Tuesday, July 19, 2005

Susan Hill and Long Barn Books

On 7 July I mentioned the English writer Susan Hill and her small publishing company, Long Barn Books. I subsequently came across a few more facts which deserve a wider circulation.

First of all, I failed to mention that two of Susan's books are currently set books for students taking various GCSE and A level English and Drama examinations. This no doubt means a welcome boost in sales and therefore royalties, but Susan points out to me that it also brings considerable burdens in the way of email correspondence.

At peak times, i.e. October/November, and then when the students are really panicking, in March-May, Susan gets 200 emails a week. All her correspondents, Susan says, 'want me to do their coursework/write their essays/answer the exam questions in advance/give them the magic formula for getting an A grade.'

What is depressing to Susan is how badly many of these students have been taught. Well, me too. I wrote about this at some length, nearly a year ago, in my post about English as she is tort. And things will not have improved much since. Got worse, if anything.

I have no doubt that Susan gives her student correspondents as much help as she can, bearing in mind her many other commitments. She tells me that she just hopes that they don't end up thinking that she wrote the books solely so that people could take exams on them. What is more, she hopes that they will continue reading after the exams are over. So do we all, but there are many competitors for young people's time and attention.

I think it is also necessary to give a bit more attention to Long Barn Books, the small publishing firm which Susan set up in 1997.

You may recall that I mentioned that Long Barn Books has decided to start publishing fiction, albeit on a very small scale, and has invited submissions. The object is to select one or two mss for publication.

Well, folks, so far there have been 569 mss sent in, so as usual you're fighting the odds. Half the world, says Susan, wants nothing more than to have a novel published; the other half wants nothing more than something to eat.

Anyone who has ever sat down to sift through a pile of 50 anything, such as job applications, will know that pretty soon your eyes begin to blur over. You realise that if you give each one its due amount of attention you will be occupied for a week if not for several months. So you begin to apply some pretty ruthless criteria for whittling the list down to a manageable number.

Sorry, but that's the way it is. No one, not even the Archangel in charge of submissions to the Lord Almighty, will read every word of your masterpiece.

For those who think publishing is easy, Susan points out that she not only puts up the money and takes the risk, but runs the entire operation single-handed. She uses freelance designers, as most publishers do, but she does all the packing and despatch herself. This is on top of writing a few books occasionally, doing a Master's degree, and looking after a family.

It's a great life being a writer. If you don't weaken.

Susan's latest book, by the way, is just out in hardback. Its title is The Pure in Heart, and the early readers on Amazon think it's terrific. The Pure in Heart is the second in a trilogy of crime novels featuring Detective Chief Inspector Simon Serrailler. The first of the three books, The Various Haunts of Men, was published in paperback on the same day. All three books have been bought for TV by Bentley Productions, makers of the Midsomer Murders and Judge John Deed series.


Anonymous said...

Interesting. From recruitment experience, I'd say you have a matter of seconds to impress a publisher or agent. Opening lines of the query and the mss are crucial.

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Unknown said...

If her decisions for publications are anywhere near as good as her own writing, this must be a celebrated company !
I just had the pleasure of reading “The Woman in black” over Christmas for the first time - I am still shaken by it but full of immense admiration for such writing.