Saturday, 12 June 2010

The Birth of a Publishing Company 4: The Authors

The contracts have been sent out and arrived back signed this week so I can talk about the first three authors on the Ward Wood Publishing list. I'm thrilled by the thought of these books appearing in September, October and November this year as they're all so strong.

If you're reading my posts to find out how to start your own publishing company and want to know how to arrange a contract then you'll find the Society of Authors offers model contracts. We were lucky enough to be able to base a contract on the one Mike Fortune-Wood already uses for Cinnamon Press.

If you want some ideas about how authors are chosen then the selection of these authors should give some tips. While the company is getting established I did need to select authors who were previously published and had the kind of skills needed to help us promote. As time goes on this will help me to reach further out to discover and encourage new talent.

The first book due out in September is by the author Sue Guiney, an American who lives in London. Her novel is called A Clash of Innocents and is set in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. It's narrated by a strong American woman who left the US thirty years before and is running an orphanage together with the Cambodian girl she has adopted. I won't ruin the plot, but this completely believable character gradually reveals why she left the US and why she's so distrustful of the volunteers who arrive and may damage the children she is determined to protect.

How did I select Sue? I had come across Sue online and noticed that she was always among the most active when Facebook and blogs were being used to resolve problems in publishing. With publishers closing down during the recession she was there taking part in trying to find ways for authors to move forward. She arranged the get-together for authors who had been left isolated by the demise of Bluechrome, and I also heard her read at the Camden and Lumen Poetry Series one day. She felt like a good person to approach with my ideas about a new company and her response made me realise it would be well received by authors. She also told me she had a new novel and asked if I'd read it. When she posted it to me I couldn't put it down - a sure sign that it was a good choice. It was also extremely well polished and ready for the editor's desk.

The second author I selected is Ann Alexander, who sent me her latest poetry collection called Too Close. Those of you reading this on the internet will be glad to know that Ann is also somebody who came into contact with me online, this time only via Facebook. I have no idea how we became Facebook 'friends' but I hardly knew Ann before the start of Ward Wood Publishing led to some talk between us and the submission of her manuscript.

Ann had also lost her publisher, Peterloo, who brought out two previous collections. I'm pleased we can help authors of this standard carry on in the knowledge each of their books has an outlet. It's so important to be able to keep writing without having to worry about finding a publisher each time, and that's why I want Ward Wood to publish fiction, nonfiction and plays as well as poetry. It gives authors a home for all of their work if they want that.

Poets who have won prizes and appeared in good magazines and broadcasts can tempt a publisher, although this isn't necessary if I see a good collection submitted. Ann has a more impressive track record than most editors could hope for. She took first prize in the Frogmore, Bedford Open, and Mslexia competitions, came 3rd in the BBC’s poem for Britain (2003) and 3rd in the Peterloo poetry competition.

Again it struck me immediately as a book I couldn't stop reading, each poem so direct and readable but with disturbing depths. It's about the everyday, based on Ann's life as an outsider who has settled in Penzance, but the troubles beneath will hit the nerves of her readers. Ann and Sue are two incredibly strong female voices who will appeal to men and women alike.

When I saw Ann's submission it was clear that time and effort had gone into perfecting the poems, choosing the right order, and making it all work as a collection. Like Sue's book, this one was more than ready for the editor's desk. If there's a hint I could give to writers who want to submit to publishers, it would be not to send your manuscript too soon. Others will be sending writing that shows how hard it has been worked on so it's vital to do the same.

Ann's book is scheduled for October, and in November we have a poetry collection coming out from Mike Horwood, a name less familiar to audiences at UK readings. This is because Mike has lived in Finland for years, and being away from the reading circuit can isolate a poet if we think of poetry as 'a small world where everybody knows each other' as I've often heard it called. In fact Mike is an excellent reader of his own work to audiences if people get the chance to catch him on one of his visits.

Mike has one previous poetry book out - a translation of the work of the Finnish poet Martti Hynynen which was published by Cinnamon Press and is called island, nameless rock. Ward Wood will be bringing out his debut collection called Midas Touch, and I'm familiar with many of these poems as his poetry drew my attention when I saw him workshopping it online. You'll have realised by now that the internet has played a large part in these first selections!

The unusual characteristic about Mike's poems is that they create an atmosphere rather than telling us about the author, or passing on a message or set of ideas. For this type of poetry to work, the atmosphere must really captivate us, and with Mike's poetry it does. The poems create a strange feeling of heightened perception, like a room or forest setting which the poet lets us see at those times when nobody is there.

What does a room feel like when nobody is around, or a clearing in woodland with only an animal in it, or nothing sentient at all? Mike puts us in that odd crystal-clear atmosphere: the narrator of these poems is there, but effaced. The effect can also be that any characters who do come into the poems seem to be separated by glass, as if true communication between people can never really be achieved.

Mike's collection was not just highly readable, but also presented in a way that will only need tweaks if tiny errors are spotted at the editing stages. The poems had each been worked on and then put into order in a way that made the whole selection chime together. Working on the correct order for a collection is one of the most enjoyable tasks for a poet, along with knowing the moment when one set of poems feels complete as a book so that we can close the cover on it and place the next poem in a new folder.

These are the first authors on our list and so much work has been going on in the background before I could name them publicly: reading a number of manuscripts, settling on these ones (which jumped out quickly as great choices), and dealing with the many other tasks a publisher needs to handle at the same time as doing the editorial work. More about those other tasks in future posts, but just one more comment is needed before I finish.

Some of you will be reading this and thinking that it seems difficult to be chosen by an editor in the face of such competition. You don't need to have previous publications or contest wins to be selected, but you do need a manuscript that works and that has been polished to the highest standard you can manage. You don't need to read at open mics, although that's one place you could be talent-spotted. You do need to be sharing your writing in some way that gets you noticed, and this can lead to you being invited to submit by editors even if their website says 'Closed to submissions for the present.'

There are also other submissions that come to an editor's desk that show potential. The authors may even have good books already published, or they may not. These potentially publishable books take longer for an editor to accept or decline. Perhaps the author has sent them too soon and it's possible they just need more work. Whatever the reason, either an editor will just decline them, as there's so much work to be done to edit, publish and promote the accepted books. Or the editor may feel like giving feedback and reading the books again once they have been worked on.

In either case it means that these books will be set aside and will be prioritised during gaps in the editor's work, so it's worth writing and rewriting to the highest standard you can. That's the best tip I can give, along with sending them off at some point and not making the mistake another friend of mine makes because she's too much of a perfectionist!

1 comment:

  1. Kate - if you read this I'm sorry I didn't reply to an earlier one of your comments. I can't see where PMs go on here! Facebook is easier for communication.


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