Wednesday 31 December 2008

More News from a New Publisher

Well, I’ve just formally taken on a publicist, on a profit-share basis. We never make a loss on our books. The authors get 50-60% the profit pro rata between them. We’re giving the publicist 20% of the profit.

One of the big problems for small independent publishers is marketing. We don’t have the connection that the big guys have. We perhaps don’t have the power. But we do have a quality product and we need other people to see that. We need to tap into the six handshake idea. We all know 250 people who all know 250 people which means we’re just six steps away form anyone else. Question is: can we persuade the 250 people we know to buy our book and recommend to the 250 people they know. Of course, the system does fall down a little anyway because some of the 250 people I know are the same as some of the 250 people you know.

I’ve given the new free-lance publicist a to-do list. There’s a clear month for research as there won’t be a lot to do until the end of this month. Then we’re ready to roll again, hopefully, on the two summer publications.

We’re also planning a Writer’s retreat. A weekend, concentrating on the Short Story – especially for writing for the Bridge House Publishing Anthologies.

And there is one definite advantage about being a small publisher – we don’t have the overheads.

It seems like a good start to 2009 to me.

Tuesday 30 December 2008

Producing books

It is actually so easy with something like Lightning Source around. You can produce a very professional-looking books quite easily. The distribution then becomes the most difficult factor, but even this is more a matter of visibility than anything else. Produce a good quality book and it will find its own customers. Word of mouth, in the end, is the most powerful tool.

Some of us too have been talking about the demise of the book and the possible demise of places like Waterstones. I think it may be no bad thing if a monopoly like that disappeared. It leaves way for the small independents again. And if they get the ebook-reader right, it could be a real boon.

Our publishing venture is sort of cash flow protected. We don’t give royalties until the book is in profit and then the royalties we give are very generous ones – the authors get 60% of the profits. We’re pretty well cash-flow protected, though I do risk, especially with bookshops, ordering up-front. However, I shill only do that if I have the cash in hand. Otherwise, people just have to wait. Interestingly, I’ve never made anybody wait yet.

I’m feeling at a slight loss at the moment, because I don’t actually have a book in production right now.

Friday 26 December 2008

Story-time and Hibernation

I am still an absolute sucker for this time of year. I love all those old films – most of them with a story of good overcoming evil. The Santa Clause II got me yesterday. And wasn’t that a bit like the fight in Heaven between Lucifer and Michael? The substitute Santa tries to take over. He gets up a Nazi-like army of life-size toy soldiers. In the end, love conquers all. Then there was Lassie, last week – and broadcast several times since on several different channels - Miracle on 34th Street. We’ve recorded and will be recording several more. There’s The Railway Children and The Chronicles of Narnia this afternoon for instance.

There is something definitely magical about this time of year. For me, it is always a time to catch up on some reading as well. The days are very short. It can be cold and unwise to travel. So you stay in, keep warm and feed yourself both physically and spiritually.

Our northern hemisphere is tilting back towards the sun now. That often brings brighter but colder weather. They had promised us mainly cloud for today. Yet this morning it has been sunny and bright. Cold, but with the temperature rapidly rising. A time for looking with optimism towards the future. And perhaps we visualise it well because of the stories on which we feed our spirit.

Wednesday 24 December 2008

Editing the Ghost Stories

Yesterday I finished the other two Ordsall Hall Ghost Stories. It still seems right to do them from the points of view of the ghosts. Gosh – I hope I don’t upset anybody. The final two were about a disturbed ghost looking for his dog and how the spirits of the Hall supported someone there who was standing near to death.

I read them out loud to my husband. He wasn’t too scared. But what I noticed, of course, was all the editing that I still need to do. I’ve repeated ideas across the stories and really, although they’re five separate stories, they will probably be read at a sitting. I’ve even got the idea that if they’re not used after all for the event for which they were commissioned, I’d put them together to make one story which ends in a real haunting.

It does just show, again, how important it is to read aloud as the final edit. There are just some things you don’t notice when you read silently. I spotted a couple of copy editing matters as well. I think reading aloud makes you read more slowly, so you notice typos and grammatical mistakes, but also any awkward syntax.

So, now I go back to them to twiddle.

Tuesday 23 December 2008

Procrastination at the Desktop

I’ve decided, holidays or not, I’ll write my 2,000 words a day. But first… I’ll just have a little peek at my emails. I haven’t checked them at all today. You never know, there just might be something really important. Guess what. There was. Someone claims to have paid at last a HUGE some of money I’m owed. I’ll need to check it out later. I hate looking at my bank accounts. They’re always depressing. There’s always less there than I think – even when huge amounts like that go in.

But what’s this? A Jacquie Lawson card? I must play it a couple of times. They’re such beautiful creatures. Did I spell Jacquie right? Better check it again … and I think I’d just like to play the card one more time.

And while I think about it, I’d better send a card out myself to some of my writer friends. I put it off and put it off because it’s a little tedious loading all the addresses in. But it’s great fun playing all the new ones and some of the old ones in order to chose the one which best suits the group.

Eventually I get down to work. But every so often the computer tells me I have an email. I can’t resist checking. Many of them are saying that my friends have picked up their cards. In some cases they reciprocated with another card - Jacquie Lawson or otherwise. They have to be played and if they’re Jacquie Lawson, at least twice.

Later I read the recommendations of another writer. “Don’t work on the computer where you have email – don’t even work in the same room as where you have email.”

She may be right. On the other hand, I find the odd interruption welcome. It gives me a break when I probably need one but haven’t noticed. And it stops the whole lot of cyber correspondence piling up into an unmanageable heap.

Monday 22 December 2008

Artist’s Treat, Chinese Food and Turkish Delight

I do claim that privilege for having a birthday so near Christmas. I will not work on that day – other than perhaps some writing. And I do claim it as a day when I can do what I want to do.

So, I took a day long Artist’s Treat.

It started off with getting up slowly and reading in bed. I’m still on Singing for Mrs Pettigrew and it just gets better and better.

Then Martin and I went to the Lowry on the tram. We looked at the exhibition of his paintings. I now know many of the places which he painted and plenty of his scenes were very familiar. I now teach at the “Technical College” from where he painted many of his scenes. These days it’s called the University of Salford.

We did a little shopping at the Lowry Outlet Centre – saving at least 30% on some M & S goods. We found the gorgeous costermonger I found the other day after the Five Gold Rings workshop. I bought a selection of olives and pickled garlic from him, that day. They weren’t cheap, but they were gorgeous. He’s almost out of the olives now, but still has plenty of the Turkish Delight which was the other attraction.

We found a restaurant doing a Chinese buffet. It was good enough.

Then, back into town on the tram. We wandered around what was left of the Christmas markets and it was still cheery enough. We found some bargain cake and Lebkuchen – the Nuremberg sort – because they all go home tomorrow.

I also managed to take a photo of where I fell the other day. The pavement was indeed very uneven. But can I be bothered to pursue a claim?

Last stop was Druckers. Fantastic cake and drinks Sadly, I daren’t drink coffee so late in the day. But if you don’t know Druckers, you should get to know it. And it might help if you also know that it all started as a family business, started by Albert Drucker who was a Viennese Jew who came over to avoid the Nazis. We knew him when he was starting out. His first shop was in a suburb of Birmingham, the second in the middle of town and the third in out own West Bromwich. It now feels disloyal to go anywhere else.

A nice day. A day that left thinking space. A lot of the time I was reflecting on how I want to live my life. Mort of my time does have to go to writing. Hence writing now. But that is partly what Artist’s Treats are about. It’s a time of doing nothing, a time of just being. And the ideas creep in while you’re not looking.

Sunday 21 December 2008

Jobbing Writing

I talked at length about this yesterday with my students. It is perfectly possible to make a living as a writer, love writing and still end up hating your work. You may be spending your time writing one thing when you’d rather be writing something else.

However, even when we get the dream commission, we have to write to the market. And it is indeed rare that any book gets past a skilled editor completely intact, and you wouldn’t really want a less skilled editor. There’s always some more tinkering to do according to somebody else’s will.

I’m probably grumpy about this at the moment because I’m writing something which is a little tedious. It’s a non-fiction book, a resource for teachers, in fact, and has to be in very plain English – with some French thrown in, and has repetitive patterns. And it is about something I believe in passionately.

I’m just at that point a little over half way through, where you still feel as if you’ve got a lot left to do. Plus I fell over the other day – tripped over thin air in fact –and now have a really colourful eye and a few sore parts elsewhere, all of which takes the edge off life . Plus having to explain to everyone what happened is another pain.

Then the magic kicks in, despite everything. You become absorbed in the work. It comes out well. You don’t want to stop when it’s time to go and do something else. You do have the self-discipline to get down to the work despite yourself, but it helps knowing that it will always work.

That, I guess, is jobbing writing.

Excellence in Writing

I think that is my bottom line. I am here to become the best writer I can ever possibly be. Anything else I do is really a distraction. I don’t think, though, that means writing solidly all the time. I definitely slow down after two hours / 2,000 words. I’m not sure I could actually do more in any one day. Work smarter, not harder has to be the answer.

Just how exactly does one do that in writing? Is it perhaps a matter of studying techniques more? More reading? More reading about what other writer have done? I lap that up anyway, don’t I? Full time.

Maybe it’s a matter of more focus. Well, I’ve certainly decided to do that. I have a day job which recognises my time as a writer and actually pays me in part for just being me. I’m very privileged and I’ll never forget that. I suppose I’ve earned it, but it didn’t feel all that tough, but when I look back, I realise I’ve come a long way. But there’s always further to go.

I’m currently reading Michael Morpurgo’s Singing for Mrs Pettigrew. It’s a collection of short stories, interspersed with details about how he came to write the stories. It almost seems like a book for children’s writers rather than a book for children. But it is, nevertheless, a book of excellent writing. Something definitely to aspire to.

Friday 12 December 2008

Writer's Research

All sorts of things contribute to a writer’s research. Take this morning for instance. I took my usual trip into Radcliffe to pay cheques into the bank. I also picked up my father’s prescription from the doctor’s and took it to the pharmacy to have it put up. It would take twenty minutes. Time, then, also for a wander around the market and a coffee and book a hairdresser’s appointment.

I went to the black and white café. It’s clean. It’s smart. They do the normal range of coffees, but a little cheaper that Starbucks or Costa. The waitress, Radcliffe friendly as usual, dropped my biscuit and got me another. She showed me to a bench seat which could have seated two, but not four and the view to the square was enchanting. The window framed it and its clock and bandstand complied with the golden segment.

“I like your decorations,” I said.

The Christmas tree, and the black and white ornaments hanging from it and the ceiling went well with the rest of the décor and the view outside.

“I had to fight to get that one,” said the waitress (manageress? owner?)

I won’t tell the rest of the story. That’s one to be developed later, but it will be a good read.

See, all sorts of things count as writerly research.

Thursday 11 December 2008


It’s such a welcome, the ugly sixties building with a view to the Pennines. You see, it’s only ugly form the outside. Being inside looking out is fine. And the Costa outlet provides the smell of cooking breakfasts at 8.45 in the morning. It is truly an affirmation that I survived the journey, despite ice on the car and traffic on the road. Not only have I survived it, I’ve enjoyed it too. The beautiful houses, the winding river, the skyscape, forgrounded by the top heavy Hilton and Classic FM on the radio.
I literally bounce up the stairs. I love my work, even though it’s never done and even when a thing is finished, it has generally taken more time that I’d thought it would.
I know I will walk through the door, turn on my computer, log on, go to the mailroom and check my post whilst my settings are loading, then come back and check my email. Nothing is a threat, all is fun, and all leads to job satisfaction.
Much of my day will be spent in writing or talking to colleagues or students about writing and with a bit of luck, a wing and a prayer, I’ll get my daily quota of writing done. What could be better than that?

Friday 5 December 2008

Becoming a Publisher

That’s it, then. I’ve bitten the bullet. I am officially a publisher. I’ve been so pleased with Making Changes that I’m going to go for several more anthologies. The call for submission has gone out to my “Making Changes” authors. Over the next few days, I shall be getting it out to as many places as I can think of. I’m planning two more Christmas ones, making a CD of the first anthology, two summer ones, two autumn ones and two non-seasonal ones. I’m really hoping I can get one of my authors to work full time. This would mean making a profit of over £33,000. But with one book we’re taking about £1,000 per month. If we make several books, are we just spreading ourselves too thinly? Or will one book sell another?

It’s work I’m really glad to do. There is something exciting about producing a book. I could do it forever.

I wonder whether we’ll ever get round to publishing full length novels?

Tuesday 2 December 2008

Making Changes and the Creative Café

Yesterday was the first day of our “Advent Calendar of Short Stories” – Making Changes. I read part of it at the Angel Café, Salford. There was an audience of about fifteen, which felt all right. Half were from the university. Half were from the café culture. I sold a couple of books as well. There was a nice atmosphere in there. It really is the right sort of place to make into a creative café.

There is also something incredibly satisfying about reading the anthology the way it was meant to be handled. A story a day keeps the doctor away. I think that works.

Monday 1 December 2008

Writing Ghost Stories

I’ve been asked to write some ghost stories. This was quite a joy, or so it seemed at first. I found myself sitting in a café in Radcliffe, writing about the ghosts of Ordsall Hall, Ordsall, Salford. It is said to be the most haunted house in Britain.
Anyway, there I was, writing about the ghost of one Margaret Radclyffe. It felt quite right. There must be a connection between her and the town where I now live.
I’ve five stories to write. I’ve completed three, all from the point of view of the ghost. Two are even first person. One is a child and one is a man looking for his dog. Even the dog has a ghost. I have done the child – that is close third person. The man and the dog will be one story – close third person. Then I must tell how the spirits of the hall supported a friend and made her seem transparent.
I believe I have told the stories well, but are they the truth and will the ghosts be angry if they are not?