Monday, 1 December 2008

End of a Chapter

Sharper readers might have noticed I haven't updated this blog over the last few weeks. That's not because I've been lazy, but because I've been in the process of leaving Portico Books.

You don't need to be a rocket scientist to work out the effects of the current economic situation on book publishers -- Portico Books has been particularly vulnerable because of its reliance on UK sales (humour, sport, popular culture, etc don't travel at the best of times). So the decision was taken to halve the list for next year (effectively, to publish the books already commissioned) and ergo, the wage bill too. As publisher, and hence on the higher wage, for me to stay on would have resulted in me working reduced hours, which because of family committments, was not really an option. So I have, sadly, decided to take the payout, and my chances elsewhere.

I've learnt a lot in my two years setting up and running Portico Books. But the thing that has really meant a lot is that I've had the opportunity to commission, publish and work with a bunch of extremely talented and creative writers. There is no better feeling than seeing an author into print for the first time, and I hope that I have helped discover a number of writers who will go on to bigger and better things. That's been the hardest part, really -- leaving such people behind, especially those whose books are still in the pipeline. But I know that in my editor, Malcolm, I am leaving them in extremely capable hands.

As for what I'll do next, well in the short term I'll put the kettle on. After that, at some stage I'll dust myself down and attempt to get back in the saddle. Once you've got publishing in your blood, it's extremely difficult to let go. So watch this space.

Monday, 20 October 2008

I See A Book

One of the latest Portico titles out is I See Modern Britain, a sharp and very funny take on those old spotter's guides that used to punctuate long motorway journeys with fruitless searches for war memorials (or maybe that was just me). If I was more tech minded, you'd be able to watch the book's jolly nice advert. As it is, you'll have to make do with clicking through to You Tube.

As part of the promotion of the book, we've been engaging in a bit of what is known as book crossing: letting various copies of the book out into the wild (or at the least the public transport systems of London and Edinburgh). My own contribution to this was rather mixed. Having casually left a copy on the tube seat next to me, a helpful member of the public ran after me to tell me I'd forgotten my book. Oh well -- I hope other people have had better luck in letting them loose. If you find one, let me know.

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Monty by the Sea

Things snapped on my mobile part one: while on holiday the week before last in sunny Southwold, my get away from it all break was interrupted by the fact that the town was Chateau Monty central, what with Adnams selling the wine in the UK. It's an interesting insight into the art of marking up. The first picture shows Monty's wine available in the Adnams store for £7.99 a bottle. The second picture, in the window of The Crown, around the corner from the Adnams store, offers a bottle of wine for £19.50. Now, if only there was a way to transfer that sales technique to publishing...

Spot the Book

It's always a funny time of year going into bookshops, what with the glut of new titles and the hope that yours won't be completely ignored. So a trip to a local Waterstone's was rewarded with the discovery of the not even released yet School Dinners on the 'First Floor Favourites' dump bin (it's the fuzzy brown one with the orange 3 for 2 sticker).

I didn't even have to hide the copies of Sod That and make Can't Be Arsed more prominent as I usually do (see blogs passim). I don't know whether that means the booksellers have seen sense, or if I've ground them down with my persistent display redesigns.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Sort of Super Thursday

Apparently, today is Super Thursday, with over 800 titles being released today, each hoping to find a spot in the Christmas top ten. Even with my bad maths, I can see that's 790 books that are going to be disappointed. And quite how your average bookseller is going to find space for so many new titles in one go, God only knows.

Anyway, last night was our annual Portico party, so I must confess to feeling a little less than super. It was a very nice occasion, as these things always are when there are lots of authors involved. The biggest difficulty as a publisher was trying to talk to everyone. That and making a speech, which is not my favourite activity in the world. For what it's worth, here is an edited version of what I had to say.

"Firstly, I’d like to say thank you all for coming to celebrate the last twelve months of life at Portico – and to say how nice it is to see so many faces I’ve worked with all in one room at the same time. There’s something rather decadent about a drinks party in the midst of the worst economic crisis for 60 years and I’m pleased to say there’s plenty more. As Alan Partridge once so rightly said, Titanic! Titanic! What everyone forgets is that there were 2000 miles of very pleasant sailing before it hit the iceberg.
It is currently all the rage to set up a quirky non-fiction imprint and I’m always happy to pioneer a trend. But Portico was there first, and in my not remotely biased opinion, is still the best. In reviews from just the last fortnight, we’ve had one fantastic, two brilliants and three hilariouses, And with many more wonderful books to be published in the coming weeks, we’re in a strong position for the Christmas season ahead.
So what is Portico Books about? If one of the big Anova successes for the year is the TV tie-in to Britain from Above, then Portico is perhaps best described as looking at the world with a sideways glance - looking at things differently, quizzically and satirically.
One of the strengths of Portico lies in its variety. Over the last year, I’ve been to the East End of London, to my first ever book launch come darts tournament. I’ve been to the Argentinian Embassy, to watch the world’s leading Tango dancers strut their two feet, quite literally two feet in front of me. I’ve been to the Victoria and Albert Museum, where I somehow found myself on a panel of the great and the good, discussing the future of publishing. I’ve been to the South of France, to see for myself a working organic and biodynamic vineyard in action. I’ve been to a cooking masterclass in Notting Hill to discover why watermelon and feta cheese are unlikely but delicious bedfellows. And had I not given up free tickets to some head office buyer who then couldn’t be arsed to turn up, I’d have watched Have I Got News For You being filmed as well.
But don’t just take my word for the quality of the list. Take the words of Adrian Chiles, Boris Johnson, Paul Merton, Emma Thompson, Indra Sinha, Harry Pearson, John O’Farrell, Alan Titchmarsh, David Crystal and many others who have been kind enough to endorse the books we have published this year. Take the words of the newspapers and magazines who have given us so many glowing reviews, some of which you can see on the projection in the corner. The Portico class of 2008 is a classy list, and each and every book deserves a place on any discerning bookshelf.
I’d like to thank you the authors on the Portico list – those who have already been published, and those who we are publishing in the years to come. What makes publishing so enjoyable is the opportunity to work with rare and talented individuals, and at Portico, we are fortunate to work with a collection of such writers – each experts in their own fields, who write with wit, warmth and insight. It’s a great honour to be given someone’s work to publish, and we remain hugely touched that you have entrusted your writing with us.
Your spark of creativity and gift for good writing is what all publishing is based on – without it, agents wouldn’t have books to agent, editors wouldn’t have any books to edit, and sales wouldn’t have books to sell. I’d like to finish with a favourite joke of mine, from Woody Allen’s Annie Hall, ‘Doc, my brother’s crazy. He thinks he’s a chicken.’ And the doctor says, ‘Well, why don’t you turn him in?’ And the guy says, ‘I would, but I need the eggs.’ And so what I’d like to say to all the authors in the room, please keep writing, because, well, the rest of us need the eggs."

Friday, 19 September 2008

What is an Ass Hat?

One of our Christmas titles, Can't Be Arsed has been getting lots of coverage this week with extracts in the Sun, the Daily Mail, and Times Online. Richard Wilson's suggestions of things not to do before you die has been rousing the bloggers from their slumbers. On the Sun site, Maytheforcebewithyou, offers the thoughtful suggestion that 'most other countries are shit'. On the Times site, Carolyn from Sydney writes 'Richard Wilson is like that naughty kid with a stick, poking it into the ants nest.' But my favourite is the discussion that has popped up on American website Fark, whose contributors broadly missed the humour in Richard's choice of books he can't be bothered to read. Out of the 400+ opinions posted so far, my favourites include Numsix's comment that 'Don't read 'The Iliad' ? What are you, stupid? The Iliad kicks ass' and Cythraul suggestion 'this guy sounds like an Ass-Hat'. Nope, I don't know what an Ass-hat is either, but I'm guessing he might not be asking for the book for Christmas.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008


Last Friday was a company away day, where in the spirit of team bonding, various challenges were set including duck herding (and lots of inevitable keeping your ducks in line jokes). But perhaps the most fun was an unscheduled match of football, which as you can see from the photo, was taken extremely seriously, with Katie Cowan, publisher of Collins and Brown very much playing the man, not the ball. My bruises are still healing, but at least I've learnt why her authors deliver on time...