A new Youtube channel to demystify the publishing business

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.

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Joining the dots in publishing: the story of BookMachine.me

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.

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Pictures emerge of David Foster Wallace biopic you forgot was happening

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.

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The Independent stops reviewing gender-specific kids’ books

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.

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Cargo appoints new MDs, Chairman

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.

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Faber Social names Green Gartside as new artist in residence

Last March, Faber Social – Faber and Faber’s publishing and events arm – appointed storied producer and DJ Andrew Weatherall as its inaugural artist in residence. Now Weatherall’s tenure is almost over and his successor has been named: this coming weekend, his position will be filled by Scritti Politti frontman Green Gartside. The torch will officially be passed on Saturday (29 March) at Weatherall’s last event for Faber, Andrew Weatherall’s Social, a day of interviews with and live performances from musicians who have some connection to Faber, including Bob Stanley of Saint Etienne, Irmin Schmidt of Can and Gartside himself, performing alongside Hot Chip’s Alexis Taylor.

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Outrage grows as Ministry of Justice bans delivery of books to prisons

Anger is growing over Conservative Justice Secretary Chris Grayling’s decision to prevent prisoners from receiving books sent to prisons by family and friends. Under rules introduced by the Ministry of Justice last November, inmates are now forbidden to receive any kind of small parcel from outside prison walls other than in exceptional circumstances, such as the shipment of medication. Prisoners are still allowed to buy books with their weekly wages and check books out of the prison library, although given that the cost of even a paperback book would require most of that weekly wage, and the continuing strain put on libraries by local authority budgets, that may reasonably be seen as small comfort.

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Off the shelf and behind the cupboard…

If it wasn’t enough trying to write a book and/or getting it onto peoples bookshelves, now we’re being told how we might need to cull certain titles from such shelves, especially if we’re looking to sell our home.

According to TV homes expert Sarah Beeny, homeowners trying to sell their property should hide self-help manuals and novels like 50 Shades of Grey and display cookery books and Dickens instead.

In an article in the Telegraphy she comments that booklovers with teeming shelves should consider packing the majority away and only leave out the best titles. Hardback classics such as Dickens, Austen and Bronte were said to look particularly good on shelves and add character to a home.

The article also concluded that children’s books also create a good impression of a family home but only if they stacked neatly on shelves rather than left lying around on the floor or surfaces. But titles detailing unusual hobbies like taxidermy or witchcraft may deter visitors, as would self-help books and risqué titles that might hint at the owners’ private interests.

Conversely local history and large nature books or even picture led tomes about fashion or music were said to look good on a coffee table and be useful talking points for visitors. Beeny went on to add that books are an unsung hero of home décor and also say a massive amount about you and the home they sit in.

So the question is what do the books you own, write or publish really say about you? If you’re a writer would you rather have a critically acclaimed piece of work that only appealed to a niche audience or a more commercially focused book largely panned by the critics but then went on to sell by the bucket-load all over the world? The same question could be asked of publishers; although I’m pretty sure I know what the answer might be. And for book buyers, what are the guilty secrets from your bookshelves? What might you want to hide, or even flaunt if your house was on the market, if anything?

The fact is that the book market, quite rightly in my opinion, remains hugely subjective and personal. Who’s to say what you should and shouldn’t be ashamed of? Then again I’m not trying to sell a house.  There’s always room to explore new genres, new territories and new authors whether writing, reading or publishing so let’s all champion the books we love and don’t forget to tell your friends, neighbors, potential buyers about them. The book industry needs all the help it can get.

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Magnetic Fields’ Stephin Merritt to publish book of poetry

Today in ‘yeah, that sounds about right’: Stephin Merritt, the synth-pop Sondheim frontman of The Magnetic Fields, The Gothic Archies, Future Bible Heroes and The 6ths, is releasing a book of poetry later this year. In keeping with much of Merritt’s discography, the book will rest upon an appropriately high concept hook: 101 Two-Letter Words is a collection of four-line poems consisting exclusively of two-letter words deemed permissible for play in a game of Scrabble. It should come as absolutely no surprise that the man responsible for such lyrics as ‘Reno Dakota / I’m no Nino Rota / I don’t know the score’, ‘A pretty girl is like a violent crime / If you do it wrong you could do time / But if you do it right it is sublime’ and ‘I want to be an artist’s model / An odalisque au naturel’ is into word games.

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Production Assistant at Penguin Books [JOB POSTING]

Penguin LogoA great new opportunity has arisen for a proactive and detail-orientated individual to join the Penguin Production team as a Production Assistant.

The role will be responsible for managing the Penguin Press mono back list which incorporates high profile authors such as Malcolm Gladwell, Keri Smith and Daniel Khaneman, as well as the prestigious Penguin Classics list.

Working closely with both internal colleagues and external suppliers, you will be responsible for delivering all reprints to budget, on schedule and to a consistently high quality.

We’re looking for a highly organised individual to cover all aspects of production – estimating, scheduling, managing content updates to both the print and digital formats, as well as administration support for the wider Production team.  You’ll also need to use your strong IT skills to make this role a success.

The successful applicant will be a first rate communicator, self-motivated and able to demonstrate the ability to multi-task and effectively prioritise. They will be equally happy working independently or as part of a team. A keen eye for detail is essential, as well as the ability to balance a varied workload whilst remaining calm under pressure.

If you would like to apply, please submit a cover lettering and CV via our website to show us why you’re perfect for the job. Closing date for applications is the 12th March 2014.

Penguin Books is a Penguin Random House company.

To apply for this job, please sign up on the publisher’s website
(and do let them know BookMachine sent you!)


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