Thursday, 14 August 2014

Birth of a publisher? by Dennis Hamley

It's a lovely thing to feel you're in at the start of something which, if all goes well, will be really good. So I'm going to talk about something which has been in contemplative mode for a long time now but now might actually come to life.

A new independent publisher.

Do we really need yet another? Cally, Dan, Julia and Kathleen already mastermind very effective operations which we see as potent role models. And there are scores more doing great things. (There are also a few who aren't.) So why not have a go?  Introducing;

 BLANK PAGE PRESS.

I had hoped  to introduce our rather good colophon here, but it seems beyond my puny technological powers
.
Blank Page Press has been a long time in the making and it's not quite there yet. Like many Indies, it was born out of the common realisation that traditional publishing was now virtually dead to us but losing our old publishers didn't mean we'd lost our minds as well. And besides, there is a host of new writers desperately anxious to break into the public consciousness who, if they try too hard at the conventional route, will have their hearts broken. One of our probables has already been dealt a serious blow by the untrustworthy assurances of a top agent. She is walking proof of the correctness of Catherine's recent blog on agents.

Self-publishing suits many people. So far in my ebook career it has suited me to publish purely independently. But I think there is much to be said for being on a publisher's list. It brings a sense of identity, of belonging, a sort of comfort blanket to an author, especially a new one. Comfort blankets aren't always soft indulgences: sometimes they're necessary.  The notion of having been selected through merit  brings a feeling of validity, justification, even aspiration. I rather think that's a big motivator for all writers, not just new ones. A very old but still wonderfully active author of my acquaintance, long discarded by her publisher, refused to self-publish her new novel because there was no element of competitive selection in the process. I can't help but sympathise with her.

Some of us in Writers in Oxford wondered if there was some way out of this. Our first thought was that Writers in Oxford, a group originally set up for purely social reasons, might consider changing its function slightly and see itself as a resource, in fact a publisher, in its own right. I remember - in fact I shall never forget - introducing and speaking to this proposal at an AGM. I was shot down fairly conclusively, although very good-naturedly. But I can see why. Writers in Oxford is a society of individuals with a huge variety of writing experiences and also often with settled systems of their own which don't necessarily include independent publishing. It's too diverse to have a single purpose. But we did get a blessing to continue as a private venture within the society. So four of us are trying to carry it through and several others are watching carefully to see what progress we are making.


Well, years have passed since that  rather traumatic - for me - evening. We're registered at Companies House (they even sent me a letter congratulating me on becoming a director of a limited company, something I didn't expect and a title I'm not altogether happy about receiving). Our website will soon be up and running. We're hammering out a publishing policy. We've even had our picture in the Oxford Mail.

Oxford Mail: Dennis Hamley, second left, with colleagues from left, Kamal Lathar, Frauke Woenig and Cherry Mosteshar, who are starting a new publishing business

Kamal Lathar, me , Frauke Woenig and Cherry Mosteshar

Kamal writes mainly young adult fantasy, designed the beautifully simple colophon that you can't see, is an IT specialist and, though he hasn't been formally given the title, is in effect our managing director. Cherry brings a lot of experience. When a journalist with The Independent, she upset a lot of powerful people, including Tony Blair, a distinction she wears proudly. She runs The Oxford Editors, an agency which works with new writers. I do a lot of work for her, reporting on new manuscripts and, when we think the work is good enough to persevere with, mentoring the authors. Frauke is, among  many other things, a qualified translator.

In the first instance we will be an ebook publisher but the print element will, we hope, develop quickly. I have rather jumped the gun by putting the Blank Page Press colophon on Ellen's People, published on Kindle on August 4th and Divided Loyalties, which will go on Kindle on September 3rd. We regard these as dummy runs, to try to make the imprint more than just a twinkle in our own eyes. The decision as to whether our main print medium will be conventional or Print on Demand hasn't yet been made: I suppose it depends on whether we can find a big watertight cellar somewhere to clear out.

However, there is a niche for printed books in which we are very interested. Therefore, again as a dummy run to see if it works - and also because I have books available already as ebooks - I'm printing a 100-copy short run edition in high quality hardback of Spirit of the Place, to see if, with sufficient publicity and trial marketing, we can shift them as signed and numbered limited editions.

It remains to be seen how many books we can publish per year. We have to get our systems right first before making any judgement. We will be publishing fiction only. Separation into genres will come later: at the moment we are thinking only of an adult/children's split - and an intriguing possibility that we haven't quite sussed out - a CHILDREN'S children's list. I know so well that there's staggeringly good stuff out there by kids under 16 which deserves a public hearing. Maybe I might even be able  to revive  my long-dead, much-loved children's and young adult creative writing courses.

We don't want to run a slush pile. Much of our output will be by invitation to writers whose talent is known to us. We have interesting sources.  At least two writers who approached The Oxford Editors have books we are very interested in. If we offer publication, they can choose between our route and the conventional agent/publisher way in. I mentor a number of my ex-students from the Oxford Diploma. I have seen some really good novels growing with them. And, of course, there are members of Writers in Oxford who are producing some outstanding work - and, in a few cases, being treated appallingly by publishers who should know a lot better. So we are fortunate. We have a ready-made pool of talent: we don't have to go looking for it.

But this doesn't mean we see ourselves as a closed shop, I have my eye on a few AE novels as well.

Finance? Well, we're each putting some of our own money in. A grant would be nice but perhaps those days are gone. We're looking at crowd-funding for some projects. But there are other ways too. We can't discount possible author contributions. We will insist on print-ready texts: copy-editing will be the writer's responsibility. We do of course have a list of good people to do this - and cover artists as well. Though one author who is herself also an artist said, 'I'll do my own, thank you very much', which is quite a relief.

So there we are. In the lap of the gods.Wish us luck.

PS. After introducing BPP and singing the praises of independent publishing, I have to report the irony that I've actually got two new books out with a 'proper' publisher this month, the first for six years.

Product Details

Chloe knows too much. That's why they're going to kill her. Her only chance lies with a boy she's only just met. And she doesn't think she can trust him. If only she hadn't read her stepdad's  email...

Product Details

Jacky is a brilliant footballer. He's just 17 and destined to be a star. Then a vicious foul cuts him down - and it looks like he'll never play again. But no-one was anywhere near him when he crashed to the ground. So who, or what, was the cuplrit?

Two hi-lo books for the educational publisher Ransom, in their Shades series. I'm really quite chuffed.



12 comments:

Kathleen Jones said...

It sounds wonderful, Dennis! Congratulations. Hope it all goes really well - you look like a great team!
I definitely think that this is the way to go, especially as it provides a bit of protection from the 'self-published' sneering. And mutual support is so important.

CallyPhillips said...

All best wishes for your publishing venture Dennis. Just one point, the whole joy of pod is that you don't need to carry stock, you literally get each copy printed as it is ordered. Short run print is a lot more expensive. You just have to hook up with a good pod printer. I don't know if Bertram's are set up for true pod yet, but I'm working with a company called printondemand worldwide. I used to use them for short run, but am in the process of using them instead of createspace for pod... Their quality is every bit as good as for short run print and much better than createspace with whom I have quality issues. They are in Peterborough. They also have retail outlet online... All in all you should really investigate this option for print. For ebooks I think it's always cheaper to DIY as once you have the tech skills the rest shouldn't cost! But margins are very tight on print and for small ventures I think pod is a no brainer.

madwippitt said...

Good luck Dennis! And an extra loud cheer for upsetting Tony Bleeeeeah! :-)

Chris Longmuir said...

Good luck with the publishing venture, Dennis. I think it safe to say we are all rooting for you.

Bill Kirton said...

First, congratulations and lots of luck with the new venture, Dennis. I think quality independents will more and more be filling a clear gap in the industry. Second, an even louder hear, hear for Madwippitt's extra loud cheer.

Mari Biella said...

Best of luck, Dennis. I agree with Bill - high-quality independent publishers could be the face of the future.

Catherine Czerkawska said...

Good luck with it all, Dennis. I think you're right. Some people 'need' a publisher, and why not, if that suits them? But I think in that case, independent publishing is definitely the way to go. Just as smaller indie bookstores are coming back with the demise of some of the big boys, the smaller independent publisher, often joining together with others, under one umbrella, to publicise work, is an extremely good option for many people. Or doing both, as so many of us Electric Authors do. As far as I can see, one of the other benefits of the small indie publisher is that they don't mind if you self publish some things, or go with a variety of different small publishers, depending upon what you write - or employ a mixture. In fact they see the kind of cross promotion as the benefit it is. It seems to be the Big Five who get possessive and put exclusivity clauses in those contracts! I have a friend who is doing very well not self publishing at all, but publishing with a variety of small publishers. I reckon whatever works well for the individual is the way to go.

Reb MacRath said...

I'm happy for you, Dennis--and also for the writers who'll get to join in your adventure.

Lydia Bennet said...

Many congratulations to you and the other Blankers, Dennis! an exciting new project which will bring many an adventure I'm sure and some splendid books. I see Amazon are now offering pre-order on kdp to all, which will be useful to you too. I wish you and your colleagues all the very best!

julia jones said...

YES!!!

Sandra Horn said...

All the luck in the world for this great new venture, Dennis!

Katherine Roberts said...

Good luck with the new venture, Dennis! Will be watching with interest.