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Thursday, September 29, 2011

Behind the Scenes with Publishing Consultant, and Literary Agent, Pat Shepherd

Tell us about yourself, and why/how you became a publisher.
My background needs explaining here as I have experience across all areas of publishing including being an author. I now run my own company as a Publishing Consultant as well as being an agent. I successfully sold my first multiple contracts for one of my authors six months after starting my agency.
I started my working life as a teacher then moved into educational publishing almost by chance as an area manager – having never sold anything in my life running a sales team! I was quickly promoted to become project editor on a major reading and language programmer. This entailed writing teacher resource materials and some pupil activities such as games, worksheets etc along with some of the reading books. I did not get my name on many of the materials mind you! I probably earned the company around £6 million in turnover in around 10 years!
I found it intensive and needed to get somebody else on board as well as I had two maternity leaves (13 weeks!) and with two young children I needed to take the pressure off myself so, I started looking for a potential author. I found him. He was the head of a trial school I was using and he went on to publish numerous books for other publishers as well. His name was Louis Fidge and I am delighted that I gave him the step up he needed and he went in to writing full time.  
After several moves, I ended up as UK Sales manager of an educational publishing house before being approached to join a major trade house as a consultant and then joining as UK Sales manager for Children’s Books. Children’s has always been my specialty. After being promoted to sales director and being there 14 years, I decided to jump ship and create my own business as a publishing consultant.
Over the years in various publishing houses I have done – editorial, sales, marketing, publicity, both trade and educational. In the smaller places, I was doing virtually all four at the same time. That is the joy of the small houses.
A sales conference at an editorial meeting.
When I jumped ship I quickly became even more experienced in all the above plus production along with customs requirements and the setting up of joint ventures with various other agencies for a couple of my clients.
My major role as Publisher is at Lerner Books where I choose all the books for publication in the UK from the US list, including project management of the whole enterprise. We cannot take on UK authors to write for us at present as the print runs are too small, and we cannot make the costs work. One day we will!
In addition, I set up my literary agency alongside the consultancy, which is in its early days. Part of that is working with a new digital development house as both their agent to sell their digital offerings to print partners and as their marketing agent to sell the apps and eBooks. Moreover, I have sold a multiple contract for picture books to a small startup publishing company for publication next year.   
How long does it take to make a name a publishing house in the industry, and what frustrations have you overcome to make it a success?
In the small houses, the media often overlook you because it is all about what the big houses think. IPG (Independent Publishers guild in UK) is now getting more of a force to be reckoned with which is giving small houses more of a voice.  In the big houses, you have to fight to get your bosses to trust you to be allowed to talk to the Bookseller or other trade press without having to get everything vetted in advance. That can be frustrating. Once they realize you actually do not say stupid things the brakes are off and you can get your name known in the press then you become someone who is allowed an opinion. However, it takes a lot of effort. 
What is the breakdown of books you publish?
Children’s – all ages
How do you publicize your books?
Blogs, social media, mailings to schools, review and publicity mailings, advance copies to major buyers to encourage them to read the books, proof copies and website offers. Many books get given away but my theory is that for every one you give away you sell hundreds more.
In these tough economic times, do you think small publishers can make their mark on literature and the book selling market?  How best can small presses accomplish their goals?
In this global and internet age the small houses have an advantage in that they can react to things quickly. The big houses are like tankers and take forever to change direction or react to an opportunity. They also control their people too much and strangle creativity.
Online reviewers, such as book bloggers, have gained additional recognition at Book Expo America and with publishers and PR staff. Has your publishing company tapped this market of reviewers to spread the word about its books and how formal or informal and/or important are these relationships?
These are essential and I am only just really getting to grips with this. I am at the latter end of my career and wish I had the ‘e’ nous of my kids!
If you could give new one piece of advice about finding a publisher, particularly a small press, to publish their work, what would that be and why?
Just keep going and be as creative and imaginative in your pitch as you can be. Forget just sending a sample and biog. Catch their eye and make them see you as a marketing dream!
What types of publishers are there?  What kinds of publishers should the author be wary?
Be very wary of vanity publishers. Do not send your work to places where they charge you a fee to read it! That is a complete waste of time and money. Look at trade listings (Writers’ and Artists’ Year Book in the UK) or Bologna and/or Frankfurt Catalogues and match your book to their lists. Do not send to houses that do not publish your genre of book. It smacks of not knowing the market for your book.
Does an author have to have an agent? Why?  How does a writer find an agent?  What things should they consider before hiring one?
The big houses prefer an agent as they feel that the book has already passed one test – the eagle eye of an agent. In many instances now, they will not even read any submissions unless sent in by agent. You need to think about what that agent specializes in such as obvious things like do not send a children’s book to an agent who handles Health and Beauty books! 
How should an author prepare a query? What is the biggest mistake that aspiring authors make when they submit their work?
They do not research the best fit for their book on the publisher’s list, they do not ‘sell’ themselves just stick the book/sample in the post with a covering letter. They ignore the submission requirements and do not stick to them. However, having said that, occasionally it works – but that is because the author is a marketing dream and has been able to really show their added value, so the editor buys into that author and wants to see the whole thing. 
Is there always an editor signed to the author, and what other services should a writer ask about?
There will be several people involved from copy editors, desk editors etc. However, one will be the main contact and it is essential that the author and editor really get along, trust each other and collaborate on the book. It is a working partnership, one which transcends the publishing company. It is why authors often follow their editors if they move publishing house. The author can be a very vulnerable human being who is allowing another person to criticize and interact with his or her ‘baby’. It takes a lot of work and time for that relationship to become one of mutual trust and understanding, so breaking in a new editor can be traumatic for an author. It is far easier get along with them.   
Is there a marketing budget for new authors?

It depends on the contract. If there has been a bidding war and a big advance is paid, then yes. The Publisher has to really promote the book with big bucks to recoup their advance. Some of these big advance books never earn enough, so the advance is all the author will get (which can be big) but they will never get to the royalties stage as too much was paid out on contract. However, if the advance is a sensible amount and the marketing is spent wisely then the book has a great chance of selling in good numbers. If the publisher is small or the advance paid on contract very small then there will be very little marketing unless there is big support from the sales director and the sales team who get behind it and really push for the major promotions in the major resellers. Then marketing will be allocated later.    

What should an author know about their publisher’s distribution sources?

Do not get involved. It is horrible to see all the books coming back and being pulped but it is a fact of the business. Just know who they are!

Can books usually be purchased from the publisher?  If not, why would this not speak well or that publisher?

It is usually part of the contract to have a certain number of free copies at publication, reprint and a further quantity at a set discount. This will encourage the author to do their own events in schools and take along their books to sell on that day. On the official tours set up by the publisher, then a local bookseller will be organized to sell books.
Do all publishers assist the author in exploiting their subsidiary rights?
If they are any good they should.
What should considerations should be given to the book’s cover art?
Trust the publisher – they know their market, and where they are pitching the book. Major buyers will tell the publisher what they think and changes may be made as a result. An author will sometimes be asked to give an opinion. I am at the latter end of my career and wish I had the ‘e’ nous of my kids!  Be sensible and do not throw a wobbly. If you alienate the designer/publisher they will think you are ‘difficult’ and not want to be helpful. Even if you have the power of veto, do not use it. Say what you think in careful terms, but finish it with ‘but you know the market so I leave the final decision to you’. That way you will gain friends and always get to see the covers at each stage because you are being reasonable. At the end of the day, they do know their business and they do want your book to sell – honestly – even though it may not always feel like it.
What should an author know about royalties?
They should know what they are, where the breaks are and understand them. If you have an agent let them deal with the nitty-gritty but do try to understand them and always check whatever paperwork you are sent. Some royalty statements are horrendous to read – but then that is only if the book is selling in lots of places all over the world so that is a nice problem to have.
Should books be distributed to various reviewers, newspapers, bookstore owners, retailers, and radio stations? Why?
Yes, as word of mouth really can help. It does not always sell books but if it is sent out for review, it tells the reviewers and the chain buyers that the publisher really believes in this book.
Can you tell the writers the purpose of a publicist?  How does a writer get one?
This should be done by the publisher. You can pay a fortune to a publicist who will charge to send out reviews but not necessarily follow them up. How can you tell? You cannot. Once you are famous and have lots of fan mail etc it might be worth getting someone to deal with the Publishers publicity dept and agree your tours to your satisfaction, or create your own tours – lots of books can be sold on tour, get you to all the major festivals as publishers can’t take all their authors, look at all your fan mail and draft some answers for you – though try and do them yourself to begin with. 
Jobs a Publicist can do are:
·         Organize tours and travel arrangements
·         Accompany author on tour, carry bags, sort out problems and deal with the bookshop managers, and staff or festival organizers
·         Ensure the author has refreshments and a good supply of pens etc as well as a signing table or if they are giving a talk time to see the venue and make sure the equipment provided is as requested
·         Organize the signing queues – you’d be surprised what a pig’s ear some festivals or bookshops can make of something so simple
·         Make sure the author is not over used – IE they were booked to talk to a class of 30 eight year olds and what they get is 100 children from four classes of ages seven up to ten – not the same kind of event at all. If the author makes a fuss it, makes the children remember a complaining author, which is not good whereas someone working for them can be the buffer. The author can just say I have to do as my publicist says! Good PR. 
·         In advance they can be liaising with the venue to ensure there is an audience – exposure to an empty shop is death to an author
·          Deal with fan mail
·         Make sure the author gets away on time to catch their train etc
·         Does anything the author needs at the time to ensure they can perform their role as booked 
Do most publishers provide posters? Shelf talkers? Bookmarks?  What other services should a writer want to know about in this area.
This all depends on the reaction of the customers (chain buyers not end users) to the books and whether they want them. It is the bookshop that requests them not the publisher who decides on doing them. If a customer requests the shelf talkers then they should commit to a good quantity of books in the first instance – which can still comeback though!

If you would like to contact Pat you can do so by emailing her at:  Orchard Publishing Consultancy

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