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

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?!

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