The man with the write an­swers

How do you get a book pub­lished? What does a pub­lisher look for in a book? How do you even write a book? Alex Clar­idge sought the an­swers from a Can­ter­bury man who oils every cog in the lit­er­ary wheel.

Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District - - Historical Decision -

James Essinger is au­thor, lit­er­ary agent and pub­lisher. As well as writ­ing books (his novel The Mat­ing Game about a sex-mad fe­male chess player was well­re­ceived), the 59-year-old sells books to the big pub­lish­ing houses through his Can­ter­bury Lit­er­ary Agency.

He also runs his own pub­lish­ing firm, the Con­rad Press, which is hold­ing its first ma­jor au­thor event at Water­stone’s in Rose Lane tonight (Thurs­day).

De­spite all this, James is the first to ad­mit that get­ting into print isn’t easy.

“A lit­er­ary agency is in busi­ness to sell books to pub­lish­ers, but the bot­tom line which as­pir­ing au­thors don’t al­ways un­der­stand is that this is a busi­ness,” James says.

“Pub­lish­ers are not there to grat­ify au­thors’ wishes and give the au­thor the plea­sure of be­ing pub­lished. They are in the busi­ness of mak­ing money and ul­ti­mately books are a con­sumer item – so there’s no point blam­ing a pub­lisher for, say, pub­lish­ing an in­fe­rior novel by a well­known TV per­son­al­ity be­cause that is go­ing to sell.

“Con­versely, when a nov­el­ist is un­known the pub­lisher has a very poor mo­ti­va­tion to pub­lish the book be­cause the fact is that most pub­lished nov­els are go­ing to sell at most a few thou­sand copies and that’s no good to a pub­lisher which has enor­mous over­heads.

“They need to pub­lish books that will sell in the tens or hun­dreds of thou­sands. This is why some pub­lish­ers only pub­lish books which they think are go­ing to be best­sellers.

“This is why they pub­lish well­known nov­el­ists from Amer­ica or why well-known nov­el­ists over here get their books pub­lished. How does a nov­el­ist be­come fa­mous? That’s one of the great mys­ter­ies of the in­dus­try.”

So where does this leave nov­el­ists who have writ­ten a very good book, but can’t per­suade a pub­lisher to take it up? Es­sen­tially, it leaves them un­pub­lished.

It was in part for this rea­son that James founded the Con­rad Press in 2015.

It al­lows him to ex­er­cise con­trol over the edi­to­rial and artis­tic process and to pub­lish books that oth­er­wise might not see the light of day. How­ever, I’m very dis­cern­ing about the books I take on,” he in­sists.

“Most books I re­ject and the very best ones I will try to sell di­rect to a pub­lisher. But those books which are very good and not taken up by a pub­lisher, I can pub­lish through the Con­rad Press.

“This isn’t self-pub­lish­ing. I think self-pub­lish­ing is a very bad idea. Peo­ple are of­ten disap- pointed by it and find that they can’t sell their books.

“The Con­rad Press is in­ter­ested in pub­lish­ing nov­els or nar­ra­tive non-fic­tion, books which tell a story.

“We want to pub­lish good sto­ries and I tell our writ­ers that their read­ers are their cus­tomers and they de­serve the best, they de­serve a good time.”

Among those whose books have been pub­lished by the Con­rad Press is the Ken­tish Gazette’s his­tory writer Paul Cramp­ton. James de­scribes his novel The Dream Mes­siah, about two very dif­fer­ent peo­ple who have dreams about one an­other, as “a very good book”.

Then there is A Loaded Gun, by re­tired Univer­sity of Kent English lec­turer Stu­art Hutchin­son, which is set dur­ing the 1984 Min­ers’ Strike.

The Baby Auc­tion, by univer­sity so­ci­ol­o­gist Peter Tay­lorGooby, delves into the faults of a mar­ket so­ci­ety.

And Pat Marsh, of the Can­ter­bury Green Party, has writ­ten The Scribe of the Soul, which is set in an­cient Greece.

So what sort of books are those most likely to get pub­lished?

“As far as a story is con­cerned, it’s got to be grip­ping and got to be about a hero or hero­ine fac­ing some ter­ri­ble prob­lem which they man­age to re­solve through their own ini­tia­tive,” James said.

“A com­mon prob­lem with in­ex­pe­ri­enced writ­ers is that he­roes or hero­ines tend to have things done to them rather than do­ing things them­selves. But the re­al­ity is that you want to feel like the hero has done some­thing for their suc­cess be­cause that’s our ex­pe­ri­ence of life.”

Con­rad Press writ­ers who have al­ready had nov­els pub­lished will be read­ing from them at Water­stone’s from 6pm. Visit the­con­rad­ for more in­for­ma­tion.

‘Pub­lish­ers are not there to grat­ify au­thors’ wishes and give the au­thor the plea­sure of be­ing pub­lished. They are in the busi­ness of mak­ing money’


Au­thor, pub­lisher and lit­er­ary agent James Essinger

Paul Cramp­ton with his lat­est book The Dream Mes­siah

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