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.
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 Essentially, it leaves them unpublished.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 theconradpress.com 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