They’ll Never Read That: How to make mistakes in publishing by Tony Collins

Former publisher now turned literary agent, Tony Collins, has worked for Hodder & Stoughton, Kingsway, Monarch, Lion Hudson and SPCK( one of the oldest publishers established in the 17th century). Over the course of his career he has published at least 1,400 books, and owned three magazines. He is also the recipient of a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Association of Christian Writers.

 I asked Tony how he first got into publishing. He said: “I had no intention of being a publisher. An environmentalist since my teens, I originally secured a place to do an MA at Nottingham University in Town Planning.

About a third of the way through the course, however, I concluded I was not cut out for the amount of computing necessary. I was also the only arts graduate on the course, and really needed more economics than I could muster.

I needed a new option, and the warmer and more engaging world of books beckoned. Naively I wrote around to every major British publisher of Christian books, offering my services. Most didn’t reply – I had not appreciated that editors do not walk in off the street – but Edward England, director of religious publishing at Hodder & Stoughton, and at that point the leading publisher of Christian books in Britain, rang me one morning. His assistant had just resigned abruptly, and after an interview he gave me a job for six weeks, then six months, then a year, and finally offered me a contract.”

He went on to tell me, “That first week in the Hodder offices still stands out. I didn’t have a clue. I could not type, had no idea how a book came together and had never visited a printing company. The editor in a publishing company is a generalist, who needs to know not just how grammar works and how to write coherent English, but also requires a nodding acquaintance with the work of other departments: the finances of publishing; the essentials of publishing contracts; the basics of book and cover design; the processes of sales and distribution. Beyond that, they need to have a good idea of what makes a book take flight, and capture the imagination of readers.

The first and most urgent task was to learn to type, since Edward expected me to handle my share of the flood of letters which poured in every morning. Bravely, and cheekily, I asked the company to pay for me to attend a three-week evening course in touch typing. This proved one of the most useful skills I ever acquired.”

As the title of the book suggests, Tony made a few mistakes in his early days of publishing. I asked him to recount one of these to me.

He said: “One of my earliest big errors came from an excess of enthusiasm. Three weeks after I arrived at Hodders, Edward departed for a fortnight to visit publishers in the States. He left me in charge. ‘Dictate your letters to my secretary, Mrs Hunt,’ he instructed. ‘Turn everything down. I want to find a clear desk when I get back.’

Mrs Hunt – a formidable lady, with a wig that occasionally slipped sideways – thought less than nothing of this arrangement, and challenged every sentence and decision. Gradually we reached an accommodation.

All went well until the day a typescript arrived from Canada. I loved it. The author was positive, witty, erudite, imaginative. I showed it to Mrs Hunt, who agreed. I wrote eagerly back, explaining that I didn’t have the authority to accept the book, but the signs were promising.

On his return Edward scanned the carbon copies, and half an hour later appeared at my desk, my letter ripped from the stack and stapled to the typescript. ‘Not a chance,’ he informed me. ‘He’s not a Christian, in the sense our market will understand. Canada’s a tricky sales area. The quotations alone will cost a fortune. You did exactly what I told you not to do. Turn it down.’

Gulping and red-faced I set to work to write a further letter, explaining I had been mistaken.

A week after Edward’s return I got a call from reception. The Canadian author had been so pleased by my response that he had booked a flight from Toronto, and was now downstairs. My second letter hadn’t arrived in time.

Edward had no sympathy. ‘You’ll just have to go and tell him,’ he grinned, when I burst in panic through his door.

The elderly gentleman listed in dignified silence as I garbled an incoherent confession. He nodded, thanked me, put on his coat and hat, and left.”

As well as making a few mistakes, Tony has clearly had a lot of success as a publisher too regarding the large number of book he has published. I asked him what constituted a bestseller.

He said: “You can’t, of course, or publishers would be inordinately wealthy. You can hedge your bets by careful assessment and judicious questions: does this author have a platform? Do they know their stuff? Is the authorial voice engaging? Will they get behind it? What else is on the market? Does anyone care about the topic? Is the book too short, too long? Will it have a respectable shelf life, or is its appeal ephemeral? Are the title and subtitle likely to hang in the mind?

Beyond all these questions, there is gut instinct. Misplaced enthusiasm has ruined many a publisher, but sometimes the heart needs to be heard. There is a place in publishing for the rank outsider. For such a book to be published, some commissioning editor has put her or his career on the line.”

For more interesting and enlightening stories from the world of publishing,  this book is well worth a read. ‘They’ll never read that’ follows Tony’s journey in publishing through the various different publishers and life choices he makes, some for personal reasons. Not only is the book an engaging read but it also a useful read for any budding author who wants to learn something about the world of publishing and just what a publisher is looking for.

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Easter Blessings

Wishing all my friends, family and followers a very Happy and Blessed Easter in remembering the reason for the season – Easter eggs, Hot Cross Buns, Family and Fun but most importantly, Jesus. Because he died we have a new life in him. My friend and fellow writer, Joy has written an Easter poem which I would like to share with you.

Gethsemane
To remain, stay awake and pray
these are the tasks
assigned to the disciples

and to us, 
as well, even now,
as we face our own battles.

Yet we brag, big ourselves up
and anticipate greatness
from souls of dust,

or we cringe and creep
because we feel
like worms without worth.

But God knows the state of us
all too well,
and he grants us the grace

to have a fresh start
if we're willing
to ask for his help.

Jesus sought to support himself
but found his friends
deeply lacking

in their ability to keep alert,
to pray faithfully
and to stay awake.

In the depths of his humanity
he identified
completely with you and me,

and still he gives
us grace when we mess up
because he knows
just what we are made of. 

© Joy Lenton

Joy has also just published a book of her poems written around the seasons. It is called ‘Sacred Noticing.

She uses the strong imagery demonstrated in her poetry to connect with nature and her faith in God. Each section or season in the book is illustrated like the cover above, with bold, colourful plates. I enjoyed reading this book which has enabled me to connect better with the natural world and see it as a pointer to the divine creator. Joy’s book can be found on Amazon by the link below.

Amazon.co.uk : Sacred Noticing by Joy Lenton

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Jane Austen, Women Writers – Fame, Faith and Influence

Me at Jane Austen’s House, Chawton, Hampshire

A few years ago, pre-pandemic, my husband, Angus and I, made a day’s trip to Hampshire to visit Jane Austen’s House, something I had wanted to do for years being a great lover of her novels. It didn’t disappoint. It still stands out in my memory as one of the best days ever.

Recently, I took a virtual tour of Jane’s house in Chawton. This was a much easier prospect in that it didn’t mean a long car journey and, as we now have a dog, it would mean finding a convenient dog-sitter too, so much more complicated. I can also say that I learnt a lot more on the virtual tour too. The two ladies who took it, were a fount of knowledge about Jane and her family and it was an hour well spent.

During the tour, they mentioned the influences on Jane’s writing. Both Fanny Burney and Mrs Gaskell were very popular novelists at that time and Jane is known to have read and enjoyed their books and been influenced by them. This led me to thinking about an article I read recently about women writers, popular in their day, but now largely fallen into obscurity.

There was the prolific Scottish writer, Annie Shepherd Swan (1859 -1943), who was made a CBE in 1930, for her services to literature. Then, Zora Neale Hurston, a black American writer (1891-1960), who influenced poet, Maya Angelou, and novelists, Tony Morrison and Alice Walker. Or Irish writer, Molly Keane (1904-1996), who was shortlisted for the 1981 Booker Prize for her unpublished manuscript ‘Good Behaviour’ – I’m not sure if it still remains unpublished! This brings me back to novelist, Elizabeth Jenkins (1905-2010) who was awarded an OBE in 1981 for her novel, ‘The Tortoise and the Hare’. She was also instrumental in restoring Jane Austen’s house in Chawton and in founding the Jane Austen society. Perhaps Jane owes as much if not more to her than Fanny Burney and Mrs Gaskell, at least for keeping Jane’s own influence and popularity alive.

This got me to thinking of why I write. At one time, as a bit of a loner as a child and bullied at school I always told myself that one day I would be famous and then those who had rejected me would be sorry. Now, as I approach my senior years, I’m not so sure I want to court fame. One writer who is fairly well-known, told me that she spends a lot of time away from home speaking at various literary festivals. That sounds like hard work to me. As I get older I realise that I want a quiet life. No, I don’t expect my two books, Alpha Male or Waireka, to make me famous or be that popular, or my many articles. What I do hope in the case of Alpha Male, (available on Amazon UK, Amazon US, and select local bookshops), is by explaining what an Alpha Course is through the story, that I might hope to lead someone to explore the Christian faith by reading it and perhaps commit to following it.

My second book, Waireka, is more of a retelling of the story of my ancestor, through the eyes of my character, Eliza, who travels from Scotland in the nineteenth century as an early pioneer to New Zealand. I hope that the Christian faith of Eliza shines through the tough challenges and trials of her life.

Both these books are available through me if you visit my website at http://www.journojohnson.com

I hope by both of these books and my various articles and contributions, to challenge and influence my readers. Maybe one of those I influence may even be the next Jane Austen. Who knows?

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Family Celebrations Part 2

As promised here is part two of the celebrations. A day of many adventures and material for a great story. The couple looked lovely with beautifully matching outfits.

The happy couple

Being just 4 of us, myself, my husband and the couple a different more cosy room was offered us in the hotel, the Earl of Warwick’s room (not sure where he went). Unfortunately, my other son and his wife, were stuck in the US with Covid and Ruby – mother, mother-in-law and granny – was suffering from a very bad cold, so 7 became 4, with a promised re-match.

My daughter-in-law, Mafalda, would have worn her necklace with this superb dress but couldn’t get it out of the safe and a locksmith was called by the hotel. As a result of this inconvenience both our champagne and wine were given free of charge. We had just begun our meal with no sign of the safe cracker when we were informed by the manager that he had suffered a car accident on the way and so would be even later!

The meal finished we set off for a long walk down the drive and into the town centre of Tewkesbury.

View over Tewkesbury from the hotel

On the way I caught my foot and had a tumble. Fortunately, nothing more than a banged knee and a slightly pulled shoulder. On into town for a good walk and to view the flood waters, then back for tea with the cake we had brought with us. It was lovely and supposed to be gluten free but the lady making it forgot and so she made an additional 12 cakes for me – not that I needed so many.

A little after tea we decided to enjoy the facilities of a heated indoor swimming pool, spa and sauna, and very lovely they were too. However, we had not long been back at my son and his wife’s room to change when the lights all went out. A power cut at the hotel and over 400 surrounding houses! Although we drove them into town for a meal we were later informed that the power was still off the following morning and the hotel had reverted to its own generator for power until the following day! At least my son and his new wife got that night free of charge but didn’t want to enjoy the cold swimming pool.

You really couldn’t make up such an adventure. A lot of catastrophises and a lot of freebies!!

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Family Celebrations

Apologies for the longer than usual silence from me. February has been a rather busy month of family celebrations for me and the time has just flown by. But I wanted to share a few of these special moment with you, my followers.

Our family with Bella the dog

In these photographs we have been celebrating the engagement of my oldest son, Adam to his partner, Mafalda. What a happy time for all, including Bella, our puppy.

Wedding Day celebrations with our friends

In this picture my husband Angus and myself are celebrating the actual wedding day, yesterday, palindromic day! Two sons married in the one month. The other, my youngest, Luke was married in the US four years ago on 17 February, to the lovely, Kelsey, obviously our marriage month. Two out of two married!! This weekend we hope to be celebrating with them again with a special meal. More photos to come. Watch this space …

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Waitangi Day Celebrations

Waitangi Day is celebrated as a national holiday in New Zealand to celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi on 6 February 1840. The treaty was originally signed at Waitangi House in the Bay of Islands, north of the North Island. Over 540 of the indigenous tribal chiefs signed the treaty which gave Britain sovereignty over the islands of New Zealand. Even at the time this was controversial as not all the chiefs signed it and it led to the British seizing Maori lands which they claimed they would compensate the Maoris for, but often never did.

The first Waitangi Day was celebrated in 1934 but it wasn’t until 1974 when the day become a pubic holiday. From the mid-1950’s, as a form of apology to the Maori people, a Maori cultural performance was included as part of the ceremony. This year in 2022, the public holiday will be celebrated on Sunday 6 February and Monday 7 February.

The New Zealand Flag

There is a mention of this treaty in my book, Waireka, a historical novel set in the mid-1850’s, just ten years after the original signing took place.

“They walked along exchanging a few pleasantries about the weather until the Reverend asked, ‘What about little Henry and Maria, Eliza, do you think they’re settling in?’

‘Oh yes, Sir, I think so,’ she replied. She began to tell the Reverend about what they had learnt about the new country and how Henry had been particularly interested in the signing of the Waitangi treaty.”(Waireka, Chapter 3 p63)

If you would like to learn more about the early history of New Zealand through the eyes of a fictional dairying family, please get in touch with me by visiting my website at www.journojohnson.com

The book is based on the story of my great uncle’s story.

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Memories

Shirley’s special smile

Most of us have heard of the expression ‘laugh and the world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.’ 2021 has been a difficult year for many, perhaps worse than the previous one. I know it was for my family. Nine people we knew, some of them very well, died during the year. Shirley above, died in December and I will be going to her funeral on 12 January. I really want to go to say ‘Thank you’ to her, even though the funeral is at a distance. Shirley died aged 91, full of years and full of faith. She and her husband, Gerald (who had died some years earlier) were like my Christian parents, supporting, encouraging and believing in me. For that reason alone I will miss her greatly, although the last five years or so the real Shirley had been buried by the terrible disease of dementia. But I don’t believe her faith ever left her, or indeed her smile.

Shirley hadn’t had an easy life to make her smile. A child of WW2 blitz, she lived through many awful bombings in Liverpool. She married Gerald but they remained childless as a couple after Shirley suffered several miscarriages, they also had Shirley’s mother living with them for the first years of their marriage. Gerald, an engineer, later used his skills in missionary work, joining Operation Mobilisation, they ran their bookshop in South London, which is where I met them.

A typical jaunty Liverpudlian, Shirley could always find the fun in every situation. I remember the time when a lady came into the bookshop looking for Catholic ‘mass’ cards, except I heard ‘mouse’, and proceeded to show her every card in the shop that depicted mice, with Shirley cackling away in the background. A church notice given out in an unfortunate way, such as, Morning service: Preparing for marriage, Evening service: ‘A look at Hell: would mean Shirley had to leave the church before she exploded with laughter! Even if she fell or tripped in later years, Shirley was still able to laugh at herself.

Gerald and Shirley, in working for a missionary organisation, lived a simple life. They never travelled very far or owned very much, but they were content, and took a lot of pleasure in the simple things. For Shirley, this was beautiful skies. She would always comment in her strong Liverpudlian accent – ‘Just look at the sky’.

In remembering Shirley I will try and look upward through my tears and smile. Our loss here on earth is definitely heaven’s gain. Bless you and thank you, Shirley and Gerald.

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I would like to wish all my followers, friends and family every blessing for the Christmas season and for 2022

May you have as much joy and happiness as we did with our early Christmas celebrations.

Bless you all. Thanks for the follow and for buying my books this year.

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Graduation

It has taken me 63 years to finally get to that graduation ceremony but for all the wait, it didn’t disappoint. Our local racecourse was a great venue with plenty of scope for good photographs along with a lovely, sunny mid-November day.

I was at the racecourse to receive my post graduate certificate in Creative and Critical Writing, the first part of a MA course. I had already passed my first degree in English and Theology some years ago, to be followed by a journalism diploma just over 20 years ago but for the first I was out of the country for the ceremony and for the second there wasn’t one. So, having attended both of my boys graduation ceremonies it was now their mother’s turn! Fortunately, my oldest boy, Adam, was able to take a day off work and join myself and my husband, Angus, which was a lovely surprise. It felt odd this time for me to be the centre of attention and to celebrate with some of the other youngsters on my course.

Plenty of celebration and hat throwing was had by all.

Will the experience make me a better writer? I hope it may, especially helping me to write more clearly and concisely and paying more attention to grammar and punctuation – important considerations on the course.

I wish I had been able to spend more time on campus, of course, many of the lectures had to be online due to Covid. However, it did give me a much needed focus for my writing during lockdown when I know many other writers struggled to find that. All in all, I’m so glad I did the course and I do feel a certain amount of achievement.

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Shakespeare’s Clock by Jan Moran Neil

The title of this book, Shakespeare’s Clock, by Jan Moran Neil is very intriguing, drawing the reader in. Time certainly plays a very important role in this psychological thriller of intrigue and mystery, as the author skilfully switches the action between the present day and back into the sixties school room.

The action initially starts with the meet up of Jayne Thornhill and Shelley Witherington just before Christmas in 2005. We learn that they have been at the same school together but haven’t seen one another for years. The reader views everything that happens in the story through the different viewpoints and perspectives of Jayne and Shelley, as the story weaves itself through the different time zones.

The main events of the story take place in the late 1960’s. This makes interesting reading for those of us who can remember school back then, but perhaps may also be of interest to other readers from a historical perspective, with the events both being played out and explored in this particular time frame. Patricia seems to be allowed to get away with her bullying behaviour, as often happened in those days, and the sexist way in which the boys relate to the girls, and the behaviour of the teaching staff are typical examples of their era.

Although the story is told from the two perspectives of Jayne and Shelley, we get a very strong picture of the dominant character and bully, Patricia, and how her behaviour affects not only herself but the entire group of friends; Shelley, Jayne and Rachel as well as the boys, Danny, Benji and Paul. This impact will affect the group of friends not just at the time, but continue to impact their lives into the future, as a cloud of sadness unites them across the years.

Jan Moran Neil trained at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama and the National Youth Theatre. She spent many years in the professional theatre before founding Creative Ink for Writers and Actors. Her plays have been widely performed. Her short story, ‘Death by Pythagorus’ was broadcast on Radio 4 and her sonnet, ‘Silver Surfing’ published by the Royal Society of Literature. Jan has a Masters Degree in Creative Writing from the University of Cambridge and is available for readings from her collections and novels. www.janmoranneil.co.uk

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