Writing is a journey, both imaginary and physical. My first book took me to the Arctic to 'catch the colours' of the Northern Lights. Then I hunkered down to catch the wind-blown voices of polar explorers on Shackleton's 1914-17 Endurance expedition. More recently I'm obsessed by space: the race, the rockets, the final frontier.

Hear a BBC Radio Leicester interview about my space poetry at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p03wfpyp
Explore my digital narrrative PHILAE'S BOOK OF HOURS, published by the European Space Agency, at:

My prose-poetry collections FIREBRIDGE TO SKYSHORE
and MAD, HOPELESS & POSSIBLE are both published by Original Plus Press at:

Contact me for signed copies or bookings at:

Visit the writers' development service I co-run at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

About Me

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Leicester, East Midlands
As a storyteller, my work crosses boundaries of myth, science, history and spoken word. It has been presented in the British Science Museum, Ledbury Poetry Festival, National Space Centre and the European Space Agency website. In 2014 I ran a digital residency on WW1 for 14-18NOW and Writing East Midlands. I teach Creative Writing at De Montfort University and have experience of leading school events, workshop tuition and mentoring. In addition, I co-run The Writers' Shed, a service for writers, at: https://www.facebook.com/TheWritersShed/

Tuesday, 10 November 2009

Small-Press Sums for Shelf-Life

Another Monday evening at the Writing School's course on New Ways with Writing. When I arrive, the room is already buzzing with the tense energy of Ross Bradshaw pacing the room and gathering his thoughts. Ross is the force behind Five Leaves Press, an small press based in Nottingham, as well as organiser of the Lowdham Book Festival. He was here to open our eyes to the somewhat harsh realities of Independent Publishing but also the unique opportunities it offers to writers.

He began with sums. If a book has the cover price of £10, how much goes to the author? Who else has to get paid out of that? How much to the bookshop? What about distribution? We squirmed and struggled to pluck figures out of the air, making half-informed guesses with no option to phone a friend. 75p is the answer to the author's share - some of which might go to an agent. A whopping 50% to the bookshop. And if they're lucky, a measly 50p to the publisher, out of which they have to pay all their staff, premises, running costs etc. Although the maths made my head hurt, his lesson on the brutal economics of publishing today was unforgettable.

So Ross's talk renewed my respect for the hard slog and dedication of the small publisher, running on knife-edge margins. This includes my own publisher, Original Press - which like 49% of independent publishers is a one-person company. It's snippets like this that came thick and fast from Ross. And it's why getting to hear somebody with so much industry knowledge is invaluable for writers learning their trade. For trade it is. Published writers can go out of print very quickly if their books aren't shifting enough copies. Why? Because 'land is expensive' so keeping stock sitting in warehouses isn't an option.

The good news is 'Independents care what happens to writers'. They can revive careers with reissues - bringing a writer 'back to shelf-life' . They can discover new writers who go on to launch careers with the mainstream press. Small Press publishers are consistently more prepared to take risks on material they believe in. This is why publishers like Tindal Street Press or Canongate end up with authors on the Booker lists, for instance. The Independents also have more commitment to communities of readers. So the list of Five Leaves' celebrates the literature of Nottinghamshire, both past and present.

We moved on to new developments such as the arrival of Print on Demand. This is great news for writers as it becomes economical to bring back books that went out of print or to produce small print runs for books that won't sell like Jordan's latest autobiography. E-readers were also discussed. I was amazed to learn that Amazon US already makes more money from e-books than paper books. Ross predicted that the future for bookselling lay with the Grey Pound, especially women. We are the generation with a culture of buying and reading books.

It was a very wide-ranging survey of the publishing landscape from a real insider. You might like to dip into Ross' blogs on the Literature Network or Five Leaves websites. I particularly enjoyed the editorial meeting on swearing ...


  1. What a responsibility. Being a grey reader and a female one at that I feel the weight of the future of book buying and reading pressing upon my aged shoulders.
    Ross was certainly a man packed with information about the publishing world. Thanks for yet another comprehensive review.

  2. Never trust a man with dodgy statistics. Where did I get that 49% of independent publishers are one person business from? I find that I made it up. Checking where it might have come from I find the write up of the Independent Publishers' Guild conference in 2006 where it was announced that 59% of independent publishers only employ between one and four people. Not the same as what I misquoted. BUT I would question whether the IPG survey reached the many one person publishers who have less direct organisational involvement with book trade organisations. So the figure of 49% should be ignored, but it might be even more than quoted.
    As for that tense energy... God, must cut out the caffiene. Thanks for the other comments!

  3. Ah - you litle knew you would be quoted .. Thanks for the update, Ross. I'll amend that when I get a chance.