Tuesday 15 September 2015

Working With a Great Publisher

For about 35 years I’ve been writing books for children and have now published well over 120 titles with a range of big publishers like Penguin Books and HarperCollins to smaller publishers such as Morris Publishing Australia and Dragon Tales Publishing. Although the bigger companies have more clout nationally and internationally and the royalties from them are generally more than that received from smaller publishers, I have a preference for publishing with the smaller. Personal attention, better lines of communication and pro-activity are hallmarks of staff working on small imprints. This is the story of the latest publisher I worked with which has been one of the best I’ve ever published with.

Some years ago I wrote three children’s non-fiction books about cats, dogs and horses which, being all alike in presentation, I saw as a book series. Each contained fun facts and amazing stories about animals - a Guinness Book of Records meets Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Each book -- for example cats -- had the same format as the other two. Awesome Cats looked at cats in history, cat adventures, famous cats and famous people’s cats, TV, stage and movie cats; and working, lucky, spoiled and clever cats. There were many jaw-dropping facts about cats, stories that were amazing but true, jokes and verse featuring cats, and for the true catophiles, there was a list of children’s novels featuring cats.

As well as completing every manuscript, I also created a marketing proposal to help any publisher make a decision to publish. The proposal included the demographics of the intended audience (children aged 8 to 12 years with a reading age of nine), a description of the series’ contents and approach, the main strengths of the series, any major competition (I couldn’t find any), markets to which the series would appeal and an author bio. I then found as many possible publishers for the series and began my submissions.

Looking at statistics in my dispatches’ file over a few twelve month periods, I have found that on average one third of publishers to whom I submit manuscripts never respond. Of those that do, most of them take from three to nine months to reply. None ever give reasons for rejecting manuscripts (which is fair enough as they are not assessors, just industry people accepting or rejecting a product).

Eventually I had submitted to 30 publishers in Australia and overseas but without any luck. Then a small Australian publisher based in Sydney expressed interest. I was invited to the publisher’s office where she showed me books she had published. They looked exactly what I had envisaged for my books – attractively designed with photographic content. All of the books she had published were about animals. That very happy day the publisher said she would send me a contract.

I waited. For months. When I wrote asking when I might expect the contract, the publisher replied (after some weeks) apologising that she was now unable to publish my books; that since our meeting she had closed her doors.

I then submitted my book series to all other publishers I thought might be interested and when I had exhausted all possibilities, I put my manuscripts in the proverbial ‘bottom drawer’. Years followed and I had more or less forgotten about my animal series. Then one day I was reviewing a beautifully designed, attractive and well-written children's non-fiction book by an Australian publisher I’d not heard of before – Big Sky Publishing, based in Sydney. When I saw on their website that Big Sky specialised in non-fiction books, I remembered my manuscripts and made a submission.

I sent my manuscript via Word document attachment by email on 13 January, 2015; receipt was acknowledged the next day, and then on 12 February I received an email from the publisher Diane Evans saying Big Sky was interested. Diane phoned me three days later and all three books were contracted the following month. 

Submitting a manuscript and having it contracted in less than two months is something I hadn’t experienced in many years. 

This was the beginning of what has turned out to be a very happy journey for me. The publisher was a total delight to work with, and when I was sent samples of the glorious artwork and page designs to approve, I was even happier. 

Diane’s sister Sharon who is responsible for book promotion has also been a blessing in the publishing process. Big Sky Publishing also promotes their titles via schools through Redgum Book Club focusing on quality children’s books for  children aged 4 to 13 years of age. Distributed nationally my book will reach so many more children than would be possible with most other publishers.  On top of that, Jodie Bennett who also works with the Evans’ sisters, has been responsible for the production and delivery of bookmarks and posters – all in full, bright colour, and like the illustrations in each of the books, beautifully designed and presented. Each of the books feature lots of gorgeous illustrations combined with coloured photographic images of adorable dogs and cats from Best Friends Rescue and Little Legs Cat Rescue. The inclusion of real-life images and stories of the charismatic animals from these pet rescue organisations adds another level of education and inspiration. 

I could not really have imagined that that the Awesome Cats, Dogs and Horses’ books would turn out as brilliantly as they have. My whole experience with Big Sky Publishing from start to finish has been an author’s dream... in fact I really couldn’t have dreamed it, only hoped for it.

So here’s an enormous thank you for all of those at Big Sky Publishing for their vision, their courtesy and great communication, and for their hard work turning once rejected manuscripts into books that I feel immensely proud of.

The books retail for $14.99 each. Here’s where you can get Awesome Cats:
                                                                                                                      The distributor is Woodslane, phone: (02) 8445 2300 F: (02) 9970 5002 info@woodslane.com.au  www.woodslane.com.au