Monday 23 March 2015

The new kid on the CBe website

A first for CBe: another publisher’s book up on the website – Suite for Barbara Loden by Nathalie Léger, the first book from a new press, Les Fugitives: see here.


What gets published in the UK and what doesn’t is a mystery. Among my reading & re-reading over the last month: Baudelaire’s Intimate Journals, trans. Christopher Isherwood, and Palm-of-the-Hand Stories by Yasumari Kawabata, both from the 1980s/90s Picador Classics: why are these books no longer in print? Two memoir books by Grégoire Bouillier, available in translation in the US but not the UK. A novella by Ann Beattie, who has been publishing since the 70s, and I can’t see a single book from a UK publisher. Books in translation are currently more widely noticed and read than they have been for decades – thanks to, among others, Peirene Press, And Other Stories, Pushkin Press, and Christopher Maclehose – but even among English-language writers there’s a huge array that don’t get through to the UK except by way of NYRB or Dalkey Archive: Renata Adler, Alfred Hayes, Dorothy Baker, W. M. Spackman ...

The decisions of the big publishers about what to publish may increasingly be determined by statistics. According to a piece in the current issue of The Author on the gathering of data (Amazon, for example, can tell ‘if you finish a book or not, and how long it took’ – though this presumably applies only to ebook sales), there are companies who collect ‘reading data’, and ‘they are then using it to shape publishers’ publishing, sales and marketing efforts’.

Or, at the bottom end of the scale, you can simply read a book and like it so much that you want to do something about this, to celebrate it. So you find a way to publish it. It’s how CBe started, and also Les Fugitives. (Neither of us set out to be a ‘publisher’. For seven years I’ve bought ISBNs in the minimum batch number, because I’ve never seriously planned to do more.) There’s an affinity here. CBe is proud to have the book on the website.

Monday 16 March 2015

Agony aunts & uncles: the lit advice column

Some first-world writerly problems (each of which is true, in the sense that they are actual questions that I’ve been asked):

‘I’ve sent work to a publisher/agent I like – how long should I wait before either contacting them again or giving up on them? (Six months? A year? Longer?)’
‘I’ve got an agent who is asking for changes, and if it gets as far as an editor, which of course is what I’m aiming for, then they’re likely to ask for changes too, maybe even back to what I’ve changed it from, so how do I negotiate this?’
‘I have a publisher but it really didn’t work out on the last book and I’d like to test the market but I don’t want to totally piss off my present publisher …’
‘I’ve now got enough rejection slips to decorate the spare bedroom – is there a special glue for this, or is ordinary wallpaper glue OK?’
‘A book I published a decade ago is now available as an ebook – but the publisher didn’t tell me he was doing this, nor has he offered any money …’
‘My publisher has broken the terms of the contract we both signed: they’ve postponed publication beyond the agreed time limit/ sold off stock to remainder shops without offering them to me first – what can I do?’
‘I really hate the cover they’ve given my book. I know the contract says that they have the final say-so, but it’s my book, and they’ve trusted me enough to take it on and I’ve been in this business for decades and every decision by a marketing dept has flopped …’
‘Does a pink cover mean gay? No problem with that. I’m not gay, as it happens. But I don’t want to be type-cast.’
‘When I go to the publisher’s summer party, should I or shouldn’t I get drunk? What are the pros and cons?’
'Some work I published a while back is now being put on the web, on people's blogs - is this wrong and should I be doing something about it (what?), or is this how the world now runs?'
‘I’ve been invited to read at a lit festival 200 miles way, and for me this is a big thing but they’re not offering even travel expenses. Yes or no?’
‘I’m mid-list, and have made a living out of my books, but now they are ejecting me. The reputable smaller publishers wouldn’t be interested: they want young, they want work that “challenges” (ha-ha). Should I self-publish? Isn’t this a form of defeatism?’

I don’t know. I don’t know enough to know, I don’t even know what ‘enough’ might mean. So I’m thinking about a forum where these questions might be answered by a panel of so-called experts, who may well contradict one another but at least it’s a place to discuss. Say, a legal/copyright person; an agent; a mainstream editor and and a small-press editor. An agony-aunt/uncle column. Along the lines of, for example, the sex advice column in the Metro, one of whose experts is James McConnachie, on the basis presumably of his having written The Rough Guide to Sex but he is also the editor of The Author, the journal of the Society of Authors and he knows the business and I think he'd be good on this too. And many of the questions are transferable.