Personal Journeys in the Book Business

28 Aug

It’s been a while but I’ve been busy — publishing three novels and putting together a new anthology. Lazarus Risen is due back from the printers next week and, in the lull, I thought I’d bring you up to date.

Distribution

I recently ended my relationship with my distribution company. That may seem like a crazy thing to do but actually the decision was pretty easy. It all came down to money.

Selling books is hard; selling anything is hard but books are harder because it is the only product that stores can return for a full refund. This practice started in the 1930s when publishers were looking for a way to kick start book sales in the depression. The mass market paperback was relatively new and was designed to be printed cheap and distributed widely. To encourage book sellers – a notoriously conservative lot – to take the risk on unknown writers, the books could be returned for a credit against future sales.

This worked pretty well for publishers, who in those days mostly distributed their own books. They didn’t actually have to give money back – they simply took a loss in the future, which as any economist will tell you, is a discounted loss.

It doesn’t quite work that way anymore. As the world became more complex, sales processes became more specialized. Publishers outsourced their warehouses to distribution companies. Gradually those distribution companies developed their own salesforces (on top of the marketing departments of big publishers) and took over marketing for medium and small publishers.

And of course they took their cut of the sales – which would be okay if they also didn’t charge fees for every transaction they undertake. There is a fee when they send the book to the store and another larger fee for when it comes back. And if the books stop moving, they charge you a fee for storing them and a different fee to dispose of them or return them to the publisher.

Generally you are told you should budget 30% for returns, though the distributor assures you they will do everything possible to keep it below that. But what if they sell your books to the wrong stores – such as stores that don’t sell a lot of science fiction, or stores who won’t keep new or relatively unknown books on their shelves for more than a few weeks? Returns can quickly rise above 30% and, with all the associated fees, it is possible to actually lose money through distribution.

Which is what happened.

I could see that it was coming and I have thought of an alternative – two, in fact. One would be to find a new distributor. There are several out there but getting them to take you on is not as simple as asking. You need to have a certain size back catalog, you need to publish a minimum number of titles each year, you need a certain size print run.

Requirements vary, of course, but obviously, the bigger the distributor (access to more stores, larger sales force, and so on), the stiffer the entry requirements. And returns are still a problem. Still, I’m looking into the possibilities.

Not all distribution companies are created equally and some are as hard to work with for store-owners as they are for publishers. Complex accounting processes and inefficient shipping practices can lead stores to refuse to work with certain distribution companies.

I’ve talked to a few book sellers about the problem and they either suggested a smaller, but reliable, mostly Canadian firm (there are several) or to do self-distribution. If authors can self-publish, why can’t publishers self-distribute?

So, for at least the interim, that’s what I’m going to do. I’ve created a catalog that includes all the backlist (and announces the titles of upcoming publications) and I’ve started sending it out.

My first experience was a good one. A few weeks ago at When Words Collide (which was a great success – we won an Aurora Award and had a successful triple book launch), I approached a couple of regular book sellers with the catalog. One took the catalog and the other took some books. So while supplies last, Calgary readers can buy Bundoran Books from the Sentry Box. I’m hoping to add a lot of names to that list in the coming weeks.

The secret – deep discounts for the book sellers (more than the traditional 40%) and no returns for the publisher. Even with shipping costs I expect to make more money than I did with my big American distributor. And I certainly won’t lose money. Obviously this approach is unlikely to work with the big chain bookstores and it definitely won’t work on Amazon – but it might actually result in more books sold which will be good for both me and for the authors I publish.

E-books

Like most traditional publishers, I publish e-books of all the books I also publish by print. I’ve even published one stand-alone novella. Some have sold okay – mostly when both I and the author independently promote them – but none have been spectacular. The only exception is my anthology, Blood and Water, which sold a lot of copies by being included in a book bundle with nine other Aurora-winning or nominated books.

I’ve done all the usual things to promote e-book (and print sales): Twitter, Facebook, (including ads), Goodreads, blogs, manipulating the Amazon algorithm, but the results have been so-so..

But then there was Stars Like Cold Fire by Brent Nichols, which in the last two weeks has sold more units than all the other titles (except for the aforementioned Blood and Water) sold in the last six months. How did this happen? Neither of us have a clue. It’s not like it has become a best seller in its category (Space Opera) – although apparently that doesn’t mean what you might think anyway – but it has ticked along very nicely. Neither Brent nor I are likely to get rich – but you never know. Maybe a year from now, we’ll be referring to Brent as the new Hugh Howey. And I’ll have sold my company to Random House.

Speaking of e-books, the debate continues to rage over which is doing better – e-books or print books. Some would have you believe that e-books are in decline and print books are on the rise and sales figures would suggest they are right. Total e-book sales have fallen since 2013, while print books have shown a modest but steady increase.

Others would point out that e-book weakness is largely because there wasn’t a breakout YA novel in 2014 or 2015 – which shows how a single author like J.K.Rowling can move the market more than 10,000 other lesser selling authors. And at the same time, the rise in print sales is almost entirely due to the recent fade of adult colouring books.

That’s right. Colouring books. Maybe I need to produce a book of colour-it-yourself space ships and alien landscapes.

My own view is that – publishing is a tough business and few people are going to make a decent living at it. Most people who make a living as a writer start out being supported by family, friends, spouses, and lousy part-time jobs. Or if they live in a country that values the arts – by public arts granting agencies. For Canadians, things recently got a little better – but it’s still a rough go. Here are the median individual incomes in Canada. If you are doing better than that as a writer – count yourself lucky.

Still, we persevere – both as writers and as publishers. After all what else can we do?

Yeah, I know, get a haircut and get a real job

 

Tie a Bow on It

15 Apr

With six days left in the Aurora Story Bundle offer, I realized that I was running out of time to tell you about all the great books included in the bundle – just as you are running out of time to buy them at such a great price. It is time, as they say, to wrap it all up and tie a bow on it.

I first met Helen Marshall a few years ago at the Ad Astra Science Fiction Convention in Toronto when she was working for Chizine Publications as an editor. We only spoke briefly a couple of times – once was in the hub-bub of the infamous Chizine room party – but I was immediately struck by her incisive wit and intelligence. It turns out I wasn’t wrong as evidenced by this tremendous collection of short stories which was an Aurora finalist and, also, the 2015 World Fantasy Award winner for Best Collection. Oh, did I mention she has a Ph.D.? Worked it in around all the great writing, I guess.

Gifts for the One Who Comes After Cover Final

I’ve known Susan MacGregor for enough years that I can’t quite remember when we met – though Facebook tells me we’ve been friends since 2008. Goes to show what Facebook knows. In any case, we met from time to time at conventions in Western Canada, both when I lived in Calgary and later when I made journeys west, where we would have brief but intense conversations. But I knew her best for her association with On Spec Magazine, where she was an editor. It was sometime during that time we discovered a mutual love of flamenco dancing – she as a dancer; me as a spectator. I was thrilled when her first novel – The Tattooed Witch (included in the bundle) – came out and even happier to be partnered with her in this book bundle.

The Tattooed Witch Review

Another convention and on-line friend is Caitlin Sweet, a Toronto writer who I think I first met in Montreal at the World Science Fiction Convention. Caitlin has been writing for years but finally began to get the recognition she deserved with The Pattern Scars which was both an Aurora finalist and winner of the CBC Bookies Award in 2012. Recently her book, The Door in the Mountain, was a finalist for the Sunburst Award. I think we’re going to see a lot more award winning fiction from Caitlin in the future. She’s not someone you want to miss.

The Pattern Scars Review.jpg

Finally, I would be derelict if I didn’t mention my own entry into the book Bundle, the anthology, Blood and Water. While I won the Aurora as editor, an anthology is only as good as the stories it contains. While I can’t mention every story, I’d like to highlight a few writers you may not know but soon will. Gerald Brandt made his first (and only) short story sale for that anthology; Gerald’s first novel, The Courier (book one of a trilogy) was just released by DAW. Brent Nichols and Jennifer Rahn both had stories; this year, I’m editing novels by both of them for release this fall. Derek Kunsken has been published numerous times in Asimov’s and Analog magazines and I’m sure we’ll soon see a novel from him in the bookstores. I could go on but you get the picture.

Blood and Water Review

So that’s it – ten great books at a great price. Now all that’s left to do is for you to head over to StoryBundle.com and pick up the bundle.

 

Bundled Up (Writing from Yellowknife)

8 Apr

You might think from my last couple of blogs that I know everyone in Canadian SF. While I have been kicking around the field for decades (I went to my first SF convention as a fan in Halifax in 1980) and sold my first SF short story in 1995 (after a few years as a playwright and ‘mainstream’ fiction writer) – there are still a lot of people active in the field I’ve never had the opportunity to meet.

Two of those are Sean Stewart and Karin Lowachee – though I do know them quite well through their work. Which is why I’m so happy to be sharing space with them in the Aurora Award Story Bundle. They are both great writers and these are great books.

Still, just because I haven’t met them doesn’t mean I don’t have a story to tell. The Canadian SF world is a small one – unlike most places we only need two degrees of separation to link us all up.

Karin was living in the Canadian North when she wrote Cagebird and while it’s not central to her story, the isolation and beauty of place leak into her work. As it turns out, I spent nine years in the North myself (though I’m not 100% sure we were there at the same time), but we never met. Even if we were there the same years, the North is, after all, a really, really big place but now that I’m sharing a Story Bundle with her, I sort of feel I can say: Congratulations, neighbour.

Cagebird Review

My connection to Sean may be even more ephemeral – all we really share is that we both won Aurora Awards. However, I did hear a great story about that. Apparently, Sean had to fly somewhere right after getting his trophy so he threw his trophy in his luggage and headed out. Anyone who has seen or touched an Aurora Award knows that wasn’t the wisest move; it’s not called the most dangerous award in SF for nothing. On arrival at his destination his shirts were in shreds. They say the packing instructions you now get with the trophy were written with that in mind.

Nobody's Son Review

So now you know these fine authors a little better – you should head over and buy the bundle. Great books at a great price.

Story Bundles 2

5 Apr

In my last blog, I mentioned that Douglas Smith and I both appeared in an anthology edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink – which also connects me to the third author in the Aurora Story Bundle: Candas Jane Dorsey.

Candas was a founding member of The Books Collective, the Edmonton-based publishing company that then published the Tesseracts series of books featuring Canadian writers. Candas was and remains an important figure in the Alberta writing community and I frequently ran into her both at science fiction conventions but also at literary and theatre events. I lived in Calgary while she was in Edmonton so we didn’t see each other more than a couple of times a year but it was always a pleasure. In 1997, her first novel, Black Wine, was published and it was extraordinary, winning numerous awards, including Canada’s Prix Aurora Award. And deservedly so – it was a sensational debut, a powerful story, beautifully written.  I’m happy to share space with such a wonderful book.

Black Wine Review

I didn’t see Candas very often after I left Alberta but a few years ago we ran into her at a convention. She was running for municipal office in Edmonton and we both thought our role reversal was amusing. When she was founding a publishing company in the 1980s I was running for office; now, I was the publisher and she was the candidate which just goes to show you never know where life will take you.

Which brings me to Dave Duncan, author of West of January. Dave was born in Scotland but moved to Canada in the 50s to work as a geologist in the petroleum industry. He didn’t start writing until he was 51. Two years later, in 1986, he made his first sale just two weeks after his career in the oil business came to an abrupt end. Dave took the plunge into full-time writing and more than fifty books later he’s still at it – which means he has now been an author as long as he was a geologist. Dave lived for many years in Calgary and every year would have the local SF writing community over to his place for a barbeque. Dave and his wife, Janet, were great hosts and Dave encouraged literally dozens of young writers – including me. Last year, he was inducted into the Canadian Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

West of January Review

Every time I speak to Dave – too rarely these days – he always tells me that he is done writing. Then more books appear – including two this year.

You can check out Dave and Candas’ work (along with 8 other great books) at StoryBundle.com.

Story Bundles

3 Apr Aurora 004

Aurora 004Winning or even being nominated for an award is a great thrill. I’ve now been nominated for the Prix Aurora Award (Canada’s fan-voted speculative fiction prize) 11 times and I’ve won three – most recently for the anthology Blood and Water, which I edited in 2012.

But the very best thing about awards is the company you get to keep. Virtually every significant writer of SF in Canada has either been nominated for or won an Aurora Award. I’m lucky enough to be able to count many of them as friends as well as colleagues.

Which was why I was happy to have Blood and Water included in a bundle of Aurora winning and nominated books now on sale at StoryBundle.com. It’s a great list of writers and books covering the gamut from fantasy to science fiction and includes novels, short stories and my anthology of Canadian writers.

The whole thing was put together by Douglas Smith who has been nominated for the prized trophy even more than I have. Doug and I do way back – to before we even met. We both sold our first story to Tesseracts 6, edited by Robert J. Sawyer and Carolyn Clink. We didn’t meet until I moved to Ontario and started to attend Ad Astra, the Toronto SF convention. Since then we’ve maintained a mostly digital (though occasionally face-to-face) relationship. And I still recall the great dinner I had with Doug and his family when we were both nominated for Canada’s juried SF Award, the Sunburst Award. Neither of us won – but just like the story bundle, we were in great company. Doug’s book was a collection of short stories, Chimerascope, which was also nominated for the Aurora Award that year and is a key part of the bundle. Doug is a fabulous short story writer and his stories have been translated and published in over 25 countries.

Chimerascope Review

Robert J. Sawyer and I go back even farther; he likes to call me his writing student (which is true) but I was the one who hired him for his first teaching gig, out in Calgary. We’ve been great friends ever since (he was a guest at my wedding in 2003) and he’s one of my favorite writers. I have all of his books – most of them autographed – and I even appear as a minor character in his latest. Quantum Night. So, I’m obviously happy to be keeping him company in the Story Bundle. Starplex is a great hard SF story but it’s also a mystery which puts it right up my alley. It not only won the Aurora Award but was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula as well. Rob has been called the Dean of Canadian SF and rightly so; he has won 14 Auroras and been nominated another 30 times. I was fortunate enough to award him his lifetime achievement Aurora a few years ago – a nice trophy to go alongside his Hugo, Nebula and John Campbell Awards.

Starplex Review

In the coming days, I’ll highlight a couple of other old friends, as well as some newer ones – and two writers I only know through their work. In the meantime, why don’t you head over to StoryBundle.com and pick up your summer reading?

 

Short Stuff

14 Feb

When I was young and first reading science fiction and fantasy, short novels were the norm rather than the exception. Many of the books I read – indeed many of the famous books in the field – were relatively short, forty or fifty thousand words or under two hundred pages. In fact all the major science fiction awards still define a novel as work of fiction over 40 thousand words.

The reasons were varied but the low cost of mass market paperbacks versus other formats was a factor. As well, the readers of such books were more interested in plots and ideas and less in characters or literary style. This is not a knock against these books – a lot of them hold up today and are still read by a lot of people, which is more than you can say for some of their more literary contemporaries.

Sometimes, even shorter books would make it into print. Ace – which is still a major SF imprint – used to publish novellas as Ace Doubles. Read one story and then flip it over and red the other. Two ripping yarns and two exciting covers for the price of one. The format proved so popular that, when I was a teenager, I joined a book club that offered literary formats in the same style, though they were cheap hardcovers. I may have been the only 15 year old boy of my acquaintance who had read all of the Bronte sisters and most of Jane Austen. I sometimes think the format was the trick to suck me in – though it was the content that kept me reading.

Short novels were nothing new and not only in the genre fields. Two of the classics of the early twentieth Century – The Sun Also Rises and The Great Gatsby – were not much longer than those novels by Heinlein or Norton. I’ve sometimes wondered if technology had something to do with it.

Hemingway described his writing process thusly. The first draft was written by hand (standing up) and the second draft corrections were made right on the page. Only then was a draft produced on a manual typewriter. Every subsequent draft had to be re-typed, usually by Hemingway himself. Revisions were made by hand, or sometimes, as he typed. By the time it was approved by the publisher he had typed the book five or six times. No wonder he kept his prose economical!

First novels were often (though not always) short in those days. Second and subsequent novels got longer, maybe because the authors could afford to hire typists. In those days, too, there was a significant cost differential for printing a small book as opposed to a larger one – while prices didn’t necessarily rise as dramatically.

Of course, there have always been long novels – War and Peace comes to mind – but what was termed popular fiction (Hemingway and many of his compatriots would not have been offended to have their work so labelled; they wanted to be widely read) tended to be shorter rather than longer.

In the genre field, short novels lasted well into the sixties and seventies. This may not be surprising, science fiction also retained a large market for short stories in mass market format – even as that most quintessential form of America writing was finding fewer and fewer outlets. Short story markets for non-genre short fiction still exist but generally don’t have as wide a readership as they once did and nothing to compare to that of genre.

But then came word processing. Suddenly the limitations on producing long novels were no longer a technical one but one of markets. And those markets were changing. More and more readers demanded more from their books than plots and ideas. Character and setting – world building – became a bigger part of the literature and books, especially in the fantasy world (which always did run longer than pure SF), began to lengthen. As printing costs fell, profitable books could be almost any length and the typical SF novel climbed from 60 or 70 thousand words to almost 100K. Novels of 150 thousand words or even a quarter of a million in fantasy became common place.

Some people complained that the new technology that allowed longer novels to be written with less physical effort had ruined the genre. It seems that someone or something is always destroying science fiction. But the market had spoken – as it always does in commercial fiction – and like it or not, longer novels became the way of the world. They were more popular and more profitable. Maybe that – rather than some quaint conspiracy theory – is the explanation of why some books are more popular than others.

So you might think that as a small publisher, I would be inundated with massive tomes and that I would eagerly publish them. Well, I do get a few but the longest I’ve published has been under 110K and most have been in the 75K range.

As usual, the reasons are various. First of all, I like short novels. The growing length of fantasy novels is one of the reasons – though not the main one – I mostly quit reading fantasy ten years ago. As well, the length I mentioned is an economic sweet point, the place where costs are not too high while the price I can charge maximizes revenue. A short book costs a bit less but the price is generally lower; you can charge a bit more for a big book (though not a lot) but the costs are also higher. Price is not a tremendously important factor in the sales of print books but it is a small one. It may be a factor in digital books – but probably not a determining one. Studies have been, well, inconclusive, no matter what proponents on both sides claim.

Still, short is one thing but SHORT is quite another. During my latest round of submissions, I received far more submissions under 60K words than I did over 100K which mark the limits of my preferred range. In fact, a lot of the books, quite well written ones at that, were under 45K words, some as little as 33 thousand. Many of the rest barely topped sixty thousand in length.

This too may have a technological cause or even a sociological one. Digital publishing – nearly all of the submitters of short books have tried their hand at self-published e-books – doesn’t care about length. While there is a cost in terms of editing and cover design, the cost of printing is irrelevant and distribution is relatively cheap (though as always marketing is the issue). People may well be as willing to buy a short novel (or novella) as long one in part because, for one thing, they aren’t confronted with the physical thinness of the volume.

And, then there is NaNoWriMo that encourages people to write 60K ‘novels’ in a month. Not everyone succeeds but many of those ‘failures’ still have a relatively complete 40 thousand word manuscript that they then polish and improve without significantly lengthening them. Having once won the 3-day novel writing competition, I would argue it is a lot easier to write a novella than a full-fledged novel. Expectations are lower so it is easier to meet them.

While the general rule is that most books benefit from having 10% cut from them – there is even a writing guide that focuses mostly on that process – these days short  books almost always feel incomplete to me. Characters are not fully developed; plots have gaps, worlds and even ideas are sketched rather than painted. The final versions of these slim volumes are almost always ten or even fifteen percent longer – and are better books for it.

But adding 15% to a 35K manuscript still barely qualifies it as a novel even in genre terms. Add any more and it will either becomes bloated or turns into something the writer never intended to do. So, sadly, even though some were very good, I have almost always had to reject them.

Hmm, maybe I can look into the economics of publishing Bundoran Back-to-Back Books. It would at least save me the trouble of having to come up with back cover copy. Would you buy two short novels printed back to back?

In the News

Our next book is Transient City by Al Onia which will feature our first attempt at back cover art. We hope you will find it appealing. Watch on Goodreads for a giveaway in a few days or go to NetGalley to get an uncorrected proof review copy in PDF format.

A new report from Amazon suggests that while a lot of people are making a little money from self-publishing, only 40 have really hit the big-time in the last five years.

Meanwhile incomes from full time writing continues to fall – not exactly news but still disturbing. At the same time rich authors are getting richer. The 1% doesn’t just exist on Wall Street.

 

The Birth of a Novel

10 Jan

I buy almost all of Bundoran Press’ novels through an open submission process, though obviously if you’ve published with me before you get to go to the front of the line. But even that is no guarantee of publication.

So how does a novel get from being three chapters in a metaphorical meter-high pile of other submissions (I only accept digital submissions but a sea of electrons isn’t as visually arresting) to being an actual book?

I thought you’d never ask.

Almost every submission I receive is competently written; even the stories and characters are okay. It’s not that they aren’t adequate; they just aren’t special. The truth is, good writing alone will not get you through the slush pile. You need to present something interesting, something ‘fresh.’ Hardly helpful, I know, but it really does come down to that. You have to catch the editor’s attention. The good news, I suppose, is that different editors are interested in different things – but none of us want the same old thing.

The secret is not to write the best copy ever of the last best seller. Trying to be another writer – unless you are being paid to ghost-write a celebrity bio – is not the road to success. Your novel has to reflect you. It may fall into a category of books – LA dystopian thrillers, for example – but it should try to re-define what that category means.

I call it the ‘look-away’ factor. Let me explain.

I’ve read a lot of books in my life. In the last few years I’ve read a lot of manuscripts that want to be books. I apply the same standard to both. If I find myself frequently putting a book down to wander off and check my e-mail, get a snack, wash my hair – there is a pretty good chance that book will go into the ‘did not finish’ pile. If I put it down mid-paragraph, that chance becomes a certainty. It happens more often than you might think.

Manuscripts face a tougher go. They have seldom been edited and are certainly not in as good a shape as the writer thinks it is. So, the chance of me ‘looking away’ from the screen is somewhat higher. Looking away – or walking away – in mid-paragraph is a still pretty bad sign. On the other hand, if I immediately look back and keep reading, there is a good chance I’ll want to see more.

Sometimes what brings me back is pacing. The craft of drawing the reader along in that ‘what will happen next’ kind of suspense goes a long way. I like stories; I like ripping yarns. But it can also be the depth of a character – a character I didn’t see on an episode of ‘Supernatural’ last night – that pulls me in. Or, the sheer beauty of the writing or the cleverness of the central premise.  If at the end of the 3 chapters, I want to know what happens, I then read the synopsis. But only then.

Because before I am an editor, I am a reader.

So, you’ve made the first cut – about 10-15% do. What next? Assuming the synopsis doesn’t go in a completely weird direction, failing to follow the first rule of the novel – which Nancy Kress describes as fulling the promise you made to the reader in the first few chapters – I’ll ask to see the whole manuscript.

Hold it, you say, what’s this about a promise? A novel is not a series of random events. A novel begins by presenting something to the reader – it may be “I am a mystery. Watch me solve it.” Or “This young girl has been placed in terrible peril. Watch her escape.” Or “The universe is falling apart. Watch me fix it (or pick up the pieces).” Or even “Here is a dysfunctional family. Watch them wallow in it.” You can’t then veer off and present something completely different. You can take a meandering path; you can even play tricks on the reader but at the end, you have to deliver the goods.

Of course, the first three chapters are always the most polished. The synopsis may promise more than the writer is capable of delivering. The writer may not even know what their book is about. I heard a novelist on the radio the other day who admitted she didn’t really understand her novel until a year after it was published. Fortunately her editor did.

Once I have a full manuscript in front of me, I try to read it quickly but carefully. I have several questions in mind. What is this book about? Am I interested in the lives of the characters? Do I care what happens to them? Is the plot consistent? Is the background realistic (for SF, that also means is the science ‘correct’ – that is, not patently wrong)?

While the front of my mind remains in reader mode, in the back of my mind, other questions are percolating – editor questions. Is the character arc(s) clear? Is the initial promise fulfilled and, if not, why not? Does everything that’s here belong in the book or are their pieces that are missing? Is the writing good enough to do the job? Is the whole greater than the sum of the parts? Has the writer shown me – in the best parts of the text – that they have the chops to do more?

Most important: Do I want to help this writer make this the best novel they can write? And, can I do it? I once had a pretty good book that I rejected because I knew it wasn’t quite right but I had no idea how to fix it.

Once I do ask for a full manuscript, the chances are about 25 to 50% that I will offer a contract for the book. Not all offers are accepted. The second book I tried to buy was turned down because the offer didn’t satisfy them. I don’t know if the book was ever published or not, but obviously it wasn’t published by me.

Then the fun begins.

Some books are in pretty good shape when I start working on them; others are fairly rough, if intriguing, drafts. Regardless, I now do a second read – more careful this time, taking notes as I go. I may take a week or two to get this read done. By the end I’ve got a pretty good idea of what I will say to the writer. I then I read it a third time to nail down my initial thoughts. Sometimes I read parts of it a fourth time before I send my notes to the writer.

The editorial process varies a lot. In one case I got the writer to cut 1/3 of the first half of the book, providing specific examples and even some red ink to guide them along. In another case, I suggested that the writer should re-write the entire novel making the secondary character into the main one (not as hard as you might think though that is just my opinion). In others, the problem was mainly thematic – the writer wasn’t focused on what their book was really about. I didn’t impose a theme on them but merely pointed out in their own text where the theme emerged. In some cases, all that was required was the deletion of a chapter or two and the addition of some bridging material so the characters’ actions made sense.

None of the books I published looked exactly like they did when they arrived on my desk but, unless I’m being lied to, all the writers were happy with the work I helped them do. Because in the end, it remains the author’s book; their story. My job is merely to help them remove the rough edges and polish the brilliant parts. To help them tell their story in the best possible way.

That’s what editors do. It’s just a lot easier to do when you’re not being paid by the author – when the advice feels a bit like criticizing your boss.

Finally, we’re done. Well, almost. There is still the proofreading to be done – first by me, then by the author, then by me again. We get one more shot at it when the page proofs arrive – when we desperately hope we don’t find too many more typos.

And, of course, there is the cover. I generally ask the author if they have a scene that particularly captures the essence of the book. I always have a few ideas too. These get passed on to our artist Dan J. O’Driscoll – who has already read the book – for him to turn our thoughts (and especially his) into striking images. My authors don’t have final approval for art but I always consult them.

There are plenty of other details to handle – the ISBN number, the Catalogue in Publication (CIP) information for the front of the book, acknowledgements, dedications, bios, blurbs, back cover copy and so on. Then off to the printer.

Once the books are printed, 2 to 4 months ahead of the release date, there is the PR to handle – getting reviews, blog interviews, book giveaways, launch parties, all part of the package here at Bundoran Press.

And 10-18 months after I first read it in the slush, those 3 chapters have become a book. And I get to deliver it into the hands of a smiling author. And they always smile.