Who is the most important person in the publishing business?

February 28, 2017

There’s a question many industries ask their interns: “Who’s the most important person in the office?” Many utter what sounds obvious, “The president.” Only to be met with a head shake. “The CEO!” Wrong again. They finally blurt out, “You!” But the questioner often gives a prim all-knowing smile before announcing, “The most important person is the patient/the client/the stakeholder.”

In publishing, the correct answer would be “the reader.”

However readers are usually at the bottom of the food chain when it comes to the book industry – they take what publishers decide to feed them. While in reality, readers are our kings and queens – without them, we could not function, our books would go unsold and our stories unread.

So why do readers barely feature when it comes to discussion within the industry? Surely they deserve a bigger place at the publishing table?

We think so. When I first started Hookline Books the idea was to give MA creative writing graduates a better chance of publication. They’d worked for it, sacrificed money and time to fine tune the writing craft. I believed there were gems to mine if I limited submissions only to these students and graduates. But who should find these gems – who would decide what is a gem? Certainly not me – I love a good read but why subject readers to only what I like? It was with this realisation that I decided to turn to the people our product is aimed at – readers! And where better to find them than in book groups made up of keen readers who love to dissect the novels they read. They buy more books than the average reader, so why not draw them in and ask whether a particular manuscript brings any joy? Being in a book group means that these readers are used to sharing their opinion, therefore they are happy to tell you whether a character works or a plot strays.

Fiction is subjective – what pleases one reader, makes another groan in despair. By listening to readers’ feedback, I am able to hear why a manuscript works or doesn’t work. All feedback is sent back to the author. For them, this can’t be an easy thing to read as, up to this point, many writers have shared their work only in writing groups or with their friends and family. While writing groups can be cruel, friends and family are often nothing but kind – sometimes too kind and their woolly praise can make a new writer feel that they will be the next J.K. So direct and anonymous criticism from those the industry seeks to please can bring a writer sharply back to reality. Sometimes even make them realise where their work has gone wrong.

So what might readers see in a manuscript that those in the profession might miss?

1.Readers don’t care about trends – a genre or sub-genre might have lost favour in the industry, but readers don’t care that it is behind the times. If they like it, they’ll call out its merits no matter how out of fashion. When I saw a historic novel set in fifth century northern Europe come through our submissions, I thought it would never gain approval – the era was unfashionable. However, I was wrong. The Half-Slave by Trevor Bloom became the second novel we published with many readers saying it wasn’t something they would normally read but that they’d thoroughly enjoyed it.

2.Scepticism – the plot might decree a character is brave, haughty, caring etc, but readers will call out “unrealistic” if the action attempts to push a dull character up a steep hill.

3.Honesty – I love when some readers love a manuscript and others hate it – and I mean hate it. Works that elicit a strong reaction are worth pursuing. Calls of, “I couldn’t put it down,” should sit alongside, “It made me uncomfortable.”

4.They have nothing to lose. Their job doesn’t depend on choosing a novel that sells well. However, when they say a plot doesn’t work, they mean that events as depicted didn’t take the story from A to Z. Some publishers might try and plaster those cracks if the writer has a following, but readers often know that no amount of clever editing will gloss this over.

Some publishers are bringing readers into their fold by giving them online access to advance titles or by creating book clubs specifically for their own titles. But this action is really about promoting the publisher’s own titles. At Hookline, we love when readers feel a sense of ownership about our novels. One book club reader told me that when she sees a particular Hookline title, Seven Days to Tell You, on Amazon, she thinks, ‘That’s mine, I helped choose that.’

She is one of our queens.


How to find a book club - or start one!

February 6, 2017
Hookline depends on book groups and sometimes readers contact us asking how to find a book group or even how to start one.
If you wish to find a book group, there are two websites I would recommend:
Bookgroup.info is a UK website with recommendations on what to read and links to groups in a given area.
The Reading Agency has a formal relationship with libraries, can recommend books and help you find a book club in your area.
If there are no groups in your community or village then you may need to...
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MA writers, we're waiting

January 6, 2017
So we're at it again!
A new year means new submissions. It's an exciting time for us, and I have to confess I love to see the manuscripts arrive in our email box. Why? Because the novels are all so different - the creativity among new writers makes my heart race with excitement. I'm not sure if other publishers feel this excitement - I hope they do.
So bring it on - all writers who are engaged in or have graduated from an MA writing programme, send us your early chapters. We'll ensure the work ...
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Readers, if you were to write a novel...

December 20, 2016
The saying goes that we all have a novel in us. As we prepare to take down 2016 submissions and start all over again in 2017, I can't help but wonder what we will see next year.
Personally, I have a good imagination and always think I could write a novel. I see something unusual - a woman crying on a park bench, a family cold with each other at a restaurant table - and I think, 'Oh, that's the beginning of a novel.' But, of course, a novel takes so much more than that - a plot that lasts longe...
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Writers, 8 questions for your characters

November 8, 2016
Readers love characters - they are our connection with the plot, what makes us reopen the pages, what makes us care.
I sometimes hear writers say, "Well, she's a middle-aged woman with an empty nest and feeling lonely." Okay, that tells us her current circumstance but it does not tell us who she is. And who she is depends upon her past and how she now looks at her past. Has she changed? How has she changed? Have those around her changed? (Think Shirley Valentine). And before you decide to ins...
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7 tips on plotting your novel - make the ground move beneath the reader's feet.

October 11, 2016
I receive a lot of manuscripts from new writers. I send them out to book clubs and often read them myself. However, sometimes it's difficult to read beyond a few pages. The story becomes simply a collection of words and I no longer care what happens in the rest of the manuscript.
The main part of writing any story is making the reader care. You have to make us want to turn the next page. Grab our attention so that we don't notice that our supper is burning or that we have missed our stop on t...
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Child migrants - a little more history

October 5, 2016
I've been a little bit obsessed by child migration recently. This is due to the fact that I've been editing Listen to the Child, a novel which tells of British children shipped out to Canada in the 1870s and distributed as indentured labour to farmers there, and reading The Lightless Sky by Gulwali Passarlay, a contemporary autobiography of a young Afghan boy sent to Europe with people smugglers.
Both books shine light on children far from home with no parent to care for them.
Gulwali is sent...
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Child migrants - then and now!

October 3, 2016
Child migrants are the topic of our next novel. Listen to the Child by Elizabeth Howard tells the story of children shipped from London's overcrowded streets to the wide open farms of Canada in the 1870s. This was before Dr. Barnardo and others took up the practice. The missionaries believed they were doing the right thing, that God had shown them this green and promised land and that by taking children from thieving, prostitution and gambling they were rescuing them from the sins of the worl...
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Your Desert Island books

April 8, 2016
While I put my interests almost firmly in the non-fiction camp when choosing books to take to a desert island, it seems, dear readers, that you prefer the classics.
The Hobbit, Heart of Darkness, Wuthering Heights and D.H. Lawrence's Women in Love came top in the books you chose. The Hobbit seemed popular because many of you read it in impressionable youth. The others, all for romantic reasons. One reader said Women in Love reminded her of university days with their earnest discussions of soci...
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Desert Island books

April 4, 2016
Friends often ask me about the books I enjoy, and I recommend Hookline titles, of course - something for everyone right there.
However, when I really think about my favourite books, the ones I would take to a desert island, non-fiction titles come up on top. I'm not sure why, maybe my journalist heart still beats, the thrill of the true life story. And my favourite book is Wayward Women; A Guide to Women Travellers, edited by Jane Robinson. It includes brief biographies of women in history who...
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About Me

Yvonne Barlow Editor at Hookline Books - where book clubs and readers choose the novels that go to print.

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