Welcome to the whitefox blog, featuring musings on the future of publishing and interviews with authors, publishers, agents, designers and more.

Q&A with Louise Moore, Managing Director and Publisher of Michael Joseph

By | Brand Publishing, Editing, Insight, Interview, Publisher, Publishing & Consultancy, Writing | No Comments

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Louise Moore is Managing Director and Publisher of Michael Joseph, an imprint of Penguin Random House UK, that publishes highly commercial fiction and non-fiction. In addition to working with Marian Keyes, she has published bestsellers from Jojo Moyes, Dawn French, Stephen Fry, Sue Townsend, Sue Perkins, Joanna Lumley, Ronnie Corbett, Barry Humphries and Richard Curtis.

 

You describe meeting Marian Keyes as a “career-changing moment”. Can you describe what it feels like when you find a new talent you have to publish?

For me, it has been an odd moment of certainty. And reading that ‘voice’ that is unique, and special. And then knowing that you HAVE to have it for your company, no matter what. I remember when someone senior where I worked as a junior editor bought Thomas Harris’s Silence of the Lambs – we all read it, and everyone knew it was going to result in a new genre and generation of writers. It doesn’t happen very often in a career. Sometimes though, an editor can shepherd a career along and think that there is something there, and then an author writes their career-defining book, perhaps six or seven books in. That’s special too, in a different way.

How has your editorial relationship with Marian evolved after working with her since the mid-1990s?

Marian is a dream of an author to work with because despite her superstardom and bestsellerdom, she always wants feedback and critique. It is her novel, and her view that counts ultimately, but I do think that every author —however talented or experienced — can benefit from editorial support. Marian is generous, receptive and open and that hasn’t changed in over twenty years.

Marian’s books don’t shy away from the pain of mental illness. But in an age which calls more and more for trigger warnings, it can be challenging to portray such a sensitive subject in a safe but truthful manner; Netflix has recently come under fire for overly graphic portrayals of suicide and anorexia. As an editor, do you feel an added layer of responsibility in this respect?

We do feel an added layer of responsibility, for sure. But also, remember, it is comforting to read fictionalised accounts of something you are personally going through. It could make you feel less alone and that a particular authorial voice has the empathy to understand and translate what you are going through. I think books, actually, can be a lot cleverer and more subtle about tackling these subjects in a non-voyeuristic and non-simplistic way.

What’s Marian like as a creative partner during the editorial process?

I always remember, and make sure the team at MJ remember too, that we are there first and foremost to serve and protect our authors, the best we can. Of course, we make mistakes. But these should never be for lack of trying or consideration. I have always felt highly protective of Marian, along with the team. Sometimes, perhaps I have been overprotective. I trust her utterly and I hope she does me. We had a pretty straightforward relationship that way from the word go, so I’m not sure that’s changed. I feel she knows me very well after all these years, and we can both pick up a hesitancy in the other. I have learned to wait and listen sometimes, as she doesn’t like to criticise or demonstrate any worries, but sometimes you need to hear it as a Publisher. I never forget that I work on her behalf, and that there is the world of difference between that and just being a ‘friend’. I am her translator into the wider company and then hopefully into the world.

The Break deals with escape, abandonment and human changeability. What are your hopes for this novel?

I want it to be talked about and laughed and cried over; to be an escape and a friend to as many millions of people around the world as possible.

Q&A with Shazam’s Jeremy LoCurto

By | Digital, Insight, Interview, Network | No Comments

JeremyJeremy is based in Silicon Valley and leads key business development initiatives at Shazam. Prior to working in the tech industry, he spent several years at HarperCollins Publishers in London after graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, with a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature. You can connect with him here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremylocurto/

Tell us a bit about your job.

I work on Shazam’s business development team and lead partnerships focused on user growth and new revenue opportunities. I’m also a commercial advisor for a digital marketing and analytics startup called Amplespot. 

How ( if at all ) did the skills and experience you acquired working for a traditional book publisher help you in subsequent roles at Samsung and Shazam?

The lessons I learned from publishing were influenced by a few historically unique events that took place while I was working in the industry. In particular: the financial crisis and its aftermath, the birth of the app economy, and Amazon’s rise as the western world’s dominant bookseller. These events taught me that no assumption or status quo is sacrosanct and that you must always be ready to move fast so that you can take advantage of disruption when it comes. 

On the flip side — spending my formative years immersed in an industry with famously long production cycles forced me to develop a long-term perspective on product and commercial strategy that’s been a useful counterweight to the faster-paced environments I’ve worked in since. It requires a different kind of thinking to anticipate trends and make big bets on the next zeitgeist. And books take a long time to make! You have to plan for unforeseen complications that may come up ten months down the line when you have twenty thousand books chugging across the ocean on a cargo ship. I learned a lot watching talented publishers mingle gut-decisions with foresight. 

How might digital innovation continue to disrupt traditional content owning brands?

I think there are two angles to look at here: 1) structural shifts in the way content is financed and distributed; 2) and a longer-term evolution in content creation. 

A big finance story in the music space last week was the move by Royalty Exchange to offer investors the chance to buy shares in a music rights portfolio that includes Eminem’s catalogue. It’s not hard to imagine content ownership increasingly decoupled from content production. What changes in a world where royalty rights are owned by pension funds and day traders rather than authors or publishers? Does anything change? And when it comes to distribution, consider that Netflix spent $6bn on original content productions last year. Together with Amazon and Hulu, they are starting to outspend legacy studios on content destined for exclusive distribution on their platforms. Some streaming music platforms, like Saavn, have launched their own labels. Another music streaming service was recently called out for publishing original generic content in their popular playlists. Maybe this points to a greater trend towards vertical integration within the content industry. 

From a content creation standpoint, I think that data and machine learning will continue to upend traditional processes. Today, book publishers have unprecedented access to user data at scale that simply wasn’t feasible in the world of bricks and mortar distribution. User info like gender / age / income / timestamp(s) / location(s) / device type has clear value for sales and marketing activities and is probably starting to influence commissioning decisions. Beyond enhanced demographic data, advances in machine learning could make the kind of corpus analyses that dictionaries have been doing for decades relevant to commercial publishers. Could you train an algorithm to find the next big author by teaching it what bestsellers look like and then unleashing it on Wattpad? Could you feed an AI enough cold war spy novels so that you could train it to output something that’s enough like John Le Carre to sell commercially? I’m sure some publishers are already experimenting with things like this.

Tell us the next big thing in tech.

I’d wager that the biggest tech stories in the next five years will be autonomous vehicles and augmented reality. I think both have the potential to be interesting for book publishers.

When Level 5 autonomy (i.e. fully self-driving cars) arrives, people who used to drive will have lots of leisure time during their commutes. Maybe they’ll fill it by reading. 

Mass-market augmented reality will create huge opportunities to layer content onto users’ surroundings in real time. I get really excited imagining the awesome experiences that people will build for AR using content that is in book format today. 

What books have influenced you the most?

A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.

Tom Chalmers, MD of Legend Times and publishing entrepreneur – ‘There is much to achieve in publishing’s new dawn for those brave enough to passionately strive for it.’

By | Business, Entrepreneur, Insight, Interview, Publisher, Startup | No Comments

Tom Profile PicTom Chalmers is an entrepreneur and the Managing Director of Legend Times, a group of five publishing companies he founded. Aged just 25, Tom founded his first company – Legend Press. Legend Press is a publisher focused predominantly on mainstream literary and commercial fiction. He subsequently acquired Paperbooks Publishing and later launched Legend Business, a business book publisher, followed by successful self-publishing and writer workshops companies, New Generation Publishing and Write-Connections.

 

Tom has been shortlisted for UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year, UK Young Publisher of the Year, UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur of the Year, and longlisted for the Enterprising Young Brit Awards. Tom speaks regularly on publishing and business, and is a Business Mentor for the Prince’s Trust.

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whitefox interview James Hoffmann, author of The Best of Jimseven 2004 – 2015, about turning his hit coffee blog into a book

By | Author, Brand Publishing, Business, Guest Post, Insight, Interview, Self publishing, Startup, Writing | No Comments

I’d started writing online as a way to share what I was learning in the industry, and when I hit 10 years I realised that I had created hundreds of posts, and within all of it there was probably a narrative and collection of the best that would be valuable if arranged and brought together in a book. I think people read books differently to how they read online, and people wouldn’t want to navigate through hundreds of webpages – but the experience of sitting and reading would be much more enjoyable. I love books, well-made books. and the idea of creating a very limited run to mark a milestone also appealed to me.

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Q&A with Scorn author, Paul Hoffman

By | Author, Insight, Interview, Writing | No Comments

scornLast week, author Paul Hoffman spoke to acrimereadersblog about his controversial and compelling new novel, Scorn, about a depressed physicist, Aaron Gall, who was raised at a violent Catholic boarding school. After an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider goes wrong, Gall goes through a transformation and sets out to take revenge on the priests who traumatised him… and eat them. Scorn is out now and available to buy from Amazon, Waterstones or Blackwell’s.

 

What was the inspiration behind Scorn?

A few years ago I was watching a news item on the BBC where its Vatican correspondent concluded by saying that the Catholic Church must deal with the issue of child sexual abuse in order to regain its moral authority. The response to this, it seems to me, is to ask: what moral authority? Answering this question is where the book begins, with two rather unusual policemen (when they were soldiers together in Iraq they were known as The Butchers of Basra) investigating the hideous murder of several priests. I wanted to write about my Catholic upbringing in boarding school but do so in an entirely different way – not as a litany of horrors visited on children (though some of that is inevitable) but to celebrate our resistance to the faith that tried any means possible to control our every thought, word, and deed. We mocked them (not in their hearing, of course), made up sermons in which appalling eternal tortures were visited on small boys for ridiculous dietary infractions (eating bats was one I particularly loved) and so on. I’ve always loved a good police procedural and I wanted to use the pleasures they give to go into territory not usually associated with crime novels.

Have you always been a writer?

My writing draws heavily on my past and the more than twenty-five jobs I’ve had as an adult – ranging from boardman in a betting shop, lift attendant, frozen food packer at 10 below zero to teacher in one of the worst and one of the best state schools in England, businessman and screenwriter. The most interesting of these was the ten years I spent as a film censor at the BBFC. It was there that I started writing fiction, but not until I was already in my mid-thirties. Simultaneously, I was writing a screenplay based on part of the novel I was writing. This was made into a cop-thriller starring Jude Law, as the very peculiar but charming murderer, and Timothy Spall as the sly cop caught between his liking for the man he’s investigating and his determination to get to the bottom of the deaths for which he could be responsible. Sadly a great cast was squandered by terrible direction. It was the second worst experience of my life.

Can you tell us what a typical working day looks like for you?

Amazingly dull. I write for a couple of hours a day usually. I always stop as soon as I feel I’m having to make an effort to go on. Writing is rooted fundamentally in playing. No child, or golfer, or reader for that matter goes on playing or reading when they’ve had enough of playing or reading. They just stop. And that’s what I do. I write with the intention at all times of giving pleasure by taking pleasure in what I do. Despite this, I find writing very tiring, as if I’ve been using up huge amounts of energy. I’m ashamed to say that I spend the rest of the time sleeping or generally lazing about and thinking.

How would you spend a perfect afternoon away from work?

Generally lazing about and thinking. I find enormous pleasure in just wandering about in my head. This was a habit I picked up in boarding school because as well as being violent, it was also very boring. I constructed enormously long novels in my head in which I was, of course, the central character and therefore brave, noble and heroic, and kept them going for months at a time.

Are you an avid reader yourself? If so, which authors do you find yourself returning to time and again?

I used to be a voracious reader but not so much now because I find – it’s not true for a great many authors – that writing fiction drains the energy for reading it. It’s a pity, but there it is. The priests used to describe me as wicked and lazy and they may have had a point. Now I tend to dip into my reading habits of the past when I want to look at how someone I admire pulled off some tricky piece of storytelling. In the past month I’ve gone to Ecclesiastes, Catch 22, The Secret Agent, a scene in Julius Caesar where Brutus and Cassius row and then make up, and a scene in one of George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman books where he has a conversation with Abe Lincoln. But I’ll steal from anywhere: one of my books has a line I took from a shampoo advert.

Finally, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on next?

I’m just about to finish the fourth part of The Left Hand of God trilogy, called The White Devil. The first three books deal with the violent life of precociously cunning but psychologically damaged fifteen-year-old Thomas Cale as he slips back and forth over the line between good and evil and the thousand shades of grey in between. The fourth book sees him twenty years later, having been blackmailed into assassinating John of Boston, a character who is part JFK and part Abe Lincoln.

 

*This Q&A was originally posted on acrimereadersblog, 7th September 2017.*

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Working remotely – is it for everyone?

By | Freelance, Guest Post, Insight, Remote working, Travel, Writing | No Comments

If you’re a freelancer, and many of us who choose to work remotely are, then you already know the freedom of working for yourself, choosing your working hours and creating your own schedule. It might seem natural to take things one step further and take work with you to a new part of the world, or even globe-trot from place to place, but this dream scenario can have a few hidden cons as well as the obvious pros.

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Q&A with Louise Evans, Graphic Designer & Illustrator

By | Design, Freelance, Graphic Design, Illustration, Insight, Interview, Students | No Comments

Louise EvansLouise is a London-based graphic designer and illustrator who grew up in Cambridge and graduated from NUA in 2010 with a degree in design for publishing. Her passions for typography, print and cooking are often brought together in the design of recipes and other illustrated books. Have a look at her website and check out some of her wonderful and unique work.

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Interview with Cyrus Bozorgmehr, author of The Syndicate and Once Upon A Time In Shaolin

By | Author, Editing, Insight, Interview, Self publishing, Writing | No Comments

THE SYNDICATE_eBook

Cyrus Bozorgmehr is a creative consultant and author who lives in Marrakech, where he continues to write and work across a spectrum of creative adventures. He spoke to whitefox about his busy year – The Syndicate is his first fiction novel (available now via Amazon) and he also acted as senior adviser to the Wu-Tang Clan’s Once Upon a Time in Shaolin project. Jacaranda Books acquired UK rights for his non-fiction novel about the project and will publish Once Upon a Time in Shaolin in November.

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Quickfire Q&A with Literary Agent Clare Conville

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bunny earsListed by the Observer as one of ‘our top 50 players in the world of books’, Clare worked as an editor at Random House before co-founding Conville & Walsh in 2000. Between them, Clare’s clients have won or been nominated for nearly every major literary prize in the UK, including the Man Booker Prize, the Bollinger Everyman Woodhouse Prize, the Whitbread First Novel Award, the Orange Prize for Fiction, the Nestlé Smarties Book Prize, the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize, the Blue Peter Book of the Year award and the Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Clare is the co-author of Dangerous Women: The Guide To Modern Life and co-curator of the Curious Arts Festival.

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