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  • Headline

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:40

    The Book Depository: What/who do you see as your primary market?

    Kim Hardie: Anyone who appreciates the power of entertainment. When you immerse yourself in one of our books, whether it be a gripping crime thriller from Martina Cole, or the fascinating life story of Sir Bobby Charlton, ultimately, we want the reader to be swept away.

    BD: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?

    KH: The economic downturn is a worry for all. However, with books being such a low cost purchase, consumers are getting tremendous entertainment value for their money. Because of this, over time, we're confident that (our!) books will hold up relatively well. For future opportunities, we must look to the electronic world, and we're developing strategies for growth in the digital market - ebooks, digital content etc - which have been slow to take off, but potentially, an exciting side to the publishing business.

    BD: What brings you to the decision to publish a particular title/author?

    KH: The Headline team are a bunch of talented, specialised people, who are all experts and enthusiasts in their field. So if someone suggests a new author or project, the rest of the company knows they can really get behind it with complete conviction. As is the case with our forthcoming Business Plus list of books, comissioned by our new business editor. John came from Wiley, and has brought with him a huge depth of knowledge of business publishing. Check out his blog.

    BD: What books are you most proud of having published?

    KH: At time of writing, we've just had five weeks at number one with Martina Cole's The Business. We feel this is a tremendous achievement in such a competitive crowded market. Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder has become a timeless classic, and we've just signed up the sequel. Andrea Levy's Small Island won every literary prize available, and the exciting news is that the BBC have just bought the rights, and plan to broadcast sometime autumn 2009.

    Victoria Hislop's The Island and The Return have recruited hundreds of thousands of loyal fans, and the continual feedback we get here at Headline Towers reminds you that actually, the simple act of giving readers pleausure, is what publishing is all about.

    BD: What books are you working on right now?

    KH: In fiction our biggest hardback novel for spring '09 will be the new Penny Vincenzi novel, Best of Times. We've just started working on the massive marketing and media campaign which will accompany such an important book. And in non-fiction, we've recently commissioned a book from Sebastian Coe; an inspirational business book, based on his experiences as a world champion runner The Winning Mind.

    We're deeply excited about our February publiciation of Billy Connolly's trip round the North West passage, camping out in the wilds of Canada, which coincides with the the ITV1 programme of the same title Billy Connolly: Journey to the Edge of the World.

    And by contrast we witness a more gentle style of travel, when Richard Wilson embarks upon a nostalgic amble round the UK in a variety of vintage cars, recorded in humourous detail in the book and TV programme, Britain's best Drives, due out in January.

    *****

    These are The Book Depository's 5 favourite Headline titles:


    Posted by Mark Mark

    Categories: publishers, Headline

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  • 4th Estate

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:40

    The Book Depository: What/who do you see as your primary market?

    Robin Harvie (4th Estate): The non-fiction list at 4th Estate has built a reputation of combining the polemical and the cultural with the aim of publishing into a market that is looking for insight and a fresh perspective on current affairs. The three authors who most clearly represent this aim are Francis Wheen, Nick Cohen and Ishmael Beah, whose memoir of his life as a boy soldier in Sierra Leone we published in May this year.

    Nick Cohen’s book What’s Left? highlights most clearly the kind of cosmopolitan, politically aware market that we are aiming at with our non-fiction market. Cohen had been very much a part of the traditional Left until the war in Iraq, but in What’s Left?, which we published in February this year, he argued that the Left had betrayed the ideology of what they stood for by not supporting the liberation of their Iraqi comrades and instead siding with Right wing fascism. The book caused a huge storm on publication with many on the Left attacking Nick but the publication of the book marked something of a sea change in attitudes on the Left with many on both sides of the political spectrum coming out in support of Nick’s position, and turning the book into a point of discussion amongst our key non-fiction market.

    BD: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?

    RH: Book publishing still has a very important role to play in the era of 24 hour rolling news and self-published blogs. While the arena into which we are publishing has shifted dramatically in the last 3-5 years through the web’s 2.0 revolution, we need to adapt and understand that there is a way of harnessing the new media to make the most of the explosion of online social networking and discussion rather than see it as a threat to the future of book publishing.

    BD: What brings you to the decision to publish a particular title/author?

    RH: At a time when every publisher is being squeezed for shelf space in traditional bookshops and with the increased importance of the supermarkets for turnover, the days when we can publish books simply because we ‘like the writing’ are gone. Decisions about who or what to publish are now based more and more on what the authors or title offer in terms of publicity and marketing opportunities to make the greatest impact on publication. What is also considered with authors we plan to develop is the possibility of turning them into brands or talking head in their field of expertise in order to maintain public awareness post publication.

    BD: What books are you most proud of having published?

    RH: Nick Cohen’s What’s Left? was a great moment because of the impact that it has had in the debate over the future of the Left. The publication of Ishmael Beah’s memoir, which came out the week that Blair was in Sierra Leone and turned Ishmael and the book into the most talked about news item of that week, also showed the impact that publishing can have.

    BD: What books are you working on right now?

    RH: Marcus du Sautoy’s new book on symmetry called Finding Moonshine and To Die For by Lucy Siegle of the Observer on the clothing and fashion industry.

    *****

    These are The Book Depository's 5 favourite 4th Estate titles:


  • Myrmidon Books

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:40

    The Book Depository: What/who do you see as your primary market?

    Ed Handyside (Myrmidon): Everyone. We aren’t trying to be niche publishers. For the moment we limit ourselves to adult fiction. We don’t do poetry, novellas or short stories and we don’t do children’s books. Beyond that we don’t care much about genres or categories. Right from the off we’ve established an eclectic list and we want to keep it that way. We don’t want to be pigeon-holed as publishers of specifically this or that.

    BD: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?

    EH: Wow! I could do a three hour seminar on this one. For starters this is a wasteful business. Hype and overproduction are endemic in British publishing. People writing in the trade press like to get the knives out for Tesco and Asda, but they are basically good at what they do and there’s nothing any supermarket can teach big publishers about an affinity for piling ‘em high and selling ‘em cheap. Printers still charge make-ready fees and discount for volume as if the technology was still something that Caxton would recognise, and publishers are either too small or too dumb to challenge this. So they produce too many copies, too bloody soon and then have to get rid of them – any which way.

    It takes longer to produce and market a book than it does to design and build a football stadium (anywhere outside London that is). The trade press and some of the chain buyers insist on evaluating books 6-10 months before they come out. There is simply no need for this and it places an almost intolerable cash flow burden on all publishers, large and small. If the industry could work together to shorten this by just one month it would free up tens of millions of pounds from the required working capital of all publishers. At times I’ve wondered if this is some kind of plot by the big presses to make it tougher for new publishers to enter the market but I actually don’t think that – it’s simply that too few of them understand lean business and real efficiency.

    Also there are far too many in-process hand-offs in the UK publishing supply chain. All booksellers, but especially the big chains, have a fondness for working through distributors and wholesalers rather than working directly with publishers – even and especially when dealing with big volumes. It is actually less expensive for us to supply books to South East Asia (where bookstore prices are far lower than they are here) and have them distributed across the whole territory than it is to send a single consignment to a UK chain bookstore’s central warehouse on the south coast of England through their mandatory wholesaler.

    Another by-product of the same madness is how distant publishers have become from people who run bookshops. The amount of dialogue is virtually none existent. All of the commentators were full of praise for how wonderful this year’s London Book Fair was. But were the booksellers? We didn’t meet any and I gather there were fewer there this year than ever before. This is not exactly a healthy state of affairs.

    A challenge for us in particular is simply to get our books in front of both press reviewers and buyers. There the attitude to independent publishers (with a few worthy and notable exceptions) is, at best, patronising and at its worst characterised by a degree of hubris and snobbery that beggars belief. In any normal sphere of business producers are judged by the quality of their products. In British publishing the reverse is true: big publishers can get their lead titles front -of-store almost as of right – irrespective of their quality. Publishers like us have to fight like hell to get buyers and press reviewers to so much as look at our books – even when they are willing (as we are) to pay fees for in-store promotions...

    Which brings us on to opportunities. The growth of on-line bookselling is good for us. The ‘net’ is one of the industry’s great levellers (along with Man Booker, Richard and Judy and a handful of other literary prizes). Online sites provide a genuine, unfettered market where all titles can compete fairly and be judged by the people who pay the wages of everybody in the book trade. Readers don’t give a damn about who publishes a book. They care about the story, the writing, the author and maybe the front cover – and that’s just how it should be.

    BD: What brings you to the decision to publish a particular title/author?

    EH: Basics first: we look for something in excess of 65,000 words. Less than that is novella territory and even Stephen King has to put four of those into a box in order to flog it. We discourage and ignore synopses because we've never read one yet that made us feel better about the first three chapters of a book (interestingly enough the professionals who send us material, agents and overseas publishers, never send synopses – just a few notes on the front sheet telling us broadly what the book is about).

    Beyond that we are merely inclined towards publishing a book in direct proportion to the enjoyment we derived from reading it – nothing more complicated than that. We don’t try to follow trends for particular sub-genres or specifically look for something that’s like something else that’s already out there. We just want original and captivating stories well told.

    BD: What books are you most proud of having published?

    EH: All of them. So far we’ve only published five. Naturally we’re delighted about Twan’s thoroughly deserved recognition for The Gift of Rain, but there is another book that we brought out at about the same time that is the best contemporary action thriller I’ve read in twenty years. It’s called The Painted Messiah and is written by Craig Smith, an American living in Switzerland. Its premise is that Pontius Pilate has a picture of the captive Jesus painted from life. The picture turns up nearly two thousand years later and all hell breaks loose as people are prepared to lie, steal and kill for it. Everybody who has read it is bowled over by it. But can I get anyone in the press or in the trade to read it? Can I bugger.

    Then there is Sebastian Beaumont’s Thirteen, a surreal tale of the strange adventures of a nightshift taxi driver in Brighton. Scott Pack (Friday Project, ex Waterstone’s and consummate blogger) rates this one as one of the two or three best books he’s read since the new century began.

    Our first book was Ian Brotherhood’s Bulletproof Suzy. Ian is a writer’s writer of great talent and in some ways his is the best book we’ve published though it suffered in terms of impact by being our first project. This is a gritty urban tale with a political edge, something of a blend of A Clockwork Orange (although the gang members are female) and the sort of stuff Irvine Welsh used to do so well.

    Our latest title is Samantha David’s I Married a Pirate. It’s chicklit with attitude and a very untypical romantic hero. It’s also extremely funny.

    BD: What books are you working on right now?

    EH: We won’t be bringing out any more books this year: we’ll be taking time to sort out our domestic supply chain and flag up next year’s titles to the press and to book buyers.

    Then we have three titles out in February and March 2008: Mrs Lincoln (originally published as Mary) by Janis Cooke Newman this is our first US import bought from McAdam Cage. It’s done extremely well over there and comes with a string of reviews in US national newspapers and magazines. It’s a fictional memoir of Mary Todd Lincoln, the US president’s wife and begins in the Belle Vue insane asylum (a few years after the assassination) where she has just been committed by her own son. Each chapter then comprises an episode of Mary’s life, starting with her childhood in a wealthy slave-owning Kentuckian family, and also deals with her attempts to prove her sanity and escape her incarceration. Mary Lincoln is a figure of some notoriety across the pond. In her own lifetime she attracted a lot of bad coverage from the press who latched on to her compulsive and extravagant spending habits, her addiction to laudanum, outspokenness, spiritualism and psychotic fear of assassins. The phrase ‘First Lady’ was invented for her (by a visiting British journalist); she was the first spouse to take on a high public profile in her own right – over a century before Margaret Trudeau, Hilary Clinton or Cherie Blair. Janis has put together a very convincing account and used a very authentic voice. I’m told she would read half a dozen or so of Mary’s 600 plus letters before writing in order to get into character.

    Then there’s Gladiatrix, the debut historical novel of Russell Whitfield. It’s the sort of stuff that will appeal to fans of Cornwall, Scarrow and Iggulden – popular historical fiction at its swash buckling best. As the title suggests, it’s about female gladiators near the end of the first century in Roman Asia Minor. Russell is not only very knowledgeable about his subject but he writes the most searingly brilliant fight scenes I’ve ever come across.

    Next is Toby Frost’s Space Captain Smith: a sort of Dan Dare spoof set in a future where the British Empire has risen again – this time with a galactic dimension. Toby’s hero, Isambard Smith, battles against the evil Ghast Empire that threatens to enslave the galaxy and destroy all humanoids. He’s loyal, honest, brave and somewhat asinine.

    At the end of 2008 we’ll be bringing out Craig Smith’s sequel to The Painted Messiah. This one’s called The Blood Lance and I’ll have the full manuscript for editing by October. Sebastian Beaumont has another psycho-thriller for us called The Juggler.

    In the middle part of 2008 we’ll be bringing out Thirteen, The Painted Messiah and The Gift of Rain in mass-market B format but we also have two or three slots for original works that we’re still considering how best to fill.

    Tan Twan eng also has another novel in progress which deals with Malaya in the turbulent decade after WW II that preceded Malaysian independence. We expect to have it next spring and it’ll most likely launch early 2009.

    *****

    These are The Book Depository's 5 favourite Myrmidon titles:


  • Princeton University Press

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:40

    The Book Depository: What/who do you see as your primary market?

    Sam Elworthy (Princeton University Press): Our primary market at Princeton is the world of scholarship broadly conceived -- from undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty to readers of the TLS or New Scientist or the New Republic who may not be housed in universities but who are engaged with the critical intellectual issues of the day. Of course, we frequently reach that market indirectly -- we rely on productive relationships with bookstores, libaries, wholesalers, internet retailers, foreign publishers and so on to reach our readers effectively. But, ultimately, if the scholarly world no longer cares about the ideas in our books, then we no longer have a market.

    We publish a broad range of scholarly books -- from anthropology to zoology, from uppper level economics texts, to research monographs in literature, to books for the general reader like Harry Frankfurt's On Bullshit or Robert Shiller's Irrational Exuberance. But, unlike some other university presses, Princeton does not publish bibles, or journals, or children's books, or regional books. We are tightly focused as a Press on publishing just the most outstanding scholarly books for a broad market.

    BD: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?

    SE: We still believe that the principal challenge, and opportunity, for a scholarly publisher like Princeton is much the same as it was when the Press began a hundred years ago -- to focus deeply on a select number of disciplines, to find the outstanding minds within and across those disciplines, and to persuade those scholars to write their most innovative and ambitious books for the Press. I think back to Paul Tomlinson, the Princeton University Press director in 1921, who collared Albert Einstein on the great physicist's first trip to the United States and persuaded him to turn some lecture into a book for general readers -- a book that became The Meaning of Relativity. Finding the next Albert Einstein or Northrop Frye or John von Neumann and working with them to produce books that define fields and change the way people think is still our key challenge.

    There are also, of course, many new challenges and opportunities for scholarly publishers right now. The explosion of the internet means that people increasingly write books, learn about books, buy books, and (sometimes) read books online. The globalization of the economy and of intellectual life means that publishers need to understand what is happening at Tsinghua University as well as Cambridge and Stanford. The continued expansion and fragmentation of scholarly life makes it a tougher challenge to develop books that impact across the scholarly world, rather than just in one segment of one discipline. And scholarly publishers like Princeton now compete for great minds in a publishing world populated by agents, advances, and multinational for-profit companies. At Princeton, we take those new challenges very seriously but we try to do so while remaining focused on the greatest opportunity -- to publish field-defining books rooted in outstanding scholarship.

    BD: What brings you to the decision to publish a particular title/author?

    SE: Our individual publishing decisions are rooted in a broader strategy. Our commissioning editors spend a great deal of time on college campuses and at academic conferences so that they develop a deep understanding of their fields. They know what topics or approaches are attracting the most talented scholars, what areas are running out of steam, what courses are being developed, and so on. From that knowledge, they work with us to develop a clear strategy for their list -- identifying the types of books they will go after and the key areas of the field that they will commission in. Our editors then seek out the best scholars and the most exciting book projects that fit the strategy and try to bring them to the Press. At Princeton, all books are reviewed by our editorial board for their scholarly value and our management team scrutinizes the publishing rationale for each book, but in the first instance our editors make decisions on which books to commission guided by a clear sense of the direction they want to take the list.

    BD: What books are you most proud of having published?

    SE: We celebrated our centenary at Princeton University Press a couple of years ago and it provided an opportunity to recall one hundred of the Press's most important books -- from Frank Lloyd Wright's Modern Architecture to George Polya's How To Solve It, from The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein to Erich Auerbach's Mimesis. And there are many, many more great books to be proud of. But I also think about books we have published recently that are, at their heart, profound works of scholarship but that have also touched a nerve among a broader audience -- books like Bernard Williams's Truth and Truthfulness, Philip Tetlock's Expert Political Judgement, Douglas Erwin's Extinction, and Kirk Varnedoe's Pictures of Nothing.

    BD: What books are you working on right now?

    SE: We are tremendously excited about the first book in our new line of reference books -- The Princeton Companion to Mathematics, edited by Fields-Medallist Tim Gowers at Cambridge. It's a book that we think will pull together the intellectual core of maths for a broad audience. We also have a number of important books on Europe coming out shortly that should generate a good deal of attention -- particularly Joan Scott's book on the politics of the veil in France and Eric Weitz's big new history of Weimar Germany. And we are, as always, working hard on a number of books in which major scholars tackle big questions -- the core of a press like Princeton: Alan Krueger on What Makes a Terrorist, Peter and Rosemary Grant on How and Why Species Multiply, Greg Clark's economic history of the world, Farewell to Alms...

    *****

    These are The Book Depository's 5 favourite Princeton University Press titles:


  • Acumen Publishing

    Tue, 09 Dec 2008 11:40

    The Book Depository: What/who do you see as your primary market?

    Steven Gerrard (Acumen): Philosophy in the UK is little taught outside of university, so the biggest slice of our readership is made up of people either teaching or studying philosophy in higher education. However, we do aim to make our books as accessible as the subject allows and many of our books are suitable for the non-specialist, those working in other disciplines, and those coming to the subject for the first time.

    Recent years have seen a growing interest in philosophy from readers of serious non-fiction and this is becoming an increasingly important part of our readership. It’s only in its recent history that philosophy has disappeared behind the walls of a highly professionalised academy. For most of its history –– from Plato to Russell –– philosophers have engaged wide audiences on matters of life and death. It would be great to see that happen again and our new series, The Art of Living aims to do just that.

    BD: What are the principal challenges/opportunities you see at the moment in the business of publishing books?

    SG: I’m sure I should say something like the internet or the increasing dominance of UK publishing by a handful of global conglomerates, but I can’t say that any of this keeps me awake at night. The problems Acumen faces are far more prosaic: getting our authors to deliver their manuscripts on time is one of our biggest challenges!

    BD: What brings you to the decision to publish a particular title/author?

    SG: We tend to take a proactive approach to commissioning. We do our market research, decide what books we think need to be written, and we then approach suitable authors to write them. So “the decision to publish” is made, in principle, at a very early stage. Once the manuscript is delivered it goes through a process of peer review that ensures the books are of the best quality and meet the needs of the market. As a niche publisher, it’s relatively straightforward to know your field and to quantify the likely size of the market for a book. The risks are much greater and the stakes much higher in fiction and consumer book publishing.

    BD: What books are you most proud of having published?

    SG: It’s always the most recent. We’ve just published Mark Francis’s intellectual biography of the Victorian man of letters and science, Herbert Spencer, (Herbert Spencer and the Invention of Modern Life) which is a book I’ve been discussing with the author for over ten years and with three different publishers! I’m particularly pleased to see it come to fruition. Spencer was a giant of the Victorian age and Mark’s book is a work of superb scholarship that puts paid to the plethora of misinformation surrounding the man and his ideas.

    BD: What books are you working on right now?

    SG: We are busy working on next year’s list, which includes our first titles in classics, a new area for us that we hope to grow alongside philosophy, and our new series, The Art of Living, edited by Mark Vernon, which I mentioned earlier.

    We plan to launch The Art of Living series in the autumn with up to a dozen titles. The series gives philosophers the opportunity to write for a general readership on subjects that interest them about themes in life. The first titles include Colin McGinn on Sport, Havi Carel on Illness, Lars Svendsen on Work, Mark Vernon on Wellbeing, John Harvey on Clothes, Erica Fudge on Pets, Raymond Tallis on Hunger, Mark Rowlands on Fame, Ziyad Marar on Deception and Seiriol Morgan on Sex. The series aims to reinvigorate philosophy once again on questions perhaps humdrum, perhaps profound, and open up the subject’s riches to a wider public once again. The books draw on traditions in philosophy to enrich, stimulate and challenge the writer and reader’s thoughts about their own life. The series takes its lead from the concerns of the ancient Greek philosophers: how we might live, not just what we might think.

    *****

    These are The Book Depository's 5 favourite Acumen Publishing titles:


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