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So I began to consider the idea of printing a new edition myself and marketing it over the internet and through local bookshops and Wordsworth related tourist outlets in the Lake District.
I also had another problem - much more complicated and worrying. My UK publisher, for the new Katherine Mansfield biography I’d just spent 5 years writing, had been bought out by another publishing company whose policy didn’t include literary biography. They didn’t want the book. Penguin New Zealand were still more than happy to publish The Story-teller, but Penguin UK couldn’t take on the English edition because one of their top authors, Claire Tomalin, had also written a Mansfield biography, albeit twenty five years ago. So there was a conflict of interest.
My agent assured me that she had tried every publisher in London, but none of them were willing to risk money on a big, serious biography of a big, serious literary figure, at a time of financial crisis. If I’d been writing about a soap star, or a footballer (or been one myself!) ....... These are frightening times. Two publishers in London - one of them Harper Collins - declared that they weren’t even going to look at submissions of biographies until 2011. Lists were slashed everywhere.
Meanwhile, I had a book almost everyone loved, which I believed to be commercial, but no-one other than Penguin NZ was willing to publish. And it’s a quirk of the publishing world that territory is so jealously guarded that they wouldn’t be allowed to sell it anywhere else. People wrote to me from all over the world asking when this new book on Mansfield was going to be available; reviewers from several of the heavyweight newspapers and magazines wrote offering to review it; book festivals wrote to enquire whether I’d be available to promote it. I just didn’t have a book to promote.
So, the idea has been growing - why not create a private imprint of our own and print 500 copies of the hardback of The Story-teller for distribution in Britain? And why not put A Passionate Sisterhood back into print at the same time? Neil registered himself as a small publisher and began to design covers. The Book Mill has been born. He is also very good at the IT side of things and was able to convert my text files into PDF files to send to printers.
|Neil's cover design|
We began to get quotes from printers - choosing to go with proper trade printers rather than choose ready made self-publishing companies like LULU. I just didn’t feel that publication by one of these sources would give me the kind of credibility I needed. There is, sadly, still a great deal of prejudice against ‘self-publishing’. In the states they call it Independent Publishing and I think that is the right name - after all many of the greatest writers in the world published their own work - publishers as we know them are a modern invention. Originally many books were also published by the book-sellers themselves - as Amazon are beginning to do now. Perhaps it’s time to go back and dismantle the huge publishing houses who control authors lives and act more for their share-holders than for readers or writers. Perhaps it’s time to take control of our own work?
I have just sent A Passionate Sisterhood to the printers, having obtained an ISBN allocation online. For this book we’ve chosen to have it printed digitally - which is cheaper than litho printing and for a paperback there is, apparently, no discernible loss of quality. We’ve chosen to put most of the money into the printing of the cover. It’s all cheaper than we’d imagined. A standard 300 page paperback without illustrations would come out under £1000. Mine is rather more because I’ve got photographic plates and a colour cover. They have promised the books in three weeks. Fingers crossed. Am I mad? Still exploring the options for the Story-teller and I’ll keep you posted on progress.