Behind the Scenes at MidnightSun Publishing - Part Three
In this final blog, I’ll be talking to Anna Solding, MidnightSun Publishing’s co-founder and director. Anna has a PhD in creative writing and her acclaimed novel, The Hum of Concrete was MidnightSun Publishing’s first release.
My aim in this blog series, was to find out a little more about how some writers have found themselves on the other side of the publishing fence. As Director at MidnightSun Publishing, Anna is a writer who has fully immersed herself in all aspects of the publishing process. She has also been instrumental in using the wider skills of other writers to assist with MidnightSun Publishing's operations.
My sincere thanks go to Anna Solding, Kim Lock and Zena Shapter for their open and interesting responses in this blog series. Hope you've enjoyed reading.
Hi Anna! First of all, thank you for agreeing to be put under the spotlight for my blog.
For those who don’t know how publishing houses operate, can you outline what the various roles are in producing a book? What people do you need to employ or use on a freelance basis?
Thank you for asking me to do this and for your patience with me as it’s taken me a long time to get back to you. That is one of the main issues for small publishers: the time squeeze. Because MidnightSun Publishing is run by a very small team, I take on several roles, including that of publishing director, structural editor, marketing manager and design consultant. In other words, I follow the work from manuscript to printed book. I choose which books to publish, I work with the authors to shape their manuscripts, I plan the marketing strategies for each book and I come up with ideas for book covers. I work closely with two designers, one for picture books and one for chapter books, and I value their contribution enormously. MidnightSun consistently hosts interns from The University of Adelaide and our latest one worked out so well that she is now employed as our publishing assistant. We also normally have at least one editor and three proof readers waiting in the wings.After a manuscript is submitted, our publishing assistant reads it and if she thinks it would work for MidnightSun she passes it on for other people to read. We have several trusty readers. For a manuscript to get through to publication three people (including me) have to love it. Once the decision has been made we set a tentative date for publication, organise a timeline, write a publishing agreement, find an illustrator (if it’s a picture book), organise the cover, create an advance information sheet (AI sheet), structurally edit the book (which means that we look at the bigger picture: are there characters who are superfluous, is the ending right etc), plan the media campaign, copyedit the book (find typos etc) and finally send it to print.
You seem to have found the skillset you need from people within your own network. Do you find that writers themselves often have expertise in other areas? What is the advantage of using a fellow writer instead of, say, someone who works solely as a typesetter/copywriter/designer?
Writers are great because they can write. It’s as simple as that. Publishers need to write copy all the time, in media releases, AI sheets (advance information sheets about books that are coming out), catalogue entries, blog posts and Q&As like this one. Working with someone who isn’t daunted by writing and reading all day long is wonderful. However, depending on the project, we also work with people who only perform one of these functions. What would be very useful for us is someone who is media savvy, who loves coming up with new marketing and publicity strategies and who can still write well.
Since its inception in 2011, MidnightSun Publishing has gone from strength to strength. Given that you began as a writer, do you now consider yourself as a writer who publishes; or a publisher who writes?
Oh, neither, I think. At the moment I’m not writing because publishing awards me little room for my own creative energy but I’m not missing it either. So I’m essentially a publisher. I’m quite sure that there will be a time further down the track when I will get back to writing and then I’ll be happy to call myself a writer again but for now I’m hibernating as a writer and working incredibly hard as a publisher.
Do you feel that, having been through the experience of having your (now-acclaimed) novel rejected by the big traditional publishers, it gives you a greater empathy and understanding with those who submit work to you?
I think it does. I know what it is like to be on the other side of the fence. Having said that though, it’s still a gruelling process and out of all the manuscripts we receive we can only publish a very small number. We receive hundreds of submissions a year and publish 5-10 books. It takes us a long time to make decisions because we all have to love the manuscript and reading takes time, especially when there are piles and piles of it surrounding you in the office. So writers often wait for many months to hear back from us, which I know is very difficult, especially if the reply after all that time is a negative one. But we empathise with writers and we try to give a little bit of constructive criticism to help them improve their work.
When you think back to the days before you became a publisher, did you, as a writer, have an understanding of how the publishing industry worked and what the various roles in it were? What things have most challenged you now that the tables have essentially turned?
No, I was quite clueless as to what goes on in a publishing house and I certainly wouldn’t say that I know everything about paper quality or how to get free publicity even now. Publishing is an industry in constant flux and every book has to be treated differently depending on what genre it is and what age group it is for. The most astonishing thing that I have learnt is that the earlier a book is ready, the better. This is quite difficult to explain to writers but certain important readers need to have the material at least six months in advance and to get writers into festivals it’s great to have the book ready nine months before publication.
What parts of being a publisher bring you the greatest joy?
Seeing the new books when they appear from the printer brings me immense joy. Every time boxes appear in the office, it’s a time for celebration. I love meeting new writers and being able to ring strangers to say that we are going to fulfil their often life-long dreams of publication. An aspect of publishing which I didn’t know much about before I became a publisher is the travelling. Working for MidnightSun I have attended the London and Bologna Book Fairs for the last four years, I have been selected for three publishing delegations travelling to China, Korea and India to develop connections with publishers in those countries. Seeing new places and always learning new things brings me abundant joy.
What have been the things that have surprised you the most, now that you have shifted your focus from writing to publishing?
One of the most unexpected things for me has been to discover how many amazing women (and men, but it’s an industry dominated by women) publishers there are, both in Australia and overseas. I have made friends all over the world through my travels to Book Fairs and with publishing delegations. It has also been wonderful to experience how helpful everyone is. Early on when I needed help with international rights deals for my books I approached a few other publishers and they were all incredibly generous with their time and advice.
Do you feel the experience has helped you to be a better writer, and/or has made you more commercially-minded in terms of your writing and publishing?
I am not sure yet. When I start writing creatively again, I hope that my writing will
have improved, but it’s difficult to tell now when I’m currently only writing for work. I know that I procrastinate less as a publisher than I used to as a writer so hopefully I can remain faster and more focussed when I return to writing. I’ve never been particularly commercially-minded, neither as a writer nor as a publisher. Writing is about love. It’s about crafting sentences, building characters, weaving story. Publishing is also about love. It’s about making sure each book is as good as it can possibly be, in terms of the individual words, the story and the design. There is no point in trying to chase the bestsellers because no one knows what makes a bestseller. Even if there was a formula, I’d probably be more interested in breaking it than following the rules.
What plans and hopes do you have - both for yourself and for MidnightSun Publishing?
In terms of MidnightSun Publishing, I plan to keep on publishing for as long as I enjoy it. I hope that it will become less financially stressful over time. In terms of my own writing, I hope to get back to the novel that I have almost finished, The Song of Glass, which is a companion novel to my first one, The Hum of Concrete. If I took some time off and went on a writer’s retreat I could probably finish a first draft in a few weeks but it’s taking the time off that is hard. There is always another book that needs editing, designing, promoting. But I really love the work and at this point I wouldn’t want it any other way.
Thank you so much, Anna, for taking part!
More about Anna Solding:
Anna Solding is a writer, editor and publisher. Her novel The Hum of Concrete was nominated for six awards, including the Commonwealth Book Prize. She is the founder and managing director of MidnightSun Publishing, an Adelaide based publishing company, and the co-founder and co-director of The Australian Short Story Festival. MidnightSun’s books have received high praise from reviewers for their innovative style and content. Anna has travelled widely to make connections with publishers in China, Korea, India and Europe. She is passionate about unearthing new Australian talent and spreading these stories to the world.
Anna can be contacted via: www.midnightsunpublishing.com