Thursday, April 24, 2014

Charles Dickens and the Publishing World - Then and Now

While reading a biography of Charles Dickens, I came across this marvelous excerpt from a letter the author sent to his friend Forster describing the dispute with his publisher, Bentley. Specifically, Dickens was reluctant to undertake the writing of Barnaby Rudge due to being greatly depressed by the contractually fixed disproportion between his publisher's earnings from his books and his own. In a letter of early 1839, he wrote the following:

The immense profits which Oliver Twist has realised to its publisher, and is still realising; the paltry, wretched, miserable sum it has brought to me (not equal to what is every day paid for a novel that sells fifteen hundred copies at most); the recollection of this, and the consciousness that I have still the slavery and drudgery of another work on the same journeyman-terms; the consciousness that my books are enriching everybody concerned with them but myself, and that I, with such a popularity as I have acquired, am struggling in old toils, and wasting my energies in the very height and freshness of my fame, and the best part of my life, to fill the pockets of others, while for those who are nearest and dearest to me I can realise little more than a genteel subsistence: all this puts me out of heart and spirits...

Of course, the publishing world was an entirely different animal in the early nineteenth century; the proliferation of e-reading apparatus, the ready freedom to self-publish, the global readership to which writers currently market themselves - these would certainly have astonished Dickens if he was granted a glimpse of the publishing world today.

But I wonder whether the financial inequity in regards to royalty revenue (the slimmest of pie-slices that return to the author of the creative work) I wonder whether that would, to Dickens, remain recognizable. When one takes into account the wholesale discount, the cost of printing and distribution, the publisher's slice, as well as that of the literary agent (assuming one goes the traditional route)...the writer is left with a rather piddling portion from the sale of their own literary work.

Regal House Publishing is, of course, subject to these costs as are other publishing houses. We must pay our copyeditors, our acquisition agents, our cover artists, our website designers. We must pay for printing, marketing, and advertising. Like any other business we must maintain a healthy accounting ledger, but our priority remains, now and as long as we are in business, with the writer. We are seeking writers of literary fiction - historical or contemporary - and it is for these individuals, these scribes of our age, that we maintain a profound respect. A respect that is manifested in maximizing the proceeds that accrue to them as a result of their long and dedicated endeavor. Throwing open the publishing doors, so to speak, and accepting submissions directly from writers is our way of achieving this. The Regal House Team  supports and empowers our writers by encouraging and enabling a transparency to the publishing process, and involving them closely in the decision-making process.

A new way of doing business that has, perhaps, short-changed the writer for over one hundred and fifty years. Dickens would have loved Regal, and we, of course, would have simply adored him!

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

An Interview with the Editor

Question: Regal House is relatively new to the publishing scene. How is Regal House different from other publishers?

Answer: Regal House is different insofar as we have an immense regard and respect for our writers. I am not saying that other publishing houses do not, however, our value for our authors is manifested in very particular ways. We offer higher royalties than the industry standard. We accept manuscripts directly from writers without requiring that they go through the intermediary of a literary agent - who are often increasingly impossible, these days, for writers to acquire. We want to make the process as efficient and painless as possible for the writers themselves, and then we want them to reap the maximum amount of financial benefit from their own creative product.

Question: I understand that Regal House does a great deal of marketing via social media. Do you require writers to have an established platform before you will consider their manuscripts?

Answer: No, we do not. We have a web designer on board who will work very closely with the author to produce a website that showcases their writing profession and provides direct access to purchasing points such as Amazon and Barnes and Noble to name a few. The author's website is important because it also links with other social media forums that together are integral to disseminating awareness of an upcoming publication. Regal House conducts online marketing campaigns that also utilize the author's web-based presence, such as guest blog posts that directly target the literary fiction reading demographic.

Question: What fees are involved in this process? Does the author need to pay for this website design?

Answer: No, the website design is a complimentary feature that Regal House extends to its writers. There is, however, an annual fee of $95 that covers the costs of domain renewal, hosting fees and site maintenance. The design and implementation of the website, however, is made without cost to the author.

Question: So what kind of marketing do you do for an author other than via online forums?

Answer: Initially, we send their novel off to numerous reviewing agencies, newspapers that feature literary reviews, as well as the Historical Novel Society if the work is of the historical fiction genre. We may submit the novel for appropriate prize categories within literary competitions. We contact local (to the author) radio stations to organize radio interviews that air the day of a book release. We contact local bookshops to request signing events. And we, as Regal House, market and sell the books of our authors at various US-based and global fairs. We are also investigating opportunities for bookclubs to conduct live-Skype chats with our authors upon completion of their novel as a bookclub selection. We accept submissions from all over the world, however, and our ability to aggressively market a novel can be somewhat compromised by geographical distance. In this sense, our on-the-ground marketing, for the most part, takes place here in the US. Which is also why the online marketing is so important, not only to reach a global readership for our authors, but also to support the non-US-based writers with whom we are working.

Question: And what are you seeking from writers at the moment? What kind of novel will tempt you, do you think?

Answer: We quite deliberately chose literary fiction as our genre of choice, with a particular interest (within that category) in historical fiction. We did this because we want to support, encourage and invest in literary fiction, where writing is again an art-form, not merely an economic commodity. We are seeking an engaging and compelling narrative - a novel with an authentic and distinct literary voice. We are seeking character-richness.

Question: Many agents or publishing houses will not even consider works longer than 180,000 words. Will Regal House look at longer works?

Answer: Yes, we will. We are looking for manuscripts of literary fiction where the quality of the writing is first and foremost. If the work engages us throughout then we will certainly consider publishing works of longer length.

Question: How long does it take from the time you accept a new writer to the moment they will see their novel for sale?

Answer: It depends upon our book-load at that point in time, and where the other novels are in the process. However, it may take anywhere from six to eight months. This allows time for organizing pre-release reviews and the marketing campaign that accompanies a book release. However, we believe in working very closely with the writer, and the timeline is one that is communicated and discussed throughout the process.

Interview conducted by Janice Bailey with editor of Regal House Publishing Jaynie Cox