An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘Independent’

Introducing Darren Laws, Founder of Caffeine Nights Publishing

Time for yet another Publisher interview! This time with the publisher of the amazing Abide With Me by Ian Ayris. Here the founder Darren Laws, with whom I connected on Twitter, explains the origins of his innovative publishing company…

Darren Laws

Please introduce yourself! 

My name is Darren Laws, I am the founder, owner and managing director of Caffeine Nights Publishing.

 

Can you tell us about the origins of Caffeine Nights Publishing? How did it all begin? 

Caffeine Nights began life as an online site in the late 1990s, 24/7 Caffeine Nights, publishing short stories and other works from unpublished authors. This stemmed from a writing group I founded in Maidstone Kent, when I realised there was a huge amount of unpublished quality writing. In 2007 we moved into Print-on-Demand and eBooks and I spent a few years researching the market before we published Nick Quantrill’s Broken Dreams in 2010.

 

What kind of literature do you publish and why did you choose to specialise in this field? 

We specialise in crime and horror fiction, both genres that I love and have read avidly since I was young. James Herbert’s The Rats was my introduction into adult books at the age of 12.

 

What would you say has been your biggest success so far? 

Every book is a success on one level. Publishing is an extremely competitive business and it’s great seeing many of our titles get in the various top 10 charts at Amazon. Caffeine Nights was shortlisted for The Bookseller Awards last year for Digital Strategy for our free app. That was special!

 

What are some of the challenges you’ve had to overcome? 

Every day in publishing is a challenge. From gaining the attention of the buyers in book stores to finding ways to market and advertise books on a tight budget.

 

What can you give to your authors that other, bigger publishers can’t? 

A personal service! Caffeine Nights work with authors to help them develop a career. We realise that few authors become an overnight success and that there is a nurturing stage.

 

How does the ebook format benefit independent publishers? 

eBook are another sales channel and an important one. The advent and popularity of eBooks cannot be ignored as a significant factor in the democratisation of publishing.

 

What do you look for in a submission and what is it that shines through in the slush pile? 

I don’t call it a slush pile, every submission has had a lot of effort from the author, regardless of how good or bad it is. Good submissions really do leap from the page and from the introductory email or letter from the author. Bad ones are sloppy, error prone and usually over-sold by the author who thinks they have written the greatest book ever. Arrogance always rings alarm bells.

 

What books are you particularly excited about publishing?

I wouldn’t publish any book I am not excited about. So the simple answer is all of them!

Find Caffeine Nights on Twitter @caffeinenights

You can find out more about their digital app, titles and more at http://caffeine-nights.com/

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Introducing Red Button Publishing

I am extremely excited to share with you all my interview with Caroline of independent publishing house Red Button Publishing. She has kindly taken time from her busy schedule to share with us insights into the independent publishing world, information about their upcoming titles and a wealth of knowledge and experience gained over her years working in the publishing industry…

Caroline Goldsmith, one of the lovely ladies behind Red Button Publishing

A shelfie from Caroline Goldsmith, one of the lovely ladies behind Red Button Publishing

Please introduce our readers to yourself and to Karen Ings. What are your backgrounds and career journeys?

I met Karen nearly fifteen years ago when I started in my first job in publishing at Aurum Press where she was Commissioning Editor. We’ve been close friends ever since. We both moved through various roles over the years. Karen curated her list at Aurum Press for ten years before moving into a freelance role and working for companies like Penguin, Macmillan and Quercus. I worked my way through various departments including sales, rights, marketing and publicity for companies like Tate Publishing and finally DK where I worked in International Sales.

Tell us about Red Button Publishing. How and when did the company begin?

One of our regular conversations, usually over a glass of wine, over the years has been about how we would run our own publishing house. In 2012, Karen was freelancing and I was in the process of leaving my job in International Sales and moving from London to the countryside. We had both taken a keen interest in how digital technology was changing our industry and we saw opportunity. We had little funding but we had nearly three decades worth of experience between us and a lot of energy. We drafted a plan for Red Button over lunch one hot August day and decided on a name the following day. Red Button Publishing was born.

The big guys still rule the roost, but this is really the age of the independents.

What kind of literature do you focus on? How successful have you been so far?

Our aim has always been to give a voice to really outstanding fiction that might be overlooked by the mainstream. This idea was encapsulated in our first publication, The Human Script by Johnny Rich, a poignant story of a doomed love affair and also a mind expanding journey through philosophy, science, art and religion. Johnny had written the novel over a decade ago whilst on the acclaimed Creative Writing MA course at the University of East Anglia. It had been heaped with praise by writers like Ian McEwan and Tom McCarthy and was signed up by one of the top London agents. The book continued to meet with praise from commissioning editors at the major publishers but never quite made it past the commercially minded sales departments. As a sales person, I knew that a lot of good writing was deemed too risky and never saw the light of day. This was what had happened to The Human Script. We read it, we loved it and we published it in April 2013 as an ebook. It’s again been met with almost universal praise from people who’ve read it and we hope that when we publish it as a paperback later this year it will be discovered by even more readers.

Since then we’ve published three more titles and they’re all very different. The Anchoress by Paul Blaney is an exquisite novella about Maggie, a woman who locks herself in her wardrobe. As the story progresses you find out why Maggie has really decided to escape the world. It’s a very moving story about memory, childhood, grief and acceptance.

We followed this with Home by Rebekah Lattin-Rawstrone, a powerful and dark novel about a caretaker at an old people’s home who discovers something horribly disturbing about his workplace. It’s a compelling and chilling novel that asks questions about how we treat our elderly and what it means to be forgotten.

And then we published Mockstars by Christopher Russell which is a comic, coming-of-age novel best summed up by author Alex Marsh as “The Inbetweeners meets Spinal Tap’. It’s a brilliantly funny story about a group of friends trying to make it as a band, based in part on Christopher’s own tour diaries with his rock band.

Red Button Publishing's upcoming paperbacks.

Red Button Publishing’s upcoming paperbacks.

Your website states that you publish ‘fantastic fiction.’ What, for you, constitutes fantastic fiction?

We’ve often said that we’re looking for fiction that really jumps off the page, stories that are just crying out to be published. When we read a submission we’re looking for something that we would recommend to others. We both have to be completely on board to make it work. We have similar tastes in many ways but we also differ. I am a sucker for a horror story and Karen has still never quite understood my distaste for Jane Austen. We challenge each other and that’s a good thing for the list. I think it means that the books we publish are really special.

What has been the most rewarding part of the Red Button Publishing journey? Just how difficult (or indeed easy!) has it been carving a way for yourself as an independent publishing company when the competition in publishing is so large and dominating?

It’s always going to be hard for smaller companies to make their voices heard. We don’t have the marketing budgets that we were used to working with in our previous publishing lives. I think there’s an appetite for something a bit different though. People seem to like what we’re trying to do and we’ve been really overwhelmed by the support we’ve received from readers and publishing colleagues. The big guys still rule the roost, but this is really the age of the independents. We really take inspiration from other independents like Galley Beggar Press, Salt and And Other Stories who are out there doing great things for fiction.

Writers are very much front and centre of the publishing industry today, in a way that they haven’t been before.

What upcoming titles (that you’re allowed to mention!) are you really excited about?

Currently we’re working on bringing all four Red Button titles out as paperbacks. The Anchoress and Home will be published in paper on April 9th. The Human Script and Mockstars will follow over the summer. We’re big advocates of digital reading but the paperback remains a strong format for fiction and we want our books to reach as many readers as possible. We’ve also got another book from Paul Blaney lined up later in the year. It’s another challenging piece of writing that will raise questions about parenthood and biology.

Do you find that you receive a lot of submissions? If so, why do you think more and more people are looking to get published?

We read every submission that comes into our inbox so yes, it sometimes feels that we do receive a lot. I don’t think that there are more people looking to get published than before though. I just think that there are more options open to writers than there ever have been. They are very much front and centre of the publishing industry today, in a way that they haven’t been before.

You also offer consultancy services. How successful has this been?

Writers have a lot more choice in how they publish their work these days. Essentially you don’t need a publisher to get your work out there. We’re grateful that some writers still prefer to work with a publishing team but we’re also aware that many writers prefer to publish independently. But good publishing still requires work, it’s not, as some commentators have suggested ‘simply pressing a button’. And that’s where we can come in. We offer a range of services including editorial, typesetting, ebook formatting, book cover design as well as guidance through the publishing platforms. We’ve worked with some lovely writers and it’s always a good feeling to know you’re helping someone achieve their dream.

The online book community is huge and if you’re not engaged with it you’re missing out.

What do you feel are the most important skills needed for independent publishers who do all of the work for their companies themselves?

Adaptability. Things never stay the same in any industry but the pace of change in publishing has really accelerated in recent years. I have learned more in the past five years than at any other time in my career. You have to keep taking on new ideas, learning new skills, challenging your preconceptions and trying new things.

And lastly, how important is having an online presence for publishers today and why?

Hugely important. It’s not just about book discoverability either, it’s about being part of the publishing dialogue. 

Red Button floating logo

Discover Red Button Publishing online:
Twitter @RedButtonPubs
Caroline and Karen are also on Twitter (@goldcaro and @ladykarenza respectively)

Introducing Digital Publisher Andri Nel

Andri Nel, South African Digital Publisher

Andri Nel, South African Digital Publisher

Please introduce yourself! What is your personal and professional background, and how did you get into publishing?

I am Andri Nel and I live in Pretoria, South Africa. I completed my Publishing honours degree at the University of Pretoria, the only University of South Africa where you can study publishing, at the end of 2014 (our semesters work on full years not half years) and I will be furthering my studies at Oxford Brookes University on September when I start my Masters in Digital Publishing.

Digital Publishing is my passion. I fell in love with it 3 years ago in my final year of my undergraduate degree and have been working in as many fields of digital publishing as I can here in South Africa. During the years in which I completed my honours degree I entered the world of freelance digital publishing, doing both conversions and drawing up digital publishing strategies for publishers. Digital publishing is a very young field and one that is even more daunting to most publishers in South Africa where we are still struggling with a very bad reading culture, poverty and very little access to the internet in the rural areas. My personal goal is to help break the ice in this field and make digital publishing accessible to all publishers and use it to enhance the reading culture in the eleven official languages of South Africa.

Tell us about the company you work for. What type of publishing do you work in?

I am involved in a number of projects in the field of publishing, all focussing on digital publishing. As a freelancer I am currently working on the implementation of a digital publishing strategy for a nature publisher, Briza Publications, as well as the conversion, selling and launching of an independent author’s book on the compilation of prison letters by Ghandi’s son in law during Apartheid South Africa.

To keep the bread on the table I work on projects in educational digital publishing and have perfected the art of editing eBooks on screen. It was a learning curve as this is not a field which has been practiced a lot in South African publishing.

My passion lies with a venture called KliekClick which I started with three other women. KliekClick is an independent digital publisher publishing original short stories for children between the ages of 9 and 15 in Afrikaans (one of South Africa’s national languages and my mother tongue). We have a website and online store where children can buy stories in ePub and mobi format for as little as R5 (£0.25c). We also encourage children to write to us. The bulk of our stories came from a writing competition we launched on Facebook and the response was overwhelming. KliekClick is venturing out into educating learners about digital reading in 2015 with visits to schools and encouraging more children to write in their mother tongue. It is a venture I am extremely passionate. Our site is in Afrikaans, but please give it a look at www.kliekclick.co.za as well as our online shop at www.kliekclick/winkel.co.za

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Who is your target audience?

As a freelancer my target audience is publishing houses looking to venture into digital publishing and independent authors wanting to self-publish in digital format.

KliekClick’s target audience is children between the ages of 9 and 15, but also their parents as they are the ones with the money (of course).

What excites you most about digital publishing?

The possibilities digital publishing holds for publishing and especially publishing in South Africa. It is still a challenge for publishers in South Africa to understand that eBooks are not a replacement for print book (especially not in South Africa’s economic climate), but rather an extension. What excited me about working with publishers is teaching them new skills and seeing them get excited about the new ventures. What excited me about KliekClick is the opportunity we are giving short story authors, who are mostly turned down by big publishers, to have their stories published and the positive response we receive from both parents and children about the stories and the new experience they are having by buying and reading digitally.

KliekClick, the independent digital publishing company started by Andri Nel and three colleagues.

KliekClick, the independent digital publishing company started by Andri Nel and three colleagues.

How well received is digital publishing in South Africa? Is there a large publishing industry and a lot of publishers where you live?

Publishing in South Africa is mainly monopolised by the group NB Publishers, who own most of the smaller publishers, and then a lot of international publishers with branches here such as Penguin Random House, Oxford University Press and Pearson. Smaller publishers in South Africa focus on the niche markets such as language or nature. The industry itself is very small in South Africa though and is very female dominant, it really seems everyone knows everyone.

Digital publishing is still very new to South African publishing and many publishers are reluctant to venture into it. There are almost no South African publishers that publish in digital first format or even bring out a digital edition along with their print edition. Most eBooks are only backlist titles. Educational publishing has been more willing to enter into digital publishing as the Department of Education is pushing for digital learning in schools. The reluctance of most publishers is understandable as there are not real publishers with the necessary skills in digital publishing here yet (the digital publishing program was only added to the publishing curriculum 4 years ago) and because of the lack of internet infrastructure we have in the country. Most people cannot afford eReaders and tablets and despite internet connection being relatively good in the cities, some rural areas do not have any internet connection. Some publishers have started the transition, but there are still many obstacles to overcome for digital publishing.

Do you agree with the view point that is being widely discussed at the moment, about how all publishing professionals will soon need digital publishing skills to stay ahead in the game?

I think all publishers should have an understanding of all skills and fields in publishing. For example any publisher should have at least a minimal understanding of copy editing and proofreading. I think the same goes for digital publishing. Everyone in publishing should understand how it works and understand the “lingo” but not everyone needs to be a developer, not everyone needs to know how to code and create the eBook from scratch. It is a matter of understanding the field and how it fits in with your field of publishing.

eBooks are not a replacement for the print book, but rather an extension.

What do you feel are the advantages of digital publishing?

There are many generic advantages such as lower environmental impact, lower production costs (sometimes) and readers always being able to have their books with them. However I think the biggest advantage of digital publishing is the enhancement it can give to publishing. Not all books should be eBooks, I truly believe that, but those that are should not simply be a print book in digital format, what is the use. eBooks, in my opinion, should be advanced with media overlays, videos, links inside the book and outside the books. For publishers I think the biggest advantage of digital publishing is that for the first time in a long time, we can be completely creative, almost crazy, again and think outside the box. It makes for an exciting new chapter for publishing in general.

I think all publishers should have an understanding of all skills and fields in publishing.

What are the challenges facing digital publishing at the moment?

I think one of the biggest challenges is the platforms we are currently reading eBooks on. There is such a variety, but at the same time no real standard. Not only does this confuse readers and in many cases make them turn from eBooks all together, but it also makes the publisher’s job very difficult. Each platform it seems uses its own format and own DRM (which is a challenge in its own right) and it is becoming increasingly difficult to create one file which can work on all platforms. Even though productions costs might not be as high as print, they are pushed up because compatibility tests now need to be done on all different readers. Maybe it will never happen, but ultimately I think it would be best if there was one true standard for all eBooks which could allow easy reading and even sharing amongst readers.

Cartoon of Andri and her publishing colleagues.

Cartoon of Andri and her publishing colleagues.

In your point of view, will digital make print obsolete, or compliment it?

I don’t think digital will replace print, but rather enhance it. Some people will always read print books (no matter their age) others will prefer digital. Some books will always be better in print, others in digital. I compare it to paperback and hardcover, the one enhanced the other, neither one overshadows the other.

What do you read in your spare time?

I love reading classics (over and over again), biographies and Afrikaans novels, as I still love the way the Afrikaans language has evolved on the writing front.

You can follow Andri on Twitter @An3nel

Introducing Sports Writer Samuel Stevens

Today I interview a guy I met whilst volunteering as Programme Editor for the Hull Wasps, a National League basketball club in the local area. Volunteering for the Wasps gave me a wealth of experience and knowledge that I never would have had if it wasn’t for the Chairman David Bushnell giving me a chance to try something in a sport I knew almost nothing about! (Thank you very much, Dave – I owe you a lot!) Volunteering is one of the best things you can do, besides work experience, that can help bag you that all-important first job. I am definitely proof of that.

Sam Stevens joined the Off-Court team as Programme Designer and also assisted me with writing articles for the publication. His design and writing skills blew us all away. I admired Sam’s professionalism and skill from the first time I met him. I knew then, and even more so now, that Sam would become one of the great successes of this generation. And he hasn’t let me down so far.

The game-night programme that Sam and I worked on together.

The game-night programme that Sam and I worked on together.

Whilst volunteering alongside studying for a degree at the University of Hull, Sam also edited Hull University’s magazine Hullfire, and he is a very talented sportswriter. He has written for the Daily Telegraph and now works for the Independent. Needless to say, he is definitely one to look out for in the publishing and media world.

Sam Stevens

Sam Stevens

Talk me through your CV and how you got to where you are now.

Up until a couple of years ago I didn’t really see much use for a CV. I definitely didn’t have anything to put on mine! As a spotty teenager, looking like an extra from The Inbetweeners, my first job was with my local Co-Op.

Once my A-Levels were out of the way, I began to develop more of an idea about what I wanted to do with my life. As I have found since, however, this can change even as you get older and wiser.

After working on the students’ newspaper at the University of Hull, I gradually started to find myself on trains heading for internships with papers such as the Daily Telegraph and the Independent. Alongside really enjoyable voluntary spells with Hull City and Hull Wasps Basketball Club, I was then offered a job with the Independent.

Nowadays I’m still working for the Indy around yet another degree, this time a Master’s in Journalism, while I try and scavenge the money to fund my future travels.

We volunteered together on the Hull Wasps basketball programme. How important do you find volunteering to be in helping young people start out in their careers?

Quite frankly, volunteering is the difference between those who make it and those who don’t. It’s all very well earning a first class degree from Oxbridge or wherever but someone who is willing to work for free appears far more employable.

One day I hope discussions about ‘working for free’ are a thing of the past. Of course some companies simply cannot afford to pay their voluntary staff – and I don’t begrudge them for using volunteers to survive – but thankfully we appear to be walking the road towards paid internships for all.

In terms of working for Hull Wasps, I revelled in the reasonability which we were both given by Dave (Bushnell, the Chairman) and I believe that we produced a truly brilliant publication. Considering we were working completely alone on a shoestring budget, I think we can be proud of what we achieved. It definitely gave us a firm grounding which we’ll need in the years to come.

Quite frankly, volunteering is the difference between those who make it and those who don’t.

Tell me about your biggest achievements and proudest moments to date.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget the moment that I was asked to stand up in front of 150 of the country’s brightest sports journalists in London. I had been invited down to the capital after winning an award in honour of the former Daily Star football writer Danny Fullbrook.

radio sam

A charity launch was being held in his honour and I was given the opportunity to drunkenly introduce myself to the great and good of sports journalism. With only the occasional slurring of my words to cringe over afterwards, I somehow managed to escape with a pocket full of business cards and phone numbers. I still consider that evening to be the day where my luck changed and can now even call some of those intimidating journos my friends.

Did you always want to become a writer?

Yes, but not a journalist! I had always dreamed of being a television scriptwriter and often found myself plugging myself in to a set of earphones and listening to dramatic music. By doing this, I could imagine the scenes I would write. I would watch endless boxsets and make notes of lines of dialogue or themes which I liked from each series.

Perhaps one day, when grey hairs start to replace the ginger ones in my beard, I may sit down at my desk and have another go at writing my smash hit.

What advice would you have for somebody hoping to get into sports writing and/or journalism?

Journalism (and any media-based career for that matter) is about who you know, not what you know. By all means swot up on your field of interest and make sure nobody can beat you in a quiz on it, but make sure that you’re meeting new people all of the time. Only that way will you be able to get placements, which lead to internships, which in turn lead to jobs.

Make sure that you’re meeting new people all of the time.

What drew you to sports writing to begin with?

I’ve always had an odd relationship with sport in that I was often the geeky kid with his head in the programme rather than watching the match. My mates would often pretend they didn’t know me when, in my twenties, I’d still be collecting signed memorabilia or sticker albums.

As much as I love sport itself, it’s always been about the fanfare for me. Walking into a new football ground in particular is like walking into a theatre or a coliseum. The smell of burger vans coupled with the roar you only ever hear at football matches still make the hairs on my neck stand on end.

sam awards

Which teams in which sports do you support and why? Do you ever find being unbiased difficult?

They say that the teams you support influence the sort of person you became and I can definitely relate to that! People have often said that loyalty is both my biggest strength and weakness.

After years spent in half-empty stands watching Leicester City play some of the most atrocious football you could possibly imagine, for some reason I continue to stick by them. It must be love!

As part of my role with the Independent I’m very lucky in that I get to report on Leicester quite often. While I must confess that I have been known to jump up and fist pump in the press box from time to time, I’d hope that no such passion bleeds into my work.

Maybe it’s because I’m getting older but I can detach myself from the events on the field more now than ever.

What do you find the hardest and what do you find the most enjoyable about your work?

The hardest with sports journalism, particularly football, is dealing with the fact that you are often writing for an audience who knows more than you. If, for example, I am at Stamford Bridge writing about Chelsea, I am tasked with writing about the Blues with the conviction of a hardened supporter. Believe me, they’ll let me know if I get something wrong.

The flip side of that coin, however, is people feel so passionately about their sports teams that you are genuinely enhancing their lives if you can bring some good news. The thrill of breaking a story about a club signing a world beater (and watching the joy overflow onto your Twitter feed) is enough to inspire anyone to keep doing this daft old job.

We both attended the University of Hull. What made you choose Hull? What is the most valuable thing your time there left you with?

I actually ended up at Hull purely by chance. I had no intentions of even going to university until the very last day where, typically for me, I suddenly decided that it didn’t sound like such a bad idea after all!

After making a couple of hurried phone calls, I soon found myself strolling down Princes Avenue with a completely new life to be built. The most valuable thing I take from my time at university, in fact, only came to me a few weeks ago. It was all a whirlwind at the time but I really did enjoy some of the best days of my life there.

I met some beautiful, fascinating people that I’ll keep in touch with for the rest of my life while I can barely recognise the boy looking back at me when I see a picture of myself at eighteen-years-old. I didn’t really see it at the time, but I owe Hull so much.

What are your hopes and visions for your career in the future?

Well, at the moment, I’m studying towards a Master’s in Journalism but after that I genuinely don’t know what the future has in store. A few months ago I may have been daunted by that uncertainty but now I’m thriving off it.

I would like to branch out a little, possibly into the charity sector and work within PR. Journalism is obviously my bread and butter but there is a long time between now and retirement and I would be bitterly disappointed if I became a one trick pony.

Depending on when I’m able to gather together enough cash, I’d also like to spin a globe one day and go wherever fate takes me. I may, though, have to rig the results and ensure that my finger lands on a South American country.

You can follow Sam on Twitter @SamuelTStevens

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