This was a great day. I’ve been to ‘meet the publisher/editor/agent’ before but this all-in-one session, featuring the DELIGHTFUL and COHESIVE and FUN team at Fremantle Press, was a joy to watch and listen to.
MEET THE PRESS
‘Narrated’ by author Deb Fitzpatrick, we ran through the stages of publication, from manuscript submission to sales and distribution at the end. Each of the Press’s team spoke about their area, and it was a really helpful and whole-view treatment of what it means to submit a manuscript to a press like Fremantle, and what happens to it after that, if it makes it through the process.
To my notes:
Fremantle Press was established 1976 and has published more than 700 books.
First up was Wendy Jenkins, editor. Wendy is at the first stage of the process and she goes through the MS submissions after they arrive at the publisher. She selects potentials out of the 500 subs they receive a year, 25% of which are fiction. The press publishes approximately 6 novels a year, including the current authors on their list.
Wendy said a writer submitting needs to ask herself two questions:
1. is this the best MS I can submit at this time?
2. is this the right publishing house for my MS?
The process takes about 3 months for them to get back to you. They will look at (for fiction) 30K of text (see submission details here on their website.)
What they look for: talent is ‘not enough; talent needs to be in contact with its material and “intention” ‘ They want ‘something that keeps the reader engaged, “authority” – you trust the writer and want to keep reading.’ Like all publishers these days it seems, there is less and less time for them to devote to MS development so it really needs to be the best it can be beforehand, to get it over the line.
Next was Georgia Richter, to talk about what happens after a MS is passed on to her by Wendy. (I was lucky enough to meet Georgia at the opening party that night, as I was with one of the FP authors, Sarah Drummond. Needless to say, Georgia was lovely.) She said they look for MSS that are seeking to make a connection with the reader and where the writer is in control. Most editing is done in-house, and they need to feel excited and connected to the work. There will be a pitch meeting, at which the editor presents to the team a preliminary budget and other supporting material, effectively championing the work. The team needs to be convinced there is a market for the book, and that FP is the right publisher for it. If they want the MS, they contact the writer to either resubmit with more work done, or proceed to contract.
Royalties range 10 – 25% depending on whether print or e. Twelve to eighteen months after contract signed, the book appears. After the contract is signed, editing begins.
Next we heard from editor Cate Sutherland (I think, apologies if I got that wrong, missed her name in my notes) to talk about the editing process. She was very reassuring, saying that if the editing is feeling a bit ‘tricky’ (especially if it’s a first-time author who is struggling with the idea of their precious work being ‘pulled apart’) it’s important to remember that the publisher is taking it on because they love it and they want to make it the best it can be. It’s an opportunity to discuss your work to great detail with someone who is also very interested (there’ll be no glazing over of eyes, as boredom sets in on the face of your partner, for example, or mother.)
Two levels of edit:
1. the structural edit
2. the copy edit
The editor is the perfect first reader. It’s the chance to get things as best as they can be. You can’t sit with readers later and explain: ‘oh what I meant there was…’
Structural edits can take a long time, from one month to a year or more. Generally for the structural edit, one editor will do it. Stage 2 (copy edits) is much simpler, and may involve a couple of eds or a freelancer.
At the end of it, hopefully it’s as ‘strongly built, problem free and sparkling clean’ as it’s ever going to be.
Up next was designer and art director Ally Crimp to talk about the cover. The first question to be considered is: who is the audience and what will appeal to them? FP encourages local designers and artists to submit art as well.
Naama Amram spoke next about the production stage, and for some reason I don’t have any notes even though I remember being really impressed with her. Huh. She showed us how proofs look and how mock-ups are made.
Then Claire Miller talked about media and promotions. Claire told us a story, with headings, which was fantastic.
‘Getting to Know You’
As an author, the crucial thing to selling your book, said Claire, is spending time with your publicist. She uses an author questionnaire, she reads the book, sits down with the writers, does her own private googling/stalking. She asks what your take on your book is. Who is your audience? And very importantly, what are your boundaries, fears and concerns. She emphasised it’s important to keep it simple: What is the thing you’d most like people to remember about you? AND what is the one thing you’d least like people to know about you?
‘Match Made in Heaven’
Next Claire looks for an audience and champions. Who is a person who has influence in that area and who is going to like this book? This person or people become a ‘key target’ – it might be a journalist, a book or other blogger, a reader, a bookseller. It’s finding these ambassadors that is key. This ‘match-making’ stage of publishing is where Claire spends most time and it’s behind the scenes, so the author doesn’t see a lot of it.
‘Making the Most of It’
Claire said ‘we can get opportunities for you, but what you make of them is up to you.’ She mentioned radio and blog interviews, extracts in publications, a column, a ‘performance’ (ie readings). Every chance or opportunity to promote your book, an author should take it. Treat it as the one change you’ll ever get, and work out what you really want to say about it.
Finally, we had Clive Newman to talk about sales and distribution. (Penguin does distribution for Fremantle Press.) Clive said it doesn’t matter how good a book is, if you can’t sell it all effort is wasted. FP is consistently in the top 20 publishers, and is always on the lookout for wider networks. Clive seemed very well-connected, goes to the Frankfurt Book Fair annually, and said that last year there were 8400 publishers represented. He said the US market is one of the hardest to crack, even though they speak English [audience chortles here.] He also said the life of a book in a library is much longer usually than in a bookshop.
To wrap up, we had Deb Fitzpatrick say a few words. She said one of the hardest things for each book is working out how to describe it in ‘sound bites.’ (And I agree. For anyone who’s written a novel, answering the question ‘what’s it about?’ in EITHER sound bites or long turgid droning speech is near impossible.) Deb suggested picking out one or two themes – no more – that will spark interest in other people. This is good advice. She also practices out loud – ‘hearing the words you speak is helpful.’ This is also good advice.
On public appearances, Deb said that how you come across and present your book as an entity, it is a performance. You need to be prepared for interviews on a regional, state and national level. Written interviews. Radio. Fan mail – she always replies because ‘without a reader, my book has no life.’
Panel response to audience questions:
– FP is ‘very open’ to seeing poetry MSS
– on the question of submitting short stories, they want to see 30K words, to ‘see how it might come together’ (so, presumably, a writer would need to submit 30,000 words of a collection I suppose.)
– on sales: if we go past 3K sold, ‘we relax’. It’s a ‘very, very tough market’, and even the big publishers have a relax point’ of 2.5 – 3K.
– on multiple subs, it’s ok, people do it but let them know (it’s courteous)
Coming tomorrow: Day 1, Session 2 – Lost in the Amazon.
Given the range of print and digital publication options available today, which is the best medium for your book? With Aviva Tuffield (publisher, Affirm Press), Michael Heyward (publisher, Text Publishing), Chris Allen (author, Momentum Books) and Terri-ann White (director, UWA Publishing).