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monkey
I'm speaking at a Booktrust seminar at the London Book Fair on Tues, 16 April, with PR guru Justin Somper, agent Stephanie Thwaites and Bookbrunch founding editor Liz Thomson. Here's a very professional-looking poster I made for it:



But I need your help. The seminar's called The New Demands On and Support For Writers, and if you're a writer or illustrator, I want to know: what is it that you need from your publisher that you're not already getting? Or what is it that your publisher is doing well, that other publishers might not have done for you?

Here's the seminar description:
Recent industry changes have seen a new wave of support for writers, with a proliferation of courses popping up, agents taking more of a proactive role and new competitions hunting for the best writing talent. However, at the same time, the demand for children’s writers to be singing and dancing all-rounders has never been so great, from blogging and social media to planning and performing ever more exciting and engaging events. What can we do to nurture our children’s writers and ensure that there’s enough space and support in the market for budding talent to shine through?

The singing and dancing thing's true; no one told me in art college that I was going to become a stage performer, and I never would have guessed how much I'd be expected to sell my own books. Fortunately, mixing with the comics/self-publishing crowd has helped a lot with this, because I've had some experience taking a book through all the stages between getting the idea to packaging to promoting a piece of merchandise at a book fair.

But... it's a real struggle. I sometimes feel that even if I work every waking hour, I still can't do all the things I'm supposed to be doing. It's not in my publisher's best interest for me to go off the rails, if they want to nurture me in a long-term way.



I suspect lots of you are in the same place as I am with this. How do you think our publishers and publicists can help us do what it takes to make the books sell and maintain a realistic workload? Of course, we'd love it if they did everything short of write/draw the actual book, but realistically, what are the most important things we need them to be doing?

We need a wish list! Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

PS Of course, if you can replicate like mad, this is not a problem. (See The McIntyre Way™.)

Comments

( 28 comments — Leave a comment )
ScribbleStreet
Apr. 3rd, 2013 03:17 pm (UTC)
Decent Sales feedback!
Although I don’t set out to write for the market, my living is dependant on the sales of my books, so it’s useful to know which ones are proving popular and which ones are not. Unfortunately, keeping authors/illustrators in the loop regarding sales, of both UK and co-editions, is something most of my publishers seem pretty bad at.

Although Simon & Schuster now allow authors to view current sales figures through their author portal service they are the only publisher I currently work with that does this. If a book is selling well, I often don’t find out until almost a year later when I get a royalty statement – and these aren't always the easiest documents to decipher. So it would also help if these statements were laid out in a way that authors/illustrators could easily understand.

And then there are co-editions. While some of my publishers rights departments are very good at notifying me when they have sold rights to a foreign publisher and letting me know the terms of the deal (how many copies etc) others seem to feel under no obligation whatsoever to do this. On several occasions the first I've heard of a US edition is when I’ve seen it listed on Amazon.com. Publishing is an international market and I’m as interested in reaching readers in the US or China as I am in the UK, so if I have a book being published in one of these countries I’d like to know about it.
jabberworks
Apr. 3rd, 2013 03:22 pm (UTC)
Re: Decent Sales feedback!
Thanks so much for that thoughtful comment, Jonathan! Really helpful! I agree, royalty sheets are VERY hard to work out.
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 07:04 am (UTC)
Replies from Twitter:

Jason Cobley: Good communication more than anything - about sales, royalties, feedback about the work.

Dave Shelton: Editing. Support. Reassurance. Patience. (But the occasional kick up the arse too). All of which my fab publisher is good at.
Sometimes I get buns too.

Edited at 2013-04-04 11:32 am (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Apr. 4th, 2013 08:25 am (UTC)
Social media backup! Be aware of when your author/illustrators tweet or blog abut things like new releases, then retweet. Not difficult, and helps spread the word to far more people

Alex milway
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 08:27 am (UTC)
Oh, that is such a good point! Thank you, Alex!! x

http://www.alexmilway.com/

Edited at 2013-04-04 11:31 am (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Apr. 4th, 2013 10:03 am (UTC)
Yes to this!!
(Anonymous)
Apr. 4th, 2013 08:51 am (UTC)
Ways to Help Writers and Illustrators
There are two things I'd suggest: one is that publishers get together with their more experienced writers and illustrators to provide a 'foundation course' in all the things you need to know as you get into publishing. For most of us, we've had to learn through trial and error over years, when it really wasn't necessary. The other thing I'd like to see is less reliance in children's publishing on teachers and librarians. Yes, they're a great link to the kids, but they also buy a single copy of a book and loan it many times. And their tastes do not always reflect the kids' tastes. Other consumer products aimed at kids, market to the kids, not their parents or other adults, and for the most part, those products don't offer half the benefits that books do. We need to approaching marketing as if books were toys or fashion items, rather than beneficial educational aids.

Oisin McGann.
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 08:59 am (UTC)
Re: Ways to Help Writers and Illustrators
Oo, lots of food for thought there! Thank you so much, Oisin!

http://www.oisinmcgann.com/

Edited at 2013-04-04 11:30 am (UTC)
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 09:08 am (UTC)
More from Twitter:

From Lauren O'Farrell: Communication would be lovely! Sales figures and where book is being sold. Also brainstorming with marketing peeps.

Social media support for related blog posts I write & events I do. A decent amazon page description! Author page on their site.

A link to my site on their site. Invites to events (or actual events being held). Oh, and cake. Cake is always nice.

Simple stuff. Good for both sites.

Jamie Smart: Yeah agreed, sales figures would be nice. Once a book is published sometimes thats the last you hear of it.

Harriet Sergeant: Trust me you get sales figures when your book sells. Publishers don't want to hurt our feelings.

Jamie Smart: Not true, i've had sporadic royalty cheques but no breakdown figures. It's communication.

Lauren O'Farrell: I’d rather know than be patted on head & told nowt. And mine haven’t sold badly as far as I know…

Nicola Davies: Cake? Good champagne? Handholding? No, probably really listening would be most helpful.

From Facebook:
Maura McHugh: Communication - a good flow of information between editor and writer about what's happening at various stages, rather than silence. Good marketing of the book helps, so it's not implied that it's *all* down to the writer to blog and flog the book. Those two help a lot.

Edited at 2013-04-04 11:29 am (UTC)
(Anonymous)
Apr. 4th, 2013 09:47 am (UTC)
Hey, it's Viv chiming in!
My publisher has helped me in some surprising ways... most notably believing in me when I hit a hard patch very early in my career. They gave me a desk space in the office when I was between homes, making sure I got meals when I was broke and taking time to have regular meetings when I was struggling with projects. It gave me the space and confidence to make ambitious work at a time when I simply didn't have the energy and confidence to be an all singing all dancing self promoting artist.
I am still glad to know that they won't demand of me to perform publicly if I don't feel up to it. They give me a feeling of support and security, I think of them as friends.
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 09:54 am (UTC)
That's fabulous, Viv! I saw how much they were helping you and it made me like them a lot, too; it really was help where help was needed. That's great, thanks so much for writing it down here!

http://www.vivianeschwarz.co.uk/

Edited at 2013-04-04 11:29 am (UTC)
pornokitsch
Apr. 4th, 2013 10:05 am (UTC)
I work on a (tiny) press that pays pretty low rates to illustrators. (It really is the best we can afford, honest! And we're not upset if people say no...)

From talking to the artists, what they've asked for at various points:

- Publisher takes non-exclusive rights to their artwork
- Creative freedom (including minimal rounds of amends)
- Entry into awards (I love this - happy to prep everything, pay for award entries and send stuff off. BUT, I don't know about the awards, so don't be shy about flagging them up. It isn't gauche - your win helps us!)
- Organised briefs. Production specs, measurements, details, etc. (again, to save on rounds of amends and faffing)

We've also had some artists that want a really tight creative brief, e.g. "tell me exactly which scene to illustrate, send me that particular piece of text" and others that want to own the direction, e.g. "send me the whole book, and I'll choose what I illustrate".

I'm happy to work both ways, but it is great when the illustrator is completely open up front: tell us how you want to work, and I'll fit our process around you. I guess this is saying the obvious, but, especially with smaller presses, you're *bigger* than we are, and we're happy to work to you!
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 10:12 am (UTC)
Hey, thanks, Jared! It's great to get this from the small publishers perspective. You have smaller budgets, but you're often quicker on the ground, especially with social networking. You and Anne manage to spread the word in such a fun way, without ever slipping into boring corporate jargon.

But I'm way more familiar with The Kitschies Award than your publishing side of things, even though I spent a lot of time gawking over Gary's shoulder when he was illustrating one of your stories. (So beautiful!) What's the publishing side called (Kitschies Press?), and does it have its own section on your website? I've been doing some trawling but only come up with award stuff.
pornokitsch
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:10 pm (UTC)
It is a separate thinger - I'll send you the details via email, don't want to derail this (awesome) conversation!

(And thanks for the praise!)
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 10:16 am (UTC)
Yay, Abie Longstaff has had a really good think about it! Thanks so much, Abie!!! xx

My wish list for publicity would be:

1. Follow me on Twitter/Pinterest, like me on Facebook. Retweet any comments I make that are useful or any reviews. Post nice stuff or photos on my Facebook page.

2. If you organise an event for me then get me involved form the start. I know what I need (flipcharts, pencils etc) and I have learned tips that work for me.

3. Be the 'bad guy' with the bookshop - this is crucial. Authors have to be smiley nice but publicity can be tougher - insist the shop puts up a poster or sets aside a proper area for me to read in. If it's in a shopping centre, tell the shop to advertise in any leaflets for the centre as opposed to just the shop (Waterstones Trafford Centre were great at making sure the Centre itself publicised the event and it worked really well). It's hard for authors to ask the shop for this kind of stuff without sounding diva like.

4. If I have organised an event off my own bat, read my email telling you I am doing the event. Help me generate higher attendance by using contacts on sites like 'urbanexplorer' to get listings.

5. Generate things I can't - interviews in magazines or free giveaways.

6. If there is the budget, help with things like bookmarks, colour-ins, activity sheets, stickers. Children love taking stuff away with them and it will help them remember the books later.

7. If I tell you I am attending extra events like Fed of Children's Book Groups conference then make sure you have my books there. It is so good to show librarians my work and it can generate sales and future work (I've been asked to do a seminar at the FCBG conference next year because I funded myself to go there this year so it will pay off).

8. Lastly - make me feel a little bit appreciated. I am often giving up my Saturday with my kids to schlepp from London to Manchester and back for only expenses. It's knackering and I lose a writing/socialising day. I will feel much happier about that if you can be generous and grateful. I always get my train fare but please don't be mean - let me have a sandwich on expenses too! (Some of my publishers are fine about this sort of expenses, some are not - and it gets irritating if they are too tight).

My wish list for general development:

1. Build a good editorial relationship with me. I am always open to changing my work but I have to feel the editor 'gets' me and that I can trust his/her comments. Meet up with me by phone or in person and let's talk about what we both want for this book and for future ones.

2. Help me be better. Read my work when it's an outline or a rubbish first draft. I genuinely want to know whether you think there is a spark of an idea in my mess of a synopsis. If not I'll rework it totally. If there is I'll happily work like a packhorse as long as you believe in it. If you do this I will always send work to you first and you will get first-refusal on it.

3. Give little workshops to help me - Random did a great one about how to use Twitter. I'd love one from publicity about running events or on self-promotion at conference etc.
4. Make your invoices more comprehensible. I rarely know my sales figures and I find it so hard to understand royalty statements.

5. Talk to me about 'my brand' - especially when it comes to series development. I want to know we are working together to create something good, whether that's through pairing me with the same illustrator, or concentrating my work in a particular area. If you do this, I will stay with you rather than asking my agent to spread my work around.

6. Have a party every year - this is not just because I want to drink champagne at your expense. It's so that I feel part of the family and so I meet sales and marketing and publicity and other editors in other genres etc. And so we bond.
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 11:24 am (UTC)
Some more excellent points from Monster & Chips writer-illustrator David O'Connell. Thank, Dave!


Communication: Communication with authors is key. We shouldn't have to find out about things only through Google alerts. I may only have 800-whatever followers on twitter but that's still an extra 800 people I can tell about what's going on. Authors are part of the team, and that includes the marketing team.

The author as a brand: Publishers understand that celeb authors and airport blockbuster authors are brands in their own right but there's a parallel for the less familiar authors too. Readers don't understand how publishing actually works and think authors are more involved in the decision-making than they really are, and are fascinated by the idea of being an author. For example, people think I made and run the M+C website or am running the promotional competitions, or choose which shops the books are sold in (!) when in fact, I'm not involved at all. If readers want information about books they search for the author, not the publisher. It shows the power of the author's name and standing in the eyes of the readers. Publishers can capitalise on this author persona more (assuming the author is willing). Tweet about what they're up to, promote their blog, feature them on the publisher website. This is something that you've done brilliantly for yourself - would your books have done so well without your blog?

A general comment about twitter: Very much underused by publishers and hugely powerful. Some publisher's twitter feeds are just a series of press releases - it would be much more engaging if they were chatty and interacting with their authors and readers. (I'm not one to talk but I'm trying a bit harder.)

Events: HarperCollins do a group book tour - sending out début authors together to do events for mutual support. I think this is a great idea.

Also, they could provide a template event package for an author. The events I've done are based on things I've nicked from you, Gary and others. If I'd not known you, where would I have got that information from?
(Anonymous)
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:15 pm (UTC)
It all boils down to communication and being honest with your authors. We know we're not of the standing of Neil Gaiman or JK Rowling, but knowing where things stand, whether it's with sales or finding out about Foreign editions, whether positive or negative, is very important to us.

I guess the problem lies in that when you're an author, all your energies and thoughts are thrown at the one project, yet editors and sales/marketing etc have 10 or 20 books to deal with at any given time, so could never focus as much on your work as you do.

But still, if we come to you with interested foreign publishers, or a website who want to run a competition, then do at least try to reply (again, even if it's negative), otherwise we get a bit grumbly!

This is a lesson I learned the hard way. Ah, the fragile ego. But with my second book, Teenytinysaurs with Walker, after my own experiences and after listening to other authors experiences, I'm going in with a totally different attitude and more reasonable expectations. And I have to say Walker have been brilliant to me, really helpful with my recent bombardment of promo requests (and I'm not just saying that in case they're reading this :P )

Gary Northfield

http://www.garynorthfield.com

http://stupidmonsters.wordpress.com/
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:18 pm (UTC)
foo5
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:31 pm (UTC)
All brilliant points. To follow on from Gary's:

I agree that often publishers have loads of books to juggle at one time, so sometimes authors can feel a bit lost in the pile if their book isn't the biggest seller. And that's understandable, the nature of the business and the competition means that publishers need to put a lot of books out and deal with a lot of people.

But it is nicer when publishers really take your project on, rather than add it to their schedule. They emotionally invest in it because they believe in it too, and so you almost form a partnership with them, rather than them being your publisher. Smaller publishers, because they're taking on less books, often excel at this.

Personally, i think any character, story, idea or concept should be viewed as a property. And i know 'property' is ugly business-speak, which creatives don't often like, but really it just means the publisher believes in the project they're taking on so much that they want to carry it through long-term. That if the sales figures allow, they'd actively pursue other media with it. Really creatively think about ways to develop these new worlds and find new audiences with them. And all in consultation with the creator - as your previous comments have said, it's the creator plugging away at their own audience every time they release something. Publishers would do well to utilise this and really see how far they can take the ideas they believe in together.

Sorry, bit rambly!
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:42 pm (UTC)
Thanks so much, Jamie, that's brilliant! I agree I'd love to see a character as a property, I think we only hold closely on to rights because we're worried the publisher will just sit on them, or go down a naff route. But if they can do it closely together with us, that's ideal. And good point about small publishers, I think some of the bigger ones may end up taking lessons from them, as the smaller publishers and crowd-funding successes really start to kick in. Cheers!

Jamie Smart: http://www.fumboo.com
(Anonymous)
Apr. 4th, 2013 12:51 pm (UTC)
God, if only if that actually became true of the bigger publishers. What's the tipping point when that happens to an author and their property? I had a publisher drag their feet so much over a proposed animation for my character, that the production company were ready to pull out. It wasn't due to difficult contracts, I was keen to hold onto my rights and everyone was fine with that, it was because they hadn't got round to looking at it. Very frustrating all round. (Nearly a flippin' year to sort out! By that time the credit crunch hit and it was all pointless.)

Gary N.
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 02:06 pm (UTC)
Another e-mail comment from amazing comics artist (Vampire Academy, Dragon Heir) Emma Vieceli!

A little effort or the occasional 'you're doing well' mail can make all the difference to the frazzled creator! If they can drop a line/support/retweet, it means so much.
(Anonymous)
Apr. 4th, 2013 03:53 pm (UTC)
It would be nice if publishers paid their royalties through a bank that exists in this country rather than attempting to build into a contract that it must be paid via a bank in a country that has no branches of that bank. Obviously, no names, etc.
-NP
jabberworks
Apr. 4th, 2013 04:12 pm (UTC)
Ah, I've never heard of that happening before. But it must be very frustrating!
simoneliadraws
Apr. 5th, 2013 09:01 am (UTC)
Excellent post Sarah and great that you've opened up this debate. I'm feeling it with Abie's feedback - I think that it's a great idea about workshops and thinking about branding.

Workshops also give an opportunity for artists/writers to learn and think about the whole process of selling a book and not just the making part and it also gives artists an opportunity to meet each other, develop friendships and encourage each other.

Years ago, Egmont arranged a trip for a bus load of artists/writers to go to Italy together to visit the print factory to see how and where the books were printed. Obviously this was a one off thing and totally awesome, but what really worked (apart from it being an amazing craic) was the educational part (it was like being in a Blue Peter programme) and the bonding with the other artists.

Like Abie said, parties once a year, even if it's a low budget thing, that's good too - it boosts morale and makes you feel part of a bigger picture.

That's all for now, well done again Sarah - it's super impressive what you're doing with your art work, blogging and show biz stuff.

jabberworks
Apr. 5th, 2013 09:17 am (UTC)
That trip to the Italian print factory DOES sounds amazing! I know Oxford University Press just took four writers on tour together, I'm sure that must have had some jolly, bonding moments. And Scholastic and David Fickling have been great about doing joint dinners when I've had events for both their books at festivals, where I've been able to meet other writers and illustrators and get to know the publicists better. Actually, Scholastic and OUP do this thing where they don't just send publicists along to events; I might end up with an editor or the publisher or I've even travelled with someone else's editor, but it's a great way to get to know them.

Cheers, Simone! xx
simoneliadraws
Apr. 5th, 2013 12:31 pm (UTC)
That sounds good about mixing it up with editors and publishers - anything where there is a relational real life link is good, makes it more human. Same with the eating and joint dinners - good work Scholastic and Fickling.

See you soon missy, xxx

jabberworks
Apr. 5th, 2013 12:53 pm (UTC)
Agree! I think OUP and a lot of other publishers do the mixed dinners thing, I just haven't been with OUP very long. The recent OUP Bologna trip was brilliant, the only time I've ever had a chance to mix with a rights team and find out more about what they do.

Yes, hope to catch up before too long! xx
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