One of the things that constantly crops up when I talk to writers – and I talk to a lot of writers – is that most of them have a pretty vague idea of how the publishing business works.
That’s not all that surprising. Publishers and agents are not necessarily the most forthcoming of people and can seem rather remote and unapproachable. Indeed the publishing business as a whole can seem like an arcane world with its own rules and language and one which is perhaps not all that welcoming of outsiders.
And of course it is not that all that complex – it is not simple, but the basis of the business is pretty straightforward. Which is why I have started a YouTube channel at devoted to demystifying aspects of the publishing business – what agents do, what publishers do etc etc.
I’m hopeful it is something people will find useful and it rather amazes me how little there is out there that is like this – it surprises me that more of my colleagues haven’t done something similar. But that’s a good thing. This is a great opportunity to reach large numbers of people and my hope is that by doing so I will be able to help writers navigate the sometimes trick waters of their writing careers.
So please do take a look – I have just posted another clip, this time talking about what publishers do and will be building my clips up over the coming weeks. I really hope you find it useful. I’d welcome feedback and suggestions and can be reached either by the comments page on YouTube or by my twitter @pblofeld.
Gavin, Laura and I started developing BookMachine.me in the winter of 2012. This was a period in my professional career when my startup Themeefy had run out of funding, and I was struggling to keep things going. With development work on Themeefy completely paused for the moment, I chose to focus fully on BookMachine.me for the next few months, while things sorted themselves out.
BookMachine.me started with a single idea of joining the dots in publishing. We began building a place where people who make books happen can showcase, find and connect with each other.
As the single developer on the team, my challenge was to get to a Minimal Viable Product stage in the quickest possible time while keeping costs low. This meant we had to hack through a lot of things to make them happen, even if we didn’t necessarily have the skillsets or resources in-house.
So, instead of a regular UI design process that follows the life-cycle of Photoshop mockups, to CSS HTML, we directly started developing a user interface in CSS, HTML and then kept tweaking the code until we got the right look we all wanted. This obviously meant writing several similar versions of the front end pages. Instead of rewriting the code each time, we would get to a base version and then use Firebug to tweak the elements within the browser. I recall that I built at least 6 versions of the landing page in the span of a month.
We also adopted an approach of developing the User interface first, and then working backwards to build the APIs in the back end. We would write the CSS/HTML for a particular feature, and then look at the data it needed from the back end to work. I would then go in and write the backend code to expose that data. This was a challenge because I had to constantly juggle between writing front end and backend code – which need drastically different thought processes and skills.
While we did some smart things and we also took some wrong turns. We made the mistake of shipping the first version of the product a little too early, and we had several major bugs that send us scurrying back to the drawing boards. The lesson we learnt was that its better to take it slow and steady at times than to rush to the market with an unfinished product. Thankfully, those initial bad days are over and we can look back at it with relief and talk of the lessons.
Having budget and time constraints also meant that we were very picky about features. We stuck to just the basics – we just didn’t have a choice of doing more – and sometimes that can be a huge blessing. We were able to keep the application very lean, the navigation easy and the interface simple. Both Gavin and I have talked about this many times, that had we been a startup with lots of funding, the temptation would have been to do a feature overload – which often backfires and brings startups down.
We are now at a stage where our product is close to being the goto place for publishing industry folks. We still have challenges for sure – primarily because we are a very small team and BookMachine is a side project for us. In spite of these odds, we are excited because we were able to achieve significant growth and product completeness by staying lean and focused on the core ideas.
The next step for BookMachine.me is to find more user adoption and then get a team of dedicated developers who can focus full time on the product, to take it to the next stage.
Back in December, a couple of weeks before Christmas, news emerged that Jason Segel would star as the late David Foster Wallace – the revered American author of Infinite Jest, Consider the Lobster and A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again, amongst others – in a kind-of-biopic based on Although Of Course You End Up Becoming Yourself: A Road Trip With David Foster Wallace, David Lipsky’s account of the five days he spent interviewing Wallace on the 1996 press junket for Infinite Jest. Jesse Eisenberg would co-star as Lipsky, and the film would be directed by James Ponsoldt, most recently responsible for The Spectacular Now.
In an editorial published yesterday, The Independent on Sunday’s literary editor Katy Guest outlined the manifold problems – artistic, societal and commercial – inherent in publishing children’s books aimed explicitly at one gender over another. You know the kind of thing: How to be a Glittery Pink Fairy Who Also Cooks and Is a Great Mother, or 100 Great Stories About Footballing Soldiers With Blue Wallpaper. Having reeled off the many exasperating qualities of instilling that kind of binary divide from a young age and concluded that ‘What we are doing by pigeon-holing children is badly letting them down’, Guest then expressed her happiness at being in a position to be able to do something about it:
I promise now that the newspaper and this website will not be reviewing any book which is explicitly aimed at just girls, or just boys. Nor will The Independent’s books section. And nor will the children’s books blog at Independent.co.uk. Any Girls’ Book of Boring Princesses that crosses my desk will go straight into the recycling pile along with every Great Big Book of Snot for Boys. If you are a publisher with enough faith in your new book that you think it will appeal to all children, we’ll be very happy to hear from you. But the next Harry Potter or Katniss Everdeen will not come in glittery pink covers. So we’d thank you not to send us such books at all.
Independent Glasgow publisher Cargo has announced several changes to its board, effective immediately. Mark Buckland, who founded the company in 2009, has stepped down from the role of Managing Director he has held for the past five years, with editors-in-chief Helen Sedgwick and Gill Tasker now filling the MD position jointly. Buckland remains involved with the company as Director of Special Projects, and Murray Buchanan – Cargo’s director and a previous executive at the Virgin Group – is now Chairman.