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

When you say influential…

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Even though I was recently voted only the fourth most influential person in my own house, I’m intrigued by The Bookseller’s annual list of the 100 leading individuals across the business. It seems somewhat…safe. Or as if it seeks not to offend. If you have one CEO, you have to have them all. Do you become inherently more influential when a successful repeating author happens to deliver their book? I guess I am saying, really, that you need to define ‘influence’.

I know this list is about the book trade overall, but by any reckoning there are at least another 100 names out there who really matter because they actually make a material difference to the success or failure of a publishing house. John Hamilton, Penguin’s Art Director and someone acknowledged in every Jamie Oliver book as integral to each project. Robert Lacey, editor extraordinaire to a myriad of successful writers. There are others.

Who do you think should join the list?

On publishing mistakes and errors

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I’m not sure which part of the report that Sir Alex Ferguson’s book is riddled with factual errors strikes me as the most pertinent in these times: that no one has had the courage or time to check and challenge the ruddy faced, gum-chewing managerial genius’s rather impressionistic recollections; or that none of this has stopped the book selling like a freight train on the route to publisher bonus-land. (*Shameless advertising alert* Footballing loving proof readers are available at whitefox for the paperback.)

This year has also seen 40 pages of the autobiography from national treasure and falling through a bar expert David Jason finding their way into the latest bridget Jones. But then those of us who only just survived Franzen-gate and the pulping of the first print-run of the so-called ‘book-of-the-century’ (FREEDOM, where the printer used the files from the uncorrected proof), will remember that we lost count of the number of fellow publishers who made contact to commiserate and say, in effect, “there but for the grace of god…” Inside a large trade publishing house, you can see how it happens. From the outside, it looks less forgivable and more potentially damaging to what would be perceived as the traditional value-add of a publishing process.

Interesting, therefore, to observe David Young back at the helm of a UK publisher talking again about the value of editing and illustrating how a published book needs to differentiate that it has gone through a professional editing process.

We could hardly have put it better ourselves.

The h.Club 100

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So we won an award. Or at least we have been pronounced amongst the 10 most innovative bods in publishing. Hurrah. And congratulations to all the nominees and winners in the h.Club 100 across all the different categories.

For those of us in attendance at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden last night, it was a ceremony that will live long in the memory, although not necessarily for the right reasons. I love British cynicism as much as the next shortlisted candidate, but the indomitable Laura Dockrill was right to make her point so dramatically during the pronouncements.

Of course David Bowie and Helen Mirren or even Charlie Redmayne were nowhere to be seen. So what? For the individuals or small companies and start-ups who did show it means a lot. A little recognition goes along way.

Of snake oil and self-publishing: a response

By | Self publishing | No Comments

The agent Piers Blofeld has weighed in on the cost of self-publishing and how easy it is for writers to be seduced into parting with cash.

At whitefox, we wouldn’t argue with the central theme that it is possible to spend money taking your book to market yet potentially see very little return on your hard earned investment. It still strikes us, though, that implicit in his argument is the premise that added services simply cannot make a difference. That they are of little or no value.

That isn’t our experience (nor, must it be said, that of many self published authors). A good, cost-effective edit and proofread. A striking, appropriate cover design. SEO and metadata. We had a call this morning from a writer asking for our services to help them create a synopsis of their own book. Because some people are bloody good at it. And if they are that good and can make a difference, then they are worth paying accordingly. I know agents don’t like breaking the model that ultimately sees someone paying to invest in content. But all those services which have traditionally been buried beneath a publisher’s desire to seem fundamentally a successful shining sales and marketing machine do matter to writers. And they matter to us.

whitefox mentorship

By | Grads, Students | No Comments

Back in August we wrote an article for Publishing Perspectives, noting the incredibly difficult situation that most graduates find themselves in when simply trying to gain a toe-hold in the publishing industry:

The dilemma is a simple one. Without having prior experience you cannot find a job. Yet without finding a job you cannot gain experience. Without which, of course, you cannot find a job. Which is in a way impressive; I don’t think many envisage graduating university only to be blocked from further progression by logical paradox.

Since then, we’ve been working on a way of helping the next generation of writers and publishing specialists who will produce the great books of tomorrow. We realize that for many, traditional models can seem dauntingly impenetrable and an unpaid work placement in London is not an option. That’s why we have now launched our mentorship programme, aimed specifically at those who are unable to apply for work experience in the capital.

At the heart of the programme is the opportunity to work remotely with the Publisher of Profile Books (Daniel Crewe). The mentorship will run for a month, during which time the successful applicant will have the chance to gain insights into the early stages of publishing and to develop a range of editorial skills, including:

  • reader’s reports and responses to submissions
  • editorial reports on manuscripts
  • researching possible authors and ideas for new titles
  • copywriting

We will be looking for candidates with a demonstrable interest in editing and relevant experience. Interested applicants should send a CV to whitefox info@wearewhitefox.com, with a covering letter outlining why they are interested in the programme and what they will bring to it, in terms of skills, ideas and experience.

Shortlisted applicants will be asked to perform a brief copyediting test before a final selection is made.

We will also be offering the opportunity of remote work experience with whitefox as an editorial reader. Here, you’ll have the chance to take a first look at manuscripts that come to us, often from literary agents. Before they are sent to edit, we’ll ask you to read through and provide a brief editorial report on the book as well as, in some instances, a full or partial line edit. After the book has been professionally edited, we will feedback on your work and share the final edit.

Finally, we do offer traditional work experience, for those who are able to spend a week or two in London. Please get in touch via email at info@wearewhitefox.com with a CV and a covering letter telling us which opportunity you are interested in, and why.

The deadline for applications is November the 15th. Good luck!

Human Recommendation Engines

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[intro]Amongst whitefox publisher clients, we’re lucky to number Gallic; the clever, fleet-of-foot indie publisher of French books in translation. And Gallic are lucky enough to be based in a thriving bookshop in South West London. Here they host events, meet book buyers, and launch their own titles alongside those of other publishers.[/intro]

But besides all that, they’ve grown to become something of my trusted human recommendation engines. Every time we have a meeting to discuss plans for forthcoming publications I ask them what I should be reading in the implicit understanding they already know enough about me to be informed in their choices. After many months, they have yet to make a bad choice (currently Walter Tevis’s haunting classic The Queen’s Gambit). They even have a dog that has started to tweet recommendations (a dog recommendation engine?). Smart pooch.

Many years ago, I used to work with a very brilliant copyeditor who had a similar ability. Everyone in his proximity knew to pay attention to his pronouncements once he’d finished working on a book due to his uncanny knack of knowing which of a publisher’s stable of titles stood a chance of making it in any one season. He was a sales departments secret oracle.

Some people are gifted like that.

Now, I’m not comparing them more favourably than algorithms that tell me titles I may also like after I’ve finished a book on my e-reader. But there is something rather joyous seeing the spark in the eyes of a bookseller or a colleague or friend who wants you to share the pleasure of disappearing into a writer’s world.

The whitefox editorial workshop

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[intro]Last night whitefox held the first of our workshops for students and grads looking to get into publishing, with attendees enjoying some frank, engaging and (most importantly) useful discussion on all things editorial from our speakers.[/intro]

From the considerations that come into play when deciding whether a book should get published on a list to the things that build a good author-editor relationship, we covered a lot of ground on the role of editors in modern publishing houses. There were  some surprises: we heard how unscientific the whole process can be; how little time editors actually spend editing; and how spreadsheets and even the Tesco’s website can be indispensable allies. Most importantly we received some great advice on how to get a foothold into the industry. Tips included reading voraciously, making yourself indispensable, doing your research, being tech savvy, emailing extensively, and, err, staying out late.

A massive thanks to all our speakers and helpers on the night, and most of all to those who attended, whose enthusiasm and interest ensured the night was a success. And for all those that couldn’t make it along, we are happy to say that we will be releasing a video of the event in the next week (barring technical difficulties), and also have an introduction to editing pack which is available for you to peruse here.

[intro]About the speakers[/intro]

Robin Harvie is senior commissioning editor and digital publisher at independent publisher Aurum Press. Previously, he was non-fiction commissioning editor and digital editor at 4th Estate. He is also the author of Why We Run.

Mark Richards started as an editorial assistant at 4th Estate in 2007, where he stayed until two months ago. He is now an editorial director at John Murray, commissioning literary fiction and non-fiction.

Hannah Westland is the publisher at Serpent’s Tail, now an imprint of independent publisher Profile Books. Renowned for publishing voices neglected by the mainstream, Serpent’s Tail has a reputation for publishing the best of all kinds of writing, from literary novels to crime fiction, from work in translation to books on music and politics. Before joining Serpent’s Tail in 2012, Hannah was an agent at Rogers, Coleridge & White, where she represented a diverse range of writers of fiction and non-fiction.

Tom Williams is an author and literary agent. His biography of Raymond Chandler, A Mysterious Something in the Light, was published by Aurum Press. He also runs the Williams Agency, representing authors of fiction and non-fiction, and is actively involved in a range of digital projects for his clients.

Ione Walder is an editor at independent publisher Quercus, where she commissions and project-manages illustrated non-fiction, including cookbooks, TV tie-ins and celebrity memoirs. She previously spent four years at HarperCollins and two years as a freelance cookery editor, and has worked with some of the top names in cookery publishing, from Gordon Ramsay, James Martin and Lorraine Pascale, to Rachel Allen, Allegra McEvedy and the Hummingbird Bakery. Other high-profile authors and projects include inspirational burns survivor Katie Piper, style guru Gok Wan, two illustrated biographies from band JLS, and the tie-in to the BBC’s groundbreaking Africa series presented by Sir David Attenborough.

A view from down under

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[intro]To illustrate how the fragmentation of the traditional publishing industry is a global experience, look no further than (or I should say look as far as is possible to) New Zealand.[/intro]

In a relatively short period of time, less than a year, long-held fears have been realised as the multinational publishing companies familiar to many took the decision to shed staff and operations in New Zealand, some scaling back to Australia.

To various observers (especially British, whose industry’s scale lends it a robustness that makes comparisons with New Zealand difficult) it appeared to be a fatal series of events; the New Zealand publishing industry was on its way out. A national newspaper piece last month sensationalised the doom, with a curious range of prognoses from significant figures.

There are many reasons I disagree with such a bleak, broad assessment, and could proselytise, not least about the brilliantly dedicated and creative work of many of the independent publishers over here. Recent changes and trends, regardless of how out of our control they may feel, will not prevent the ongoing creation and consumption of many fantastic New Zealand titles – there is too much ingenuity and appetite from readers for it to come to that. However, with an eye firmly on the evolving publishing landscape being identified and addressed by whitefox, it is worth emphasising one aspect in particular – that the more the traditional industry fragments, shrinks, adapts and modernises in New Zealand, the more opportunities arise for talented freelancers (editors, designers, techies, specialists) to plug traditional gaps and fill emerging roles.

New Zealand publishing, conventionally with small in-house teams, has relied upon gifted freelancers for a good while already, many of whom owe their skills to time once spent in-house. Now a new generation of publishing creative types are emerging. At Te Papa Press, the publishing arm of the national museum, we are shifting towards a multimedia publishing programme, involving specialists, skills and content that have only recently become integral parts of the publishing process and redefine what we consider ‘publishing’ to be. One of the most encouraging things I’ve witnessed in the industry here is a reluctance to sit back and wait for the UK or the US to point the way. Publishers are getting on with meeting challenges and exploring opportunities by embracing these new skills. The work of Steam Press, BWB and Booktrack are just a few examples.

Additionally, the self-publishing trend, rather than establishing a straightforward shift of power and control to the author, will actually shed light on the necessity of quality and the importance of the well-honed skills of all those involved in carrying an idea through to an excellently produced, delivered and marketed book, ebook, app, whatever it may be.

If New Zealand publishing continues to adapt and take risks, we can hopefully expect to enjoy other Eleanor Catton moments long into the future.

Michael Upchurch was formerly an editor at HarperCollins in London, now at Te Papa Press in Wellington.

Cover up

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[intro]In our recent interview with Jeff Belle of Amazon Publishing in Seattle, we quizzed him about the importance of book jacket design in an age when book sales are increasingly migrating online.[/intro]

This is a guy who could call it like it is and say, that, perhaps, postage stamp sized covers don’t mean a great deal any more. It is, after all, what comes up after you’ve searched. Maybe in an age of diminishing opportunities to see and touch physical copies of books, a good cover design isn’t going to make a potential consumer behave in any particularly way.

And yet and yet.

What Jeff actually said was.

Actually I think it is more important now

Now it is true that maybe Jeff, who is a smart guy, was thinking his words were going to be read by, amongst others, a significant number of cover designers from within the whitefox clan, so, you know, don’t frighten the horses. But what he said was, as I read it, pretty unequivocal.

So when news reached us this week that one of the big four publishers are actively trying to solicit experienced designers to work on genre fiction for a newly launched imprint for the princely sum of £50.00 per cover, we thought we just had to make mention. £50.00. Really.

Why not crowd source a cover from students? Go on fiverr and get ten of them. But maybe think twice before you expect people with years of hard-earned experience, who have been responsible for creating some of the past few decades most iconic book jackets to bite your hand off at those prices. Is that really what a jacket is worth? Maybe send fewer people next year to walk Hall 8 of the Buchmesse in Frankfurt looking at their emails from back at head office and invest in better external designers. And sell more books. Just a thought.

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.