A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.
US AND OUR BIG MOUTHS…
Lisa Glass and Rosy Barnes talk to Scott
Pack of The Friday Project.
Lisa says: Hello!
Scott says: Hello!
Rosy has been added to the conversation.
Rosy says: Hello! I’m here!
Lisa says: There she is.
Scott says: Indeed she is. A dog and a duck according to my screen. No offence intended!
Lisa says: That be us.
Rosy says: I find that quite flattering, in fact.
Scott says: Woof, quack etc.
Rosy says: Can we quote you on that?
Lisa says: Ok, first question then: Tell us more about The Friday Project: it seemed to start off as a publisher that published work from the internet – particularly blogs like Blood, Sweat and Tea – has it extended its remit now? You are launching a fiction list in 2008 – where is Friday Project headed in the future?
Scott says: Nicely cut and pasted there. OK…
Lisa says: Cheeky beggar.
Scott says: The Friday Project has been around since 2005. We describe what we do as ‘turning the best of the web into the finest books’ and that has stayed the same across our short existence…We are publishing in many genres but the vast majority of our books are web-related and certainly our 2008 fiction list has all come from web sources in one way or another.
He adds: Next please.
Rosy says: You said recently on your blog that you have “managed to convince Oliver Postgate, Peter Firmin and Tama Janowitz to sign for a small independent publisher (albeit with big ambitions) and also snapped up an underwear model, a Perrier-nominated comedian and a magician (abracadabra!).” What do you think Friday Project offers to these writers that the bigger mainstream houses don’t? And how far do you consider marketability of the author when you sign them on?
Scott says: We offer a different approach to publishing but one which has its commercial head screwed on. If an author wants a big advance and posters splashed across the underground they don’t come to us. If they want to be published with passion, initiative and originality by a bunch of people prepared to take a risk then they might just plump for TFP.
He adds: It is important to consider the marketability of an author or concept when signing them up, but for us this doesn’t mean they have to have a great pair of tits or be a celeb…
Lisa says: Well that’s a relief.
Scott says: They just need to be able to promote their book well and with enthusiasm.
Rosy says: Do you think you take more risks than the mainstream houses?
Lisa says: Liking the sound of the rubber book. So how many people work for TFP? Are there loads of you sitting around and chatting into telephones all day long, with typewriters clacking?
Scott says: 5 – 2 directors and 3 editorial staff. And our phones don’t work at the moment. What’s a typewriter?
Rosy says: Does The Friday Project accept agented submissions? What do you think about literary agents generally?
Scott says: We do but agents don’t like us all that much because of the lack of advances. The literary agents I have met are a great bunch but they are inclined to go for the biggest advance rather than the best publisher.
Rosy says: Sorry this is coming out in a weird order for me – if I don’t make sense you’ll know why.
Scott says: It is more fun this way.
Lisa says: Is there a reason you don’t offer advances? Just being nosy…
Rosy says: I’m hyperventilating here – not necessarily in a good way!
Lisa says: Boiling head syndrome.
Rosy says: Technology meltdown.
Scott says: We are small and don’t have lots of money for advances. If we give an author a £5k advance today for a book that will publish in a year’s time then that is £5k we cannot spend on something else which is more pressing and urgent.
Lisa says: Okay so why the name The Friday Project, by the way? Been intrigued by that.
Scott says: Clare Christian who founded the company used to be behind a satirical e-newsletter called The Friday Thing, they started out campaigning for everyone to have Fridays off. Hence the name. Simple and silly as that really.
Lisa says: Cool, okay now Rosy is going to start on the meaty questions…
[Pause whilst Rosy slowly gets to grips with her Control Copy and Control Paste buttons. This takes some time.]
Rosy says: You were a controversial figure during your time at Waterstone’s having been associated with bringing in a lot of the changes to the way Waterstone’s operated. Tim Adams said in 2005 “’Scott Pack’ has simply become shorthand for the ways in which bookselling has changed since the abolition of the Net Book Agreement, which fixed book prices, a decade ago.” What do you think the result of The dissolution of the net book agreement it has been and has there been any advantages to any but the very top rung of known writers?
Rosy adds: I’m going for a lie down.
Lisa says: Get back here, young woman.
Scott says: Tim Adams said a lot of things. But anyway, the NBA was price fixing and a bad thing for readers. More books sell now and that is across a whole range of titles not just the bestsellers. The biggest problem in our industry is that too many books are published, not the price they are being sold for.
Rosy says: Why is that the case?
Lisa says: Too many books are published? That’s interesting. For aspiring writers it seems harder than ever to get a book deal…
Rosy says: Does too many books being published relate to your predictions for this year that: “No high street book chain will make a profit during 2008.” Why? And what will happen to them?
Scott says: No one has been able to work out the magic formula for making a book sell so most publishers adopt a fingers-crossed approach. They do all they can but ultimately the final call resides with the reading public. As a result they often take a scattergun approach to publishing and hope that enough of their titles sell to make things work.
[Another technical glitch]
Lisa says: Doh
Scott says: Do not despair, you are both doing very well.
Lisa says: Ha!
Rosy says: Hum!
Lisa says: Why are they publishing too many books, do you think?
Scott says: The big book chains have decided to lead with discounts and consequently they all have the same books front-of-store at the same prices. They won’t be making much profit from these and their costs are going up. If any of them make a profit from books this year I will be amazed. Borders never have. Waterstone’s have been touch and go in recent years and the same for Smiths.
Lisa says: Over-optimism?
Scott says: Wishful thinking more like. No one really knows what the public will go for next. – a book on grammar and punctuation? a memoir of a dog?
Rosy says: How do you get variety with such discounting dominating? Or is that not the issue?
Scott says: Variety is very much the issue. The first retailer to lead with a truly different offer is likely to clean up I reckon. Give us readers something fascinating to stumble across throughout the store and we will spend our money.
Lisa has left the conversation.
[At this point, a major technical disaster over takes the interview: we like to keep our readers on the edge of their seats. Ed.]
Lisa says (talking to the abyss) I’m here!
Lisa says Can you see me??? [no one can see me] Aaargh. Computers…
(Lisa spends the next ten minutes panicking and storming about trying to determine why she’s suddenly been booted out of MSN Messenger. Answer: the other computer was activated (by He Who Shall Remain Nameless) which led to a maddening IP address conflict or some such unfathomable IT guff.)
Scott says: Is it something I said?
(Rosy has a bit of an existential moment.)
Rosy says: Am I still here?
Scott says: Well I am here anyway.
Rosy says: I think Lisa is having a crisis. I’ll ask the next one – How do small independents survive in such a market?
Rosy: Hello? Hello?
Lisa: Agh! Agh!
Rosy: Hello? Hello?
The line goes dead and the full enormity of Rosy’s isolation hits her like a wave.)
Scott says: Well, it is amazing that they do to be honest. Most struggle to make any sort of profit. Generous benefactors is the honest answer.
Lisa: Agh! Agh!..etc)
Rosy says (struggling with typing, phones, and Lisa shouting about IP addresses down her ear): What do you – personally – look for in a book?
Scott says: I look for a great story from a great storyteller. Haruki Murakami, Charles Baxter and Richard Yates = good. Martin Amis, Salman Rushdie, Zadie Smith = bad.
Rosy says: Give us some quick answers:
Commercial versus literary.
Blogs versus newspaper reviews.
Promotions versus word-of-mouth.
Bryan Adams versus Ryan Adams question.
She adds: Err, that was Lisa’s question as I don’t even know who Ryan Adams is! *Shameful admission.*
Scott Pack says: Commercial and literary are not mutually exclusive…Blogs…
Scott continues: Word of mouth…
Lisa has been added to the conversation.
Lisa says: I’m here!
Lisa says: Stupid PCs. Continue, Scott.
(Rosy breathes a sigh of relief and takes a quick lie down and a couple of vallium.)
Scott says: Welcome back. Now, I have a funny Ryan Adams story. I once interviewed Haruki Murakami and asked him what music he liked….He said he always had the new Radiohead, REM or Ryan Adams CD in his car…
Lisa says: Good taste.
Scott says: And then the numpties at the magazine printed it as Bryan Adams!
Lisa says: Mortifying.
Scott says: A big mistake.
Rosy says: Even I know that is embarrassing.
Scott says: Well, I won’t name and shame the mag but it rhymes with Daughterstones Hooks Mortarly.
Rosy says: LOL!
(In a desperate bid to impress, Rosy, for some reason, chooses this moment to insert a picture of nonchalant emoticon wearing shades.)
Rosy says: I just liked the glasses.
Scott says: I thought it was an actual photo of you.
Rosy says: I have a bit more hair but – approximately – yes
Lisa says: !!!!!!! Right, so moving on: both of us have books which our agents have recently sent out to editors: which publishers do you think are hot right now? (Does look like Rosy, in fact. Can confirm) Hot or not??
Rosy says: Rotter.
[Rosy would just like to point out that she doesn’t usually do Hugh Laurie impersonations -only occasionally for the benefit of close friends. Lisa would like to point out that the ‘Hot or not?’ was in reference to the hot publishers. Not Rosy. Rosy would like to point out that she is very hot, thank you very much and…[the rest of this fascinating exchange has been deleted. Ed.] Lisa: Who’s Ed? Rosy:I thought he was a friend of yours.]
Scott says: Anyone prepared to pay you a six figure advance is obviously hot, Emma at Snowbooks is a fine looking woman…that’s not what you meant was it?
Lisa says: Um.
Scott says: Old Street are doing some brilliant stuff… I also like Snowbooks and Myrmidon.
She adds: That’s Swanky. Just in case you misread.
Scott says: I am not invited any more, but I didn’t go all that often when I was.
Rosy says: What do you think about book blogs? Do you think there’s a danger that book bloggers could become another set of gatekeepers? In the same way that newspapers often feature the same titles.
Lisa says: Lots of the bookblogs do seem quite connected…In terms of pushing similar books…
Rosy says: (Say something controversial about how bloggers are taking over the world – that’d be good.)
Scott says: No, I don’t think that is a problem because the blogger is more ethereal and transient. I do think they will have a much greater influence but I don’t think it will be as malignant as the newspaper reviewers.
Rosy says: Malignant?
Scott says: The broadsheet reviewers, by and large, are a closed shop reviewing a small range of books that people don’t want to read. Terribly sweeping generalisation.
Lisa says: Lots of them seem to review the same big hitters, although I’ve noticed The Independent has featured more small publisher titles.
Scott says: Waterstone’s once gave over a whole table at the front of every store to the books that were reviewed each weekend in the papers. It was the single least successful promotion they have ever staged.
Lisa says: Really? I find that quite shocking.
Scott says: Well, look at what the papers review and compare it to what people actually read. Big difference.
Lisa says: But lots of bookshops are more likely to stock a book after a review in a paper, no??
Scott says: It is better now than it was but the old schoolers are miles away from their readers.
Rosy says: So who are the opinion-formers now and in the future? (She says, hoping he’ll say Vulpes Libris.)
Scott says: I think and hope that the newspapers will change, some already have, and that they will stay an important body of opinion formers. Bloggers and book websites will be a major player and radio and TV really.
Lisa says: Okay then, so what made you leave Waterstone’s and embark for pastures new?? Well, for a small indie in particular.
Scott says: I disagreed with a lot of what was going on and I didn’t think the proposed new systems would work. It seemed daft to stay if I felt that way. I didn’t like the way they treated some very loyal and talented members of my team under the new regime. A shame really. The Friday Project struck me as a really exciting venture and worth a try.
Rosy says: You are a quite a champion of the independent sector and even self-publishers – what is it you enjoy?
Scott says: Part of it is that I think they need all the publicity they can get and because I am a loudmouthed git I can sometimes get them some attention. But I also think there are some great books coming out of that sector. Seeing Sade Adeniran jump 100,000 places on Amazon after I review her book is far more satisfying than recommending a John Grisham novel. Grisham doesn’t need it.
Rosy says: I hear you!
Lisa says: Distribution: getting books in bookshops. How does The Friday Project do that? And how difficult is it to get into Waterstone’s? I went into my local Waterstone’s in Truro and there were Friday Project books everywhere. Some in big displays. How do you swing that? Some publishers don’t seem to be able to get into any Waterstone’s, or at least very few. Of all the small publishers, TFP was the best represented.
Scott says: We are lucky as our sales and distribution are handled by Pan Macmillan who are a major player. Smaller publishers find it harder. I am sure there were much better books than some of ours this Christmas that the big retailers didn’t even see because they wouldn’t look at them.
Lisa says: Ah, I see. Well, in that case that’s a massive plus for writers. As most of em are quite keen to be in bookshops.
Rosy says: Final furlong: What’s coming up at The Friday Project? Which books should our readers rush out and buy?
Scott says: Well, we have launched Friday Editions which is our limited hardback imprint (1000 copies, all signed and numbered. They will all be worth more money in a few years time and you can flog them on eBay…)
Lisa says: And you’re definitely not Steve Stack???
Scott says: Some of my first fiction signings are soon to hit the shelves. The Equivoque Principle by Darren Craske – a Victorian murder-mystery set within a travelling circus – is a real corker. We have some great fiction coming up. Clare Christian signed Caroline Smailes who is an awesome writer and we have her second novel due in the summer.
He adds: I am not Steve Stack.
Lisa says: Okay – we believe you. The Craske book looks great. And Smailes.
Scott says: It is the diversity that sums us up…A travelogue from a 74 year old biker, a book about swinging, a spoof diary of a Tory MP and the real-life account of a policeman wrongly convicted of assault.
Rosy says: Those sound fun.
She adds: Errm…not the policeman one obviously..
Lisa says: Last question then…What are you listening to? I feel you must have impeccable music tastes, as a former Mr HMV?
Scott says: Band Of Horses, Ane Brun, The National and Sigur Ros.
Rosy says: Is this Young People’s Music? *She says quivering over the walking frame*
Scott says: No, I am 37. Oh and Thee Stranded Horse is great too.
Lisa says: Yep, we sure do appreciate.
Scott says: Thanks for making this such an entertaining threesome.
(Lisa and Rosy enter into a long and extended emoticon-off which, thankfully, can’t be reproduced on WordPress, whilst Scott stands aside thinking about when he can get away from these lunatics and go have his dinner.)
Scott says: Am I allowed to go now?
Lisa says: Be off with you!
Rosy says: Bye!
Lisa says: Bye!
Scott says: Cheerio
(Virtual air kissing all around)
Scott has left the conversation.
Lisa says: Rosy are you still here??
Rosy says: Yes.
Lisa says: Bugger off.
*Please note that The Friday Project are not accepting submissions until February.*