Friday 26 February 2010

100 Stories for Haiti - a publisher's perspective

An extraordinary chain of events lead us to becoming the publishers of this rather amazing volume. Three of the four partners are also writers, two of them seriously so. And somehow, we can’t actually remember how, but no doubt as a result of the usual networking we all have to do, we learnt about Greg McQueen’s project and two of us submitted stories.
Then we followed the project. It just happened to be one of those days when I was feeling bold and cheeky. You know the sort of mood you have to be in to phone an agent or editor rather than hide meekly behind email or snailmail? I was feeling like that when I read that there was going to be a paperback edition BUT that it was only going to be sold on-line.
Ah, so no ISBN I thought. If you issue an ISBN and bother to register with Nielsen’s – well you have to really – at some point a bookseller – including our lovely friend Amazon - will want to order it.
Greg confirmed that the hard copy would have an ISBN and I found myself offering to distribute on behalf of the original publisher, also a small indie like us, and wondering what our very efficient administrator was going to say about the amount of work that might come her way.
Of course, we’re encouraging everyone to buy direct from us as more then goes to Haiti. But a presence in online book stores is welcome. There are also just a few people who would rather order through their local bookshop, and the book will still make a profit, albeit tiny.
Then on the 5 February Greg was desperately trying to get hold of me. Bridge House was at the time extremely busy – we were doing some important work for our own charity book and we were also holding our AGM.
He got us eventually The other publisher had had to pull out.
Could we help? Could we heck? Of course we would. Bridge House loves a challenge.
Bridge House normally operates on a profit share with the authors. The authors get 50% of any profit. The partners and the company get the rest. We haven’t actually paid ourselves anything since we became a partnership almost exactly a year ago. We did get a free lunch once, I think. We have made a profit, but we’re leaving the money in our bank account to aid cash flow. Normally we need to sell about 150 books before we start making any profit on a particular title. However, this allows for a commissioned cover for which we pay £250 – a little under the going rate and our artists are wonderful in that they will wait until the book covers the cost before we have to pay them, though we’ll often pay them out of what is actually the company’s or partners’ but never the authors’ profit. We’ve always got it back – eventually. In the case of 100 Stories for Haiti we didn’t have to pay for a cover as Greg had a basic design and out technical designer was able to tease it and the inside of the book into shape. No one at Bridge House or in Greg’s team are taking a penny from this venture.
We didn’t have to do much editorial work at this point – probably only what I’d call third level – copy edit and design matters as well as getting the script into house style. There was probably no first level editing – reshaping of stories, strengthening of characters, restructuring, adding and subtracting scenes, changing pace and drama. The stories which had faults in those areas had probably been weeded out by Greg’s team of reader / editors before they came our way. The second level of editing - checking the flow, seeing that characters were consistent, making sure it all made sense, making sure no one had left in darlings that needed killing had all been done and the script for the whole book had been put together by Amy Burns, an independent editor. She also worked completely for free.
The script arrived with us on about the 8th of February. It was not quite as ready for the designer as scripts are when the editorial team at Bridge House pass them on but it wasn’t far off. It is our designer, Martin James, aka my husband, who did most of the work. Proof reading of the PDF was assigned to Greg’s team, though Martin also skimmed the script as he does have an eye for these things. I kept my eye on the total process, and Nicola, our administrator, set up a logical system for taking payment and making sure plenty of profit could be made for Haiti. She’s also made sure we are completely transparent and is sharing information with the Red Cross and Debz and Ollie, our two publicists, gave a light touch to the marketing – they have to devote some of their time to our other projects – though as Debz and I are also published in the book, we are making the usual Bridge House effort that all of our authors make to get our books out there. And there are a few more names on that amazing cover that are already familiar to Bridge House. They all know how to make books sell. Ollie has been great at getting the wording exactly right for our point of sale copy.
We managed to be able to load the bibliographic date up to Nielsens by the 14 February, lunch time, and later that day the camera-ready cover and script were uploaded to our printer. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Normally we have a proof copy within about four days, sometime less.
We were partly a victim of our own haste. We’ve learnt with our printer to say the book is released the day we upload it. Having just indicated 4 March as publishing date with Nielsens, we repeated it. So it took a couple of phone calls to kick start them. Then there were problems with the cover. It wouldn’t bleed correctly and they couldn’t balance the white space around the top and bottom properly. Also, we were getting unwanted white space on the lefthand side of the back cover. We’re into quantum physics and relativity now. Even though the measurements are exactly the same to fractions of a millimetre on our two dimensional PDF as on their three dimensional proof copy the cover just wouldn’t look the same. The design team at the printers had to make an adjustment.
We never phone the printers. We had to this time, and we have to take thank to Kelly Guy who nursed the whole project through and kept everybody on the ball. She must have felt as if we were constantly nagging her. I’m pleased to say the first print run is now running.
There is one great advantage of being the founder of a publishing company. The first three books I did completely on my own though always Martin designed them. Another time I’ll give you the full Bridge House story. But more especially because I’m married to the designer I get to see the proof copy. So, I now have 100 Stories for Haiti right by me on my desk as I type. It feels and looks lovely. I’ve already read up to the end of The Beautiful Game. So far so good. Damn good read apart from anything else. I’m so glad I got involved in this project.
You want to do something. But I’d be no good at digging through rubble or helping the people who no longer have a roof over their heads. There are others who can do that sort of thing better than I can. And sure, I can put my hand in my pocket and pull out a fiver. But that won’t go far. I can write and I know how to get a book out fast. That might be the best I can offer. See 100 Stories for Haiti 
How to buy the book Bridge House and The Red Telephone

Tuesday 23 February 2010

Alan Gibbons at Salford University - Vital Signs

It was such good fun having Alan with us at the University of Salford yesterday. It all started well with me meeting him at the Salford Museum, and Art Gallery. I’d been a little worried, so I’d looked out for him trying to park. I know a trick or two …. And I’d been prepared to show him the way. However, there was no sign of him in the queue for the car park so I made my way over to the museum. He was there already. Had been for all of two minutes. And I needn’t have worried about the car park. He’d sweet-talked one of our security guards and parked on the inner-campus. Would you believe it?
Alan knows Salford – he lived there for a while. He also knows white working class so he’s really at home here. He’s quite local, having been born in Warrington, brought up in Crewe and now living in Liverpool. Naturally, we had the hotpot for lunch – with the red cabbage of course.
He’s an experienced speaker, but nevertheless seemed anxious to get to the venue early so we set off for our Chapman Gallery. My turn to be nervous now. Would there be a respectable audience? I’d invited everybody I could think of. At a similar reading last week we ran out of chairs. The gallery really is a gallery and for both talks we were surrounded by these intriguing if rather macabre puppets, part of the current exhibition. They did add to the atmosphere, somehow.
Time to start – there were just twelve there – but a respectable audience nevertheless.
Alan talked for about twenty-five minutes and read a couple of passages from two of his books. He told us all about getting the Blue Peter Award for Shadow of the Mintaur. He also told us how he came to write. Another teacher making up stories for his class. A really interesting talk.
Then it was question time. I had some questions prepared but didn’t need them. The students asked enough.
All of them trooped over to our other campus and were joined by half a dozen more. They were in our rather smart Mary Seacole building. It always seems miles away because you have to actually cross the railway tracks but it really only takes a few minutes to walk between the two. I had to go off in another direction and deliver a lecture but I did rejoin them for the end of the workshop. The discussion was still lively and the students had pages of notes in front of them.
After another half hour or so we were trooping back across the railway line – and still talking about stories and writing for children and young adults.
A successful visit, I think.

Friday 19 February 2010

Learning to Write

It’s good occasionally to have news about your students – the sort of news that makes you think you are doing the right thing. A colleague mentioned that she had some of the students from a course I ran last year in her class. “No, you’ve got the age wrong there,” one of them had said. They had apparently learnt something last year.
We had our external examiner here this week. He recognised a certain maturity in our programme. We do have a good balance of expertise and research areas – two different sorts of poetry, two different sorts of fiction though with some overlap and some experience in playwriting, writing for radio and screenwriting. We can also “buy in” screenwriting from another school. In addition, we know each other well and there is a lot of respect for each other’s work – even where we don’t understand it. We are clear on our assessment areas and procedures and we are proud of our Final Portfolio sessions. They are probably our trademark.
I think we have a healthy and varied programme on offer. A general introduction to several genres in the first year, and we can all pretty well teach any bit of it, though I tend to do the life writing and the fiction, and more appropriate people the poetry and script-writing. In the second and third year, we teach to our specialisms. In the final year we also supervise projects in small groups – our flagship Final Portfolio. It does seem so very appropriate for us to teach towards our specialisms.
And occasionally we get feedback that we are doing the right thing.

Thursday 18 February 2010

Five Plot Points

My students and I have been looking at the Young Adult Novel as a Bildungsroman. We have tried to establish how the protagonist grows in each novel. We looked at the five most significant events in each story. I’ve asked them for “homework” to identify the scene they will find most difficult to write and the scene they will find easiest to write. They should write one for next week.
Often there will of course be more than five plot points, but in the world of “plot pyramids” five can be a point of balance. Three “growing complications” and then a crisis and a resolution. The climax fills that gap between the crisis and the resolution; this is where the excitement comes in.
They are beginning to see stories. They are starting to use these tools. I think the stories this year are going to be as exciting as the ones we saw last year.

Monday 15 February 2010

The Read Aloud Edit

Yes, I’ve been doing this with Babel and in one day got almost half way through it. It can of course make you throat very dry. It made my eyes go funny. But it is incredibly worth it. You notice so much more than when you read silently, for example:
  • missing punctuation
  • superfluous punctuation
  • misspellings
  • words missed out
  • words added in
  • clunky language
  • repetitions
  • lack of continuity between paragraphs
  • ugly language
  • darlings that still haven’t been killed
  • overall flow
There is only one more edit after that – the copy edit, and in fact the reading out loud one partly does that anyway.

Friday 12 February 2010

Writing Novels for Young People

I really enjoyed my session yesterday with this group. They are a Level 6 (second year) group of very motivated students. We are in our second week. Last week’s task was to create two characters, one of them the main character of the proposed novel and one of them the friend, the mentor or the enemy. They have to really know their characters well – physically, intellectually, spiritually, emotionally and they must also know the motivation that this character has in the story they have created. I was pleased that although not all that many students had written their scene, they had given considerable thought to the characters they had created. There was also some discussion about the characters needing to be rounded. Rounded and whole.
We then looked at several story theories. The first thing they need to do is put their story into a sentence – two lines maximum. Then they need to give their story a shape. The Robert McKee structure is a good starter: inciting incident, growing complexities, crisis, climax, reversal resolution (epilogue). Then they can look at other complexities- Freytag’s or Melrose’s, or my own plot pyramid. There are also the various hero’s journey theories Joseph Campbell, Vladimir Propp and Christopher Vogler. Add in also a handful of Jungian archetypes.
We discussed the character and the plot shapes in their set books.
They’ve been sent away to write their opening scene and work out their plot. I have great hopes for next week.

Wednesday 10 February 2010

Hot News - Bridge House, Richard Adams, 100 Stories for Haiti

Hot News
What a weekend!
Friday was a great day. My research day. A day when I can stay at home and mainly write. Other days, when I have the time, I rarely have the energy or the brain space.
So, Friday was great and was going to get even better: my friend Debz, publicist and editor at Bridge House was coming for the weekend and we would be having a partners’ meeting that evening and would be travelling to Whitchurch in Hampshire the next morning to meet Richard Adams and finalise some details for his contribution to our anthology Gentle Footprints.
But then the phone started ringing. It was Greg McQueen. Or rather it was Debz telling me that Greg had been trying to get hold of me. I eventually managed to speak to him. His original publisher for 100 Stories for Haiti had had to drop out. I had been in contact because I found it odd that the books would not be sold in bookshops – even though the book would have an ISBN.
Well, it suddenly became the first item on the partners’ agenda. And we agreed to do it. Martin, our designer, is now rapidly putting the book together and we’re launching on 4 March.
The partners’ meeting was magic. Four partners now, probably. We have such plans. Bridge House is blossoming and taking off. Watch our spaces.
The meeting with Richard Adams was even more magical. “So, are you going to include my story?” he asked, almost as nervous as a first time writer. What does he think! This is the man who disrupted my PGCE year with the publication of Watership Down - we were all reading it instead of getting on with our work. And that book is still selling as well as it was just three years after it came out. What a question!
Having my good friend Debz for company for a couple of days was another bonus.
What a way to go!

Friday 5 February 2010

Postscript Coping with Rejections

Walking For Water Here it is now:

Coping with Rejection

Coping with Rejection
I once read of a mid-list writer who seemed to be living the life that many of us dream of. She writes in the mornings then does marketing in the afternoons. This includes giving talks to groups. She also has a family life and a dog she walks to give her thinking time - and she still gets rejections. She calls them rewrites. A healthy attitude, I think.
Rejections cause huge emotional upheavals no matter how used you are to them. I don’t just mean the initial rejection. There’s also the editing process and then the reviews afterwards. At that point, you can’t rewrite. You can learn lessons for next time, though. And don’t we learn all the time? In my case to the extent that I can hardly look at work once it’s published. My own words can make me cringe because I’m so much a better writer now than I was when I last tinkered with the piece.
I’m absolutely furious about a recent rejection – so furious that I’ve almost got the voodoo doll and the pins out. In fact it isn’t even a rejection – the editor has not had the courtesy to let me know. My own publishing company does not behave that way. We accept unsolicited and we look at every single one. We let every single author know.
Yet even this time there is a quite creative solution: I’ve submitted it elsewhere. Immediately. I’ll actually know later today whether that submission has been accepted or not. If it is, I’ll market it furiously. The anger can be useful. It sharpens the determination.
What would I advise?
Don’t be too reasonable about the anger. It’s useful energy. But try and get some distance from your text before you actually react. Revisit the text anyway – even if you’ve not had constructive criticism. Send it out again. Keep your ear to the ground. Look for the opportunities. Spend a long time on your own craft. But above all, remember the joy.

Wednesday 3 February 2010

Blog Experiment Started

I set up the blog experiment with our MA group yesterday. We’re using Blogger despite the current problems. Blogger is really such an easy platform to use – despite the pesky way it won’t let you copy and paste Word documents any more. We’re tying it up with something we do later. The scenario is that we are aliens on a tour to earth and are finding everything strange. It will be interesting to see how far we can push that.
Students are also getting familiar with the way this blogging platform works, the way we create a fictional blog, how we can use Web 2.00 to promote our work and even to publish our work.  
Within the scope of the fiction we’re creating, we’re really trying to see our own lives objectively. Later in the semester we’ll be working on creating a new world. There are considerable difficulties in getting beyond our own. It’s almost as difficult as imagining a colour you’ve never seen before.  

Tuesday 2 February 2010

Web 2.00

I’m delivering an MA session this evening. We are looking at some more forms of writing. – using blogs, Twitter and Second Life. I obviously use blogs myself. But I’m not just talking about what I’m doing right now. I mean fictional blogs, where you actually try to create a story through a blog. www.blogger.comThere are also applications for this in Second Life and on You can also tweet about the blog and take it into Second Life .
These work really well also for collaborative projects.
These three platforms also are good for your networking in your life as a writer. You can post about events and books coming out. You can add your collected wisdom to the various debates.
In the end, they’re also about ways of being published. There are lots of opportunities for making your voice heard. There is little quality control however. Some good material fails to rise to the top of the pile. Some poor material does because the focus has been on promotion and marketing rather than quality.
At least, though you can get your work out there. You can even earn money for it if you go to sites with advertising or get your own AdSense account. It’s only a trickle, but rivers grow from collections of trickles.