This is the first in a series of posts centering on my experience as a Publisher at Macmillan. I am proposing to deal with the following over the series, focusing on what actually happens inside the castle of old-money publishing.

1. Proposals meetings
2. How to be a career author
3. Planning a brand vs planning one book

If you have something else you would like to hear instead or further to this list please comment.

EPISODE 1: PROPOSALS MEETINGS

2364722127_6bb6b1c867 Proposals Meetings run monthly or quarterly in most Publishing Houses. At these meetings the whole interdepartmental assembly (sometimes fondly called the “team”) comes together to choose future projects. These meetings look at proposals with:

A. One eye on the past and
B. One eye on the sandwich plate in the middle of the table.

The eye on the past is to measure your proposal against past failures and successes. For this reason your proposal must be across the detail of the other key players in your space. The eye on the sandwiches is due to the fact that in publishing, most of us work very hard for wages not commensurate with the other occupants of town’s big end. Most of us need very strong proof that taking on a book is going to help us continue to eat.

For the proposing author, the dual challenge here is to ensure you know your category’s history and have developed a fresh twist to help make its future look like the newest, sexiest model of a favourite automobile. If you are writing speculative fiction, you must know that beyond Rowling’s dazzling monuments tower Philip Pullman and Garth Nix in their own citadels. You must tip your hat, do your training and be prepared to run an original race along the very same track as those who went before you. The same applies whether you write fiction, non-fiction or textbooks.

Your proposal must have already sold itself to the Publisher you or your agent submitted it to, so at the point of the Proposals Meeting, they are your Sales Representative. The key to keeping all available eyes off the sandwich plate and on your very best assets, is to have your Publisher emotionally connected to your work. This means:

– Writing your precious heart out in the cold, dark and lonely hours and leaving nothing in reserve
– Being prepared to walk away and start again
– Trusting the Publisher will judge the work by:

(1) The current opportunity afforded by the category
(2) Your own platform as a professional person, and
(3) The intrinsic strengths of the work

– Trusting the Publisher will get every nuance you left for them
– Following the Publisher up in brief, polite, well worded emails sent between 8-9am, and finally, a phone call

So, over to you. Can I answer a question for you? Help explain an experience you’ve had with a Publishing House?

http://www.flickr.com/photos/lumaxart/ / CC BY-SA 2.0

CASH JPublishers, and Educational Publishers in particular, are spending big money by paying writers and illustrators upfront fees in exchange for the assignment of rights. This is an opportunity for talented writers and illustrators to make a living. But what are the traps? Here is a SWOT analysis from the point of view of a freelance writer/illustrator – with some insider Publisher tips.

S=STRENGTH

Getting paid up front means food can be purchased and stored in the fridge. Rent can be paid. Cash flow is the key to every business. As a writer, you know that, but oftentimes creative people, for all their talents, find find basic commerce a drag. The ability to turn your hand to educational or other content to a specific brief, with narrow research time, no fuss and short deadlines is tantamount to cash flow. Further, every time you get a gig, your your name is in the public space.

TIP: Have a look at the major educational publishers’ websites. There is a wide range of products you could consider contributing to. These include children’s literacy-based readers, school and college texts, study guides and supplements. If you write well, or draw well, find an educator who knows something about a subject area, match your skills to a category I just mentioned and look for a gap in the market. The results could be surprising.

W=WEAKNESS

Assigning rights means you are forfeiting a royalty and copyright for cash up front. The metric for cash is usually a minimal, break-even print run x ARP / your contribution. This means, the fee equates to a publication not making a whole lot of money. As a result, you negate the risk of massive hours down the drain but miss the chance at bigger money that comes with higher sales.

TIP: If you assign rights, you should reasonably expect to retain the moral right to be named as the author of what you wrote. Look for this in any contract you may sign. There’s no point writing if you don’t get a mention.

O=OPPORTUNITY

One successful freelance gig=more offers. A good writer could reasonably expect to book a year’s work in around 8 weeks if they knew:

– the educational market as well as I do
– how to combine with educators with little commercial experience in order to supply Publisher needs.

This post is not going to unfold all of this but I’ll start with a tip.

TIP: Have a look at government departments in your country/state responsible for education and curriculum change. See what areas they are looking at. These are exactly the same areas the Publishers are looking at. Make enquiries to Publishers you find active in these curriculum areas to see whether they are seeking good all-round writers. Remember, your pitch will be strengthened if you combine forces with an experienced educator. You write the copy, they write the questions and activities. If you are an illustrator, combine with the writer and the educator to build value.

T=THREAT

If you always write for cash, you may undermine your passive income opportunity. Royalty payments are a passive income opportunity in the sense that, with a successful publication, you continue to be paid while a book is selling. If you are only known as a freelance writer, you lose the bigger opportunity of becoming a capital A Author.

TIP A capital A Author will seldom write under any agreement other than a royalty-based contract, but an emerging writer fond of food and shelter will need to be flexible.
My advice is to build a portfolio of successful cash-based contributions and use this to help drive a royalty based deal over the line. Freelance gigs are always useful – try and keep both types of gig rolling out simultaneously, building your name and value one word at a time.

Photo by Franco Folini

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I take the bus to my day job at Macmillan. The bus is a 1979 Volvo. I first caught it at the age of ten when I went to a World Series game in Sydney. (In Australia, this means cricket: if you are American, this is not related to insects ot “jiminy cricket”. Think sport. Consider baseball take away logic and reason, replace with deep, enduring patience and sun cream. Only the British aristocracy could invent a game that takes five days to complete. That’s cricket. Also take away hot dogs and replace with meat pies. If you are Indian, replace meat pies with samosas.) So anyway, there I am, on the old rattler. I’m 40 now. And sure, I’ve aged. The bus though has carbon dated. Pulling away from the kurb, it sounds like a cross between the Industrial Revolution and its cousin, the end of the world. People with swine flu and people with the fear of swine flu trade suspicious looks. Up the back, a man coughs. Hack, hack, hack. He keeps time with the knock of the diesel engine. I see a stop coming up, around 5 miles from the city. I get up. No swine flu, no despoiled childhood memory is going to take me while I still have use of my legs. So I get off and start walking. I walk and as I walk I feel better. I walk past a blue tongue lizard, sunning himself like the dream of an extinct dinosaur. What progress has he seen? Concrete floods, an increase in flies. Why his tongue is as blue as Sydney Harbour is a mystery best left to naturalists and seers. To me, it simply means there is hope that the world allows certain minor rebellions to go unpunished. Above the lizard, a canopy of eucalypts where sits an Australian raven, bothered by a gang of smaller squawkers intent on the defence of their unhatched eggs. fresias I walk on, past the inevitable, harmless domestic infrastructure and onto the Sydney Harbour Bridge, a walk at some altitude that is as yet not invoicable, past the aging, hapless security guards, watchful for terrorists eager to bring down this miracle as payback for who-knows-what. I walk and I walk and I walk until the bridge gives way to the city and the city gives way to the lift and there I am alone, in the corner office, ready to do battle again, space opening up like the corona of springtime fresias.

Photos by Tammy Puntii and Chris and Steve