Monday, August 20, 2007


The following article, written by Stephen Stratford, was originally published in UNLIMITED and is now reproduced with their kind permission. It was also reproduced in New Zealand Author, the journal of the NZ Society of Authors. It was originally titled, So You Want to Be a Paperback Writer.

Where the ideas come from

There is a herd instinct in publishing. After the success of Bridget Jones publishers rushed to publish chick lit, hoping to discover another Helen Fielding. They haven’t yet, although Sarah-Kate Lynch has done very nicely and sells internationally. For years no local publisher would touch popular historical fiction, but Jenny Pattrick’s 2003 breakthrough with The Denniston Rose has been sincerely flattered by several other writers’ attempts. And while most publishers are looking for a hot new crime author, they regard local attempts at other genres like science fiction and fantasy as impossible to sell.A few children’s authors have done spectacularly well but there are many who sell poorly. It’s a highly competitive field: there sometimes seem to be more producers of teenage fiction than there are consumers. With non-fiction, books are usually originated by the publishers. They need writers — though they’d really rather they didn’t — but the idea most often comes from the publisher, who is, or should be, in touch with what the market wants. The idea then has to be approved by the retailers, the key buyer being Whitcoulls. Estimates of Whitcoulls’ market share range from 35% to 45%. Either way, it is crucial that it stocks a book, so publishers will very early on show it some material, even just an outline and a sample chapter. If Whitcoulls says it isn’t interested, the book almost certainly won’t be published.

The really clever publishers, like PQ’s Geoff Blackwell (the brains behind the internationally mega-successful MILK series), aim at the overseas market. Before setting up on his own, Blackwell was at Hodder Headline where he began the Anne Geddes range, which sold more than 15 million books in 50 countries. He thinks big: currently his products are published and marketed in 30 countries.

To read the rest of this article click here to go to the Unlimited website.

For more on Stephen Stratford, pictured right, and how he can help you to become an author use this link.

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