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.