that catered for the primary school child.

When Susannah and I joined forces in 2010, the working partnership added a new dimension to conceptualisng and packaging. The era of the truly hilarious 3-hour Skype planning and scoping meetings, and the wonderfully lengthy working lunches had begun. It was evident fairly early on that the way we worked together and what we produced was a successful recipe worth continuing. 10 years later, series created by me or co-created by Susannah and I include Zac Power Test Drives—a massively successful global-best-seller, Boy vs Beast— a series that sold over 250,000 titles in its first 6 months of selling in its home territory, Star Girl—a series currently being adapted for television, SmartyCat, Bella Dancerella and Harriet Clare.

Susannah: 

At Hardie Grant Egmont when I was conceiving the world of Zac Power, I realized how much fun it was on ‘the other side of the fence’. After I sold my share in the company, I had some time away from publishing. I started writing a story for my daughter, Emma, then 9. I wanted to write her a story that might show her that she, girls, could do anything they wanted so I hijacked the boy spy genre and created Emma Jacks, EJ12 Girl Hero and it kind of went on from there. I think being a publisher you are perhaps better able to trouble-shoot some of the issues in your own writing – but I would never fly solo without an independent editor! Equally as a writer yourself, I think it makes it easier to work with other writers: it’s not surprising that an increasing number of people are wearing two hats!

You have also worked as publishers, and in the educational sector. What insights do you think you bring from those experiences? And what’s your view of the children’s book publishing industry in Australia currently? 

Our partnership rests on a unique blend of Trade and Education publishing experience. This allows us to create high-end trade series’ that we know our target audience want to read and can  read. Our years of experience driving publishing lists also means we are old hands at reading the market, finding gaps and understanding what will fill those gaps. And it’s fun to work with different people – very hard to call it work really!

We think the Australian children’s book industry is very buoyant with lots of committed professionals all looking for new ways to bring great stories to kids. Yes, the printed word story –in all formats – has some intense competition from other entertainment options but we think we are meeting that challenge with real energy and innovation, just as we need to. Part of that is looking at different ways to work and harness the talents of people outside a company. Publishers have always been good at that with authors, illustrators and designers and Stories Inc now extends the resources they can draw on.

Storiesinc.org

Paddlepopress.com.au

Susannahmcfarlane.com

More about Susannah McFarlane:

Series conceived and published by Susannah McFarlane have now sold over 3 million copies in Australia alone. EJ12 Girl Hero, Go Girl!, Zac Power and Boy vs Beast have provided Australian kids with scores of books they love and their parents trust.

A leading figure in Australian children’s publishing, Susannah works on both sides of the publishing fence combining over twenty years of senior publishing experience in both Australia and the UK with her ‘other job’ as a bestselling author with combined sales in excess of half a million copies.

Susannah held a number of editorial and marketing positions before becoming the Marketing Director of Reed for Kids in Melbourne in 1994. She then moved to London in 1996 to become Licensing Director of Reed Children’s Books working and subsequently Publishing Director and then Managing Director of Egmont Books UK and vice-president of the Egmont Group.

Susannah returned home to Australia in 2002, when her children confused Hyde Park with nature, and co-founded Hardie Grant Egmont where was she was co‐owner, managing director and publisher until 2008.  In 2009 she founded Lemonfizz Media, a boutique children’s publisher that focuses on developing a small number of projects with major publishing and media partners.

She is the creator and writer of the awarding-winning EJ12 Girl Hero series which has now sold over half a million copies, the creator and co-author of the popular series for reluctant-reading boys, Boy vs Beast, and the author of the Little Mates series of alphabet books for under fives. EJ12 Girl Hero was shortlisted for the Australian Children’s Choice Awards in 2010 and 2011, with Book 4 Rocky Road being awarded a KOALA Award Honour Book in 2011

Susannah was also a member of the Children’s Publishing Committee of the Australian Publishers’ Association from 2005-2008 and Convenor of the CPC and Board Director of the Australian Publishers’ Association 2010-2012. A former contributor to the UK trade journal Publishing News, Susannah also talked annually on children’s publishing to the RMIT Editing and Publishing course in Melbourne from 2007- 2012.

She lives in Melbourne with her husband and two children: her son Edvard (whose lack of reading inspired the Zac Power series) and her daughter Emma (who inspired the EJ12 Girl Hero series). Her husband is relieved that she has no plans for a series for or about him ….

More about Louise Park: 

Louise has been involved in education and publishing for over 25 years. Today, she continues to combine her knowledge of literacy and reading acquisition with children’s publishing whilst running her own publishing company.

Louise began in schools as a primary school classroom teacher and then moved into teaching literacy and English to new arrival students in primary schools across Sydney, NSW.

Louise began training primary teachers in literacy teaching in the late 80s when she became a literacy advisor to schools and she continued in this role for 6 years. She has spent more than two decades running training courses, seminars and lectures for teachers in the teaching of guided reading, guided writing and literacy acquisition.

As part of her role as seminar presenter and advisor Louise has written numerous training modules, literacy guides and early literacy acquisition programs that are still implemented in primary schools today. In the early 90s she combined her love of literacy with a publishing career and has since moved through a wide variety of publishing roles within the industry including author, editorial, production, project management and Publisher.

In these roles she has been heavily involved in the creation of a large number of popular primary school and trade reading programs, Trade titles and multi-media resources. She has scoped and created and collaborated on some of the biggest reading programs sold worldwide today including Bookshelf and Reading Discovery.

Louise’s last position inside a large publishing house was as general manager and publisher at Scholastic Australia. She left Scholastic to start her own publishing company, Paddlepop Press, in 2005 where she continues to write, package, produce and create children’s books and resources for several prominent publishers including Scholastic, Pan Macmillan, Macmillan Education, ABC books, HarperCollins, Hinkler Books, Lemonfizz Media and more.

Louise continues to deliver seminars to librarians, teachers and parents on literacy and reading.

As an Author

Louise’s work with reluctant readers sparked a long love affair with writing for this group as well as the general reader. Her series successes include Zac Power Test Drives—a massively successful global-best-seller, Boy vs Beast— a series that sold over 250,000 titles in its first 6 months of selling in its home territory, Star Girl—a series currently being adapted for television, SmartyCat, Bella Dancerella and her latest series,  Harriet Clare.

In 2013 Louise had a title make it onto the prestigious list: 10 best selling books of all time in Australia (adults, children’s, fiction and nonfiction) with the Sydney Morning Herald reporting it at no.9. She also held 8 of the top 10 slots on the children’s charts for almost two months during February and March 2013.

‘No.9 on a list which includes Jamie Oliver, Jodi Picoult and Nora Roberts. Nielsen BookScan’s general manager Shaun Symonds believes it is the first time such a title has ever made it to the top 10. (May 9, 2013)

Louise writes under the following pseudonyms:

I. Larry

Mac Park

Poppy Rose

 

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.

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

Double Act 1: Paul Collins and Ford Street Publishing

As director and co-founder of small publisher Christmas Press, as well as being an author, I’ve become very interested in the growing phenomenon I’ve joined: that of well-known and respected Australian authors who are also publishers. Authors who, not being content just to write books, also started their own publishing companies. Initially driven by frustration at seeing a particular text of theirs rejected by conventional publishers, these start-ups often soon expand into something beyond self-publishing, taking on other authors’ and illustrators’ work. And it’s happening more and more, in a time both of big-publisher list contractions, and a blooming of small press due in no small part to the effect that digitising files has had on the cost of printing books, which has come down considerably in recent years.

This is the first in a series of interviews, under the umbrella title of ‘Double Act’, which I’ve conducted recently with author-publishers, whose publishing businesses range from highly experienced and long-standing, to brand new and developing. And to start this series, I’m presenting an interview with an author who was one of the earliest innovators in the area, and whose Ford St Publishing has become one of the ‘heavy-hitters’ in the author-owned small press field : Paul Collins.

paul collins 1

One of Paul’s very early titles as a publisher

Paul Collins portrait

 

Paul Collins has written over 150 books and 140 short stories. He is best known for The Quentaris Chronicles (The Spell of Undoing is Book #1 in the new series), which he co-edits with Michael Pryor, The Jelindel Chronicles, The Earthborn Wars and The World of Grrym trilogy in collaboration with Danny Willis. Paul’s latest six part series is The Warlock’s Child in collaboration with Sean McMullen, and the anthology, Rich & Rare, which he edited.

Paul has been short-listed for many awards and won the Aurealis, William Atheling and the inaugural Peter McNamara awards. He recently received the A Bertram Chandler Award for lifetime achievement in Australian science fiction. He has had two Notable Books in the Children’s Book Council of Australia Awards.

He has black belts in both ju jitsu and taekwondo – this experience can be seen in The Jelindel Chronicles and The Maximus Black Files.

RIch and Rare FRONT cover

Ford Street is one of the most well-known and successful of author-owned and operated small press publishers. How did it start? What motivated you in the first place to start your own publishing company? And how did you target your list?

I started publishing back in the 70s. First up was a self-published novel called Hot Lead – Cold Sweat. Yes, I know, it was as awful as it sounds. However, it made me realise at the time that I liked the process. So I began a science fiction magazine called Void. It was the only Australian SF magazine at the time. I moved into publishing fantasy and science fiction back when the major publishers had no interest in either of those genres. In fact, I was the first Australian publisher to publish mainstream fantasy novels for adults. Distribution was really hard to get in those days and finally when a distributor called Buddy Reed disappeared with both my stock and the money he owed I decided to stick to writing short stories. In 2007 I decided to get back into publishing because I could see many things had changed. Distribution was easier – Macmillan took me on – book clubs had sprung up, and the Internet provided many avenues to reach an audience without cost. I’m discounting “time”, that is!

How did you initially persuade booksellers and other retailers, such as the schools distributors, to stock your books?

That’s really Macmillan’s job. I also have an educational distributor called INT Books. Together, they do quite a good job. I also send everyone I know media releases, just in case the distributors drop the ball on any given book. At the end of the day, if a school has a library, they need books. If you provide books that they like, the school librarian will gladly purchase.

Have your aims and strategies as a publisher changed from those early days? How?

I used to publish books for adults only. That’s an entirely different market from children’s to young adult. It’s a niche market when you’re publishing in just two genres. The main outlet in those days was minimal distribution to shops, and then going into municipal libraries and selling direct. The science fiction conferences were another avenue for sales. Today I have distributors who do all that for me.

Has working as a publisher impacted on your own career as an author – whether that be positive or negative?paul collins 3

I don’t think so. I can publish my own work if I wish. All modesty aside, my titles are among Ford Street’s best-selling books. Trust Me!, which I edited, is our #1 top seller. Wardragon (fourth of the Jelindel books) comes in at second. I wouldn’t be publishing my own books if they weren’t selling. I think that’s a trap for beginners. Publishing your own books works if they’re selling, but if they’re not, you risk bringing down your brand, and appearing like a vanity press. So far, I think I’ve avoided that label. And I can think of several editors who work for major publishers who have their own books published by their workplace.

I still write for other publishers. In the past year I’ve had six books in the Legends in their Own Lunchbox series (Macmillan) and next year two short story collections in collaboration with Meredith Costain Paul Collins 4(Scholastic) and three plays (Pearson), due.

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

Challenges are time, money, finding suitable books, getting authors/illustrators to promote their own books. Pleasures are creating books, working for myself, thereby having very flexible working hours (I work seven days a week, but that’s my choice), the joy of knowing a book is selling really well, or selling overseas rights, taking on books that major publishers have rejected and seeing sales go paul collins 5through the roof. One example is my own The Glasshouse. It was rejected by a great many publishers, some, like Penguin – my own publisher at the time, didn’t even respond to the submission. Ford Street published it and I sent it to a book club. They purchased 4000 copies. It went on to sell another 1200+. They’re not bad sales figures for a small press. It went on to be chosen by International IBBY as an Outstanding Book (only two other Australian books received this) and was short-listed for the CBCA’s Crichton Award.

Any tips for aspiring author-publishers?

As I’ve just mentioned, be careful about publishing your own work. If you do, ensure you get it professionally edited. Make it the best you can. Ensure you have distribution. Without this, you’ll wind up with boxloads of books in a garage. On this note, don’t print too many copies. I know the more you print the cheaper the unit cost, but if you wind up with 2000 books in storage, it doesn’t matter how little they cost you – you’re still stuck with 2000 books (and hopefully not paying for storage!).

Think about getting trailers produced, get bookmarks, posters of the covers – anything to help promote your books. A website is essential. I know authors and illustrators who still don’t have websites and this is just craziness in today’s climate.

Covers are important. Don’t settle for second-best. The more professionally you can present your books, the better your brand name will be. I’ll always remember a librarian telling me that she would always order McPhee-Gribble YA books, because they rarely if ever published a dud book. That’s a recommendation that a small press should strive for.

Visit Paul’s websites: www.paulcollins.com.au, www.quentaris.com and www.fordstreetpublishing.com.

burning sea

 

Guest post: Dianne Bates on Buzz Words

Dianne (Di) Bates is one of the most hard-working and dedicated writers I know, and has been in the industry for decades. She has published over 120 books for children, some of which have won state and national awards, including two children’s choice book awards (WAYRBA and KOALA). She is married to award-winning children’s author Bill Condon; they share a website http://enterprisingwords.com.au

As well as being a writer, Di is also the founding editor of the highly-respected industry magazine Buzz Words, an invaluable resource for anyone involved in children’s books. In this guest post she profiles the magazine. I highly recommend subscribing to it!

Buzz Words: All the Buzz About Books

By Dianne Bates

In 2006 I started a subscriber-based twice-monthly online magazine exclusively for people in the Australian children’s book industry, such as writers, illustrators, librarians, publishers – in fact, anyone interested in children’s books. As editor I gather material from many sources and sometimes commission material. Buzz Words’ aim is to keep readers abreast of what’s currently happening in the children’s book industry and to give them as many opportunities to get informed and possibly published.

Every issue contains industry news, publisher profiles, profiles of people in the industry, an interview (editors, publishers, designers, etc), opportunities, markets, competitions and awards, recommended books and websites/blogs, festivals and conferences, workshops, article/s, subscribers’ achievements, letters to the editor and children’s book reviews. Links are frequently provided to help readers.

Buzz Words is as subscriber-friendly as possible. Preference for interviews, articles, profiles, etc is always given to subscribers. Subscribers are also given the opportunity to advertise for free if they have a product and/or service.

The magazine also has a children’s book review blog http://buzzwordsmagazine.com where a new children’s book review appears every day. Reviews are also linked through the magazine to the blog. Buzz Words has 20 reviewers; we review for most children’s publishers in Australia.

I am happy to send anyone the latest issue of the magazine to see if they would like to subscribe. Contact dibates@outlook.com. Cost is $48 per year (24 issues). The magazine is distributed on the 1st and 15th of every month.