Thursday, December 22, 2011

Happy Christmas, world

A Very Happy Christmas to all readers of this blog, our authors, and distributors. We'll be having a rest over the holidays but still thinking about new ventures and titles for 2012.

In the meantime, enjoy the gingerbread house and its marzipan and icing inhabitants who were created this morning - eat your heart out, Tim Parks.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Are chick lit book covers a feminist issue?

In today's Guardian, 16th September, there is an article about a Harper Collins author, Polly Courtney, ditching her publisher at her book launch, after three years of pent-up frustration over how her books were marketed. Her latest novel, It's a Man's World, has a picture of women's legs, perched on a desk - a woman with no head. Polly Courtney will now self-publish.

I can see that if you are writing a book that makes serious points about careers, and you are an investment banker who quit her job for whatever reasons - stress, trying to make it in a man's world, sexism at work, long hours and the inability to lead a balanced life, you would be very frustrated at having sexual stereotypes displayed on your book by your publisher.

So, what is my reaction. Firstly, as a publisher, I know that the cover is a piece of marketing, and it's aim is to get the book picked up and looked at by a potential reader. And readers of new fiction have choice -so much choice it is unbelievable.

So, you want Waterstone's and WH Smith to display your book. And, here's the rub, as Shakespeare said, the retailer's buyers have the power. They can make publishers change covers when you want the order. And you only have one time window to get said order, for new books. So you, the publisher, whether Harper Collins or a small independent, like Marion Boyars, have little power.

Now, it is refeshing not to have to bow to the pressure of other people's agendas. And authors are self-employed, of course. They choose to write, and they hopefully enjoy the process of meeting readers, being entertaining, and writing.

When we published Maureen Freely's novel, Enlightenment, in 2007, we designed covers with passports, Istanbul minarets, and menacing birds in the sky. The buyer at Waterstone's did not place an order. Then we changed it to represent the main character's feet in sling back black shoes - yes, disembodied sexist, women's feet, against a plainish grey floor. We used the moon and sickle emblem from the Turkish flag to signal that this was a political novel. We got the order from Waterstone's and Maureen Freely got the right reviews, describing the book as a 'gripping novel' and 'a powerful fictional version of the argument that Turkey does not yet subscribe to the levels of democracy and human rights required if EU membership is to mean more than a passport with economic improvement.' The Guardian.

Of course we did not interfere editorially with the plot, the 'inside' of the book. But we had to interfere with the 'packaging', in order to make sense of the years that Maureen Freely had spent writing her book. So Polly Courtney, try to find a middle way and a publishing team who will listen to your frustration, but still give you packaging that means your books sell. And I will look out for It's a Man's World - as will many women who have read the article in The Guardian today.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Working on new editions

The benefit of working on new editions with familiar books, from the Marion Boyars backlist, is that you find you do not argue with yourself. Nice cover image, you say to yourself. Don't mind if I use that one, then, yes, you agree with yourself.

And when the weather is good, a few rays in the garden can be caught up with.

Working away to the sound of Peter Jefferson being interviewed on Radio London this lunch time was another bonus - I put together his rather wonderful memoir AND NOW THE SHIPPING FORECAST, published not by myself but by Niall Mansfield at UIT Cambridge. It has just had a whole round of PR including an interview in the Daily Mail by Harry Mount, and an extract in the Daily Express. And his first invite to a literary festival was to the rather wonderfully named Wigtown, in Scotland. Better make sure yours is packed if you're attending!

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Campaign call

I had an eventful day yesterday.

Early evening, I went to my local library in Barnes to pick up an inter library loan. The book, Snowdrops by A.D Miller (a snowdrop in this case is not a pretty flower - it is a corpse hidden by Russian snow over the winter that comes to light in Spring...).

The librarian asked me to sign the campaign against library closures. "But I have already signed it," I remonstrated. "Please sign it again," she insisted.

I took a deep breath. I'm not one of nature's criminals and doing something twice goes against the grain. But this is important.

So, I signed. And wrote my comment.

'Shame on you David Cameron. Closing libraries is far from the act of a 'Big Society' - it's the act of a 'Small minded Society'. It's worse than Thatcher Milk Snatcher, because you can get milk anywhere for children - but if you close the libraries, they will not come back. Shame on you David Cameron, with three small children to bring up to be educated, curious, achieving and socially minded citizens.'

I signed it as publisher, Marion Boyars - I have never told the librarians what I do as it's not relevant.

"Precisely," said the librarian, "It's all the more shocking as he is a father and knows how important books are to young children. We have a homework club here, internet access for all, we help the unemployed fill out job applications, we have a scheme where books are taken to the elderly, and collected, we are the only free resource left in London. Manchester has already lost its libraries, and only the very new flagship libraries will remain. We do not know if we will survive and we will most likely lose this wonderful place. Please start a campaign."

I took another deep breath. I know how to reach journalists. I could get free press ads with the rubric, "SHAME ON YOU DAVID CAMERON, closing libraries makes your Big Society a Small Minded Society", and I just might manage to reach the man's morals. He has already decided not to sell off our forests.

Should I do it? Will you lot out there - other publishers, editors and translators, and authors, journalists, broadcasters, newspaper proprietors, join?

Campaigning on the streets for libraries is not easy. Most book readers would rather be curled up in a chair reading, especially when it is foggy and raining like yesterday. But I think I should start.

Libraries are more than the books (ever so cheap, as we known us publishers, nothing like the cost of making them), and staff, (people will always want to work with books for modest wages), but it's the buildings, the computer systems, now working so well. My loaned copy of 'Snowdrops' came from Tower Hamlets Library, brand new. It was transported right across London, just for me to read, and then I shall give it back. Like me, a librarian there reads the new fiction reviews, and takes action, so a book gains readers.

Earlier in my eventful day, I was invited to Books for Cooks, 4 Blenheim Crescent, Notting Hill Gate, to a demonstration by an Italian Jewish cook, Sylvia Nacamulli, through my good friend Anne Wilk. It was a chance to see Books for Cooks for myself, as although several of our authors have done events there, the redoubtable Clothilde Dusoulier of Chocolate & Zucchini fame, book and blog, and Victoria Cator and Lucinda Bruce of Victoria & Lucinda's Flavour of the Month, I did not go to either event as I did not wish to take up a place which a paying guest would have taken.

Sylvia Nacamulli is looking for a cookery book publisher. She has given demonstrations since 2003, and has a wealth of experience. I look forward to fnding salted capers in Sicily this summer, to make her Caponata (aubergine with capers, and many other fine ingredients). It was fun and I came home and prepared her spinach with pine nuts and sweet white onion. But the real event of the day was my visit to the library.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

2011 and our wonderful Christmas bestseller

Happy 2011 everyone!

Marion Boyars Publishers had a Christmas bestseller. Rage Against the Machine followers from 2009 chose Cage Against the Machine for their 2010 campaign against manufactured Christmas songs, and 4'33", otherwise known as SILENCE by John Cage is the track. Letters to The Guardian in praise of SILENCE are continuing into 2011.

As are our height defying sales of SILENCE by John Cage. Mushroom omelette anyone?