As a writer, you may wonder what a publisher actually does with your manuscript once they’ve agreed to publish it. I can only speak for small independent imprints like Dempsey & Windle, but I thought I would write something about what we do, after we’ve agreed to make your collection of poems into a pamphlet or a longer book.
The easy part is preparing the manuscript in the format we want. We ask you for a single Word document with all your poems pasted into it, clearly separated and if possible in the order in which you prefer them to be read. (We can help you to decide about the order, particularly if you live near enough to Guildford to come for tea one afternoon!). You will usually supply an A4 Word document. We can copy and paste the text into our A5 template, tweak the template to suit the line lengths, insert page breaks, adjust the fonts and line spacing, and very quickly return the edited text to you with page numbers, a contents list, a title page and a verso page with copyright notice, acknowledgements and perhaps a dedication page. We proof-read the resulting A5 manuscript and ask you to do so too. If we find typos or punctuation issues, we can discuss them with you, usually by email, and fix them.
Next step is the cover. We always ask the author for their ideas for the front cover design. If they have images or colours in mind we do our best to provide a design to their specifications. But if they have no particular design ideas, we’ll produce two or three designs for them to choose from. I design the whole cover using Photoshop. If the author would like to have a photo of themselves on the back cover, they provide one for me to work with, We discuss the text for the back cover, which may be biographical, or might include sections of reviews of their work. Sometimes we can send the finished text to a friendly reviewer and ask if they can kindly write a paragraph of “blurb” for me to include on the back cover.
Once the cover is agreed, it’s time to send the manuscript and cover files to the printer and get a proof. I always get a hard copy proof, so that I can check that the layout of the cover design will print the way I’ve planned, and if it doesn’t, we adjust the design and send for another proof, until it’s right. Each proof takes about ten working days to arrive, and when we order the first run of copies, that will take another two weeks or so to be delivered. So when planning a release date for a book, we have to take these printing times into account.
And at last, your book is created and sets out into the world to find its audience!
Editing, proofreading, designing the layout and creating the cover for a book are only the beginning of a small poetry publisher’s tasks. The finished book has to be made known to the public (“the audience”), whether that’s achieved by having it stocked by bookshops, searched for and ordered online, or sold face-to-face at poetry readings. Here are some notes about how a small independent publisher distributes the books they produce.
Barcodes (ISBN’s or International Standard Book Numbers)
In order for a book to be publicly sold, it needs to have an ISBN and a barcode that enables shops to identify it. A publisher will have ISBN’s that they have bought and that they reproduce as images on the cover of the book using a barcode generator program. The ISBNs tag the books they publish to their particular imprint (company name). This unique number enables the publisher to enter the book’s title, description, recommended price and description on the ISBN provider’s database, so that it can be found by book retailers, libraries, and online stockists like Amazon, and the publisher identified. You can find out more information about ISBNs here:
Neilsen Title Editor account: Here the publisher enters information on a database for shops, libraries and online sites to use when ordering their books. (In the case of Amazon, the information is automatically picked up and the book advertised with an invitation: “Have one to sell?”). The online Title Editor database form includes a request for the date on which the book will be available. Until that date is passed, the book will appear as “Unavailable” to everyone who accesses the information about it.
Legal Deposit Agencies (LDA): When the publisher has received the first run of a book, their next task is to send five copies gratis to the National Libraries clearing house (161 Causewayside, Edinburgh) and one to the British Library at Boston Spa, Wetherby in West Yorkshire, to be stored for retrieval by anyone who needs to see a copy. From Edinburgh the books are distributed to the Bodleian Libraries of the University of Oxford, Cambridge University Library, the National Library of Scotland, the Library of Trinity College, Dublin and the National Library of Wales. It’s a legal requirement, and the agencies will write and ask for the copies due to them, if they’re not sent.
Releasing and launching books: When a book is nearing publication and when a date has been fixed for the first run to be delivered, a launch event can be arranged, at which it’s hoped that the audience will buy signed copies. This may be a free event, if the publisher has access to a free venue, but it may be necessary for a small door charge to be made to cover hire of the room and any refreshments that are provided. If the poet can afford to, they may choose to invest their own money in organising other private launches to which their friends and contacts are invited.
Sending out review copies: The publisher sends out press releases, free copies and requests for reviews, if possible to be posted in journals and newspapers. If reviewers don’t have any other place to send their review, the publisher can post reviews on their own website (we have a page dedicated to this here, as well as pasting sections of reviews next to our descriptions of each book). It’s helpful if the poet can supply names and emails of possible reviewers who have been supportive to their work. The publisher may also ask the author to supply the email addresses of newspapers local to them, and contact the editors of those as well.
Selling through shops: The publisher must register with a UK based distribution agent such as Bertram’s or Gardner’s (https://www.gardners.com/ is the supplier through which Waterstone’s order books for their branches). Once they have set up the account, details of all the books they register on Neilsen Title Editor will be sent to the agency’s database to be available for shops to quote when they order. The distributing agent normally expects a discount of 60% of RRP on the books ordered by bookshops through them. When a shop places an order, the publisher invoices the agent ant sends to books to them, and the agent sends them on to the shop. (This is the case for publishers who have an annual turnover of less than several thousand pounds sterling per year – which is to say, most small independent poetry publishers! For larger publishers with a high turnover, Gardners buys in a stock of books in their warehouse.)
If you want to interest a local shop in buying your books, do research and find out who buys books in, then begin by emailing them the details and explaining why you believe a particular publication would find buyers if they stocked it. Approach the shop before the book is released, not when it's already been on sale elsewhere and make an appointment to see the manager or buyer with a copy - don't turn up unannounced. And if you're selling the book on Amazon, don't mention it, because Amazon is the arch-competitor of independent bookshops.
Selling through Amazon: Most publishers will have an Amazon Seller’s account whose inventory must be kept up to date. A worldwide www.amazonseller.com account incurs more work and higher fees than an Amazon UK or EU account. Selling outside the UK necessitates dealing with tax issues (there is no VAT on books in the UK and Europe but there are taxes on the import of books elsewhere, for example to the USA). The publisher can opt to deal with all orders themselves, downloading a packing slip, packing up and sending out books immediately that Amazon informs them that orders have come in, and informing the customer by clicking a button on the Amazon site that the order has been dispatched.
Fulfilment By Amazon (fba) : If the small independent publisher cannot fulfil Amazon orders from their own office, they can opt for Amazon to deal with orders. This entails adding an extra barcode, provided by Amazon, to each copy to be sold by fba, and shipping the books to an Amazon UK warehouse, at the publisher’s expense. Then Amazon employees pack and dispatch each book directly to the customer, and the publisher pays a further fee on top of the normal Amazon seller’s fees. This can be a way of dealing with holidays or sickness but it’s not very cost-effective for a small publisher, especially as they have to pay for shipping their books back if they want to revert to fulfilling orders themselves.
Marketing through a dedicated website: A website for publicising books is relatively inexpensive. Blog sites like Wordpress are free. A publisher who sells through their website may have to choose to pay annually for a program (or a professional website builder) that allows them to post links to a Paypal account to collect payment. (An example is weebly.com which hosts dempseyandwindle.co.uk.) Leasing a domain name and building and editing a website using one of these companies is reasonably easy for someone who hasn’t been trained as a programmer.
A website is invaluable for showing off the publisher’s books, advertising new releases and launch events, and telling the public about authors and their poems, to raise interest in their work. It’s important to keep it updated and linked to social media to alert potential readers to new posts. You can also pay a website promoter to manipulate the search engines to drive traffic to your site.
Setting up a Paypal business account is easy and useful for creating “buy now” buttons, enabling customers to buy using debit and credit cards and keeping track of orders through the Paypal website. Expect fees for receiving payments; prices of books have to be set with this in mind.
Facebook pages: Facebook pages can be used as online shops. They are evolving and are beginning to invite the owners of the pages to incur costs, by urging them to “boost” and “promote” posts at a price per click. We are not keen on these ideas but we find that pages are useful for creating and promoting events and readings at which books will be signed and sold.
Twitter accounts: Fast, immediate means of attracting interest and informing about events and new publications, and also of attracting new authors. By using hashtags an audience can be kept informed and excited. Creating posts that won’t bore followers, or turn them off because they’re tired of repetitive advertising, is a matter of research and keeping an eye on what seems to be attracting followers. Humour and information, especially including visual posts, are generally most effective in keeping people coming back to read.
Use www.MailChimp.com or another email host to communicate news of your activities as a publisher. From your website subscriptions and networking events build a database of email subscribers. Using mailchimp.com will ensure that privacy and trust are maintained. You can also select sections of the list of your subscribers to target emails to those who will most likely be interested in the content of your email or newsletter. It's free.
Fliers and handouts: Design and print a short run of a catalogue of your recent publications. Include pictures of your books and all the information that you send to a shop or reviewer. Update the design at least every three months to include the most recent of your publications, and print them yourself on a laser printer at home, rather than investing in hundreds from a printshop.
Attend book fairs, where you may not sell a great deal but will make valuable contacts and have a chance to spread the word about your products and gain advice and tips from other poetry publishers. The Free Verse Book Fair in London (http://www.poetrybookfair.com - normally held in September) is a good example of a relatively affordable event.
Run competitions: Dempsey & Windle organise an annual competition, now called the Brian Dempsey Memorial Competition, which has served to enable us to contact some excellent poets whose collections we’ve subsequently been proud to publish. Based on the best competition entries, we publish an annual anthology where competition finalists’ poems appear within the same covers as more widely published writers. With the submission fees we fund a free copy for all the poets we publish in the book and cash prizes for the top three prize-winners. We aim to develop the confidence and self-esteem of less established poets by including their work in a book with more well-known writers.
Publishers like Dempsey & Windle (that’s us) do all we can, not only to sell books and help our authors to sell their own, but also to develop them as writers and readers of their poems. An important part of our work as publishers is done through our poetry performance group, The 1000 Monkeys. (www.the1000monkeys.com) In these monthly sessions of open mic, we help poets to find their voices, both literally as readers and as writers. We believe the practice of delivering poetry aloud and listening to others enriches the work of any poet, both on a stage and on a published page.
Finally, publishers must keep careful accounts. They may find they’re making no profit - or a loss. But the Inland Revenue will want to check out the figures!
Janice Dempsey October 2017