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Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Back in Harness

Good morning dear readers… I’m back… and I need to start with an apology for the three months or so of radio silence.

Now, please let me explain – there are mitigating circumstances. Just over three months ago, Annabelle and I had our second child – a wee boy called Hector. Well, that’s a bit of a fib – he’s not wee at all, he is sturdy like a young rhino with the neck of a bull and the appetite of a horse. Enough animal similes for you? His latter attribute has meant that for his first couple of months of his life has enjoyed waking his parents up at all hours of the night for extra sustenance (he still likes to, on occasion – just to keep us on our toes). Annabelle had to provide this, but I was also called into action for nappy changes and strolling endless lengths of the bedroom to settle him post-feed. Some might say that all these extra hours in my day should have opened up new opportunities for blogging – but that is easier said than done when cradling said small rhino…

So while moderately crippled by lack of sleep, there have also been other reasons for my absence from the blogosphere… namely the madness of the latter part of the year in the publishing world. I am currently on the early morning train, once more, to London and so find myself with a little breathing space for the first time in… well, what feels like a long time.

So what is the cause of the sudden bustle and chaos in publishing? In my case it is two-fold (actually, make it three-fold):

-          From the summer onwards, the work-rate really starts to ramp up in editorial and production circles. The key time of year in publishing is, as I’m sure you can appreciate, Christmas. Although some titles (either by accident or design) trickle into the shops in late November and early December, most of the key titles that are published for the Christmas market need to be released in September or October. This is to give the titles plenty of time to ingrain themselves in the public conscience either through visibility in shops or online, or through review coverage. And, of course, as we continue to languish in the depths of a recession, people need to spread their costs, so the sooner you can get your products out in to the market, so much the better.

-          The Frankfurt Book Fair. This annual fair, which takes place in October, is the largest book fair in the world. And take my word for it if you’ve never been – it is ma-hooo-sive. Mind-bogglingly big. The journey from the front door of the Frankfurt Messe to Hall 8 (the English-language hall) is around a 15-20 minutes walk – even with the assistance of moving walkways. And each of the halls is roughly the size of the departures area in Heathrow’s Terminal 5. Seriously. Just imagine it. Massive. And it is at fairs like Frankfurt that the publishing world descends as one to show off their wares and to carve out new rights, export and sales deals, commission new work, sign up new authors and books, discuss and debate new or existing business strategies, punt distribution channels, show off new products and network on an unprecedented scale. For 99% of the attendees at the Fair, your day is broken up into a series of 30 minute, or hour-long (sometimes more) meetings, one right after another, with barely a half-hour window to grab any food (at this rate Hector, even as an adult, would be totally unable to cope). This goes on until five or six in the evening and then, more often than not, drinks and dinner follows with partners in export, rights, sales, or editorial (the list can go on), colleagues or old friends. And after dinner (which will probably be fairly boozy) follows a few more drinks… and perhaps a few more after that… and, well, you get the picture. Then it all happens again the next day. And the next. And the next. And, depending on how long you’re at the Fair for, the next, and perhaps even the next after that. It is knackering… but they are the most invaluable few days of the year. There are so many reasons why they are so important, but for me there are two that stand out above all the rest: face-time with people who might otherwise be just a name at the end of an email; and the chance to look at what the rest of the publishing world is up to. The former is so important for relationship building and getting a much sounder feel for what people actually want when we do business (and so, ultimately, increases productivity ten-fold when we all get back home); the latter is interesting in terms of trend-spotting and general intrigue at what others are publishing, but also (for me, at any rate) the whole thing is absolutely inspiring. It reminds me exactly why I got into publishing: a love of books. I love seeing thousands of new cover designs and the prospect of the stories that they enshroud; I love seeing the great and the good brokering deals, overhearing snippets of business and seeing the excitement in peoples’ eyes as they discuss new and upcoming titles, or hear their unbounded enthusiasm for a recently-discovered but potentially game-changing new author… As with any industry, you can find yourself blinkered by the day-to-day challenges that you face at your desk. Sometimes you need a chance to step back and look at the wider picture, to re-energise your enthusiasm and to get your creative synapses buzzing again. It’s an exhausting few days, as I say, but it is such an incredible and fulfilling experience. And you can do some great business, too. If you haven’t been, you really must go…

-          And onto my final excuse… Polaris. It has been a hectic few months with all the above going on, so throw into the mix starting up and running a new business and you’ll maybe understand why blogging has fallen slightly by the wayside. Contract negotiations have been, at times, a little protracted, but we are now underway; a new website has been built – check it out, http://www.polarispublishing.com/ – and I have been trogging all over the place meeting app developers and building dummy apps as the first building-blocks of the various projects I’m working on fall into place. Everything is going well so far but there is a long road with an awful lot of work ahead. So I suppose, in many ways, I’m indebted to my new son – he is training my body to need less sleep… and in the coming months I think that I am going to need all the extra hours that I can possibly cram into my day…

Speak soon.

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