Thursday, December 28, 2006

Vegemite says no

We're doing an Aussie A-Z with the fabulous Heath McKenzie, following on from the mighty The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas.Our A-Z is due out in May. It is one of those childrens books that adults will adore as well

Under "V" we wanted to display Vegemite. Kraft said no! We thought it would have been excellent product placement - so we were surprised, very surprised when the firm "no" came back. Vegemite is now American owned. Would we have got a more sympathetic hearing if it was Australian owned? And Vegemite is also now happens to be a banned import into the US.

An entirely good season (list)

My sister-in-law Janine (former opera singer, now real estate agent) says you can't expect a completely good season of anything, theatre or opera. It's an unreasonable expectation to expect a creative performance group to sustain it across a season. I'm hoping the next season of the Malthouse will prove her wrong. And I'm wondering whether a season is the theatrical equivalent of a publisher's list. What strike rate do you need to have a successful year as a publisher?

2006 has certainly been Michael Heyward and Text's year. Two Booker shortlists. The Weathermakers. Peter Temple, now a best-seller in the UK. The list goes on. Clever strategic quality publishing across the entire list - I saw in Borders the other night that text have republished the much praised "The Dig Tree" by Sarah Murgatroyd. Nice publishing and a perfect fit with Text.

the myth of Melbourne weather

Melbourne gets half the rainfall of Sydney, fewer rainy days than Sydney or Brisbane and more days over 30° than Sydney. Sydney gets twice as many thunderstorms.

measures of change

As a mark of how rapidly our culture changes, there are now 23,000 Sudanese Australian but a decade ago there were only 2600.

Jindabyne - movie


Like in "My Father's Den", it is a very local story (despite its Carver origins) in the way Lawrence has created it but very much a story anybody could relate to.

I've read the short story, listened to the song, and now I've seen the movie. And I found it a fascination transformation of a story line and I really liked listening to the echoes of the song and short story in the film and the way the film has to fill in the gaps.

One question was: why Gabriel Byrne and Laua Linney? Both of whom I thought were superb. Do we lack the depth of acting talent?

Another question was the girl being Aboriginal. In Shadows in the Mirror we went in the opposite direction. But I felt, although it wavered at moments, Lawrence carried off the waves set off by the aboriginality of the girl.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006


It is interesting in watching and recording how a fast changing culture like ours develops. The gradual seeping into our children's lives of Halloween is a recent change. Halloween was once a ghastly Americanism. Now we keep sweets in the cupboard. I like the American talent of celebrating traditions. I nailed a Christmas wreath to the door this December. A wreath was rarely seen when I was growing up and has really come courtesy of Hollywood.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

The Long Tail - the start

I've started to read The Long Tail.( I've just finished Malcolm Gladwell's Blink and I like to have one business book on the go (a slow go) at a time.). Fascinating. And as a fascinating side-note I was interested in how the book idea evolved on Chris Anderson's blog: "I worked through many of the trickier conceptual and articulation issues in public, on my blog at The usual process would go like this: I'd post a half-baked effort at explaining how the 80/20 Rule is changing, for instance, and then dozens of smart readers would write comments, emails, or their own blog posts to suggest ways to improve it. Somehow this wonky public brainstorming managed to attract an average of more than 5,000 readers a day." Fascinating as it is showing how the publishing of information is changing and that there is still room for the gravitas of the book.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

more accidental spam poetry

it may be turned,
and however puzzling it may be to answer it,
found one print from a famous design of Carlo Maratti,
who died about entertained by the majority of the company.
This foolish, and often of a gentleman's dancing.
But the greatest advantage of dancing well is,
knowledge, to answer me point by point.
I have seen a book, entitled picture, drawn by yourself, at different sittings
for though, as it is young men who if they have wit themselves, are pleased with it,
and if
and respected,
is not meant by the words GOOD COMPANY


Australia is an interesting landscape to be publishing in as it is fluid and changing. There was a comment in a recent Fin Review from Harry Triguboff criticizing the English language test for migrants:

"We need workers here. These are people who do the work we don't want to do. If we start making them do tests, we will bring the same sort of people as ourselves. That worries me."

My great grandfather in the early 1930s was involved in using the dictation test to prevent Egon Kisch landing In Melbourne. Australia is a very different place now. Many countries expend effort to make themselves more like themselves. I like Triguboff's idea of optimistically look for change.

I'm also interested in the way the Spanish (having lost the battle) are winning the war in North America as the average American would rather not do without a gardner or a hotel maid.

accidental spam poetry

I'm enjoying the Ern O'Malley poetic quality of the words put into spam to get through the filters. Here is a sample:

too various and extensive
to be much attended to:
and may not am neither of
a melancholy nor a cynical disposition,
and am as willing expect that I should laugh at their pleasantries
and by saying WELL,
AND opinion of one's own
whereas it is only the decent and genteel manner

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ahmet Ertegun (founder of Atlantic Records) story from the NY Times

David Geffen once asked Mr. Ertegun how to make money in the music business. Ertegun got up from his chair, hunched over and shuffled slowly across the room. Mr. Geffen didn’t understand, so Ertegun did it twice more. Finally he explained: “ ‘If you’re lucky, you bump into a genius, and a genius will make you rich in the music business,’ ”

Geffen recalled. “Ahmet bumped into an awful lot of geniuses."

Friday, December 15, 2006

cork dork

I came across this phrase in a Michael Harden column as in " a wine list with little to dazzle the cork dork".

is careful generosity an oxymoron?

In the WBN report on Christmas sales Peter Blake offered a very measured generosity to the broader publishing community:

"Penguin sales director Peter Blake is happy not just for Penguin, and for the other publishers distributed by United Book Distributors"

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Jaws the first blockbuster

Rather than being opened in only a few theatres and then more and more as it succeeded, Jaws was opened in many theatres at once. And it was the first film to be supported by extensive advertising. And it worked. And it was the first Blockbuster. And it is interesting to ponder (like Pooh) on how the blockbuster style has influenced publishing (though no where near to the extent it's influenced Hollywood). It's getting to be a case of sell big or don't sell at all. People are reading more of fewer books. Though curiously publishing output hasn't shrunk. And of course out goes the successful mid-list author for the big publishers, which gives the independents opportunities.

Tom Shones's Blockbuster is worth a read by anybody in publishing I reckon. And it comes with a neat subtitle: How Hollywood learned to stop worrying and love the summer.

MUP breaks away from bookshop!

Always interesting reading in the Oz (last Saturday not this)

Apparently, MUP "broke away from the university bookshop" in 2003, foregoing the funding contribution that came from the profits of the bookshop and instead, in a bold move, embraced generous funding direct from the university and made its own accounting more transparent - even the losses. Kind of a reverse strategy to that of Milo Minderbinder, who was condemned for taking a contract out on bombing his own aerodrome - until he threw open his books and showed that he was making a profit.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Oz lit

We now have only one professor of Australian literature according to the Oz on Saturday, and students aren't interested in doing honours in Oz Lit. As mentioned, in passing, many of the students who would have been doing honours in Oz Lit are now in the creative writing courses. It's better to do than to comment but I do think the cultural cringe is back. Too often, too much of the time, we're looking over our shoulder to see what's happening over there.


I am a fan of graffiti. I like the idea of the city as a canvas, with someone offering something for the creative enjoyment of others without expectations of fame or pay. I like the quirky oddness of it, the unexpectedness:

Fitzroy is fortunately rich in street art.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

good titles through translation

The following title translations appealed to me from some not so recent international bestseller llsts:

From Sweden there was a title that translated as "Better Self-esteem!". It seemed to be that the promise of the book might have been understated in an admirably Scandinavian way.

Then in Spain there's "Sabine en came viva" which has been translated as "Sabina in Vivid Flesh".

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Melbourne Weeky's article

There's a good article in the Melbourne Weekly this week on independent publishing (in Melbourne) in which we got a small mention in the side column headed "independent success stories". Well that's rather nice. It's interesting reading with many quotable quotes and much food for thought. One thing that struck me was Text's Michael Heyward's focus on the writer's rather than the reader's end of the spectrum. He says "we won't be doing the right thing by all the talent in this country unless we have a vigorous range of publishers. The more we publish, the better it is for Australian writers." And he talks about the Canongate partnership as being for "the benefit of writers". Our emphasis tends to be at the opposite end - on the readers. The differences between the independents, in fact the differences between publishers, are a good thing. It means we're all offering something different. But I also wonder whether there is a difference because black dog is a children's publisher and in children's publishing the reader comes first. I'm sure it's not because Michael doesn't value readers and we certainly do value writers (immensely) and strive to house a writing community, but the difference in emphasis is interesting.

Kalbacher Klapperschlange

Carole Wilkinson's Dragonkeeper has won the Klabacher Klapperschlange the only German children's choice award. The children's awards don't come with a cheque for the author nor have a huge impact on sales for the publisher, but are sweeter for all that. Dragonkeeper won in the KOALA awards and was short-listed in the YABBA and Garden of the Purple Dragon won the WAYBRA but special congratulations to Carole for also reaching out and touching the hearts of German children as well. The award was given on the 11 November in Kalbach, a small village in the Rhein Main area. Here's a link to the website

And here's the German cover:

PS Klapperschlange is rattlesnake in German

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Bachar Houli

According to today's Age 18-year-ol Bachar Houli is the first devout Muslim to sign up for an AFL club (Essendon). It is an interesting and hopeful sign of how Australia is changing. As a 12 year old, Houli didn't tell his parents he was playing football till he'd won three trophies, in his first season. The AFL draft camp happened during Ramadan and Houli after consulting his sheik broke his fast for a few days. Maybe one day the camp will be deliberately scheduled outside Ramadan.

I did wonder seeing the Ages careful use of the words "devout Muslim" if there were any Muslims who had played or were playing for the AFL who were not devout

Further to flying saucers

The French version of flying saucer is cigare volant, or flying cigar. Bonny Doon Vineyard in California has a red that it has named "Le Cigare Volant" in honour of a French vine growing village. Here's the story:

This particular wine is Graham Randall's tribute to Rhone Valley's Chateauneuf-du-Pape. where the winemakers, who in 1954 had an ordinance passed to prevent flying cigars from flying over or landing near their vineyards. Any flying cigars that did so would be impounded.

As I recall the story is written on the back of the label and can be read through the glass, but it is a long time since I drank the one bottle I once brought back from a visit to Bonny Doon. I can also recommend Bonny Doon's ice wine as an effective way of leaving a tasting four sheets to the wind. Randall doesn't wait for California to freeze he just puts the grapes in a big freezer.

They also have a website I lke a lot.

Malouf and Shakespeare

I liked the echo that reading Malouf's article produce from my reading Wood's biography "In Search of Shakespeare". Malouf is lucid and insightful, as always. Having been taught Shakespeare as great literature, and not enjoyed it, it is a pleasure to learn that Shakespeare didn't treat it as such. Jonosn was laughed at for publishing his plays — as "works"; Shakespeare's poetry was what he thought worth publishing. To quote Malouf: "Playgoing in the 1590s was like cinemagoing in the 1930s, cheap popular entertainment with no pretensions to being more. Hollywood in the '30s, with its studio and star system, might be as good a model as we can light on for the Shakespeare worked in. Plays rapidly produced week in, week out, to serve a regular audience; most of them got together by groups working in collaboration; most dispensable and soon lost."

The article is from David Malouf's speech to the World Shakespeare 2006 Congress and is rich reef of literary insights and it is reprinted in full in "Best Australian Essays 2006", edited by Drusilla Modjeska, Black Inc, $27.95

the Republic

in 1960 more Australians believe in flying saucers (35 per cent) than favored a republic (28 per cent).

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

business plans

Henry Rosenbloom of Scribe after building up and selling a successful printing business, now eschews business plans for Scribe. We seem to be going in the opposite direction. We're doing more planning and budgeting as time goes. We feel we need to be a successful and profitable business to thrive as a publisher. The planning and budgeting is like weeding the garden. But we don't want to loose that flexibility and intuitiveness that's an independent publishers competitive advantage.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

La Mama

I'm in an old-news-cutting space. Frank, actor, author and scriptwriter, sometimes masquerading as the black dog accountant, hand me the Age 4 November this morning with an article by Alison Crogan about the threat to La Mama funding from Oz Co. La Mama;'s $170,000 funding has been put on notice. It seems absurd when multinational publishers get grants that the innovative bedrock of our culture can be threatened to be gouged in such a way. From a funding point of view it may be unfortunate that innovation has gone hand in hand with political dissent. That leaves a conservative government with little reason to invest in the arts and labor governments able to take the arts for granted.

quoting Michael Kantor

"Theatre has atrophied." While there are 3.5 million Melburnians only 25,000 of them consider themselves theatre goers. "We are not offering or selling entertainment, we are selling theatre. Getting into the cultural imagination of those people is a long process. … We have to back risk because risk is at the very heart of theatre. Your build strategies that cushion and support the main purpose, which is the artistic endeavour on the stage.

So risk defines artistic endeavour and also happens to define business.


I ripped out an article from the Australian which I've just rediscovered scrunched in the bottom of my bag. It is Christopher Pearson's "ABC's vehicle of invective" from the November 4-5. According to Pearson, ABC Books has "unfair advantages, the capacity to skew the market and perhaps to cherry-pick particular authors". But then on Pearson's figures the ABC is a very small percentage of the Australian book market at $1.58 million. So though he is going in to bat for the commercial publishers the ABC doesn't seem to be much of a threat as it comprises such a small percentage of the publishing marketplace. I would think that publishers see ABC Enterprises as another outlet through which to sell books rather than as a threat, and ABC publishing adds diversity to the market place. which is something Australian publishing can always do with.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Oz story telling on TV - the difficulties of mapping the culture

CSI cost $US4 million to make for each epidsode but only $80,000 for 9 to screen; but McLeod's Daughters costs the network $500,000 per episode. Says it all really.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

pollies language

I hadn't realised that Rumsfield was a master of the American language in the tradition of General Westmoreland and Dan Quale:

"I believe what I said yesterday; I don't know what I said, but I know what I think … and I assume that's what I said."

"I would not say that the future is less predictable than the past - I think the past was not predictable when it started."

"There will be some things that people will see. There will be some things people won't see. And life goes on."

"There are things that we know that we know. There are known unkowns … things that we now know that we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know."

And here's a nice link for some Qualisms

internet marketing

It failed for Snakes on Planes (the description of building the campaign sounded really good, it just didn't sell tickets). But it seems to working for Borat. Interesting.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

12 Days reveiw from The Courier Mail

I loved this review. It hit the nail on the head as to why we wanted to publish the book:

THERE is not a frosted window, a sleigh ride or a mulled wine in sight in a new release children's picture book about Christmas. What a relief.
Every Christmas season, we are presented with books about the festive time for our children featuring flannelette pyjamas, hot cocoa and songs about mistletoe and snow. When the mozzies are buzzing, the sun biting and the dinner table features crispy salad and cool drinks, these tales might be lovely, but are hardly the ticket to getting into the spirit of the season.
A book by young illustrator Heath McKenzie is a timely Australian Christmas gift. The folk song The Australian Twelve Days of Christmas is cheekily, colourfully illustrated with a deft paintbrush and a keen sense of humour.
There are several variations of the Australian Twelve Days of Christmas, but this one includes ``On the first day of Christmas, my true love gave to me a kookaburra up a gum tree''. The kooka is joined by critters including four cuddling koalas, 11 emus kicking (AFL balls), seven possums playing (PlayStation) and eight flies a feasting (on pie and plum pud).
The result of reading this picture book to a little one is sure to be more than a single giggle.
McKenzie, who has illustrated five books published in the past nine months, has cleverly included snappy, interesting facts about the animals included in his countdown list at the back of the book, so that children are informed as well as entertained.
Jane Fynes-Clinton/Courier Mail

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Bloom report quote

"It's never been easier to publish a novel, or harder to sell one - and, hence, never more difficult for publishers to take a risk on unknown authors." Bloom partners

crappy sounding English

A billboard ad for a major Melbourne private school reads …"I love the subject choice" next to a photo of a student. Apart from being not very believable, it's crappy sounding English. Surely the idea that is to be conveyed is that the student will love the (large) choice of subjects they have to choose from rather than the particular subjects some administrator has chosen to include in the curriculum. And it sounds pompous.

Many writers (and publishers) frown on the present tense.

Princeton Professor emeritus Robert Fagles's new translation is in the present tense: "I think it's a poem about heroism and empire, about the glory of imperial hopes and the pain of having imperial hopes dashed.... I wanted to convey something about the modern understanding of war, and then about a man, an exile, a common soldier left terribly alone in the field of battle," Fagles says. "Aeneas is like Clint Eastwood, like Gary Cooper, a warrior and a worrier. He changes into the heroic tragic man, duty and endure, endure and duty."

Monday, October 30, 2006


a new saying I heard recently: "don't be part of the crowd, be your own act"

Sunday, October 29, 2006

An independent - criteria by ARIA

"Solo artists and groups are eligible. Album and single recordings are eligible. The nominated recording must be released by either an ARIA Levy II Member or a Member, provided that such member is not part of a multinational corporation.

Recordings for which the production costs are funded either:
(a) by a Levy Member; or
(b) by a local license or distribution deal; or
(c) through an overseas licensing or distribution deal are not eligible.

Distribution in Australia must be undertaken by an independent ARIA member. For the sake of clarity, this excludes Levy Members or any members that are part of a multinational corporation."


It was entertaining watch the ARIA awards. The whole thing was a lot of fun and nicely Australian. A couple of personal thoughts:
The Hill Top Hoods: who thanked the stations who played Australian music becasue they wanted to not because they legislatively had to.
Bernard Fanning: "a creative artist needs self-doubt" statement. Food for thought.
I wondered what the definition of independent was, and how it stacked up against the way it is used in the book trade (both for bookshops and publishers).
Liked the "breakthrough" awards.
Congrats to Eskimo Joe among others: Nice work guys.

Maybe we can have book awards that match the style of these one day.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

In the bestseller lists

We're in the Neilsen bestseller lists for the first time, well at least the first time in month of publication. Heath's Australian Twelve Days of Xmas is number five on the children's list. 'Course I think it's a little beauty. It's a very entertaining and clever piece of cultural mapping and its very very funny. That boy has such a sense of humour.

Flaubert quote

I like this quote from Flaubert: "style is the lifeblood of thought" - and the idea that playing with language helps us tackle difficult and complex thoughts.

Aboriginal kitsch

From the Sydney Morning Herald: Paul Keating has called the naming of East Darling Harbour as Barangaroo (after Bennelong's wife) as Aboriginal kitsch, with it's unfortunate echo of kangaroo. Rejected alternatives were Cadigal Cove, Eora Bay. The name the place earned in the Great Depression was the Hungry Mile.

KOALA awards

Congratulations to Carole Wilkinson for winning the KOALA older readers award last Friday. I went up to Taronga Park Zoo for the announcement on Friday and stayed for lunch. The spontanous cheer from the audience when Dragonkeeper's win was announced left Carole almost speechless. This book has an extraordinary power to reach out and touch people's hearts. It's a book without pretention and the more powerful for it.

The event was humble (in the better sense of the word) and humbling, It was superbly orchestrated - I've not seen a book event better done, or prepared for. I was impressed when Val Noake started with an acknowledgement that we were on traditional Aboriginal land and paid respect to the elders, past, present and future. That heralded the humility and the inclusiveness of the event. Every school in the auditorium was acknowledged and every school let out an affirming cheer as their name was read out. There were lots of authors and illustratos lining the front row. Matt Dray had flown down from northern Queensland with Dougal. There was a Hall of Fame for the books that had appeared many times on the short list but never actually got over the line for a gong. A neat way of acknowledging those really consistent performers. Felice persuaded the kids to do an exquisie slo-mo of a crowd cheering one of their own on to do a slow mo specky. (Morris Gleitzman was a bit of smart arse about it when he came up next but that's Morris.) It was excellent to catch up with Richard Tulloch. We went to the same school and during a brief stint at Penguin I assisted Mr Biffy's Battle along its way through the publishing process. He's spending half his time in Amsterdam. All up an excellent event.

Friday, October 20, 2006

an interesting juxtapostion of quotes I found on the web

If I were in this business only for the business, I wouldn’t be in this business.
- Samuel Goldwyn

If writers were good businessmen, they'd have too much sense to be writers.
- Irvin S. Cobb

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Dragon Moon

Georgina (13) has just finished reading the draft of Dragon Moon, the sequel to Dragonkeeper/Garden of the Purple Dragon. We were supposed to cooking together (at her instigation) but I'd realise I was doing all the work and I was alone in the kitchen - she was back in the bedroom reading, "but Dad I'm just at a really good bit." She finished later that afternoon. When I told her this was the last story about Ping, she said, "But that's so sad."

It's a corker of a story.

Macbeth postscript

Somebody to me in conversation that David Stratton had suggested that one of the flaws of Wright's Macbeth was the Worthington was too young to convey a sense of a good man tempted and gone bad. And retrospectively that resonated with me.


I went to see the Geoffrey Wright's Macbeth with my friend Chris. Fabulous production values. Very gritty and sexily grubby as you expected from Geoffrey Wright. And I was delighted by the idea of Macbeth being translated to Melboune. And it was very Melbourne. But for me I didn't enjoy it as much as I was trying to. I was always one step behind the actors figuring out the dialogue and for Shakespeare to work as a production I've got to be in it.

Chris who is in the film industry says that we lack the gravitas as actors. The English can somehow pull it off and who knows what the magic ingredient is. Heritage? Voice projection? (There's just too much shouting in Australian production of Shakespeare for my taste.)

Yet we do fabulous of humor + tragedy - in films like Kenny and Priscilla. We need dry, laconic and ironic


I've started to come across "buy" as an operative word in publishing:

"You have to buy a lot of books in order to have some success. When you have success everyone forgets all the books you bought that didn't work."
Bill Massey, new editorial director of Orion's trade list, in an article in The Bookseller with a line under the heading that reads in part, "Bill Massey is back … and buying for Orion."

And from the Age, a little while ago:
"Heyward said that publishers had 'lost their way' by not buying, editing and selling Australian fiction to the extent they should."


I've just finished Anne Coombs and Susan Varga's Broometime. I started it in Brrome and I've been stringing the reading of it out to stretched out that holiday feeling. Maryann worked on Adland with Anne when Mary was at Reed. I think I may have even done one of the proofreads, anyhow I remember reading it in proofs, and I was looking forward to Broometime but it was pulled off the market almost on release. Anne and Susan had mentioned the names of some Aborigines who had recently died and the Broome Aboriginal community were unhappy. The corrected edition seemed to just leak back on to the market. So the book was handicapped on release.; the publicity knee-capped. So maybe it has never done as well as it should have. I don't know how Anne and Susan resolved the problem with the community. People who are dying and have recently died are still mentioned in the revised edition. Have they changed the names? Used psuedonyms? It's an awkward issue to resolve graceful. It's given me a sense though, in a small way, of how different the Aboriginal approach can be and the challenges of this sort of writing and publishing where communities meet.

racy language

I just came across this lovely piece of racing language: "favourite by the length of the straight".

books, the most senior media

Somebody described books as "the most senior of the media" and it is a phrase that has kept popping back into mind. As a publisher, I like it.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Malouf and Oz literature

I'm still chewing thoughtfully on this comment from David Malouf (same source as my last blog):

"There was a period about 15 to 20 years ago when we created the idea of an exciting national literature. Australian readers were encouraged to read a lot of Australian books [was this publicity then?], and they did. They were doing it partly because they saw it as a reflection of their world, but also because they believed in Australia in a new kind of way. I think people lost faith in that. I think there has been a falling off of a kind of patriotic reason for reading Australian books, and that has put a lot of pressure on publishers because they just can't guarantee that there's a reading public out there." And he adds that 20 years ago every university had a course in Australian literature now none do or maybe one.

Sometimes I think this is a loss, sometimes I think it's because our literature has grown up.

Malouf and the literary pages

I generally find the literary pages in the newspapers on the weekend entertaining -even if I sometimes find the review focus a little narrow at times. (My personal beef is the big reviews of expensive hardbacks from lesser known university presses in the US, usually on some political or foreign affairs topic, that I know are being brought in to this country in quantities of less than 100.)

Anyhow I enjoyed the Malouf interview in the Oz. . I very much enjoyed Johnno and I'm looking forward to reading Every Move You Make. Lots of gems from Mr Malouf, some pure, some cracked and smoky. I find him satisfyingly thought provoking.

I liked his:
"Writers are sometimes very wise in their writing and very foolish as people." A neat conundrum that echoed with me. I find writers often wise in their writing and as wise and foolish as the rest of us at other times. Or as Malouf quotes Auden who put it succinctly: "Our writing is in better taste than our lives."

"My own view is that we ought to write books that need to be written. Books ought to demand to be written rather than be a by-product of your idea of yourself as a writer.There is a lot of pressure on writers not to be out of the limelight and I think you have to absolutely resist that." coda - as long as you don't need to make a living from your writing. I'm not sure that all writers have the luxury of being able to retreat to Tuscany. And there's the possibility that may somebody else can suggest a book that demands to be written or guide you in discovering the book that needs to be written. Is writing more collaborative now than the literary model created in the 70s?

He goes on to say that there are two kinds of books: those that: "come into existence because they are like products of nature… and books that you feel absolutely been willed into existence" and there are too many of the latter because publishers are pursueing "non-serious readers, the people who can be almost trapped into reading a book. It's for them that the whole world of publicity and celebrity of writers is created. Really serious readers don't give a stuff of about any of that." A very purist view, echoing the high-handed criticism of "comfort reading" for children. A kind of no pain without gain view of reading. I've never liked neat binary opposites in arguments particularly; there's a whole bunch of interesting stuff to discover in between.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

NZ publishing industry - Montana

"For a society with a comparatively small population base, the range of what is being written is great indeed, and across that range the quality is high." - Lawrence Jones, chair of the judging panel of the Montana New Zealand Book Awards

it may sound a little self-congratulatory on the New Zealanders behalf quoted out of context, but they really do a magnificent job on the other side of the Tasman. (I've always like the slightly wild west-frontier sound of the "Montana" awards. And it seems appropriate that they're named after a wine. Maybe we should change the name of the Miles Franklin?)

advice to an editor

I'm a bit chary about giving advice on how to set out to edit a script, as everybody works differently. The one piece of advice I would give though is to re-read what you've edited - after it is published . You may need a year or two respite, but then have another look. In my experience that's difficult, painful and sharply instructive. I don't do it often enough.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Texas saying

On holidays I came across the Texan saying "Hat but no cattle" which is a sharper form of talking the talk but not walking the walk.

Kenny and the Australian language

I was pleased to watch "Kenny" going to Broome - and coming back. Perfect pitch for a mockumentary. Kenny is the master of Oz blokey language. Some Kenny gems: "busier than a one-armed bricklayer in Baghdad", "sillier than a bum full of smarties", " this will be around longer than religion".

It's good to see Kenny's weekly takings on the increase. Most films start big and shrink but word-of-mouth is boosting Kenny along. Australia v Hollywood?

On blokey language there's always Mark Latham's "a conga line of suckholes" - though that lacks a certain warmth in style. I like Catherine Lumby's "It's typical Latham and it's ridiculous" and Tony Abbott's "I'm happy to let Mark Latham's words stand for themselves."

Interesting to discover that there aren't just metrosexuals but also CUBs or Cashed Up Bogans - the Bogan dollar is challenging the Pink dollar - the V8 ute is "working man's sport's car".

Sunday, September 24, 2006

The Accidental

Shane McCauley slammed Ali Smith's book in the West Australian. (Nice photo of Rod Moran, bookpages editor, that the newspaper run along the top of the book pages - every books editor should have distinguished whiskers.) It was a Whitbread winner but sometimes I wonder if literary judges tastes are too esoteric and have little to do with what an intelligent is looking for in a book. (As an editor you're supposed to have the ideal reader in mind - What if you're ideal reader is the judge of a literary award?) I've not read the book but it was chosen as a book for my reading group until Keith weighed in with this comment; "I have read the first chapter of 'The Accidental' (35 pages out of about 300). I think it is pointless crap. I won't be reading any more. I might have a go at 'On Beauty' to fill the void."


I'm just back from Broome. It's an extraordinary and exciting place - a thriving cultural centre. For me it was very Westaustralian and far from the eastern seaboard, which is the Australia I know. It felt like the opposite Australian pole to temperate white established Melbourne. (Sidebar: A banker friend said 30% of the Australian economy is now in WA.) While we were there we caught up with Suzie, Rebecca and Adrian of Magabala. A different publishing experience to black dog but with much in common as an independent Australian publisher mapping the Australian culture - lots of the same frustrations and satisfactions - and some different ones. There are actually three publishers in Broome for a population (according to the guidebook) of 12,000 - and two printers. And the publishing has a strong emphasis on children's books.

Marie Gamble runs a very excellent bookshop at the Kimberley Bookshop - the deeply polished floor boards and old-fashioned windows, Broome-style, made it a stylish and cool retreat from the heat with lots of yummy books to peruse. The bookshop was begun by nuns - Anne Coombs and Susan Varga's 'Broometime' has the story.

Monday, September 11, 2006

on holiday

I'm on holiday for the next two weeks so my blogger will slow down (or maybe stop) till the 25th.

Thursday, September 07, 2006


I think, as do many others, that publishing is a form of gambling. On one level it is just plain old river boat gambling. But it is an enticingly creative form of gambling. I'd never bet on a horse (well not often, apart from the Melbourne Cup) or on a hand of cards but the thrill of backing a new book or writer or idea of a book sends a nice chilly thrill right up and down my spine. Maybe I'd be a better publisher if I also knew how to bet on horses…

Monday, September 04, 2006

editor's role

Sometimes I think the editor's role is to stop the author falling in love with his and her own words and encourage them to want the reader to fall in love with his or her words.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

From startup to independent

I was talking to Mark Davis yesterday and he said that he thought it was the growth phase that was the difficult phase for an independent publisher. The common view is that it is hard to start, but Mark's view is that it is harder to sustain.

Then an independent publisher starts needing Capital with a capital C - in business terms a relatively small amount but it comes with a comparatively high ratio of risk. Success has been the end of many a small publisher - not being prepared to take the risk on the funding the print bills. The barriers to entry are comparatively low in publishing - it is making it work again and again that's hard, and watching those print bills accumulate as the list speeds up.

It's been a nice year for black dog which means we're on the steep and slippery part of the growth curve so interesting and exciting times lie ahead.

bigger or smaller costs.

I hear variously that the large publishers have bigger overheads (most commonly cited as the cost of airfares) or the smaller publishers have bigger overheads (higher cost of distribution + lack of volume discounts on, say, printing). Curious.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

10,000 soldiers

If it takes 10,000 soldiers to make a good general, how many books does it take to make a good publisher?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Queenie launch

The launch of Queenie: One Elephant's Story was on Sunday at the Melbourne museum. It was launched to a packed room and we even made the Channel 9 news in the evening thanks to Kelly Curtin, and we sold a small truckload of books. I'm amazed at the response it's drawn.

It's both a very local Melbourne story and a much bigger story of elephants in zoos and how we treat animals. As it includes the death of the beloved Queenie it is searingly honest for a picture book and this seems to be part of its power. Corinne didn't steer away from the truth. As a story it challenges the reader and so operates on several levels.

So it is an "act local, think global (or at least think national)" publishing tale. And it will be interesting to see if it is taken up overseas.

Reflecting on this I think with the predominance of trade publishers having been in Sydney. Sydney has had more of its stories published than Melbourne, but with the growth of the Melbourne independents this has changed. And there's Wakefield in Adelaide, FACP in Perth and UQP in Brisbane.


Bling is the ubiquitous word/phrase of the moment - I heard it on morning radio yesterday, a sure sign. It seemed new and fresh a month ago and now I'm tripping over it everywhere - presumeably it's capturing something of the imagination of the moment. And in another month or so it will have gone. It has something both hopeful and cynical about it all at once.

Previous words/phrases of the moment have been segue, "in the same ballpark", "singing off the same page" and "it's not rocket science"

Does anybody else have any other words or phrases that have soared briefly then fallen from grace?

Monday, August 21, 2006

Listening to the Book Show (ABC) this morning …

Interesting comment that while more books are being published but it is harder for a first time author to get published.

So presumeably those authors getting published are writing (and getting publishing) more books? Which when I put it like that didn't sound like such a bad thing.

Monday, August 14, 2006

We're just not good at golf

From Crickey about the PGA international in Colorado:
'2005 winner Retief Goosen had a nightmare of a day, shooting five bogeys and two double bogeys to finish last, summing up the round when he told reporters “I played like a dog today”.'

Sunday, August 13, 2006

launch of June, July and August titles

Last Thursday night we had a party to celebrate our last quarter of beautiful books by our truly stunning authors. Here is the launch speech:

"Hello and welcome here tonight. For those who don’t know me, I’m Andrew Kelly one of the publishers at black dog.

And it has been another gorgeous quarter for black dog authors. There’s been a lot of history packed into the last three months. Both Australian and world history, and in terms of black dog’s own short life.

We kick off in June in Ancient Egypt with Ramose. Carole was one of the first authors we published after we hung out our shingle as a trade publisher. It is very satisfying to see these beautifully written books re-issued with Chatri’s gorgeous covers. I’d like to take this opportunity to acknowledge my fellow publisher Maryann Ballantyne who was the driving force behind these re-issues and behind the flavour of the covers. She said the other day – it feels like we’re proper publishers now we’ve been around long enough to re-issue books.

Next in July we go to the 18th century with Julian’s beautifyl John Nicol. Unfortunately Julian can’t be with us tonight as he is opening an exhibition so I am able talk behind his back and say how fabulous his artwork is. This book has a history of its own. It’s been four years in the making but it has been worth the wait.

Jan and Heath’s Granny has her own history which has been unfolding as we publish each new title in the series. Granny is just as gorgeous in the third volume as she was in 1 and 2. And I’m just sorry that Russell, Jan’s number 1 fan, who attended the last Granny launch isn’t here tonight.

Also in July there’s a double header from Sue Lawson. We’ve welcomed Sue over from the Dark Side. And we’re pleased that she is flourishing in the warmth and light of the black dog greenhouse – and writing lots and lots of books. Diva is a little bottler that really works well on the frontline of sales where children are buying the books for themselves. Sometimes the reprints have made Cecilia’s head spin. Allie McGregor’s True Colours is so gorgeous it will make you cry. The reviews have been dazzling and we can’t wait for Sue’s next script so we can have another good cry.

Bernadette Kelly has written us for a long time too, from back when we were packaging series for the educational market. So it has been lovely to see her step out into the limelight of trade with such success. And August sees the release of the third book in the best-selling Riding High series.

And last but not least there is Queenie. Queenie has been sweeping the Melbourne media I’d like to congratulate Corinne and Peter before I hand over to Maryann who I’m sure would like to add some words about Queenie as it is a book that she has very much been a champion of …"

And I have no record of what Maryann said.

Queenie publicity

I commented in an earlier blog on the difficulty of getting publicity for children's books compared to adult books. Now I'm being proved wrong by the dazzling publicity for Queenie: One Elephant's Story. Full pages in the Herald Sun and the Age, reviewed in the Australian, an author interview and talkback on Derek Guille on 774 - and that's just part of it. It is amazing how the publicity is drawing out people with a connection to the Queenie story including the grandson of Lawson, Queenie's keeper. A "think local" story that has much wider echos.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

boot studding revisited

I'm taking the liberty of adding Glen Manton's definition of boot-studding for further illumination:

"The boot studder is an under-rated staff member who, in the modern era, has been surpassed by boot technology (to an extent). In the olden days-1990's etc-the bootstudder would polish boots, maintain the 'studs' on the bottom, also known as 'stops' and house/protect boots for the players. On match days he would carry out 'long stops' in case of rain and have them available at 1/4 time, 1/2 time etc.In the modern era most players wear blade type boots and play inside-the leather is softer and may not need polishing at all thus the football world loses another great part of it's history in the form of an overweight, grey old man with a great sense of humour and love for the players and game-shame."

Everytime I hear or read book studder it comes with a western twang and an echo of boot scooting.

interview with Mark Rubbo

Karen Tayleur (black dog editor) passed this extract from an interview with Mark Rubbo as she knew it was close to the line I've been pushing:

"Publishers aren't taking as many chances … not investing in younger writers because [in part] the growing role of the agent, even though some agents have been pretty good for Australian writers. It used by that an author would stay with a publisher for life and be nurtured. Now they move around. So the publisher might say. "Why should I invest in this young writer when I know as soon as he is in his stride he is going out and sell himself to the highest bidder, and all the work we've don will bring us know reward?" If I was a publisher I would probably think the same. Why should I take a risk on a first book? I'll wait until the writer is established."

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Boot studder contribution to Mongrel Punt

Here's my boot-studding contribution for the next edition of Mongrel Punts:

"I'll tell you what happens. The boot studder does the boot studding. The doctors do the doctoring. The coaches do the coaching," Denis Pagan, Carlton coach.

Could anybody tell me what a boot studder really does?

early blogging from Ron Kenett

I was fascinated to discover that Ron Kennett (right wing Victorian pollie and ex-premier Jeff Kennett's lefty cousin) practised an early form of blogging. He put up a big board in the front yard of his house in busy Railway Cresent in Seaford which he updated regularly with messages in big brushstrokes. The messages were necessarily short, pithy and poetic, given the size of the letters and the scale of the board. Example (after Auckland went into a 6 week electricity blackout after the main cable failed): "Privatised Auckland city dead. Shots fired. Lights out. Thugs roam." An apocalyptic comment on what he thought was going to happen to a privatising Victoria. Ron said he got a lot of comments from people walking, riding and driving by. Maybe they'd stop for a chat or just give a passing thumbs up.

Friday, August 04, 2006

far from the madding crowd

I was talking to Stewart, my Scottish friend, as we we watched our sons boot the ball round at Auskick. We were talking about the boom in Scottish independent publishing and picking up on Henry Rosenbloom's point that most of the strong independents are in Melbourne (at least outside of Sydney) in this country while the biggies are in Sydney. The theory was evolved that you need to be a little distance from the established centre and big players for there to be enough independence of outlook, enough oxygen, to survive. London is then the hub of the big publishers in the UK and the independents tend to be outside. I wouldn't want to push this argument too far - look at the strength of the independents in London - say Snowbooks or Profile for example - but crunchy food for thought.

The black and red

There was a short but neat review from Tony Maniaty in the Australian this Saturday morning for Mongrel Punts and Hard Ball Gets. "Fair suck of the sav", Up there Cazaly", 'knuckle sandwich" and "flogger" were among the entries that caught Tony's fancy.

It's been an interesting experience launching an adult imprint out of a children's imprint. The publicity for Mongrel has been strong - modest but strong - and a lot easier to get than for any of our children's books, where every square millimetre is battled for (and gratefully received). With Mongrel we do of course have Glen's profile to help us. A profile built outside books.

As a new imprint it's been a challenge to get the books into the shops (except in WA where they've embraced Mongrel with an enthusiasm that sends a thrill down the spine). And that was the case with the first black dog book. The red dog launch has been an object lesson for me on the value of a publishing brand (and why self-publishing would not really be viable for a writer in the longer run).

Red Dog is opening new doors for black dog and opening old doors wider - which is exciting for black dog.

Mongrel Punts and Red Dog launch

The Mongrel Punts and Hard Ball Gets: An A-Z of Footy Speak was launched with fanfare and a flourish of trumpets at Readings on Tuesday night. Chris at Readings was the queen of organisation. The Coodabeens were just right - witty and warm. Paula spoke from the heart and Glen was polished. (It was an interesting footy-equivalent role that Glen assigned to the editor, that of boot studder. Apparently if the president dies nobody really cares but if the boot studder dies all the players are distraught. So he's really important.) A bootload of books were sold and Readings came back for more (we always have a spare box of books in the boot at the launch}. Thanks to everybody but especially the Susie and Coodabeens.

Monday, July 31, 2006


We ask authors to say in the submission letter why they believe we're the publisher for their book. And the best one came in this morning - concise and to the point - "because my story bites and it has a dog in it".

Today's quote from Mongrel Punts

I love this one:

"Archer is a bully. But he's not a mean bully. He's more a teacher. The kind of guy who'll take your lunch money and invest it for you."
- Dennis Commetti

How's this for a crock … - Opinion Journal:

"That such [series] books might keep kids reading is a meager defense. If that's the point, asks Mary Burgess, a professor of English at the University of Notre Dame, "Why not have them read cereal boxes?" Such lists, by offering mere "formula fiction," represent "a lost opportunity," she says. "They put kids into a real comfort zone."

Well, we really wouldn't want kids to be in a comfort zone would we? No, that should be reserved entirely for adults. Adults are here to make children suffer, so they can "learn".

Our best selling series The Legends was ignorantly bagged by some tired academic in the Australian Book Review on the grounds it was "comfort food". It is a bestselling series because kids want to read it and it's been so powerful that it's started the habit of reading for pleasure for some children. Bagging "comfort" reading has become such a critical cliche.

The Opinion Journal goes on to say
"Why not assign books that ask students to use their imaginations? Generations of young people have enjoyed classics like "Black Beauty," "Little Women," and "The Wind in the Willows." Why should kids today be any different?"

Well, kids today are different. The world has changed — a lot. But let's stick our heads in the sand and keep them there. Let's try and force kids to read what was published for their grandmothers and great-grandmothers as children. I loved Wind and the Willows as a child, but when I settled down to read it to my eldest I realised it was all over the place structurally - it needed a decent edit.

And thanks to Lil for the link

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Mongrel Punts is on its way

Red Dog, black dog's new little-sister imprint, launches it's first book tomorrow night at Readings: Paula Hunt and Glen Manton's Mongrel Punts and Hardball Gets: An A-Z of Footy Speak. Thanks to Chartri and Blue Boat, the book is looking gorgeous, and thanks to my foolishness it is a beautiful jacketed hardback. So encourage your friends to buy, buy, buy.

Among my favourite definitions: Shellacking - A good old-fashioned pasting, a sound thrashing, a beating of significant proportions, a hidig. a drubbing, a caning. To cop a hiding. To deliver a shellacking is to wipe the floor with them.

Favourite nickname Galloping Gasometer (Mick Nolan, North Melbourne)

One of my favourite quotes: "Don't just kick it, Boskick it."

APA industry awards

The APA industry awards were on last Wednesday night. Given the compostion of the publishers association with the weight at the big end of town, it seemed a remarkably fair and interesting result. It was Text's well-deserved night with Michael Heyward popping up and down like a yo-yo. Susie of Riverbend (independent bookshop of the year) had my speech of the night award: Russ, a pensioner and regular customer, came in to the shop one day just before she left and gave her $20 to make sure she'd be able to have a good time in Sydney; and that was his book money for the month - he buys one book a month, always for under $20. Henry Rosenbloom was very close runner up with his speech, as Henry interestingly pointed out that most of the independents are in Melbourne and most of the mulitnationals in Melbourne. Allen & Unwin received Publisher of the Year which seemed pretty well-deserved. And my good friends from that particularly exciting Melbourne suburb of Camberwell did quite nicely.

Monday, July 24, 2006


Lee Lowe posed this query in a comment: "And you know, everyone always assumes that the edited and published version of a book is better. What if they're wrong?" Usually I think it is. But I'd be curious to hear from anyone on the topic.

Book Scan

The Australian is doing a good job of keeping the discussion of our literary culture front and centre. Saturday's discussion of Book Scan was fascinating and illuminating. As Andrew Wilkins points out Book Scan only captures part of the data, mainly that from high-street and mall shop cash registers, especially chains. Only 28% of the independents are covered and none of the "educational' sales or those that go from the printer to direct accounts appear. (Maybe this is more significant in children's publishing and Book Scan gives an even less accurate picture in that genre.) If, as some suggest, the multinationals who can afford the full suite of data use it to publish by, then it will leave plenty of opportunity for the rest of us to be innovative and interesting. The old saw is that the sales department wants more of yesterday's bestseller but the market has moved on.

For some time multinationals have wanted every book to pay its way - which given big overheads means a sizeable contribution - but I don't think its Book Scan's fault. As a business decision it makes a lot of sense - in the short term. As the savvy UK independent Snowbooks points out, its the way publicly listed companies need to operate. But how does it work in the longer run? Do authors want to be published by someone reluctant to invest in them in the early years and quick to cut them off if sales show a temporary decline? I guess that the size of the advance may make it worth the risk from an author's point of view. One publishing colleague acknowledged that if we're to have a continuing writing culture we need to invest in writers but thought that publishing books that were at risk of not contributing the necessary margin a bad way to do it. He admitted, though, he could think of no other. I think the regime of making every book pay its way is also more comfortably applied in a branch-plant business.

Allie reviews

Allie McGregors True Colours is scoring on the review count. In the Courier-Mail Saturday week ago and in the Age and Sydney Morning Herald this last Saturday. We've never managed the hat trick before.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

What do elephants and beginning writers both need?

Here is a guest blog from Cameron Nunn, author of the best-selling Shadows in the Mirror -a book that every boy (and many girls) should read and will love reading - to embroider a quote from Gary Crew on the front cover:


The saying is that everyone has at least one good novel in them. However, writing that novel may only be the first struggle in a long journey.

I finished my first novel, Shadows in the Mirror six years before I finally held a printed and bound copy in my hands. There was a sense of celebration when I pressed that last full-stop. I scoured my bookshelves and the internet for addresses of publishing companies who might have wanted to publish my masterpiece. Armed with ten addresses and ten copies of the opening chapters, I mailed them off and waited.

Weeks went by and I began to despair whether something had happened to my literary gems. When the first reply came in, I ripped it open with trembling hands. A one line reply, dripping with insincerity, thanked me for sending them the manuscript but declined an offer of publication. Eight more followed with various remarks, from the patronising to the soul-crushing.

And then, finally a request to send the remaining chapters. Hope ran high even as weeks ran into months. Finally, another letter. Yes, but they would like to show it to the other editors. Another six months . . . and then the crushing blow.

As I sat, I pondered my brief foray into the literary world. Masochistic as I am, I had kept every rejection letter (no doubt hoping that like J.K. Rowling, I would be able to sneer at those ill-discerning publishers from the tower of my best-seller). As I poured over comments, I looked for clues among the more detailed responses as to what they didn’t like. Steadily I began to form a picture of what was and wasn’t working in the novel. Armed with this information I began to re-write, or more accurately, slash pages. One of my favourite maxims has become, ‘It is not what you write in the book that often matters most, but what you edit out.’ Five chapters were reduced to ten pages.

Shortly after, I asked a friend who had been a former publisher to cast a critical eye over the work. She came back with more suggestions but more importantly encouragement to try again and the name of some editors who might be interested in publishing this style of book.

Although I was fairly sure that publishers wouldn’t remember reading a novel that they had rejected a few years earlier, I changed the title just to be on the safe-side. Ten more copies and ten new letters, this time shamelessly name-dropping my friend’s endorsement of the novel as worthy of each publisher’s consideration.

Again, there were the usual rejection letters (which I’ve still kept in the hope of one day writing the best-seller that they missed out on). However, this time the interest was much stronger. A few publishers expressed interest but most importantly Black Dog Books were willing to offer the support necessary to develop my manuscript into a publishable work.

The journey from acceptance to publication is another long journey, but not nearly as tough as just getting the foot in the door. When I’m talking to students about getting published, I remind them that publishers get many, many more unsolicited manuscripts than they can ever read. A rejection doesn’t mean you should give up. Listen to advice and keep plugging away. What do elephants and beginning writers need more than anything else? They’ve both got to be thick-skinned to survive.

Cameron Nunn

APA small publisher shortlist

I'm not sure that we should blow our own trumpet but we're really pleased to have been shortlisted in the 2006 APA industry awards for Small Publisher of the Year and especially pleased that it's with such illustrious company as Scribe and Black Inc. It's great to see the independent sector of publishing so active and fruitful.

and here's one of Julian's superb illustrations from The True Adventures of John Nicol

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Don't founder, flounder!

Julian Bruere's gorgeous The True Adventures of John Nicol is out. Tim Flannery did an edition of John Nicol packaging it up with Watkin Tench's account of the early years of NSW. But Julian has made the story his own by brilliantly reconceiving it as an illustrated chapter book cum graphic novel. The text has been reduced to a spare rendering that a ten year old can grasp with pleasure, but the superb realism of the illustrations allow readers of any age to dwell on each and every page. Joy Lawn described it as "ground breaking" but it may take awhile for sales to catch up with the conception, which is the way it happens sometimes when new ground is broken.

There is one small blooper that Mark McLeod highlighted up for us and Mark picked correctly in his explanation of where the error was introduced. Somewhere, sometime in the process a zealous proofreader corrected "foundering" to "floundering". "It was all that we could do to stop the ship from foundering." Still a modern student, like the proofreader, may make better sense of "floundering" in the context.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

the meaning of "dog"

in the new gen y lexicon dog means friend as in "Hey dog - good to see you."

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Margo Lanagan gives Lili's Joan a big tick

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Recyled Food for Thought - higlighted tips on publishing non-fiction from the Chark blog and comments

Problem as defined on the Chark blog: Neither the up-market nor the mass market is performing {in non-fiction]]. Add to this the demise of backlist sales, the pitifully small paperback sales and the legitimate demands of authors for a fair reward for their work. Furthermore in order to achieve this unsatisfactory state of affairs publishers are spending big marketing budgets and granting special discounts to retailers thus undermining their low profitability further.

Solution: The solution from the comments is to publish fewer better titles, reduce prices, give better discounts to independent retailers and worse ones to supermarkets, chains and Amazon, not accept returns, not pay advances, spend money on editorial and design overheads but overall reduce publishing costs.
All good stuff. I remember a management accountant at OUP wondering alound why on earth we didn't stick to publishing best selling expensive titles with low unit costs. He was, of course, right.

Not that I’m a huge baseball fan, but if you’re always swinging for the fences you’re going to strike out a lot!!! And the mass market may not even be the fence anymore.

what about some niche focused products that rely on viral marketing? As many industries are learning, the mass market that warrants big marketing budgets isn’t even there anymore – why not focus (or at least experiment with focusing) marketing money on more viral campaigns. Get your fans to work with you.

publish fewer, better books and the second; Publishing companies are carrying too high overheads and need to be slimmer, smaller and more flexible operations?

One branch of our non-fiction is a crucial contributor to the overall profitability of our business because by pure luck we have chanced upon a category (martial arts) which, on the whole, is poorly published (in terms of editorial focus and production values). As a publisher I like non-fiction because it tends to sell through off shelf rather than on promotion. These books tend to have a higher list price than our riskier paperback fiction. All in all we have a higher price, a lower discount and a more focused series brand to build.
It takes a long time to bring these books to market – 500 photos, heavy editing and time-consuming design and typesetting – but the quality resonates with enthusiastic readers. As ever, it's all about ensuring you publish high quality books in a market that is eager for them. Emma Barnes

wondering if this can be applied to Australian literature

"The elusive quality in Australian design, which can be called typical and can be recognised if transported abroad, is not a fundamental original quality. It would be better to call it a thin but well-established Australian veneer on international western culture."
Robin Boyd "The Australian Ugliness"

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

one Australian

I happened to be looking at the Random House Australia website last night. They have a top 10 list of their titles on the front page and it was interesting to note that there was only one lone Australian title on the list.

three cheers for ABC publishing

I've just been listening to Michael Duffy on Counnterpoint, query not the ABC failure to publish Jonestown but the right of ABC publishing to exist. His comment was a long the lines of how would you feel as a publisher competing with the ABC and all its resources. He mentioned his career as an erstwhile publisher to bolster his point. It's a great pity that Duffy & Snellgrove no longer actively publish. It was an excellent and inspirational list. Refreshing in the sameness of adult publishing in this country. But I don't think the might of the ABC really stacks up against the Pearson group (of which Penguin is a part) or the Bertelsmann group (of which Random House is a part). They have real resources and they're probably both out there using those resources to win the McMasters contract. But they would, as it was suggested in Crikey, never have initiated such a script because of the legal expense of vetting it but they are happy to come along behind and hoover it up. Rodney Hall suggested that what Australian writers need is more publishers. And as an independent Australia publisher I'm very happy to have ABC books around. It brings diversity and opportunity in a industry very much dominated by foriegn multinationals, and shifts the industry sensibility a little bit more in a local Australian direction. The character of the list of a publisher domiciled here is essentially different to that of one domiciled overseas. Yes its a pity that the ABC didn't stand up and publish the McMasters script but let's not reduce the diversity of the publishing industry even further by throwing them out with the bath water. Why are we prepared to accept taxpayers money going to support diversity in television and radio but not in book publishing? Book publishing is a tough mature industy and we can do with all the diversity we can get. Maybe Michael will go back to publishing more of those fabulous books from the new and interesting writers he was so good at discovering

Saturday, July 01, 2006


Reading Michael Wood's In Search of Shakespeare is leaving me with the sense that the reality of Shakespeare challenges our rather tired and earnest ideas of what a great artist is. If he'd been writing today he would have been hauled before the courts as a plagiarist. He was often an improver and sometimes a collaborator. He was keen to make money, sensitive to the market and something of an entrepreneur. And not so fussed about credit. A pragmatist. It is not a portrait of lonely tortured soul writing in a garret by candle light, defending his artistic integrity. A much more cooperative view of artistic production.

"Filmmakers are like potters who come down from the hills. They don't want people f–ing with their pots. You either buy it or you don't." - Ray Lawrence

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

not usually from the unsolicited

Having been psuedonymously critcised and then praise in the author newsletter Pass It On (nicely hanging modifier), I still want to get the message out there that less 5% of our list comes from unsolicited manuscripts. Danny Katz books (praised) are marvellous - and they grew out Maryann (black dog publisher) knowing Danny personally rather than Danny submitting scripts cold.

a marathon not a sprint

Playwright Tony McNamara describes a writing career as "a marathon, not a sprint."

Danny Katz is sharp as well as funny.

I have his column from Thursday 8 June on my desk

I now realize that In 1993, when our first child was born, we narrowly missed by only a few letters the Great Georgia epidemic.

We've an offer out on Danny's next children book "Sheldon, the Selfish Shellfish" the story of a self-hating Jewish prawn. (I'm just warning off other [less well-intentioned] publishers.)

And for those who are still hungry mid morning, watch out for more Little Lunch this year (and next year).


We once published "books" then came "product" and now reading the The [British] Bookseller we can look forward to slots:

"Given the intense competition for slots in publishing houses, successful agents are cherry picking authors and working with them to develop their manuscripts to the highest state
Ivan Mulcahy, director of Mulcahy and Viney

"It's ['On Beauty'] is one of our biggest paperbacks of the year and we have slots in supermarkets."
Joanna Prior, Penguin marketing and publicity director

Monday, June 19, 2006

state of writing

nteresting reading on the state of writing in the weekend papers.

McCrum in the Weekend Australian thinks things are looking as rosy as they're ever likely to be:
"Literary life has become global, democratic and uninhibited. Bookshops are better equipped and the books they sell are better printed , designed and marketed than ever. There's a huge audience and apparently no shortage of money. It's an almost perfect environment for the new writer of talent."

But playwriting is described in the same section of the same newspaper as being in a in a parlous state. In 1991 three were 129 subsidized theatre companies in Australia now there are 67. "We are spending practically nothing on trying to generate Australian playwriting." - David Williamson. "What we're looking at in the long run is a return to the pre-70s of a largely amateur theatre culture." - Hilary Bell. There are only 6 premieres of new Australian plays by the five flagship theatre companies in 06.

And again in the Weekend Australian Ian McFarlane damns Australian publishing for failing to publish his collection of stories, essays and poems on depression. "When you factor in the public profile and audience demands on authorship, you begin to reach some idea of the insidious way that writing of promise is being pushed into the background and possible oblivion, by shallower and shinier work." While I like the ring of the final words, I think there are other explanations. Firstly I don't think people want to read collections of stories, essays and poems. Was there a golden age in the past when they did? McFarlane goes on to add: "The economic imperative driving books and writing today is seriously eroding the social relevance of literature. I didn't realize literature had to be socially relevant - just good.

According to Raymond Gill in The Age's A2, globalisation is hard at work and "the commercial networks … produce only the bare, pathetic, government decreed minimum for local drama" and "an avalanche of foreign culture suffocates our stage and screens." But he adds we may now start exporting American culture in the form of stage productions "Dirty Dancing" and "Dusty" back into the States.

And on Monday Nathan Hollier went in to the defence of the requirement for the winner of the Miles Franklin to somehow represent Australia. He quotes Jane Sullivan's comment: "times have changed in a good way for our books" and Australian literature is no longer "an endangered species" and disagrees with her that the award should be open to an Australian writing on any topic. Nathan feels that the readership of the literary novel within Australia is in decline and Australian literary studies within universities are in dire straits. "Major publishers are increasingly reluctant to invest to any significant degree in new literary talent, and more particularly in new local literary talent. Economically it makes much more sense for the half-dozen corporations who publish most of the world's books to focus their attention on obtaining and promoting the work of "star" writers whose work can be sold to as large an audience as possible (and, crucially, within the US). It is these major publishing firms which are most energetically promoting the global reading market, at the expense of local markets, readerships and literary cultures. Within this context if the "local" is to be represented at all, it will tend to be in the "exotic, "picturesque" terms that confirm the prejudices of the cultural centre, the metropole.


I'm just back from my first visit to Western Australia, and Perth, which was to attend the WASLA conference. The enthusiasm of everybody involved made the trip a pleasure.

We visited a number of very impressive children's booksellers as well. It was a shot in the arm, and the weather was just gorgeous and Perth shone in the sun. The light was very particular - clear and crisp - and the views out over the Indian Ocean were stunning.

I want to go back - soon.

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

The Treasure Chest

We're still struggling with the treasure chest aka the unsolicited manuscripts. The volume still exceeds our capacity to deal with it. And writers are still getting angry that we aren't doing what's wanted. Only maybe 2.5% of our list comes from the unsolicited. We're interested, but its not the core of our business at the moment. The expectations of writers far exceeds what we can reasonably deliver.

One of the people here at black dog was mentioned by name in an anonymous entry in Pass It On. There was a sense I felt of the writer wanting to out an individual within our organisation - yet it was done anonymously. That seems both cowardly and unprofessional to me. If that author is reading this, please call me. And I don't think Pass It On should permit anonymous entries.

That said, the standard of the way submissions are being presented has improved immensely and I thank those writers. It is making it much easier for us to respond more quickly. We also have for the moment somebody spending a half day a week on the treasure chest (as well as the more ad hoc efforts by individual editors including myself.)

One thing I dislike is to be told that it's been recommended by a manuscript assessment agency that the book be sent to us, or that the book has been favourably commented on by this or that manuscript assessment agency. We have no relationship with any agency of this sort and we prefer to form our own opinion. It rapidly cools my interest.

Another bug bear for me is when I respond by email with a "no thanks this is not for us" or a "this is why this isn't working for us" I get an immediate return email submitting another story or asking for some other advice or help.

We're not branch of the public service and we don't have obligations to writers that are yet to become our authors. Maybe writers should be talking to the Australia Council about grants to publishers to deal with their unsolicited piles.

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Graffiti boy

This odd but strangely appealing little boy has been appearing upon surfaces in Fitzroy:

mid weight

The job ad for a designer from Adrenalin Strategics in the Blue News caught my eye for "a talented and enthusiastic mid weight graphic designer". Mid weight? In breach of discrimination guidelines? Or is this something like semi-bold?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Favorite hobby horse

Frank Moorhouse wrote in a not-so-recent Australian: "We need adequate, long-term funding of individual writers by arts organisations, publishers and private patronage." It's the "publishers" bit that stirred me to mount one of my favorite hobby horses: writers can only expect long-term funding from a publisher if the writer is prepared to back a publisher in the longer term.

In today's world of agents and big advances, both of which are supposedly both in the writer's best interest, there's little incentive from publishers to back authors in the longer term. And creatively it's usually best for writer's to find a good publishing house and build a relationship and let a relationship be built.

Sometimes writers benefit from a change of publisher but it should be done as part of longer term view not a short term one, and advances are short term - the theory is the writer is only getting earlier what they should be getting as royalties anyway. Advances are but smoke and mirrors.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Sydney, Glorious Sydney

Sydney is a great place to visit. And I'm up here for a couple of days with a late running at catching up with the Australia Council's Visitiing International Publishers program, and as always taking the opportunity to catch up with booksellers.

I was reading John Nicolson's 'The Sydney Harbour Bridge' with my son Miles (aged 6) on Wednesday night. Its a very lovely book. It's quite complex in text and illustration and I don't know how much Miles took in but he was intrigued and wanted me to take photos of the bridge while I was in Sydney. The Oz Co Visiting International Publishers program is spread out over several days so I went off for the afternoon to do the famous Sydney Harbour Bridge Climb. It was naughty - I should have been making my commercial best of being in Sydney - but worth it. The day was clear, the views were perfect and the bridge is an extraordinary construction. There was even a rainbow when we arrived at the top of the arch of the bridge. Our bridge guide said that 1 in 4 Australians live in the greater Sydney area.

It's fortunate from my point of view that Sydney is such good place to visit as it looks like I'll have to spend more time here. The publishing industry, organizationally, is becoming increasingly Sydneycentric - with both the APA and the Australia Council being in Sydney and organizing events around the Sydney Writer's Festival. The design awards are here, the visiting international publishers are here, and its all spread out over the whole week. I'm wondering whether this will have an impact on the literary side of the Adelaide Festival. SWF now seems to be the event a publisher pretty much has to attend.

The Visting International Publishers seminar was fascinating and useful - and both exciting and deflating. At this level you get a sense of publishing as a game with authors and books as the playing cards to be traded, and of it being important to be a trader and a player. The bright lights of globalisation are flashing. As an audience member it came across as an uneasy mix of litterati - of editors earnestly and importantly talking to editors - and the dollars of agents and advances. The uneasiness made it thought provoking. Ivor Indyk (I'm guessing it was Ivor - we've not met) did fly the flag for the editorial task of actually making an Australian book for Australian readers. But his point was largely lost. The debate then devolved into a discussion of how British publishers weren't willing for Australian rights to be sold separately for important books - "Perfidious Albion" needed Australian sales to make their P&Ls work. Culturally I don't want to remain a British colony yet I thought we had the cart before the horse - the international publishers were there so we could find out how to sell our books to them not to learn how we could argue about how we could better buy their books. (I was surprised though to find out how economically important we are to the British publishers.) I was also wondering what the lone New Zealand publisher was thinking, knowing Australian publishers automatic assumption that when we buy rights New Zealand is included.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Design Awards - Shirtfront wins

We just got a text message from Sal of Blue Boat (9:39pm, Monday): "We won." Shirtfront won in its category of the design awards. Hooray and congratulations to Blue Boat. And in my humble opinion it was richly deserved. It's something new in non-fiction. Everybody should go out and buy a copy, enjoy the design and read Paula's excellent text and admire the match between form and content.

Sunday, May 21, 2006

Mary Bryant from a Dutch-American perspective

I've just finished Escape from Botany Bay: The True Story of Mary Bryant. Except it isn't true but a work of fiction.
A strong story that came through a rather clumsy telling. The authors made a good choice of subject. It is always ambitious to use the first person and Mary's character didn't ring true to me. When tapped there wasn't the ring of crystal, instead a rather leaden earnestness, especially in the first half of the book. Mary dances to the authors' tune and present concerns are imposed on the past.To say Mary was transported for stealing a bonnet is disingenuous. The authors' own telling has it as a crime of some violence and Mary was a practicing highway woman. The eighteenth century was a richer and more complex place than is portryed here. The book comes packaged with an authors' note at the beginning and an epilogue at the end just in case you missed their intent. The Dutch are good, the English, bad. The epilogue reads: "Mary Bryant is a national heroine in Holland but to date she is barely known in England and Australia. One assumes this is because neither English-speaking nation is proud of the penal system that needlessly took so many unfortunate lives." Pontification from afar? In recent years there have been both a TV mini-series and a play on Mary in this country. And we have a rich and complex relation with our convict past. At $27.95 I can't see it have a big YA take up here though. Still, despite the book's flaws overall, I enjoyed the story when I got into it and book grew in strength. James Boswell comes through as a nicer percursor to Truman Capote.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

"Magpies are great"

Magpies is a such a great magazine - spend an hour or two browsing, skimming and dipping, and you have a complete snapshot of what's happening in children's books in ANZ - and beyond. Congratulations to Rayma and James.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

lovely Rita

Carole Wilkinson has a gorgeous new black dog, Rita:

interesting week

It's been an interesting week and it's not all over.

Firstly, congratulations to Leon Davidson on winning the NZ Post award for non-fiction for our Scarecrow Army. We were thrilled the book was short-listed and blown away it won. We're not New Zealand publishers but we are publishing stories that both countries share, and they're often stories that mean a huge amount to both of us. So I'm appreciative that the judges must have seen something in that too. And Leon did a beautiful job of the writing.

I heard there were mutterings from one NZ publisher about non-New Zealand publishers getting awards (but I'm not sure what they'd choose to call a Penguin or a Random House). And I have sympathy with that viewpoint and a not dissimiliar debate is going on here. It's important to encourage local writers and it's important to encourage the local publishing industry too, but does it help to reduce the options that writers have? And does it encourage the best books or does the quality of the books suffer through over-protection?

Scarecrow is an example of a book that I think black dog does particularly well. (And congratulations to Ali Arnold for nurturing it through the editorial process.) It was a concept and format generated by black dog that Leon executed with heartfelt emotion and Ali gave Leon that support a new writer needs.

And it was interesting to read the Blue News today. Lisa Hanrahan (ex Random House) is establishing a new literary agency which, among other things will look to take on "established writers already published by smaller publishers who are ready to move into larger fields". Is this poaching? What's the advantage of moving? Larger is good for its own sake? it could have been the other way round: establish writers already published by large multinationals who are ready to move into independent fields where they receive editorial commitment, support and attention. I think advances are smoke and mirrors - money the author should be receiving as royalties anyhow, if the publisher is doing their job. Sometimes (occasionally) a change of publisher benefits a writer but generally given the lonely nature of the work a writer benefits from consistent long-term support from their publisher. In those circumstances I think the writer will maximise the return from there work and that includes the financial return. I do wish Lisa the best of luck with her new venture though.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

launch of May titles

We launched our May titles on Thursday evening. A lovely crop of books - a mix of the old and the new - and excellent evening.

There was Cameron Nunn's gorgeous Shadows in the Mirror. We have had just such an incredible pre-publication response. A meaty story wrapped in an easy to digest thriller covering. It was a pity it was too far from Glenhaven for Cameron to join us. Cameron's a new author and we're thrilled to building new voices. It was a long haul to publication and Cameron hung in there, dealing with the rejections, taking on board the comments, improving the work. And then it came to us unsolicited but with a recommendation from Helen Sykes and we took to it immediately on reading. Cameron is such a quick study that all the effort of the first book will pay off not only in the terrific Shadows but also in the books to come. I can't wait.

We've worked with Bernadette Kelly (no relation) for a long time. In fact she went to primary school with Maryann, and then came to black dog through a circuitous route and we've been working together for a long time. Riding High is doing just that - the best pre-publication sales of a series we've had since we switched to HGEg. Book 1 is already in reprint. Bernadette spoke beautifully about working with Karen. The covers from Blue Boat are gorgeous. We're thrilled to see Bernadette who has put in the hard writing yards to start reaping the rewards with a richly deserved success.

And then there was Sue Lawson's sparkly Diva's. It's been an absolutely pleasure working with Sue. Her warmth and enthusiasm is infectious. The Divas are a delight. And watch out for the warm and affirming Allie McGregor's True Colours coming out in July. It inspired me to dig out the my old Phil Collin's version, but the Cyndi Lauper version is preferred at the office. We were thrilled to welcome Sue over from the dark side, and look forward to the years to come.

The Maxx Rumble footy series is now 9 books. (That makes 18 books we did with Michael in less than two years. I'd like to see another publisher match that sort of quick decision making and efficiency of output.) Michael captures that extravagant melodramatic story telling style of young boys perfectly. Miles (age 6) came back from Auskick on Saturday and told how the ball had kicked through the goal and landed on the edge of the park and then the light had turned green and ball had rolled across the road.

And last but very far from least is Lili's Joan of Arc. Lili is a new author and this is a rocket pad. It's a mix of fiction and non-fiction - read the fiction carefully and how well Lili has modulated the voices to fit the task. It may look easy but I know it took a heap of research. We're enjoying the rich editorial relationship with Lili - her concern with the book as an object put us on our mettle. Lili isn't new to black dog. As a 15 year old work experience student she got us on to email and the internet with some incredilbly low band modem - so low I can't even guess. There's more to come from the Lili and black dog.

Thanks to Paula Kelly (no, not another relation) from the CYL for launching the books with a lovely speech.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Oh …

And Dave Eggers does a lovely imprint page, too.

McSweeney empire
This site is worth a look - especially as it for a self-described 'publishing empire'. Clean. crisp and McSweeney's do gorgeous books too. YA-wise have a look at Noisy Outlaws, Unfriendly Blobs, and Some Other Things. Gorgeously packaged. You gotta see the book in the hand. I'm ordering one as I write this (multi-tasking).

Sunday, April 30, 2006

reprise on the comment about isolation down south (hemisphere)

A questions asked of Brett Neveu, a Chicago playwright:

Q. What's great about being a playwright in Chicago?

A. It's the freedom to be able to write any kind of play you want. With television in Los Angeles and Broadway in New York, it all rides on money. Here, the stakes are lower when it comes to trying new things. For playwrights, that both helps and hurts. It's harder to make a living but it's certainly easier to write the plays you like.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

Looking Glass Theatre

I like their mission statement:

“Oh my, how curious everything is!” --- Alice

When Alice walked through the looking glass, she walked into a world beyond imagination. She walked into a world more involving and intoxicating than any movie or circus, more thrilling than a high-speed chase, more frightening than a child’s nightmare, and more beautiful than a thunderstorm on a hot summer night. She awoke with a new sense of herself in the world and her own power within it.

Reflected in Lewis Carroll’s achievement is the mission of the Lookingglass Theatre Company. Through theatre, which invites, even demands, interaction with its audience, our goal is to fire the imagination with love, to celebrate the human capacity to taste and smell, weep and laugh, create and destroy, and wake up where we first fell --- changed, charged and empowered.

The Lookingglass Theatre Company combines a physical and improvisational rehearsal process centered on ensemble with training in theatre, dance, music, and the circus arts. We seek to redefine the limits of theatrical experience and to make theatre exhilarating, inspirational, and accessible to all.


I'm in Chicago for the IRA conference - sounds like they're planning the next event in Belfast but the R is actually for reading. And I've taken the opportunity to have a mini-theatre festival of my own.

I've only started going to the theatre regularly this year- and I'm enjoying it. Publishing is a solo activity. Each step is basically done by a person alone at a desk. Sure there's lots of discussion but it's not a group thing and we rarely see the response to the finished work. In a play it's a group thing to perform and there's an audience out there. And each performance, unlike each book in a print run, is unique. And I'm finding theatre a really interestingly different way of telling stories - and informative on our work. (I'm curious about the role of the dramaturg and parallels with the work of a book editor or publisher.)

I've squeezed in two trips to the Steppenwolf Theatre. The second trip this Sunday afternoon was to a preview of Don DeLillo's Love-Lies-Bleeding. Terrific. I knew I wanted to see this before I left Australia. I just didn't know whether I could fit it in, which makes seeing it all the more satisfying and especially as it was so very very good. The level of cultural discussion and the investment in culture here is so deep. The choice of theatre on any given night so rich. It makes Melbourne feel isolated - we struggle being so far away with so few connections. (I'm sure though that gives us opportunities too.) I went to a wine shop last night, nothing special, but the choice of French, Spanish and Italian wines was huge. A small thing maybe but indicative.

bdb statement of intent

Inspired by being absent while travelling I put down some thoughts about where black dog might have got to in five and something years and came up with these ideas. Now mission and vision statements are out of fashion it is time we had one. This is in part a description of who and what we are, and in part what we are, hopefully, becoming:

We’re about communication. The communication of ideas. Of making people think, and hopeful of thinking in new ways, of seeing things a little differently. We’re about shifting people’s perspective a little.
We communicate through words and pictures and the way they are put together on the pages of books
We pursue excellence in everything we do, but especially in the books we produce. Excellence is an end in itself. Excellence is more important than profitabillity but we believe if our books are excellent profit will follow.
Our core skill is editorial. First and foremost we are at the end, all of us, a group of editors. So, editorial excellence.
We are an opportunity for our people to pursue editorial excellence.
A very important part of excellence is innovation. So we experiment. We try new things.
We recognise that books aren’t just words. They are an arrangement of words on pages and of words and images on pages, and an arrangement of pages between covers. Each book is an object in itself and we create books that are beautiful and satisfying in themselves. We want people to love the content and to love the form in which it is presented. Therefore we pursue design and illustration excellence.
We recognize and celebrate the book as a highly sophisticated product of some 1000 of years of evolution. It’s a compact and efficient and unique form of communication that gives readers an enormous amount of pleasure.
We produce books where the form follows function. They’re not just pretty for the sake of being pretty.
We want to reach the maximum number of the readers for every book that we can. The point of making a book is so that it is read. We want our books not just bought but read – and re-read.
We make books that move people and enlarge their understanding of the world.
We want to create books that other people are passionate about.
We are profitable as that is the life blood of the business. Without profit we die. We’re not here for tomorrow. We’re idealistic and pragmatic.
We’re an Australian publisher first and foremost, even when we are bringing books to an international market, and bringing books from other places to the Australian market. Every location has something special to offer and we recognise and explore the opportunities our location offers in terms of producing excellent, innovative books.
We recognize that we bring a different perspective to our books than businesses who are not owned within Australia, and that perspective is an opportunity.
We don’t patronize readers, especially children. We talk to them not down to them.
Our books reflect the quirky irreverence of childhood. In our books we recognize the freshness that exists before people are fully enculturated into the mainstream adult world. We bring this freshness into both the children and adults books we produce. This freshness leads to innovation.
We recognize that our scale is an opportunity. We are independent, flexible and passionate. Decisions can be made quickly and the person making the decision is responsible for it. Each of us is accessible and everybody working at black dog has an influence of the workings of the whole.
We bring passion to what we do. We are passionate about every book we do.
We want to build authors, not just publish single manuscripts. We want to build relationships with authors and illustrators and designers.
We want to be part of a broader community of books, writing and publishing, and we want to build a community around black dog books.
We want to give give opportunities for people whose talents may otherwise have been overlooked. A lot of creativity is about the opportunity.
Last and perhaps most importantly we want to do our best by our authors and illustrators. We want to turn their words and pictures into the best book they can be, a book that will reach the maximum audience for them and touch the heart of their readers.

Comments welcome. PS: I'd love someone to come up with a better word than excellence.

Friday, April 28, 2006

book covers

American covers are gorgeous but a little like American food - too much all the same. An evenness of flavor.


I'm in LAX and enjoying filling this blog in on the run. In the US reading a British bookselling magazine - room for some lateral thinking. Reading that publishing is becoming more conservative. Meaning invest in more sales of fewer titles or, meaning, stick with the authors u know. Except British publishing seems to be a hive of new authors and independent publishers. It's just most of the biggies that are "conservative", looking for those big runs and not always willing to wait for the break-through seventh book from a once-new author. It was a reminder to us at black dog to have patience. Interesting to see how long Dan Brown was around before the trajectory took off. As a publisher it pays to be nimble. As an independent publisher we're sensitive to poaching, to people using us a springboard to what they imagine are the riches of big publishing. Often I don't think it lives up to the hype. And as an independent publisher you don't want your authors to leave - to quote another "it's like a punch in the gut". Which leaves us pondering how we can do things better so authors don't contemplate another (inferior) publisher.

Chatting to Denise is always interesting - she was on the same flight out of Melbourne. She confirmed that her sense of the market was that educational publishing is struggling while trade seems to be on an upward trajectory. I was following Jeremy Fisher's ASA comments. The conversation was also a reminder that the guts of what we do at black dog is editorial, and that quality is editorial. It's tough to contemplating holding a book back and missing that pub date to give the book that final editorial polish.

Off to Chicago shortly.

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

addendum to last post

I liked the description of our publishing industry as a "colourful acquarium" - implying a simplifed ecology?

ASA article - Jeremy Fisher

I enjoy reading the Australian Author and am enjoying the latest magazine. Jeremy Fisher's column (next to a useful guide to blogging, which made the whole spread satisfying) was interesting reading. We'd also heard to that authors had been concerned about the long wait for royalty cheques, and it's always a worry when another independent seems to be struggling. Of more interest though was the Michael Heyward and Text's solution of entering an economic alliance with Canongate as part of a strategy to ensure Text remains viable as an independent - "Basically, Text needs an international partner to help it gain authors from overseas as well as acting as an outlet for Australian authors in Europe." That was food for thought. Are we viable now? Well all the indicators are positive. But what's required to be viable in the long run? Certainly growth and a bigger list and we're doing that. Is there a similar strategic alliance in children's books? That's is really food for thought. And it's interesting how Text feels it's essential to bring in authors from overseas. That doesn't seem to have the same imperative in children's books but why shouldn't it - certainly food for thought as well. Text does such an impressive job they're well worth watching.