Thursday, 4 March 2010
100 Stories for Haiti by Guest Blogger Greg McQueen
Gill James recently blogged about her experience from a publisher’s perspective of getting to 100 Stories for Haiti from concept to print. She kindly gave me permission to share her post.
100 Stories for Haiti - a publisher's perspective
An extraordinary chain of events lead us to becoming the publishers of this rather amazing volume. Three of the four partners are also writers, two of them seriously so. And somehow, we can’t actually remember how, but no doubt as a result of the usual networking we all have to do, we learnt about Greg McQueen’s project and two of us submitted stories.
Then we followed the project. It just happened to be one of those days when I was feeling bold and cheeky. You know the sort of mood you have to be in to phone an agent or editor rather than hide meekly behind email or snailmail? I was feeling like that when I read that there was going to be a paperback edition BUT that it was only going to be sold on-line.
Ah, so no ISBN I thought. If you issue an ISBN and bother to register with Nielsen’s – well you have to really – at some point a bookseller – including our lovely friend Amazon - will want to order it.
Greg confirmed that the hard copy would have an ISBN and I found myself offering to distribute on behalf of the original publisher, also a small indie like us, and wondering what our very efficient administrator was going to say about the amount of work that might come her way.
Of course, we’re encouraging everyone to buy direct from us as more then goes to Haiti. But a presence in online book stores is welcome. There are also just a few people who would rather order through their local bookshop, and the book will still make a profit, albeit tiny.
Then on the 5 February Greg was desperately trying to get hold of me. Bridge House was at the time extremely busy – we were doing some important work for our own charity book and we were also holding our AGM.
He got us eventually The other publisher had had to pull out. Could we help? Could we heck? Of course we would. Bridge House loves a challenge.
Bridge House normally operates on a profit share with the authors. The authors get 50% of any profit. The partners and the company get the rest. We haven’t actually paid ourselves anything since we became a partnership almost exactly a year ago. We did get a free lunch once, I think. We have made a profit, but we’re leaving the money in our bank account to aid cash flow. Normally we need to sell about 150 books before we start making any profit on a particular title. However, this allows for a commissioned cover for which we pay £250 – a little under the going rate and our artists are wonderful in that they will wait until the book covers the cost before we have to pay them, though we’ll often pay them out of what is actually the company’s or partners’ but never the authors’ profit. We’ve always got it back – eventually. In the case of 100 Stories for Haiti we didn’t have to pay for a cover as Greg had a basic design and out technical designer was able to tease it and the inside of the book into shape. No one at Bridge House or in Greg’s team are taking a penny from this venture.
We didn’t have to do much editorial work at this point – probably only what I’d call third level – copy edit and design matters as well as getting the script into house style. There was probably no first level editing – reshaping of stories, strengthening of characters, restructuring, adding and subtracting scenes, changing pace and drama. The stories which had faults in those areas had probably been weeded out by Greg’s team of reader / editors before they came our way. The second level of editing - checking the flow, seeing that characters were consistent, making sure it all made sense, making sure no one had left in darlings that needed killing had all been done and the script for the whole book had been put together by Amy Burns, an independent editor. She also worked completely for free.
The script arrived with us on about the 8th of February. It was not quite as ready for the designer as scripts are when the editorial team at Bridge House pass them on but it wasn’t far off. It is our designer, Martin James, aka my husband, who did most of the work. Proof reading of the PDF was assigned to Greg’s team, though Martin also skimmed the script as he does have an eye for these things. I kept my eye on the total process, and Nicola, our administrator, set up a logical system for taking payment and making sure plenty of profit could be made for Haiti. She’s also made sure we are completely transparent and is sharing information with the Red Cross and 100storiesforhaiti.org Debz and Ollie, our two publicists, gave a light touch to the marketing – they have to devote some of their time to our other projects – though as Debz and I are also published in the book, we are making the usual Bridge House effort that all of our authors make to get our books out there. And there are a few more names on that amazing cover that are already familiar to Bridge House. They all know how to make books sell. Ollie has been great at getting the wording exactly right for our point of sale copy.
We managed to be able to load the bibliographic date up to Nielsens by the 14 February, lunch time, and later that day the camera-ready cover and script were uploaded to our printer. Then we waited. And waited. And waited. Normally we have a proof copy within about four days, sometime less.
We were partly a victim of our own haste. We’ve learnt with our printer to say the book is released the day we upload it. Having just indicated 4 March as publishing date with Nielsens, we repeated it. So it took a couple of phone calls to kick start them. Then there were problems with the cover. It wouldn’t bleed correctly and they couldn’t balance the white space around the top and bottom properly. Also, we were getting unwanted white space on the lefthand side of the back cover. We’re into quantum physics and relativity now. Even though the measurements are exactly the same to fractions of a millimetre on our two dimensional PDF as on their three dimensional proof copy the cover just wouldn’t look the same. The design team at the printers had to make an adjustment.
We never phone the printers. We had to this time, and we have to take thank to Kelly Guy who nursed the whole project through and kept everybody on the ball. She must have felt as if we were constantly nagging her. I’m pleased to say the first print run is now running.
There is one great advantage of being the founder of a publishing company. The first three books I did completely on my own though always Martin designed them. Another time I’ll give you the full Bridge House story. But more especially because I’m married to the designer I get to see the proof copy. So, I now have 100 Stories for Haiti right by me on my desk as I type. It feels and looks lovely. I’ve already read up to the end of The Beautiful Game. So far so good. Damn good read apart from anything else. I’m so glad I got involved in this project.
You want to do something. But I’d be no good at digging through rubble or helping the people who no longer have a roof over their heads. There are others who can do that sort of thing better than I can. And sure, I can put my hand in my pocket and pull out a fiver. But that won’t go far. I can write and I know how to get a book out fast. That might be the best I can offer.
Thanks Gill! And, thank you, Jane!
100 Stories for Haiti is OUT NOW! Available online and in bookshops. The paperback edition costs £11.99 + P&P. You can preview part of the book here: http://www.100storiesforhaiti.org/read-an-extract/
Thank you to Greg and all the wonderful team who have worked tirelessly to get this project where it is today. You can read more about 100 Stories for Haiti in the next issue of Words with JAM.