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