Sunday, May 09, 2010

Better late than Never on a Sunday

Peter here. My apologies to all. Such have been the demands of my US tour, plus the work load I am carrying with me, that I was unable to fulfil my obligations in providing Friday's post.

And I flew in, Friday, to Houston in Texas, without a response from the guest contributor I had asked to provide Sunday's blog. So I'm afraid I will have to fill in the blank myself - sitting in a darkened hotel room at six in the morning tapping away on my (life-saving) iPad.

I was interested in John's post picking up on the debate about e-books, and the relevance of publishers in the electronic age, and found myself in complete agreement with Hannah Dennison's comment about small publishers being more supportive of their authors than the larger ones (unless you are a best-seller).

Most of my best experiences have been with small publishers. As a young writer in the UK, I was taken under the wing of a new, equally young publisher called Judy Piatkus. Judy picked me up when none of the big publishers would look at me, and published me because she believed in my writing - not simply because she thought I might make an immediate impact on the bestsellers list. Judy followed her instincts, and not market trends, and ended up creating a highly successful London publishing house.

I remember my first meeting with her over afternoon tea in Brown's Hotel off Piccadilly, in London. When I look back on it now it seems like a very long time ago - like something out of a Somerset Maugham memoir. I was a gauche young writer just off the train from Scotland, and she was a young publisher stepping out on her own. We had a fruitful on-off relationship over nearly fifteen years. She recently retired, leaving behind her a still thriving publisher.

My China Thrillers series remained unpublished in France until picked up by a small regional publisher called Editions du Rouergue. Now a part of the most prestigious publishing house in France, Actes Sud, Rouergue was created and turned into the success it became because of one woman's vision - Danielle Dastugue.

Danielle is similar to Barbara Peters of Poisoned Pen in some ways - she, too, began by opening a bookstore before graduating to create her own press. Rouergue is now a player among the big boys because Danielle followed her instinct, publishing only what she personally believed in. She turned my series into bestsellers in France, and bought my forthcoming book, "The Blackhouse", when it had been turned down by all the major publishers in the UK. Having taken world rights she has now sold it all around Europe - UK included.

Strangely, she has just retired, too (I hope I am not driving all my publishers into retiral).

The UK publisher which bought "The Blackhouse" is another small publishing house, set up in London just a few years ago by two men who didn't like the way the industry was going. They set up Quercus to publish only those books in which they had personal faith, regardless of what the marketing people might be saying. Their first published book was a Number One bestseller. They have gone on to publish a string of highly successful and award-winning books, including Stieg Larsson's staggeringly successful Millennium Trilogy.

And, of course, I come finally to Poisoned Pen Press, which owes almost everything to the individual vision of Barbara Peters. I moved to PPP mid-series, from one of the biggest publishers in the States. Not because that publisher didn't want to continue with the series, but because they were too big, and I didn't come high enough up on their list. Barbara promised to publish me better, and she did. I have sold many more books since moving to the Press.

There is a pattern emerging here: small publishers who buck the trend and follow their instincts - which is what publishing always used to be about, before the conglomerates took over and transformed it into a money-making industry concerned only with turning a profit. In some cases they might as well be selling ball-bearings.

It is the small, individual, idiosyncratic publishers that I would like to see survive the upheavals of the electronic age. They are the lifeblood of our business - the business of writing and reading. And we should support them in every way we can.

- A small footnote: John raised the question of how electronically self-publishing authors would get their books into the hands of reviewers. The irony is that publishers themselves are now moving rapidly towards providing reviewers with electronic review copies through dedicated online sites, like NetGalley. No reason those writers couldn't do the same thing themselves.


Vicki Delany said...

Amen to the ode to small publishers

Rick Blechta said...

I agree. Unless you're one of the 'big fish', a large house will look on you almost as a charity case. The late, great Lyn Hamilton once told me her editor had remarked to her that they (Berklee) throws all their promotional money behind books that they KNOW will sell "because from the profits of that, we can afford to publish the books of authors like you."

That sure is a ringing endorsement...


Isn't life, and business, all about relationships? Amen.

Hannah Dennison said...

I'm so glad you wrote this post (good job!) I'm with Berkley - at Malice Domestic last week, our wonderful publicist was there - she handles EVERY author from Berkley and NAL all by herself. She does it with a smile too but she can only do so much promotion. I believe my series falls in the charity basket - so Lyn Hamilton's comment really struck a chord!

DJ Kirkby said...

Hi Peter, this was an interesting post. I'm being published by a new Indie and it's always nice to see that other people believe in the worth of Indies too. Your post proves that everyone has got to start somewhere and some go on to grow into big names (publishers and writers alike).

peter_may said...

Hands clasped in prayer, Vicki.

It's a sad comment on publishing, Rick. It always annoys me to read about the latest million dollar advance for some disposable (ghost-written) autobiography of some second- string celebrity that would have provided a living wage for 20 real writers!

And yes, Linda, publishing is all about the relationship between the writer and the editor (or should be).

It's all about numbers, I think, Hannah. A kind of publishers' lottery. They have no idea what will sell, so calculate on the percentage of books published that will be successful subsidizing those that aren't. Not so much a question of judgment as a question of gambling.

Good luck with the book, DJ.

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