11 June 2013 - MICHAEL HANRAHAN - Guest Publisher


MICHAEL HANRAHAN

- Guest Publisher -


G'day guys,

Today I welcome my first guest publisher - Michael Hanrahan from Rough Draft.  Rough Draft is a small Australian publisher, started in 2011.
 
Michael is assisted at Rough Draft by Anna Clemann, who holds a degree in Journalism and Literature as well as a Graduate Diploma in Public Relations, and has bookshop experience. Michael is often hindered at Rough Draft by a cat and a dog who both have Masters Degrees in Getting in the Way While People Are Trying to Work.


By the way, Michael gave me a book review some time back. You can read it at 'Book Reviews' above. He also rejected one of my manuscripts. So, I'm glad he's been willing to be interviewed by me.

Welcome, Michael ...



TELL US A LITTLE ABOUT YOURSELF AND YOUR BOOK PUBLISHING JOURNEY.

My father was a writer so I grew up around books and publishing, so it’s not really a surprise where I ended up. I did a writing and editing degree at university with the aim of becoming a writer, but during the course I really enjoyed editing, and it’s also a more reliable way to pay the bills, so my first job in publishing was as an editor. I started at a small publishing company, which was then taken over by a large publishing company, and then I freelanced for eight years. So, I’ve seen the business from all angles.



WERE YOU A GOOD READER AS A KID?

I read a lot as a kid, mostly sci fi. I loved Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke, Greg Bear and Ursula Le Guin. I have a huge collection of Asimov and Clarke books built up over the years, mostly from second-hand book stores.


WHEN AND HOW DID YOU BECOME A PUBLISHER?
I’ve been a publisher for two years, but I decided that’s what I wanted to do many years ago. My first job in publishing was at a small publisher, and after only a few months there I learned you can start a publishing business on a very small budget.

Before starting Rough Draft I’d been a managing editor at John Wiley & Sons, working very closely with the publisher, so that was great preparation. In 2011 my partner, who is a photographer, was working on a book with a couple of other photographers and they were looking for a publisher, so that seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to start!


WHY A PUBLISHER?
I like being involved with a book from start to finish. As a publisher you are involved in every aspect of a book, from choosing which books to publish, to developing the manuscript, to editing, layout, design and printing. And then you also get involved in publicity as well.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT BEING A PUBLISHER?
Two things: working with great authors, and receiving the printed books. You get to meet all sorts of really interesting people in publishing, which is one of the reasons I enjoy it. And, even after working in publishing for 15 years, I still get excited when a book comes in from the printer. I think if there ever comes a day when that doesn’t excite me it will be time to go and do something else.

WHAT IS THE HARDEST THING ABOUT YOUR JOB?
Balancing business decisions with excitement about a book. Sometimes you get really passionate about a manuscript but you’re just not confident it will sell enough copies to be viable. I had a beautiful travel photography book about a year ago that we were looking at doing. This guy is an editor at Australian Photography and his book was stunning. But when we did our research we weren’t confident we could sell enough copies because the production costs are so high for photography books, so we didn’t publish it.

WHAT WERE YOU IN A PAST LIFE, BEFORE YOU BECAME A PUBLISHER?
A writer. Like many publishes and editors I do some writing on and off. I’d like to have more time to do so but it’s not going to happen any time soon.

HOW MANY BOOKS HAVE YOU PUBLISHED?
Three so far, with one more later this year and three more we’re in discussions about for 2014.


WHAT ARE YOU READING AT THE MOMENT?
I just finished The Plague by Albert Camus. It was as good as advertised. Next on the list I think is What the Family Needed by Steven Amsterdam. I loved his last book so I’m looking forward to it.

WHAT INSPIRES YOU AS A PUBLISHER?
Great books. My aim when I hang up my boots in 10 (or 20) years is to look back at every single Rough Draft book and to be proud of each one.

DO YOU PREFER TO PUBLISH A PARTICULAR GENRE? WHY?
Nope. We’re a general trade publisher. It goes against all advice for starting a small publishing company, but that’s what I wanted to do so that’s what we’re doing. Specialising in a particular genre would make life a bit easier in many ways, but if you don’t do something how you want to do it then what’s the point?

DO YOU HAVE ANY TIPS FOR NEW WRITERS?
Yes! Here’s a few things I think new writers need to think about:
·       Follow submission guidelines! All good publishers have submission guidelines on their websites and they are there for a reason. We clearly ask for hard copy submissions, but I’m still surprised how often they come in over email. If you do that they go straight to the bottom of the pile.
·       Submit your best work. I had a submission recently for which the cover letter explained that she was still in the editing process but she was keen to send it in so she did! Publishers don’t want to see your almost finished work, they want to see your best work.  It’s very difficult to be accepted – don’t send anything that ain’t ready. It’s not a publisher’s role to provide feedback or help you edit your book. There are many good services out there to help you with that. Take advantage of them before you submit.
·       Related to the above two points, publishers are looking at you as much as your book. If you can’t follow guidelines and can’t finish your book before submitting it, you’re not doing a great job of selling yourself to the publisher.
·       Be persistent! Writing is a tough gig. If you’re made of jelly you’re not going to last long.

DO YOU HAVE A FAVOURITE PLACE TO WORK?
We moved house recently, and now we have a beautiful study with trees all around, a fire place and a cat and a dog who sit with us all day. It doesn’t get much better.


WHAT IS YOUR GREATEST JOY IN PUBLISHING A MANUSCRIPT?
Getting the most out of what the author wrote. First-time authors especially are surprised at how much work their book still needed, and how much input from a publisher and editor can help. A big part of being a publisher is being able to envisage what the finished book will be.

WHO IS YOUR FAVOURITE ALL TIME AUTHOR. WHY?
Hard to pick, but I’d have to say Asimov because he taught me to love reading and books. Very close second would be Peter Carey.

WHAT’S THE GREATEST COMPLIMENT YOU EVER RECEIVED FROM AN AUTHOR?
My favourite comment from authors is that they thought their book was good but they didn’t realise how good it could be until we’d worked on it.

WHAT WAS THE WORST COMMENT FROM AN AUTHOR?
As a freelance editor I once worked with an author who, after I sent him his first set of proofs, wrote me an irate email and rang the publisher and criticised me and said I’d done a horrible job. But after a few days of looking through what I’d done, he rang the publisher and apologised and said I’d done a great job. He was a first-time author and I don’t think he knew what it meant to have his work edited. The publisher also rang me and apologised because it’s the publisher’s job to manage the author. There was a lot of apologising.

DO SOME OF YOUR AUTHORS FRUSTRATE YOU?
Nope! I’ve been doing this for a long time so I know how the process works. Authors can become very concerned about changes you want to make to their books, but that’s because they’ve been working on it for ages and they’re a bit attached to it. Nine times out of ten when you make the change they ring you up and say, ‘That’s great! Why didn’t I think of that!’ After that they start to trust you more.

WRITERS ARE SOMETIMES INFLUENCED BY THINGS THAT HAPPEN IN THEIR OWN LIVES. ARE YOU AS A PUBLISHER?
Not specifically, I don’t think. Writers are creating new material so they need inspiration, but we’re assessing material that people bring to us, so it’s not the same process.

OTHER THAN PUBLISHING, WHAT ELSE DO YOU LOVE?
I spend a lot of time with my cat and my dog, and I’m close to my family so I see them a lot. In my spare time (it happens occasionally) I read, play basketball and ride my motorbike.

DO YOU ALSO WRITE?
Yes, though not as much as I’d like. I’m always coming up with ideas for novels, but the only writing I do at the moment is when somebody else pays me to write something for them.


ARE SOME MANUSCRIPTS DIFFICULT TO REVIEW? WHY?
The difficult ones are the really good ones, but you’re not quite sure if they are good enough. Because we’re really small, a book being good isn’t good enough. It has to be really, really good. If I think a manuscript is worth further consideration, that’s when I pass it on to a few other people to read, and then I discuss it with them. We do get some manuscripts that aren’t particularly good – they are very, very easy to make a decision on.

DESCRIBE YOUR PERFECT DAY.
My perfect day is my partner Anna and I take the dog for a run in the park in the morning, then I come home and watch a basketball game (or two), and then read in the evening by the fireplace. It happens like that occasionally. But really, I love what I do so every day is a great day.

WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
Rough Draft is going to keep doing a book or two a year for the foreseeable future. That’s the size I want it to stay for now, so that I can find books that I really like and put all my effort into them. I spend most of my time as a freelance publisher, so there’s no pressure to increase the number of books we do.

DO YOU HAVE MUCH TO DO WITH OTHER PUBLISHERS?
Yes! Other publishers are always happy to give advice and chat. There’s always events on in Melbourne so it’s easy to meet people, and everybody is always keen to hear what everybody else is doing. It’s one of the really fun aspects of small publishing.

HOW DO YOU SEE PUBLISHING IN GENERAL? POSITIVE?
It’s still in a bit of turmoil at the moment. I think a lot of the larger publishers haven’t handled the changes all that well in recent years – they’ve become defensive instead of jumping in head first. I’ve spoken to a lot of disgruntled authors recently. But, that opens up great opportunities for smaller publishers. The future for publishing is very positive – it’s just going to be very different, and nobody quite knows how yet.

WHAT’S YOUR VIEW ON E-BOOKS VERSUS TRADITIONAL BOOKS.
From a publishers’ point of view ebooks have turned things on their head. It changes so many things we do, but most of us still do the print side as well, so they’ve added to the workload a lot. The technology is still not great either, so that’s frustrating, and there’s the ongoing saga of digital rights management. We don’t seem to have learnt from music and movies – digital rights management hinders legitimate users but does nothing to stop piracy. We avoid DRM where we can, but often we don’t have choice.

Ebooks (and also modern printing technologies) do open up great opportunities for smaller publishers. Two of the biggest challenges for small publishers are distribution and the costs of printing. Ebooks go some way to solving these.

As a reader I love both print and ebooks. I love being able to download a book from my couch at 10pm when I suddenly decide I want to read something. But, as a reader the still often suspect formatting of ebooks is frustrating, and you can’t beat a beautifully produced print book. A number of times after reading an ebook I’ve ordered the print copy as well so I can have it on my shelf; I’ve never gone the other way.


IS THERE ANY ONE THING THAT ‘SMACKS YOU IN THE FACE’ AFTER READING A MANUSCRIPT, OR IS IT A COLLECTION OF THINGS?
It’s one thing; great writing. You can often tell after reading just a few pages (or paragraphs, or sentences) how good a manuscript is going to be. If your socks haven’t been knocked off in the first few pages, chances are you’re still going to be wearing them at the end of the book. 



http://www.roughdraft.com.au/index.html


Clancy's comment:  Thanks for making the time to be interviewed, Michael. Good luck. Let's hope 'Rough Draft' has a best seller.





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