Publishers in Focus

Have you ever wanted to be that little bird sitting on a publishers shoulder when they are selecting manuscripts for publication?

Take a sneak peek into the world of Australian Publishers through our Publishers in Focus series.

We’ve chatted with Publishers from around the country and asked them the questions on every authors lips. From What common mistakes do authors make?  to Do you only accept published authors manuscripts?  and the very important question - What are Publishers looking for in a submission?

If you’ve ever wondered what happens from the Publishers side… read on.


Ford Street Publishing

Ford Street Publishing

Publisher - Paul Collins

Website: www.fordstreetpublishing.com

Ford Street is a successful small independent Australian publisher of books for children and young adults. We publish around eight titles a year, ranging from picture books through to novels and non-fiction for older readers. Ford Street’s publisher is renowned Australian author, Paul Collins, who has written extensively for both the local and international markets.

We have a strong presence in both schools and bookshops around Australia through Macmillan Distribution Services and INT Books. The latter is our exclusive NZ distributor. Off-shore readers are welcome to purchase our print books via our shopping cart at www.fordstreetpublishing.com/ford/index.php/ford-street-titles/books

Ford Street punches above its weight with critical acclaim in journals, newspapers and on the web.

Authors writing for Ford Street include Isobelle Carmody, Michael Salmon, Doug MacLeod, Sean McMullen, Justin D'Ath, Alyssa Brugman, James Roy, David Miller, Jenny Mounfield, Gary Crew, Hazel Edwards, Dianne Bates and Paul Collins.

Successes include short-listings in the NSW and Victorian Premiers’ awards and the Northern Territory Awards. In 2011, The Glasshouse  became one of only four Australian books ever to be chosen for IBBY’s (International Board on Books for Young People) ‘50 Outstanding Books Exhibition’. This prestigious exhibition will be launched at the Bologna Book Fair in March. Trust Me Too,  an anthology, has been chosen as a White Raven Selection and was also a Notable Book in the CBCAs.

Readers who are keen to learn of current news are welcome to join Ford Street on:

Twitter: twitter.com/fordstreet

and

Facebook: www.facebook.com/fordstreet

Our latest newsletter is at www.fordstreetpublishing.com/ford/index.php/about-ford-street/newsletters

Ford Street is an imprint of Hybrid Publishers. Hybrid is a successful independent publisher of Australian non-fiction and adult fiction. Established in 1998, Hybrid Publishers (as befits its name) has published a broad range of some 50 titles, including business and legal texts, diet and cook books, self-help, history, fiction and poetry.

Tell us a little about yourself and your history in the publishing industry.

PC: I self-published a novel when I was twenty. Although it wasn’t hugely popular, I realised I liked the publishing aspect of the industry more so than the writing. So I started a science fiction magazine called Void.  Having very little experience in publishing, I surrounded myself with some experienced industry people. I had an editor, designer, a printer, and several writers and illustrators. Unfortunately, there was some internal problems that I was totally unaware of, and they all dropped out. So I wound up publishing the magazine all by myself. Looking back on it I acknowledge the many faults, but the magazine’s contents drew enough interest to give me a subscription list. Over the next few years I went into publishing science fiction and fantasy novels. In fact, I published Australia’s first line of fantasy novels, a decade before the major publishers realised adults did in fact read epic fantasy novels. Distribution was the major problem I faced. When a distributor called Huapala Books disappeared with my stock and owing me a sizeable amount of money, I gave up publishing and returned to writing. Over the next 30 years I wrote around 150 books and around that many short stories.

How long have you been working with Ford Street Publishing?

PC: I returned to publishing in 2007 when Macmillan Distribution Services said they would distribute books for me. This was the break I craved back in the early 80s.

What can you tell us about your publishing house and what you publish?

PC: Ford Street publishes everything from picture books through to books for young adults. The first book Ford Street contracted, Pool,  by Justin D’Ath, was short-listed in the Victorian Premier’s Awards. Another early book, Crossing the Line,  by Dianne Bates, was short-listed in the NSW Premier’s Awards. I started with two books annually but now publish around a dozen a year.

What qualities do you look for when deciding to publish a picture book? Is there a checklist you use when considering manuscripts?

PC: Not really a check list. I like multi-layered MSS. I like metaphors. Something a bit different. I also need to see how text will fit in with illustrations. The main problems authors have is that they tell a story that the illustrations will show. Authors will often send MSS that are really chapter books, and not picture books at all. Or they will send text that fills 32 pages, when in fact the story begins on page four. Add too many demerit points to a submission and a publisher can see almost immediately that the MS simply isn’t going to work unless a lot of work is done on it. And when some MSS are just about perfect on arrival, they’re the ones I look at more seriously.

Does it help when selecting an author for publication if they already have a presence in the children’s book industry?

PC: Not unless they’re really well known. I’m okay with publishing unknown authors and illustrators, so long as they’re able to promote their books and take editorial instruction. Someone who is introverted and unknown is a recipe for disaster so far as I’m concerned. I’m about to publish debut author Cheree Peters’ Time Catcher.  She was excellent to work with and has already accepted an invitation to appear at the Clunes Booktown Festival. She will go far.

Are there any specific subjects that seem to be addressed more in Children’s Literature?

PC: I don’t think so. That’s akin to telling authors what to write. Publishers generally want to be surprised by submissions. I remember asking a publisher once what she would like to see and I heard via another author that she was a bit miffed at the question lol. I can sort of see her point. Authors should write what they feel passionate about, not what they see the market “needs”. On the other hand, if I wanted a gothic romance, for example, I’d be silly not to tell an author that I’m open to see one.

Are there some issues you would like to see more focus on?

PC: As above. I’m happy to publish good books, no matter the genre or focus.

I have written a children’s picture book manuscript – do I need to find an illustrator myself?

PC: No. Publishers usually want to assign illustrators themselves, and design the books. Personally, if an author had the ear of a top notch illustrator who was willing to work on spec (very rare indeed!), then the author would be ill-advised not to take advantage of their situation. But all too often I see illustrations accompany text and the art is simply appalling. I’m quite surprised the authors can’t recognise this.

Does having an agent push you to the top of the slush pile?

PC: Not where I’m concerned. Agents can sometimes obstruct publication, simply because they want changes to contracts. This is all very well if you’re a major publishing house that employs someone solely to work on contracts. Small presses are time-poor as it is. I have no time to change/revise my contract. It is what it is. I think it’s fair, and some of Australia’s leading authors and illustrators have signed it. So I’m not willing to make amendments. Usually, if an agent is involved, at least the publisher knows the MS will have some merit.

What’s a common mistake you find when reading a manuscript?

PC The author takes too long to get to the heart of the story. Sometimes we don’t even learn who the main character is for a chapter or two. I know the author simply hasn’t put an effort into their work if I see countless typos. As I mentioned, knowing the market helps. There’s no point in writing a 100,000 word novel for ten-year-olds. Or a 2,000 word picture book.

How many submissions do you receive per year? Out of those, how many do you publish?

PC: Despite currently being closed to submissions, I still get around a hundred in a year. I rarely publish books from the unsolicited submissions. Maybe one or two a year, and that’s generally from someone I know.

How long from acceptance until the book hits the shelves?

PC: That depends on the editorial process. I’ve recently accepted a book by Craig Cormick. It didn’t take much editing and he responded within the week. We’re only waiting on the art now. If not for that, I think Valdur the Viking and the Ghostly Goths  would have been in print within three months.

Should a potential author be discouraged by the dreaded rejection letter?

PC: Certainly not. My most successful series, The Jelindel Chronicles,  was rejected by every major publisher in Australia back in the late nineties. I sat on it for a year or two and then Laura Harris became publisher at Penguin Books. I submitted it to her (it’d been rejected by Penguin two years before) and she accepted it. The series is still in print today. My Earthborn  trilogy was also rejected by most of the major publishers in Australia. I sent it to an agent in the US who sold it straightaway to Tor, one of the world’s largest SF publishers. It was my first major break into the US market. If I let rejection get in the way, most of my books wouldn’t have been published.

Tell us something that has caught your eye, in a good way, in a cover letter?

PC: Although the “experts” say covering letters are all-important, I have to say it’s the MS itself that has the final “word”. Authors can make the mistake of saying how good their MS is, and that can be a warning sign for me. Generally speaking, the better they say their work is, the worse it is. I’m all for a brief letter of introduction and letting the publisher decide whether your work is good or not.

And finally, what are publishers looking for in a submission?

PC: That’s very subjective. But like every publisher, we’re looking for an instant best-seller. We’re looking for books that scream “I’m an award-winner”. We’re looking for books that we ourselves would like to read. Having said that, we sometimes publish books that for some inexplicable reason bomb on us. It’s very hard to pick!


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