Category Archives: Interview

An Interview with Nathan Burton

By | Design, Freelance, Interview, Publishing & Consultancy | No Comments
[intro]Nathan Burton is a London based designer and illustrator. He left Penguin in 2008 to set up his own company, Nathan Burton Design. He now works for a variety of publishers in the UK and abroad. You can see his work at www.nathanburtondesign.com and follow him on twitter @buronint[/intro]

How important is the clarity of a brief, or do you prefer to have more freedom to design a cover based on your interpretation of the book?

I’ve worked with all types of briefs, from incredibly specific projects to ones which are completely wide open, and both have their advantages and disadvantages. With a lot of the literary titles I work on the brief is very open: ‘here’s the book, have a read and come up with ideas’. There’s usually a panicked feeling of ‘what the hell am I going to do for this?’ at the start of the project which is followed by lots of head scratching, rejected ideas and finally a looming deadline which forces you into action. Because no-one has any preconceived ideas of the final design you can (hopefully) come up with something that surprises and excites the publisher and author. Also, book cover briefs aren’t set in stone so there can be a lot of back and forth between the designer and publisher before you get to the end solution. What the publishers think they want at the beginning isn’t always what the cover ends up looking like, but that’s all part of the creative process.

Nathan Burton

Are you aware of a greater emphasis on well-designed covers coming from self-published authors?

This isn’t something that I’ve noticed but that doesn’t mean it isn’t happening. Being noticed in a crowded marketplace is always going to be a challenge, so having a well designed cover is sure to be a bonus.

 

With the increasing move to digital, do you think more emphasis is put on having a cover that is eye-catching as a thumbnail on a screen, or in trying to make a book an attractive and covetable physical possession?

When I start to design a cover I don’t really worry about the thumbnail issue. Usually, a nicely designed cover will work as a thumbnail, so I wouldn’t advocate designing one based solely on its ability to be shrunk down. I don’t see why a cover can’t work digitally, as a thumbnail, and also as a beautiful object that uses the same design.

 

Who has most influence on cover design? The author, the publisher, or the sales and marketing team?

It really depends on the book, how big the author is and how much the publisher has paid for it. The cover needs to be initially approved by the art director who then puts it into a meeting with various people including the editor and sales and marketing. If it survives that then its off to the author for approval. It’s always a relief when covers make it through this process, but quite often it can be back to the drawing board.

 

In your experience are more publishers now using consumer insight to test covers?

I’ve had this happen on a jacket I’m working on at the moment but I’ve not had the feedback yet, so I’m not sure what the effect will be. I can’t see it improving creativity in book cover design.

 

What 2013 cover do you wish you’d designed?

One of my favourites from 2013 is Tampa by Alissa Nutting, designed by Jon Gray. It’s a beautifully simple idea that’s perfectly executed. Another book, or rather series, that caught my eye is the P. G. Wodehouse redesign by David Wardle/Barnes & Noble. They are a lovely balance of modern and retro. Printed in eye-popping neon, they really stand out in the bookshop.

An interview with David Nicholls

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[intro]David Nicholls is a novelist and screenwriter. His books include One Day and Starter for Ten, both which he has adapted to screen. TV credits include a modern version of Much Ado about Nothing, and Tess of the D’Urbervilles, both for the BBC. He has had two BAFTA nominations to date. Before turning to writing, Nicholls trained as an actor.[/intro]
As both a novelist and a screenwriter, how do the editorial approaches to these mediums vary; is either more or less collaborative than the other? As a writer, does one medium offer you more creative control than the other?

Screenwriting is intensely collaborative, which is both its joy and its frustration. Unlike a novel, a screenplay serves no purpose except to be interpreted by someone else. It’s an instruction manual, a transcription of the film that plays in your head – ‘place this person in this location, make them say or do this at a particular time of day, in the rain perhaps, then go to this next scene.’ Within that framework, there are limitless possibilities. With the novel, you are the costume designer, the director, the head of casting, the musical co-ordinator. Of course there is input from other people, and I personally value that very much, but you’re in charge. For the most part, this is wonderful. But if the novel doesn’t work, you can’t blame the director.

Is there such a thing as too much or too little involvement in the PR or marketing of your novel or screenplay? How involved are you likely to be?

In film, very very little. The screenwriter is on a level with the cinematographer and the designer, and certainly below the director. Even the most ardent film fan will have trouble naming ten screenwriters – they probably know the names of more composers than writers. It’s rare for the screenwriter to go to festivals or on press junkets, but this is not necessarily a complaint. Film has always been a director’s medium, and actors are generally better-looking. But it is strange that the person who ‘authors’ the piece should get so little attention. TV is slightly different – the volumes are greater, there are limits on directorial interpretation, and TV writers generally have more control and involvement in all aspects of production, PR and marketing.

Personally, I have no desire to read JD Salinger’s twitter feed.

With novels, there seems to be a whole roadshow attached to the publication, and as an author it’s hard to be entirely hands-off. It can be a problem, I think. I’m sure most authors want a say in their cover designs – it seems to be the biggest source of friction between writer and publisher, though I’ve always been consulted and involved. Self-promotion can sometimes get a little out of hand. Certainly I couldn’t write a word of fiction for some time after the last book came out, but if the alternative is obscurity and lower sales, what choice does an author have? I’m very lucky to get that attention, and I really enjoy meeting readers and attending book festivals – work that isn’t really work. But it’s also important to support authors with a quieter demeanour, and to let the work speak for itself. I hope we don’t find ourselves in a situation where only the loudest are heard. I hope novelists retain the right to be left alone. Personally, I have no desire to read JD Salinger’s twitter feed.

You’ve adapted Great Expectations, Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Far from the Madding Crowd (currently in production) for screen. What is your approach to adapting the work of someone as illustrious as Hardy; do you rely on your own ideas and interpretations of the text, or consider the expectations of your potential audience?

It depends on the project. I adapted Blake Morrison’s And When Did You Last See Your Father, a wonderful, moving book but not rich in plot, so a certain degree of shaping was involved. I was asked to write a TV play loosely based on Much Ado About Nothing, one of my favourite plays, and though I love the original, the whole purpose of the project was to have fun with the material – consequently that’s an extremely free adaptation, more of an original play ‘inspired by -‘ than a straightforward adaptation. Great Expectations was about as faithful as you can be in 120 minutes – there’s hardly anything that isn’t taken from the novel, but the interpretation comes from the selection of material. A ‘faithful’ film would be twelve hours long. But Great Expectations is, I think, an almost perfect work of art. Madding Crowd is wonderful, but much more problematic – it has wild changes in tone, crazy melodrama, a lot of low-comedy. I’ve been encouraged to be a little more irreverent with the material, though there’s still very, very little that isn’t in the original. Adaptation is all about striking this balance – capturing the original while also altering it to work in an entirely different medium.

An interview with Joanna Penn

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[intro]Joanna Penn is a bestselling author, professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian Top 100 Creative Professionals 2013. Joanna writes thrillers, crime and horror as J.F.Penn, and practical non-fiction as Joanna Penn, including the #1 bestseller, How To Market A Book. Joanna’s site, TheCreativePenn.com has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs For Writers three years running and offers articles, audio and video on writing and creative entrepreneurship. Connect with Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn[/intro]

Joanna Penn

How do you balance your work as an author with the demands of your blog, speaking appointments etc?

I have a sign on my wall, “Have you made art today?” so that is always my focus. I’m a morning person so I tend to create early on and then do other things later in the day. I schedule months out in a Filofax and also keep a timesheet on OfficeTime (app for the iPhone) which helps me track the hours I spend on various tasks.
My #1 priority is always to focus on the next book, but I juggle that with promoting existing work, professional speaking and ongoing tasks like interviews, blogging, my podcast and social media. Luckily, I enjoy everything I do, including the marketing, so all of this is my kind of fun!

In your experience, what are the top concerns for self-published authors?

* Building a trustworthy team in order to deliver a high quality product. This includes editors, cover designers, formatters and potentially marketing partners. Self-publishing is a misnomer as it’s all about teamwork, which is why I prefer the term indie (independent) author. I have a great team in place now, but it’s taken a while to get it right.

* Discoverability and being found. Even traditional publishers struggle with this, and professional indie authors are always on the lookout for something new to try. I am always open to new marketing ideas, and I love learning from others. It’s best to have an entrepreneurial attitude of bootstrapping, trying things out and not worrying if something fails.

Self-publishing is a misnomer as it’s all about teamwork, which is why I prefer the term indie (independent) author. I have a great team in place now, but it’s taken a while to get it right.

If you were a writer starting from scratch, how would you build your platform and brand as an indie author?

I don’t think it matters how you’re publishing, as traditionally published authors still need to build a readership too. If starting again, I would focus on writing several books first, so customers have more than one product to purchase and I have time to discover what my own brand might be. I would set up a website with images and information that my readers will enjoy, and I’d have an email list for them to subscribe to so I could communicate about new books and competitions. Then I’d choose one method of ‘discoverability’ and focus on that with lots of energy. That could be podcasting, or YouTube, or Twitter or Pinterest, or whatever. I’d pick one and focus there, meeting readers, connecting with others in the author community and building an audience slowly.

Joanna Penn

If authors are going to enlist the help of writer service providers, what should be their priorities?

Going back to the top concerns for indies, you need a team and this is a business. I invest primarily in professional editors of different kinds, professional cover design and interior design, as well as tech support for my websites when needed and email list management. I will also invest in specific marketing opportunities if there is evidence that it will deliver sales, for example, reader email services like BookBub.com which have proven sales capability.

What, for you, are the greatest benefits of self-publishing?

Creative freedom, control and speed are important to me, along with my entrepreneurial love of wanting to make an impact on the world.
I also find the financial possibilities of being an indie author attractive. A book is the ultimate scalable product, and fiction, in particular, can earn income for an author for their entire lifetime. My books now sell in 30 countries, and although many of those countries are only a trickle of sales right now, I foresee a huge boom in the digital market globally in the next five years. As an indie, I can move fast and take advantage of those opportunities, although I would always consider partnering with an entrepreneurial publisher for some projects. It’s certainly an amazing time to be an author!

An interview with Ben Hatch

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[intro]Ben Hatch is a writer, family man and self-proclaimed ‘lover of cheese’ with both fiction and travel books to his name. He has built an extensive Twitter following, which has helped catapult his book ‘Are We Nearly There Yet’ to the top of the Kindle non-fiction charts, and even made John Cleese laugh.[/intro]
Ben Hatch
Self-promotion was vital to the success of Are We Nearly There Yet?; can you tell us a little about how you used social media to make the book such a hit?

It all started when I joined twitter (a medium which, I am embarrassed to say, I had been previously been hugely skeptical of). I’d had some great advanced quotes from the likes of Terry Wogan, Danny Wallace, John Cleese, David Jason, Sophie Kinsella, Lisa Jewell, Mike Gayle, Jenny Colgan and others, but the book wasn’t in any shops and was getting almost zero publicity, so there was no way of telling anyone about all those kind words. The book was bombing; a serialization in the Express was canned when the London riots broke out and I was desperate. So I started tweeting the quotes, with friends very kindly retweeting to get some momentum going. Crucially I also stopped feeling helpless; it was no use complaining the book was being overlooked, that the publicity people at my publisher had moved on to other titles (though naturally I did complain about this!). Nobody else cared as much as I did, so it now felt up to me to get the word out.

I also contacted local radio stations, telling them a little about the book, along with funny stories from it that had happened in their towns. In all, I probably did 40 or so radio interviews. I then tweeted about these interviews, which earned me more and more retweets. Terry Wogan mentioned the book on his radio show and John Cleese tweeted about the book. But oddly it wasn’t so much the actual fact that I was mentioned/tweeted about as it was my own telling people that led to more sales and reaction!

After this the book got picked up for review – unusual, given that it had been out for some time at this point. One of my favourite authors John Harding gave me a lovely review in the Daily Mail. I appeared on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage. The Guardian gave it a little write up. Fran Kellett at the Daily Telegraph travel online also featured ten extracts. And many kindly book bloggers ran pieces as well. All the time I would retweet these reviews, expanding the audience that saw them.

I managed to get the book up to the Number One spot in Non-fiction, and it stayed in the top 100 for almost half a year. I was almost as proud of that fact as I was at having written the book in the first place. It felt like I had taken on the entire book world and won. My book from a tiny publisher that I’d been paid £2,400 to write was outselling all these well-known authors and celebs. I had written two novels before Are We Nearly There Yet? and not done a thing for either of them in terms of self-promotion. It had not seemed the kind of thing a published author did. Now I’d say it’s crucial.

 It felt like I had taken on the entire book world and won. My book from a tiny publisher that I’d been paid £2,400 to write was outselling all these well-known authors and celebs.

You might feel uncomfortable blowing your own trumpet but nobody else is going to do that for you (and they probably won’t even, at the best publishing houses). If you want to stay a writer in these very difficult days for authors when the shelves are swamped with celeb and misery memoirs, you’d better bite the bullet and start. You’ll get people complaining about it, telling you that’s not what twitter is for. But at the end of the day it’s your passion and your livelihood and if you’re talking about something you’re proud of, well, then that’s fair enough in my book. So be thick skinned.

 

How do you see the writer’s role within publishing changing/expanding as new digital and self-publishing models evolve?

I think the writer is absolutely central now in a way that they never used to be. Unless we’re talking about those at the very top of the cash tree, it’s now the writer who defines how they’re seen in the wider world of readers through their websites, twitter and facebook. Publishing houses remain important for editing and covers can be critical, but in terms of promotion and finding an audience, that’s down to the author. In fact I believe that will become even more apparent over time if things continue the way they are. As mainstream publishers begin to ignore middle list writers in favour of fishing more and more in the sales-safe waters of celebrity, and not being prepared to nurture talent in the long term if there’s not going to be an immediate return on their investment, then self-publishing will become more and more important. I can see if things continue the way they are going that publishing houses will evolve into simple add-on marketing departments for Saturday night TV stars, musicians and actors who want to tell their story in a few more words than a weekend supplement allows. That said there are exceptions such as my own publisher, Headline. Can you tell I’m pitching them a new book right now?

Road to Rouen

How do you set an idea for a new book in motion?

I used to just sit down, write and make it up as I went along, but since I’ve had kids and enjoy less work time, I have to plan more to speed things up. I do a rough chapter breakdown and use that very loosely to stop me straying too far off course but ultimately the final book never really looks much like the original idea. You’ll always hope to find a spark of honesty halfway through that carries the book off in an unexpected direction that also gives it its true heart. I wish I could, but I can never envisage what this is at the start. It does make writing book proposals tough. My proposal for Are We Nearly There Yet? never included the storyline about my dad, which turned out to be it’s central element. My proposal for Road to Rouen included nothing about the the marriage situation between my wife and I; again it’s point.

 

Finally, what are your top visibility tips for new authors?

Twitter has to be the main one. Get yourself on twitter. There is a great community of authors out there and wonderful discerning readers. Try and link up with them. They’re lovely. You can find me there: @BenHatch

 

An interview with Nicholas Pearson

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[intro]Nicholas Pearson is Publishing Director at 4th Estate, where he has worked for more than fifteen years. The UK editor of Jonathan Franzen, he was this year voted editor of the year at the Bookseller Industry awards, with 4th Estate awarded imprint of the year.[/intro]
Describe your day-to-day job in 140 characters.

Commissioning, editing, publishing a range of fiction and non-fiction. Further responsibilities for the 4th Estate list as a whole, and in particular the editorial department.

How different is the experience of editing an established author from that of editing an unknown or debut author?

Not necessarily different at all. Some of the more established authors are very comfortable with the editing process.

What is your attitude towards the increasing emphasis put on data-informed decision making within publishing houses?

Nervous. Good publishing breaks the rules and creates the data of the future. Following the data can lead to imitative publishing.

You’ve worked for small independents and large corporate publishers. Do you think one publishing culture is more innately creative than another ?

I don’t actually. My colleagues and I have had freedom here to follow our noses. There is a sense that the corporate umbrella can give us cover to take risks. There are often mutterings from above – ‘No small books!’ – but we tend to be able to work around that. As long as some of our books are working, bosses tend to be happy enough.

With the ever greater reliance on the support of external freelancers, do you think traditional publishers are placing enough emphasis on training their employees in the skills that matter most to writers?

This is an interesting one. With the contraction of editorial departments over the last twenty years it is the case that it is harder for young employees to find a berth in publishing houses where they can watch and learn.  We have been good at 4th Estate with training up employees, some of whom over the past decade have gone on to find things elsewhere. But undoubtedly it isn’t as easy as it used to be.

An interview with Colin Brush

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[intro]Colin Brush is Senior Copywriter at Penguin Books.[/intro]
How is the role of a copywriter in publishing changing?

In one word: discoverability. In the old days it was someone else’s job to get eyeballs to my words: the designer’s flashy cover drawing people to the book, marketing choosing the right sites in an ad campaign. Get a book or a poster to where people could see it and the copy could get on with its job of tantalising and ultimately sealing the deal.

Nowadays, with more than a quarter of sales moving online, it’s all about getting our books found. I’ve become increasingly involved in working on Search Engine Optimisation strategies or tips for identifying keywords and then testing this stuff. It’s pretty dull, but when Google or Amazon suddenly change their algorithms and nothing works any more it can get quite exciting again.

How much of a challenge is it to devise a new blurb for the reissue of a classic?

But I love a challenge! And it is no challenge at all, if you’ve got a good brief. Recently, I was asked to work on the reissues of Albert Camus’s The Outsider and The Plague. These were school editions and so I wanted to think about what would encourage teenagers to read these books. I wrote The Plague like a horror novel – all rats and blood and death – whilst The Outsider was the story of a misunderstood killer. In neither case did I misrepresent the books; I merely wrote blurbs to appeal to the audiences I had in mind.

Do the skills needed for good cover copy translate well to writing good copy for a book’s Kindle page?

It’s the same thing. If anything, online copy comes with dangerous temptations. There’s a lot of space just begging for a lot of words. There’s a great deal to be said for brevity.

How do you balance the difficulty of getting someone interested in a book without giving away too much of the plot?

The real trick to any kind of copywriting is discovering the hook and finding a compelling way of presenting it – in my case, usually in about 100 or 200 words. For non-fiction, you want to get across the book’s main argument – it is after all why you as a publisher bought it. For novels you try not to mention much, if anything, that happens beyond the book’s first third, particularly in a crime or thriller title. But sometimes you have to break your own rules if you’re going to give readers a compelling proposition. Then you have to hope that the way you do it hasn’t spoiled the story. But most novels have a compelling premise; it’s usually the reason why the author wrote it, the idea which possessed them. My job is to sell that premise to the reader. The novelist’s job is a little tougher: taking the premise and turning it into a cracking read …

What is the project you’ve worked on where you think your copy has made the most quantifiable difference to the success of the book?

In 15 years of book copywriting, I can’t say for certain that a single piece of copy I wrote definitely sold a single copy of any book. I can tell you, however, that a majority of book buyers claim that the blurb is the third most important reason as to why they bought a book (behind word-of-mouth recommendation and already having read a book by the same author). I also know good copy when I see it, as do my colleagues in publishing and friends who are readers. Yet it is all educated guesswork. Do great covers sell books? Certainly they do. I’ve bought books on the strength of the cover alone and I know many others who have. And the same can be said for copy. Despite all the recent changes it is still all about the hook.

An interview with Stephen Page

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[intro]Stephen Page became Chief Executive of the independent publisher Faber & Faber in 2001 and has been credited with breathing new life into the company. He was president of the Publisher’s Association in 2006, the same year that Faber was named the KPMG Publisher of the Year.[/intro]
What attracted you to working at Faber?

I suppose a number of things. Primarily an enormous respect and love for the list itself. I came to reading later than most, perhaps – in my late teens-early twenties – and from the very start I was hooked by Faber’s writers, and just by the whole way the company was presented and published. So, I suppose I did have it in my bones a bit.

The second thing is that I worked at 4th Estate for six years when it was independent and small. We used to look across at Faber and wonder: ‘Is that what we want to become? Is that the best outcome?’ I used to get frustrated at times because 4th Estate was a very energetic business, with very little underpinning it in terms of backlist and I used to think that Faber looked a little bit complacent by comparison. So when it came time for me to join them, which I had never really expected to be asked to do, I knew what I thought should be done differently because I had been quietly fixated about it for some time. But, of course, I soon realised I didn’t really know much at all – because it’s only when you work somewhere that you really understand the motivations which underpin it.

You mentioned Faber’s illustrious history and its backlist. Do you think this has made it easier or more difficult for the company to adapt to the upheaval that publishing has undergone in recent years?

I think there can be a tendency to make history heavy and wrap it in aspic, but really it is just the aggregation of the activity, taste and design heritage of the company. You can’t endlessly look back; you have to connect the past to the present and that is the power incumbent in having an identity like Faber. Because Faber genuinely means something. It means something to the people who work here. It means something to the writers being published. It means something to other publishers. And it means a great deal to its readers. And though it’s important to not betray it or dilute it, it’s also important to be bold enough to say that for 85 years the publishing at Faber has been commercial in its own way. So really I would say that we are blessed as a generation that we are allowed to re-imagine the list and Faber’s identity in the context of a transformation of format. A 400-year format shift comes along and you can think again about Beckett and Eliot and Ishiguro and Hughes and Golding and Larkin and Heaney and Plath. People get fixated on the difficulties of the format shift and the apparently impossible pace of change, none of which I believe in. When you’ve got an amazing catalogue of writers and a great history then the changes can provide a way of amplifying opportunity. Of re-imagining not cautiously but excitedly.

You spoke about re-imagining works in new formats. The Faber Digital imprint was launched in 2009 and has enjoyed great success with various projects, including an app version of T.S. Eliot’s The Wasteland. How important do you think it was to choose a writer so indelibly connected with Faber’s history for such a project?

You’re right that that wasn’t an accident. Faber Digital was set up with the very specific brief of having nothing to do with e-books; rather, (it was) to be an avant-garde part of the company, able to disrupt our thinking about what was possible with reading. But the problem is that to do that is not easily scalable. Whatever we built would have to attract a great deal of attention, and so for Faber, as its first marker in the ground, to re-imagine The Wasteland was a natural thing to do. We had discussed it with our partners Touch Press and the possibilities were just so thrilling; we had total belief that this was an emblematic thing to do for the company, but also likely to be a bold and commercially exciting project. We chose it from the middle of what we are, so we could both present the text itself, but also surround it with a solar system of interaction that would be fantastic for the general reader or even the student.

So, how elastic can the Faber brand be?

If I can just flip that and say two things really. One of which is: what’s the natural footprint of the Faber brand? And the second: what can the Faber brand stand for? I’m not sure that I see it as elasticity. Faber’s roots, its history and whole life is about a community of people with great ideas: an extraordinary range of creative artists are associated with the company and have been over the years – film makers, rock stars, classical musicians, novelists, poets and dramatists. You look at the full range of this and think, ‘This is what Faber is about.’ It’s about bringing together the arts. For the large part of our history we happen to have expressed that only through the making of books. But the arrival of digital loosens everything up: from digital products and digital partnerships, right through to digital conversations with readers and the other arts. There is something fresh and new about the way we can re-present ourselves. I don’t see that as stretching ourselves. I just see us as having a natural footprint that’s lit differently, and is, perhaps, wider than we were able to express solely as a book publisher.

Faber has, over the past few years, become something of a service provider to other publishers. Do you see this as a threat to the content-driven, rights-owning core of the Faber brand or as a natural development of it?

Certainly not as a threat. We believe in independence. We believe in supporting a community of publishers who work at a smaller and more intimate scale. We believe in them because they work closely with writers. So our role, first of all in the Alliance, and then within the Factory, and then within Factory Plus, has been a very natural extension of our desire to do good work in the world of independents. All literary publishing houses have, pretty much from the beginning of time, required some ballast across their publishing, simply because literary publishing has never made it easy to predict your business because it’s an up and down thing. And really, Faber is no different: we are famous for having had a rights income stream out of Cats: The Musical and that played a role in supporting the company through the years when many of the other small, independents fell into corporate ownership. And many publishers have always needed to have strong underpinning businesses, and the service business has, I suppose, been that for us. We don’t have a steady publishing business, with professional journals – we concentrate our publishing on the places where we feel we can really be dynamic. So we have the service business, which is a steadier companion to that.

How do you view the growth of publishing service providers over the last few years?

It’s clear that everyone from a self-published author through to medium-sized publishing houses have always and will continue to require services. That has become increasingly so as publishers try to tighten up their overheads and reduce their costs. We regard Faber’s service provision as sui generis. We’re a publishing house providing a range of services; that makes us quite a different beast. We’re not a mass-service provider with a white label front end. We’re a different thing, more intimate and involved – a more passionate partner.

Faber has become involved in a number of different external collaborations in recent years including, the Independent Alliance, Touch Press, the Perseus Book Group and most recently the Guardian. Why?

Faber has always partnered with other businesses. For many years we partnered with the Penguin group for our international distribution and sales, and we still do in parts. We’re always looking for partners who work well with us and there are different reasons for different partnerships. When you look at publishers in the Alliance, it’s about aggregating to create opportunity in the mass market, as well as scale elsewhere, and there’s a mutual amplification. The sum is greater than the parts: we can get things to happen for each other, merely by putting ourselves in one bag and therefore having hits more regularly. Conversely, one of the key thoughts about our brand partnerships now is to do with nodes on the network of the world, where consumers might like what we do, and partnering to create an audience for our publishing. And really the partnerships I’m most fixed on at the moment – and that is what the Guardian is about – is about this: going to very, very lively places where there’s either content and consumers, or consumers where we create content, to get our brightest works in front of the right kind of people.

We’re seeing tablets taking over from dedicated e-readers as the preferred option for reading e-books. What impact, if any, do you think this will have on publishing in the next few years?

It’s certainly going to have an impact. What it feels like right now is that one stage of the transformation of publishing into a print, digital and services practice is coming to an end. What is not going to happen is for everyone to be able to draw breath and say ‘Great, now we can have some balance between digital reading and print reading.’ That would be a terrible mistake. What we’ve reached is nearly the end of a specific story about the e-ink reader. The impact that the tablet will have is going to be all about how interested the tablet manufacturers are in long-form reading, because the environment of reading on a tablet is not yet, I would say, entirely suitable. If you were to ask somebody why they own a tablet, I bet that reading novels would not come into their top ten reasons, and certainly not their first five. So we’re moving into a more crowded, noisier window to try to get people to concentrate on what we do. And if there are people out there who are hoping that the e-ink market will slow down to make life more understandable and easier, they should be careful what they wish for. I, for one, will not be cheering. The e-ink devices are a silent, single universe in which people can concentrate on reading and we have sold a lot of books through them. I think it’s been a very good and smooth evolution of reading into digital. The next bit will be more difficult.

An interview with Helena Caldon

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[intro]Helena Caldon became a freelancer in 2004 after ten years working as an in-house project editor for Random House and BBC Books. Since then she has worked with authors including Alan Titchmarsh, Gordon Ramsay and Professor Brian Cox.[/intro]
What is the best thing about being a freelancer?

Without a doubt it is technically being able to choose the books you want to work on. I say technically because sadly it doesn’t always work out that way, and sometimes the timings of projects and my own workload won’t allow me to take on a job that just sounds fantastic, which is always a shame. But since going freelance nine years ago I have found this way of working empowering and liberating. I decided that publishing was the career for me while still at university studying English; I spent Wednesday afternoons and the odd evening working at Hodder and Stoughton, being paid in experience, free books and launch-party leftovers (mostly bottles of booze of some sort!). I found a world of books that was more exciting than the stuffy study of Old English and pretentious poetry analysis I was being subjected to at seminars and lectures, and I was hooked. Ten years in-house followed, which was an incredibly exciting, informative time, but as I moved through the ranks I sometimes found myself moving further away from what I came into publishing to do – to work on books. Freelance allows me to be an editor; to work with books, to craft them, to work with an author and a designer and stick purely to the creative side without getting involved in the corporate politics. That’s what I think I’m best at, and certainly what I love most about my job.

What is the worst?

While working in house deadlines and workloads always felt challenging, but when you are freelance they can become almost completely unrealistic. I’ve worked on fast-track titles throughout my in-house career, starting with programme scripts to be published alongside opening nights of new plays while at Methuen Drama, to books to tie-in with transmissions at the BBC. These short, sharp schedules are even more prevalent in publishing now, and even non tie-in books are being produced in equally crazy and demanding timescales, which means that every project feels like a rush job. As a freelancer it is rare to have the luxury of being able to work on one book at a time, and so when schedules for several books start to bottleneck, due to inevitable delays from somewhere in the chain, the stress of meeting every deadline becomes coupled with the fear of perhaps this time I may not make it and I may have to let down a client. (Fortunately, thus far – touch wood – this hasn’t happened yet!) It would, of course, be wonderful to have more time on occasions to really perfect a project. (Publishers, are you listening?!!)

What qualities do you need to be a trusted project editor?

All the editors I have worked with and  admired over the years have been fair, calm and consistent in their approach to the books they are working on. There is nothing worse than working with someone who doesn’t have a feel for a project and changes the direction of a title as the stages progress, or even at the final stage. Getting on with the team is vital; the designer, publisher, production controller and, of course, the author. My first boss was inspirational in how to build strong working relationships; Geoffrey Strachan managed to achieve respect and love from all he worked with but at the same time still cleverly managed to always produce the book that HE wanted without offending the writer or anyone on the creative team. It was magical to watch.

Share some advice you were given when you set out as an editor

Ask the question, but be prepared to compromise. Editing is not, and should not be, a dictatorial craft, it is a collaboration to create something special, that everyone can be proud of and that will also sell well! As I’ve moved into illustrated books over the years the team element has become an important part of editing. Illustrated books more than any others require a fair and frank exchange of ideas between editors and designers, and the ability to compromise and to consider the other team member as deadlines begin to pinch and tempers begin to fray under the pressure!

How do you juggle the pressures of creating complex illustrated books for publishers, all of whom are looking at similar autumn publication dates?

Tea, chocolate and a forgiving family!  The summer months are always stressful, and every year I promise I’m going to handle it differently, but so far I haven’t found the perfect solution! Mostly, I just take a deep breath, write a lot of to-do lists, tell my friends I’ll see them in a month or two and crack on.  It may mean weeks of early starts and late nights, but come September the pressure will always ease a little and the mountain of paperwork that has been threatening to topple over onto my already covered desk will finally get a look in. Having said that, over the past five years or so I’ve noticed that this frenzy of last-minute publishing is not only confined to summer but seems to be infiltrating other months of the year. The spring book list seems to be as important as the autumn one; I am now finding I get calls and emails in the autumn as publishers take stock once the Christmas books are snugly bound and decide to sneak something else into spring…

An interview with Jane Aitken

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[intro]Jane Aitken co-founded Gallic Books in 2006 with a commitment to bringing the best of contemporary French writing to an English-speaking public. Since then, Gallic has been responsible for translating and publishing more than 50 books in the UK. This year saw the publication of Antoine Laurain’s award-winning novel The President’s Hat, with whitefox helping to run the marketing campaign.[/intro]
What unique challenges do you face in publishing exclusively French fiction for a British reading public?

The biggest challenge is that none of our authors have a track record in the UK before we publish them. And of course, they are not on the spot for promotion, so they have to travel to promote for us, which is disruptive for them and quite expensive. But having said that, our authors are all brilliant about dropping everything and jumping on the Eurostar. Some don’t speak English though, which is a problem for any kind of live interview.

Another challenge is that our authors’ historical, cultural and political reference points do not necessarily resonate with a UK audience. So, Vaux-le-Vicomte not Hampton Court; Colbert not Cromwell; Corneille not Shakespeare; Balzac not Dickens; Mitterrrand not Thatcher. This can create a barrier and a translation problem: how far should we explain references?

How do you go about choosing which books you are going to publish In English?

When we started out we immersed ourselves in the French market and read like mad. We chose to start with two bestselling historical crime series, one set in the years leading up to the French Revolution, and one set in fin-de-siècle Paris. Our idea was to paint a portrait for the UK reader of France through the ages, seen through fiction.

We then branched out into contemporary French fiction, where we look for fantastic writing, strong characters and plot. But we also try to choose subjects not addressed by Anglophone authors. So The Elegance of the Hedgehog has an apartment concierge as a main character, the forthcoming Monsieur Le Commandant presents a uniquely French take on the second world war, and The President’s Hat features 1980’s Paris.

We want to showcase in English, the books that French readers love, and we try to choose books that give a glimpse of France in an entertaining way.

Gallic was formed at a time when a large number of disruptive elements were beginning to take hold on the publishing industry. Which of these do you think has had the most influence in shaping the way the company has grown?

There was a gap for small independents like Gallic, created by the conglomerates merging and swallowing the larger independents. We felt that our niche was probably better served by an independent publisher than by an imprint of a large group.

Digital has I suppose been the biggest disruptor, but I can’t say that has had a huge effect on our development; we have merely followed along and entered the digital market, as all publishers must.

What challenges have you been most personally aware of when you moved from a large publisher (Random House) to running a small independent? What changes have you most welcomed?

I think the biggest challenge was initially getting the right kind of distribution. Without good distribution, you can’t ensure your books get where they need to be on time. For us the key was having a bestselling book, The Elegance of the Hedgehog, which opened up access to good distribution, initially with LBS and now with MDL, both of whom offer fantastic service to independent publishers.

The best thing about being small is the speed of decision-making, as you can take a project from conception to publication pretty quickly. You can take risks and there are fewer people to justify your decisions to!

Much of Gallic’s translation work operates through a group of high quality freelancers. What do you look for in your translators and what do you see as the main benefits from working in this way?

The most important thing for our translators is to have English as a mother tongue. Most have acquired French as a second (or third language). Strangely, it can be a disadvantage to be fully bi-lingual, although obviously an excellent knowledge of French is essential. It is also essential to be well read, so that you can easily access different ways of expressing yourself, and to have a good writing style. Some of our translators are also published authors.

We use a variety of translators to ensure that we match each book with the best possible translator voice. We also translate in house. I translate and we also have an in house translator, Emily Boyce. Emily and I teamed up with a freelancer, Louise Rogers Lalaurie, to translate The President’s Hat, which is made up of four individual stories linked by the hat. Each protagonist had their own translator and therefore a slightly different inflexion. So far, readers have approved.

Have you noticed any significant changes in the market for translated fiction in the UK since Gallic’s first book was published?

Yes, there has been an explosion of translated fiction since our first book was translated in 2007. Several new independent publishing houses have started up publishing only or mainly translations – Peirene Press in 2010, And Other Stories, Profusion and Istros Books in 2011, Stork Press in 2012, amongst others. And the large houses are also publishing significantly more translations.

This has been great for the bookshop we run, Belgravia Books where we have many translated fiction evenings, most recently on Latin American crime with Bitter Lemon Press.

Generally it feels as if the UK market is now a lot more open to translated fiction, and publishers are stepping up to meet the increased demand.

An interview with Jeff Belle

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jeff_belle[intro]Jeff Belle joined Amazon in 2002, subsequently becoming Vice-President of the company’s publishing unit, Amazon Publishing. The unit now incorporates 12 imprints, the latest addition of which, Jet City Comics, was announced in July.[/intro]

Amazon was already a very well established book retailer when Amazon publishing took off. What are the most significant ways that this has influenced how the publishing wing has developed?

Our first imprint, AmazonEncore, was launched with the purpose of bringing more attention to extraordinary, previously published, overlooked books from emerging authors. This was a direct result of the high-quality books we were seeing from authors in our Kindle Direct Publishing program (KDP). Our second imprint, AmazonCrossing, was launched so that more readers would have access to books from around the world that had never been available to an English language audience. We are fortunate to have a wealth of data from our bookstores around the world that helps us identify overlooked, but deserving candidates for translation. From there we looked to the categories most popular with our Kindle customers like romance, thrillers and mysteries, and science fiction/fantasy to see how we might better serve them, which resulted in the creation of our own group of commercial fiction imprints: first Montlake Romance, then Thomas & Mercer and 47North. Most recently we’ve launched Jet City Comics and look forward to delighting comic fans and working with our authors to create adaptation of their books for this medium.

How would you differentiate what Amazon Publishing offers authors compared to traditional publishers?

We are committed to an author-centric publishing model that also serves as a kind of in-house laboratory dedicated to innovating and experimenting with new publishing models. We’re looking for authors who want to experiment with us. Authors are our customers and we are constantly working on their behalf to make their experience with us the best it can be. Examples of this include things like paying higher royalties, paying royalties monthly instead of twice-a-year, launching the Kindle Singles and Kindle Serials formats, creating Kindle Worlds, inclusion in the Kindle Owners’ Lending Library, and more to come…

How does Amazon publishing view working with external freelance specialists? Should freelancers see it as an opportunity?

We work with a variety of very talented freelancers in areas including production, design, promotion and translation – we want to build as flexible as organisation as we can, so we are scaling these functions in-house as well as build a broad network of great freelance talent as well. In the four years since launch, we have added nearly 5,000 titles to our list, and we couldn’t have done this without a strong network of freelancers.

Do the fact that physical book sales are declining everywhere mean that cover design is less important?

Actually, I think it’s more important now. All online and digital shelves are face-out. In any format, the cover of a book should capture a reader’s attention and make it stand out as something they want to know more about. Our hope is that our covers will draw readers in wherever they first discover it— be it on our retail site, on a Kindle device, or in a bookstore. In digital, it’s more important than ever to design covers that will render across multiple device displays – in eInk and on color tablets and phones – as well as on the printed book.

There is currently much debate over the perceived over-reliance on free e-books for marketing purposes, with some suggesting that this is devaluing long form content. Where do you stand on this issue?

We know that Kindle owners buy more books now than they did before they owned a Kindle, so on the whole I don’t see this as an actual problem. Distributing galleys and Advance Reader Copies free of charge for promotional purposes is something that publishers have always done to help bring attention to the books they publish. It’s much easier, of course, to distribute free copies digitally, but it’s still difficult to connect and engage with the reader. Readers want to discover great stories, and our job is to help with the discoverability piece. Authors want to expand their audience and earn royalties. To best serve our authors and readers, we’ll continue to strike the right balance and also find more ways to help readers discover new work.

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