Tuesday 25 January 2011

How to speak publisher - B is for Bad debt

OK, this is not a phrase your publisher will use to you but one you may, sooner or later, use to your publisher. As in - 'I am going to take you to the small claims court before writing this off as a bad debt.' I hope not, but it gets increasingly likely as the financial situation worsens or stays the same, especially if you work with small publishers.

A bad debt is a debt you have decided is never going to be paid. You have tried all the means you can think of to reclaim the money your publisher owes you and nothing has worked. You have sent an invoice, you have sent a statement, and another statement [tick]. You have emailed them politely, you have emailed them less politely [tick]. You may have phoned them [no tick: I don't phone - there's no record you ever spoke to anyone so they can deny anything they agreed]. You may have cursed them with plagues of boils and cockroaches [tick]. You may have threatened them with court action [tick]. You may have actually taken them to court [tick - though not in current case, yet]. And you may have given up.

At the point where you give up, they become a bad debt. You don't tell them that - then there would be no chance of getting the money. And who knows, if things improve for them they may eventually pay you as most publishers are honest and decent but some are unlucky or inefficient.

Once you have decided it's a bad debt, you can put it in your accounts as such. If you don't, you will have to pay income tax on the money even though you aren't going to get it. This applies to the UK: when you submit your tax return, the income you declare for your freelance earnings from writing (and anything else you do) is calculated by adding up the value of the invoices you've sent out, minus the expenses you're claiming. It's not calculated on the money that's actually come in. You need to enter the bad debt under 'bad debt provision' and exclude it from your figure for the year. If you sent out the invoice in the previous tax year, you may have already paid tax on it - but you can still reclaim it in the next tax year. If you're not sure what to do, phone the tax office. If you ever do get the money, you'll have to pay the tax, of course.

*If you're a member of the Society of Authors, which you should be, they will help you to chase late payments.

Wednesday 19 January 2011

How to speak publisher - B is for Bleed

While we're on the not-a-vampire trend we may as well do bleed, which also sounds vampiric but is not.

Bleed is what allows pictures to go right to the edge of the page - the picture 'bleeds' off the page, continuing into the paper that is trimmed off when making the physical pages. If the picture were positioned so that it went just up to the edge of the page and no further, it would rarely come out quite right. It requires too much precision, and if the page trimming were out by even a fraction of a millimetre, you'd see - and be irritated by - a tiny sliver of white paper at the outside edge of the picture.

The area around the actual page (trim area) into which the picture bleeds is the bleed margin. The bleed margin is typically about 3-5mm each side. When you see your page proofs, they will have crop marks in the corners. The pages will be cut to these crop marks. If you draw a line between the crop marks, you will see that some of the colour printing (if there is any) may fall outside the lines you've drawn. This excluded border is the bleed margin.

This really only matters to you if you are an illustrator. If you write only novels that have no illustrations, you'll only be able to spot the bleed margin on the proof of the cover and none of this will have mattered very much to you... But it's useful to know the term so that you don't look like an unprofessional ignoramus if your publisher mentions it.

If you're an illustrator, and the illustrations will bleed at one more edges of the page, you need to make sure everything important happens in the part of the picture that will be used - so not in the bleed margins. Only background should fall into the bleed margin, not a character's foot, or the end of their cape, or the monster's tentacles. Tentacles bleed if cut off, remember.

Wednesday 12 January 2011

How to speak publisher - B is for Blad

No, it's not a vampire. A blad is a dummy or partial book produced for publicity purposes ahead of publication. Blad = Book Layout And Design. Typically, it has the front and back cover and a sample of inside pages. It's most useful for illustrated non-fiction as it can give buyers (industry buyers, distributors, foreign rights dudes) a good idea of what the book will be like. It may be stapled or spiral bound. The blad can be produced before the book has been completely written, but then there is an obligation to deliver the whole book in the style and design used in the blads.

Blads are, I suspect, an irritation to editors. Although it focuses the mind on getting the design sorted, the blad can become a project in its own right and use time and resources that should be devoted to getting the book finished and produced. Maybe editors don't think like that - but as a writer, I've sometimes had to put the book on hold in order to work on the blad, which somehow appears unannounced in the schedule demanding immediate attention. On the other hand, an attractive blad makes me enthusiastic about finishing the book, so it has its uses even for the writer. Seeing the blad is a little trial run for the thrill of seeing the book, and a useful spur when the going gets tough, or just dreary.

Not all books get a blad, and not all publishers use the word 'blad' even if they produce one. I rarely see blads for my books these days, which might mean there aren't any or it might mean I just don't see them. If a book is one of a series, there's likely to a blad for one title and just AIs (advance information sheets) for the other titles. Oops, I don't think we had an 'A' entry for AIs. Will add one!

The best blads I've had were produced by Dorling Kindersley. They were so luscious I felt we didn't really need to bother with the book. (But we did.)


Friday 7 January 2011

How to speak publisher - B is for Bologna

Sorry there was such a long Christmas break. It wasn't laziness, or even shopping, it was deadline crisis. The deadline was 4 Jan, which is a really Christmas-slaying deadline, and the book included a lot of quantum mechanics, which is a pretty Christmas-slaying topic. I was still editing at 10pm on the plane back from Africa on 3 Jan. Ah yes, a little bit of skiving in Africa.... And a little bit of research, but not for the same book.

But back to work.

Bologna is a delightful old city in Italy, but as far as publishers are concerned, Bologna is an event, a state of mind and a place that contains (a) their hotel (b) the conference halls where the International Children's Book Fair takes place each spring (c) the bars on Via Independenza where large quantities of gin can be consumed at low prices and (d) restaurants that are always full.

Bologna is also a euphemism or an excuse. It can mean 'I can't be arsed to look at your book' or 'I am too busy to talk to you' or it can mean 'please go away and forget you ever sent me that book'. You will find it used in phrases such as 'In the run-up to Bologna...', and 'When I get back from Bologna...', and 'Since Bologna...' The 'run-up to Bologna' starts in mid-November, as soon as the dust from Frankfurt is off the editor's feet. 'Since Bologna' lasts until June when the run-up to Frankfurt starts. I heard 'there's no time before Bologna' at a publisher's Christmas party last December. I think that's a record. (Bologna 2011 is in late March - three and a half months after the Christmas party.)

The Bologna International Children's Book Fair brings together publishers of children's books from around the world. There are so many that they lie
'thick as leaves that strow the brooks in Valambrosa'. Oh, no - sorry - that's the demons in Hell, isn't it? There are so many that they pack several halls and it's impossible to work round them all in a day. There is an illustrator's wall, where aspirant and established illustrators showcase their work, and there are publishers' stands (organised into the different halls by country) that stretch away to infinity.

Bologna is primarily for rights selling - that is, publishers buying and selling foreign rights to books already in print or in the process of being published. Don't go there as a writer hoping to hawk your unsold books around a bunch of publishers - it's not going to happen. If you really, really want to see a publisher at Bologna (perhaps because you don't live in the same country as they do) make an appointment before you go. If you just turn up on the stand, you're likely to get short shrift. There may not even be any editorial staff there, as some publishers consider editorial staff a bit of a liability and best left behind to push commas around and strop at authors. (During Bologna, editors left behind say 'I can't do anything about that, as everyone is in Bologna.')

I used to go to Bologna every other year. Then it moved to a time I couldn't manage (in school term time) and I haven't been since. I used to go and talk to publishers I already worked with. Actually, I went to drink copious quantities of gin and prosecco with publishers I already worked with. And to walk around and around the city looking for a restaurant that was not already full of publishing types.

Bologna is very depressing, in my experience. There are two outcomes:

1. Oh God, look at all these wonderful books, why does the world need any more? I'd better think of another job.

2. Oh God, look at all these terribly boring books, they're all the same. Is no-one publishing anything interesting any more? I'd better think of another job.

Still, if you want to go, here are some tips:

  • There is no such thing as a good flight to Bologna. I used to get the train from Venice. It's a nice train ride, and you can stay in Venice for a few days before/after.
  • Book early - especially hotels. Although it's easier to find a publisher to sleep with than to publish your books, you can't guarantee you will find one the night you need him/her and you don't want to be left with nowhere at all.
  • There is usually a long queue for the loos - don't wait until you are desperate.
  • There are never enough cafes/tables; take a picnic.
  • Don't think you can claim to be Italian and stand in the Italian-only queue to get in (it's cheaper). Unless you are fluent and have no accent (ie you are actually Italian), they rumble you. You do your little bit in Italian, they look you in the eye and say 'You're not really Italian, are you?'
  • It always rains; take an umbrella.
  • The bus back to Bologna railway station at the end of the day is very busy. Leave a bit early if you don't want to queue for ages. In the rain. Without the umbrella you forgot.
  • If you intend to eat out in the evening, book a table.
  • Take a map of the city. The back streets are dark and when you are completely gin-fuddled at midnight it can be hard to find your way back to your hotel.
  • Don't forget you can claim your trip to Bologna back against tax. Keep all your receipts.

I might go to Bologna this year, if I can get my Big Bint to look after my Small Bint for a few days. So if you're going, drop me a line and we can drink prosecco or gin in a bar on Independenza.