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Bookish. Publisher at Louise Walters Books. Reader, writer, and editor. Working class gal.

Saturday, 10 November 2018

Fallible Justice launched!

On Wednesday 7th November we held the book launch party for Fallible Justice by Laura Laakso. Around 60 people attended and the atmosphere was friendly, relaxed and excited!

We were hosted by The Inn on the Park in St Albans, who did a great job. No hitches at all, and the staff on duty for the evening were helpful and efficient.

We had a cake, and what a stunner, created by Laura's friend Julie Green. Guests thought at first that it was a pile of hardbacks!

This is a cake, honestly!

We had a pop-up bookstall, and my clever and supportive husband ran that for me. We organised a card reader and a receipt machine and sold a total of 35 copies on the night. Amazing amount when you consider many of the guests had already bought a copy from my website bookshop. I thought if I sold 20 copies I'd be chuffed, so 35 was fab.

We had wine; and home made sausage rolls and vegetarian rolls, which smelled delicious while cooking. I didn't get one, but I did sneak home some slices of cake to share with my kids.

There were speeches - not a bad feat for a couple of introverts! The atmosphere was so friendly my nerves melted away as soon as I started talking. Then it was over to Laura who read beautifully from Fallible Justice. A friend of Laura's in Australia asked me to read out a message from him as a surprise for Laura. I practiced at home but it was too emotional and on the night I felt myself welling up, so my husband Ian stepped in and read it for me. (Blame the menopausal hormones!) It was a beautiful message and I don't think it was only Laura and me with damp eyes...

One of the best things was meeting so many of my "team". Jennie Rawlings who designs LWB covers; Alison Jack who is my go-to copy editor; Leigh Forbes was designs and typesets the interiors of my books; and another of my authors, Dominic Brownlow. It was so good to meet all these people and we had such a great time nattering that we decided we need another social. Soon! Watch this space...

L to R: Jennie Rawlings (covers), Dominic Brownlow (author), Leigh Forbes (interiors), Laura Laakso (author), Louise Walters (publisher), Alison Jack (copy editor)

Laura's mum was there too, all the way from Finland, and I think she was perhaps the proudest person in the room.

All in all it was a fantastic night. My first LWB book launch, and not my last I'm sure.

Writing and publishing a book is the best excuse for a knees-up. Can't wait for the next one!

Thursday, 1 November 2018

Fear of Flying and Other Things

Once again it's been too long since I last blogged! So long in fact I wonder if anybody will read this. No? Good. Then I can write honestly. Write (and dance) like no one is watching...

This year I've faced two of my biggest fears. I'm a deeply fearful person. It doesn't do any harm to admit that. I admire fearless people and I wish I was one, but I'm not.

In September I ran a workshop at the Festival of Writing in York, organised by Jericho Writers. It was my second time, as I first did this in 2017. To say I was nervous is an understatement. I've never been a fan of public speaking. School put me off for ever when we were forced to stand in front of a class and do a "presentation". For me that meant mumbling for a few minutes, feeling sick, deeply embarrassed and very hot. Fast forward thirty-five years and the feelings remain. Only this time, I admonished myself, I'm a GROWN UP and grown ups get on with it. So I did. My presentation was OK. Technical hitches beforehand threw me a little, and I didn't know how to turn up the volume on my film clips. (I discovered after the presentation that the volume knob was right in front of me.) One of my clips was the wrong one. But the presentation was OK, mostly, and I had good feedback from some of the people who sat through it! 

Also in September I finally faced a truly lifelong fear. I flew in an aeroplane for the first time. At the age of 50. Yes, FIFTY. Five-Oh. I know. I feel that too.

Over the years I had convinced myself I would never get on a plane. Then one day, back in the summer, a friend emailed me and asked if I fancied a trip to Lisbon. For free. For eight days, with our kids. Well, it was an amazing offer and too good to refuse. As the holiday grew nearer my head swam with all the dark possibilities. All the shit that could go down (mostly the kids and me, in a plane). But we rocked up at the airport, waved goodbye to my dear husband, and we boarded our flight. They were excited; just a little scared. I was terrified. 100%. I wanted to run away. I couldn't show my fear, so I smiled broadly and acted all like I was totally cool with it, and told the kids it would be fine. We got on the damn thing and then the engines fired up, we were speeding along the runway and then... up. Up in the air. It was incredible.

Belem, Lisbon, September 2018

OK, I didn't enjoy flying, much. But I did it, and now it's off my UN-FACED FEARS list. I feel bolder, braver, more confident and like a proper grown up. 

With one week to go until my first author's first novel is officially published, I'm feeling the fear again. The thing is, the fears feel the same as the fear of public speaking and fear of flying: what if I make a fool of myself? What if my wonderful author has put her faith in me as a publisher and I let her down? What if the book crashes and burns? What if I run out of cash (that really is the biggest fear of them all!) What if... what if what??

My cousin died of cancer a couple of years ago, at the age of forty-four. From that day I've vowed to LIVE what's left of my life. I'm pretty sure the public speaking, and the flying, and of course the publishing are "symptoms" of my new attitude to life. Fear has its place but I can no longer allow it to rule me, stifle me, and stop me from seeing and doing wonderful things.

LWB books

So, a week before publication, I wish Laura Laakso all the success she deserves. and boy does she deserve it. She's ten times the writer I will ever be, and then some.

Now, I'm off to write my introductory speech for the launch party. No sweat!


Thursday, 7 June 2018

"Cor, Louise, you swallowed a dictionary?"

I've been hearing a lot about working class writers recently. The term "working class" is broadly situated under the "diversity" banner. And that's fine; working class "voices" should be heard. But I wonder what exactly is meant by "working class"? And what precisely is a "working class" story? I've been pondering all this for some time, following the posts and comments online of writers like Kit de Waal and Kerry Hudson, fabulous writers both.

I'm working class. I was brought up with few aspirations; very little money; I rarely had new things, even at Christmas and on my birthday. Yet I lived in an old, detached house in a village (in fact, two houses in two villages; we moved when I was ten) in Oxfordshire: generally regarded as a pretty posh part of the world. But our house was damp, had no central heating, it was furnished with second-hand, tatty furniture. It was bought by my parents in the days when one wage could just about buy you a village property. My mum was a SAHM (stay at home mum -  most mums were in the 70s, as I recall) and we didn't exactly eat like kings. Mum had about three dishes in her repertoire, and a lot of white bread and marmite. We had no mod cons as they were called then - no dishwasher, no tumble drier, no washing machine. My clothes were bought in village jumble sales and I will never forget the humiliation when a fellow pupil at my village school recognised "her" pink dungarees. I denied they were hers, of course. But she knew and she gave me a hard time. She was working class too.

The one thing we did have, either from jumble sales or the library, was BOOKS. These were the saving grace of my childhood. I read a lot, and I read about characters who were nothing like me - I devoured stories about boarding schools; posh kids' school hols adventures; stuck-up orphans; middle class American families; upper class Victorian ghosts; I dreamed I was IN these stories. I wanted to be Katy Carr's sister; Joey Bettany's best friend; Anne's fellow girly friend, because George was too hopelessly boyish. I think it's often, but not always, a myth that people want to see "themselves" "represented" in books. I didn't. I wanted to escape, and imagine a different life for myself.

As a child, my reading made me a bit precocious, at least by my family's standards. I was asked by wider family members, more than once, "You swallowed a dictionary?" and I think, in many ways, that's precisely what I did. I lost myself in books, in the worlds created by authors. From a young age I wanted to be an author, but it would take me many years to admit that even to myself, let alone get on and become one (my first novel was published when I was forty-six).

My characters rarely live the impoverished life I once had. I've written about lonely middle class women; a reluctant aristocrat; a wealthy American play boy; I do tend to go for hard working women who "make something of themselves". But I think I write, always, through my working class filter. It's much, much easier for a poor person to imagine what it's like to be rich than for a rich person to imagine what it's like to be poor.

To be a working class writer is in many ways to feel like a fish out of water. A trip down to London to meet up with my publisher cost me a fortune; the publisher's offices were stuffed full of (very nice) people who I guessed didn't attend their local comprehensive, but who instead went to the kind of  schools I once upon a time read and dreamed about. I often felt guarded in these meetings; unreasonably shy; even embarrassed by myself. What would have been useful is to find somebody else in the room noticing me; recognising and acknowledging me; understanding my background. Even better, it would have been great for me to recognise them. I pretended to be middle class, to fit in, because I felt like the only working class person in the room. Possibly I wasn't, but it felt like it.

It's great that some publishers are now accepting new recruits without degrees (I finally got mine via the Open University when I was forty-two). But I think other changes could make publishing a less alien, even threatening, environment for working class people: more older staff, more BAME staff, more accents, and perhaps controversially, more male editors and agents. How about offices based in other cities - Manchester? Newcastle? Birmingham? Glasgow? Such changes can't happen overnight, of course. And I hope agents and publishers don't attempt to ghetto-ize working class writers, insisting on stories only about council estates; drug abuse; single mums; all the cliched "working class" trappings. To do that would be to pay lip service, to reduce working class writers and their stories to token gestures. Box ticking.

I don't try to act posh anymore, because I'm not. You can take the girl out of the working class but you can't take the working class out of the girl. I'm not loaded (I'm a writer for heaven's sake!) but I'm proud of what I've achieved and I think my background eventually served me well and helped me to grow into the reader, writer, editor, publisher and business woman I've become. In common with other working class folks I can spot pretentious bullshit at fifty paces. That really is a useful skill! And of course, some habits never die: I still frequent libraries and I still buy second hand clothes. Just not pink dungarees...

Thursday, 22 February 2018

What's it really like to be a new publisher? Six months and counting...

This is my first post of 2018, which is rather remiss! My aim was to publish a post every couple of weeks... but like everybody else, I'm busy. So this is a bit of a catch up, and a chance for me to relate some of my recent publishing adventures.

Well, so far, so good. Louise Walters Books (LWB) has been officially up and running now since September, almost six months, and in that time I've signed two authors. They are Laura Laakso and Helen Kitson, and I couldn't be happier with my choices. They are both talented writers with something to say, and I am thoroughly enjoying working with them. Both Laura and Helen submitted their work to me via my submissions e-mail, so they are "slush pile" authors, although both have a track record - Helen has written poetry and Laura has had success in short story competitions. I'm a little in awe of their talent to tell you the truth; and it's a little scary being their publisher. I want to get it right. Mixed in with the pride and excitement is the fear of getting it wrong, and letting them down. That's one of the reasons I've given their books a long lead in time: I want to edit carefully! And do all the other tasks to the best of my ability, without rushing.

So, what's it really like being a publisher? Firstly, it's fun. I love it! I love being my own boss, running my own business, and deciding which projects to take on. Secondly, it's hard work. I must spend an hour (at least) a day on admin, banking, paperwork, record-keeping... all the "boring" bits. But it's OK, it's literally what I've signed up to, and to be honest, I quite enjoy doing the mundane stuff. I have to learn every single aspect of being a publisher (and business owner), and that includes all the dull tasks as well as the more glamorous ones.

So, what's exciting? Well, having Netflix's appointed literary scout contact me on the day I announced I was publishing Laura's Fallible Justice set me all aflutter! It's a thrill when a scout gets in touch and I've now had a few contact me about Laura and Helen. Fingers are duly crossed...!

The "quieter" things are also fun: inputting my books' details onto Nielsen so they "exist" in the book trade; allocating ISBN numbers; briefing my cover designer (I work with the wonderful Jennie Rawlings at Serifim). Preparing Advanced Information sheets and Press Releases allows me to use my creativity in a slightly different way. And with my project management head on, I've worked out quite detailed publishing schedules so my authors have an idea of what will happen, and when. I intend keeping my authors informed every step of the way.

One of my early decisions was not to bother with hardbacks. They're expensive to produce and they don't exactly sell like hot cakes. If any of my books do very well, I will think about bringing out limited edition hardbacks, for the keen beans. Other than that, no hardbacks for LWB. Let's be honest, hardbacks can be irritating, and the wait for the paperback release can be months. Authors want and need sales. Paperbacks and e-books sell.

I'm self-distributing for now (no real choice in this as I'm too small for a distributor to be interested yet) and this is an eye opener. It also means I can keep tabs, to a degree, on every book I sell. I printed 200 copies of The Road to California and I know where every single one of them has gone so far. None of those cheap offers are popping up on my Amazon listing, which is A Good Thing. In due course there will be second hand offers, and that's fine, I've no problem with second hand sales. But I hope to avoid the cheap "New" offers which undermine legitimate sales. I get my trade orders (from wholesalers Gardners, and Bertrams) and although I don't know which retailers the books get sent on to, I do know they are likely to be bookshops or libraries. I accept Amazon orders directly from Amazon, so again I can account for those copies. Learning how distribution works is invaluable and I'm happy to keep doing it until it begins to take up my whole day (and house). Then I'll try to persuade a distributor to take me on! 

 My mini warehouse in the corner of my office!

I love contacting bookshops and libraries, and I've had some wonderful responses from some of them. I love arranging promos such as those offered by Bookbub and Gransnet; and organising my own giveaways. Promo is fun, but also serious work, as it's of the utmost importance to make potential readers aware that a book exists. For me it's all about visibility, and simple things such as car stickers can be very effective.

I've recently published The Road to California, and I've loved being in complete control of this project and seeing it through from beginning to end. It's been a practice run really, as I decided last year I needed to make all my rookie errors on my own book to avoid making them on my authors' books. Now that The Road to California is out, I feel I've learned an awful lot and I've surprised myself with the new skills I've gained. I still have oodles to learn, but I reckon I've made a good start. I even enjoy working with the behemoth that is Amazon! Their discount is harsh (60%, no negotiation) and that hits a smaller publisher hard, as I have to pay carriage costs too, to get my books to their depots. My print runs are small, so I don't make a profit on any print books I sell through Amazon. But I do fare better with e-books, which are my lifeline. Without e-books I wouldn't be able to function as a publisher. And, despite everything, Amazon are stocking and selling my books on a level playing field with everybody else's books, and there's a lot to be said for that. So there'll be no Amazon-bashing here! (Not today anyway!)

So what's next? I'm venturing into audiobooks, and currently organising those for my two self-published titles A Life Between Us and The Road to California. I'm doing this via ACX (Audible) and currently accepting auditions, which is fascinating. Again, this is a dry run before I organise Laura and Helen's audiobooks. With the added bonus that all three of my published novels will be available in audio. Result!

I'm looking hard for a third author to kick off LWB. I like trios! I have a submission on my Kindle right now which I'm giving a great deal of time and consideration to. I have in my head a "vision" of LWB's brand, and the kind of book I want to publish. But, just as with writing, the "vision" mutates somewhat! Right now I'm building my list, and looking for well written novels and novellas. Genre is less important. A year ago if somebody had told me I would be publishing a paranormal detective novel as my first book, I simply wouldn't have believed them. But here I am doing just that, and I couldn't be more delighted. I've also learned something about the kind of publisher I want to be: I'm not going to look for a novel to "fit" into a mould of my own making. I want to publish good books for their own sake, even if they don't particularly fit into any mould. I like a misfit. That's the kind of story I want to read, and publish. I think there is an appetite for this kind of book and I know people are writing them.

Do send me your stuff. I may be new, I may be tiny, but I'm enthusiastic, I don't give a fig about what's currently "hot" in publishing (it will probably be cold by the time I bring it out!) and I am looking to forge trusting, long term partnerships with my authors. And not to mention readers, without whom there is no publishing. I'd love readers to get on board to read, enjoy and spread the word about my books. That's at the heart of everything I'm doing.

PS, I am still squeezing in a little time for my own writing: I recently entered a short story into the BBC National Short Story Award. Well, why not?!