HARDCOPY – What do publishers want?

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HardCopy Alumni 2015

HardCopy Alumni 2015

The HARDCOPY program opened on Friday morning with lots of energy.

Charlotte Harper, Founder and Editor of Editia, was engaging and full of useful information. What does Editia want?

  • Connection with the author
  • An author with a good social media profile
  • Clear, well edited writing
  • Newsworthiness/timeliness
  • Usefulness, entertainment or educational value
  • Humour and empathy
  • Stories that delve more deeply, solve a mystery or challenge our thinking
  • Needs to make money, with at least a possibility of being onsold to the US or UK, perhaps film rights, etc.

Charlotte impressed upon us the importance of personal networks and relationships and told us about a conversation initiated in the ladies’ loo that led to a contract.  Engage with others!

Charlotte also demonstrated how not all publishers are created equal.   Approach only those who are likely to be a good fit with your manuscript.  Will my book help the publisher to achieve their goals?  Will it slot easily into their list?

  • Affirm Press, for example, “…publish a broad range of non-fiction books that always, in some way, have positive underlying messages.”
  • Scribe publish “…books that matter – narrative and literary nonfiction on important topics.”

A publishing house that produces many books a year might be more receptive than a house that only produces a handful.  And, obviously, non-fiction writers should not waste time pitching to publishers who only focus on fiction.  Do your research!

One person who spoke to us later in the day, Prof. Peter Stanley, noted that his 30 or so books had been produced by 20 or so different publishers.  For him it was all about horses for courses.

Charlotte Harper then made us walk in the publishers’ shoes by initiating a group exercise.  Every other presenter over the three days simply (albeit engagingly) spoke to us as we sat in theatre style seats but Charlotte had us up and outside and thinking for ourselves.  Thank you, Charlotte!  Divided into groups of five, we were each assigned a role: sales manager, financial controller, rights manager, publicity manager, production manager.  And each group was ’employed’ by a different publisher – From the big boys at Penguin Random House to a smaller press like Affirm.  Each group then assessed five imaginary titles at a mock acquisitions meeting.

  • Why mums should stay at home with their kids by a News Ltd columnist
  • The ACT Asbestos Crisis by Rhys Muldoon (who has a personal connection with the issue)
  • My Year in Provence by Jan Smith from Chatswood (an unkown first time writer)
  • Children in detention: interviews with kids and their carers
  • How to Run a Restaurant by various celebrity chefs.

The decision-making process was an eye-opening insight – the things we were taking into consideration often had little or nothing to do with the quality of the writing (about which we knew nothing anyway).  Who were the potential readers?  Had this been done before?  Was the subject likely to be interesting to enough people?  We really felt as if we had walked at least a short way in the publishers’ shoes.

Over the course of the weekend, many of the speakers noted how important it was for authors to have a strong social media following.  The more followers, the more likely the publication deal.  Essentially, this makes marketing much easier for the publisher – they don’t have to start from scratch. But while some publishers might help with social media, it really is up to the author to make it happen, and to keep it happening.  Penguin Random House, for example, publishes around 100 books every month.  I know because the Penguin Random House marketing person, Eva Bui, spoke to us too.  There is a limit to how much assistance they can provide any author, let alone an unknown first-timer.

This led to many coffee break conversations about how best to balance the need for an online presence with the need to spend time actually writing.  It was easy to imagine that sometimes an online presence (with plenty of followers) outweighed the need for excellent prose.  Perhaps sometimes it does.  But our final presenter, the renowned former agent Mary Cunnane, put our minds at ease on that score: the excellence of the writing is key.  Ok, so no pressure then…

More from Ms Cunnane in a future post – stay tuned!

Perhaps some of the above information seems self-evident but it’s only a summary based on my rough notes.  In reality the level of detail that each presenter provided was fascinating and useful.

I’ve written before about the HARDCOPY program:

Once again my grateful thanks to Nigel Featherstone and the team at the ACT Writers Centre for making the magic happen.

Acknowledgments
The ACT Writers Centre is supported by the ACT Government.  HARDCOPY has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

 

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14 responses »

  1. Thanks Gail. I was thinking of you this week. Mrs Plover and her eggs have gone, without a trace. Perhaps a fox? Mr Plover is still around though (well, I’m presuming it’s Mr Plover). I do hope he manages console himself with a new Mrs Plover soon. All this nature stuff will do my head in!

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  2. Thank you for the blog Michelle, I missed the first day’s presentation which, from your blog, seems to have been very interesting and inspiring.

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    • Glad to be helpful Nick. I’ve not yet scanned and saved my handwritten notes but when I do, would you like me to send you a copy? They’re almost legible…! Also I do know Nicole is writing an article about the course for the ACT Writers Centre, and her notes are always very good. I’m sure she wouldn’t mind passing them on to you.

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  3. Interesting post Michelle.

    I liked the analysis of the publishers not just by content but by some values as well – positive underlying messages, important topics. I guess this is particularly likely to be true of smaller publishers.

    I was also interested in Peter Stanley’s 30 books with 20 publishers. That must make life complicated in all sorts of ways.

    And finally, I do feel for poor authors having to work so hard at maintaining a social media presence along with, presumably, still attending bookshop events, author talks etc.

    Thanks again for sharing (and, it was lovely meeting you!)

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    • It was really great meeting you too. At the end of the night I was hoarse from talking – fantastic! I suspect they key to online ‘success’ is simply only doing as much as you enjoy. If I were not a willing participant, or not enjoying having little conversations like this one, then I’d let it go.

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