Gill James and I met at the Isle of Wight Writers’ Conference, which was run by Felicity Fair Thompson from 2000 to 2005.
This was a weekend conference based in Shanklin or Sandown with guest speakers. There was a special speaker after the main Conference dinner on the Saturday night. David Nobbs (Reggie Perrin) and Raymond Allen (Some Mothers Do Have Them) were just two of the after dinner speakers who entertained us all.
Gill kept in touch and we would meet from time to time to discuss books and all things related to writing at Winchester Cathedral’s wonderful Refectory.
Later, Gill moved out of Hampshire and set up Bridge House Publishing, along with other imprints, to give new authors a voice.
Why “Bridge House”?
Bridge House is based near Manchester and is named after Old Bridge House Road in Bursledon, where Gill lived for many years. This post focuses on her role as founder and editor.
My first published work, A Helping Hand, was published in 2009 in Bridge House’s Alternative Renditions, which reworked familiar fairy tales from the viewpoint of a secondary character.
My story was told from the viewpoint of Drizella, the youngest of Cinderella’s ugly sisters.
Receiving my first acceptance was thrilling. A little validation goes a long way for most writers and finally one of my stories was considered good enough to be out there. That still means, and always will mean, a great deal to me, as it would to any writer.
Bridge House also ran a Debut Novel competition, in which my book, The Trouble With Mother, made it to the final 13 long-listed entries. There were over 70 entries for this competition so I was delighted my novel made it that far. Every writer soon becomes well aware the odds are stacked against them.
I recently met up with Gill again in London at a Bridge House Authors reunion, which was huge fun. It is hoped there will be another reunion later this year. Let’s just say the moment I know the date, I’m organising my train tickets, leaving, of course, from our local station.
Gill also writes books and, just to ensure she keeps busy (!), she is also a Lecturer in Creative Writing at Salford University so it can be argued she has three writing lives. I hope to look at her life as an author and creative writing teacher in future posts.
There are easiest tasks and far more profitable things to do than being a publisher so let’s start with asking the obvious opening question.
Allison: Why start a small publishing firm in the first place? Was it something you had always longed to do? How did you get started?
Gill: The bizarre thing is it started out almost as a self-publishing venture. I’d begun sending everybody a short story at Christmas instead of the normal round robin letter. I thought it might be nice to publish them as a book – perhaps 24 of them so it was a little like an Advent Calendar. Then I realised it was going to take me another eighteen years or so to finish it. So I invited in other writers and was so pleased with the success that I decided to carry on.
Allison: What are your biggest problems in running a small publishing firm?
Not having enough time. A very small team do all of the editing, proof-reading, book design, cover design, admin and marketing. But we love what we do so it doesn’t seem to be a chore.
Allison: What have been the stand-out moments?
- Launching a book at the Hay Festival – Gentle Footprints (2010). This was thanks to the great efforts of my business partner Debz Hobbs Wyatt. She even got Richard Adams to write a short story.
- Having Michael Morpurgo write the introduction to Hipp-O-Dee-Doo-Dah Hipp-O-Dee-Doo-Dah (a book for primary children) and Anthony Browne (children’s laureate at the time) provide the cover. Again this was down to Debz.
- Just today receiving an incredibly flattering comment about our professionalism via Twitter.
Allison: How can readers best support firms like Bridge House?
Gill: They can post reviews on Amazon or Goodreads. Of course, we love 5* ones but any review helps us up the rankings.
Allison: I love the diversity of the UK’s small press and its big advantage is that it gives more authors a voice, okay perhaps only at a local level but that still means there are more stories out there for readers to enjoy. It also helps writers like myself get on to the publication ladder and hopefully climb up it, one rung at a time, but we all need that opening rung and this is where firms like Bridge House do much to help.
What to you, Gill, are the advantages of a small firm like Bridge House? How can readers obtain and pay for your books?
Gill: We have no overheads. We operate a financially secure business model. We rarely pay for books to be printed until they’re sold. We use print on demand and we do think this is a good way of publishing: we have a good deal with the printer who also acts as a distributor and everybody gets a brand new book – not one that has been languishing in a warehouse or shop for months. There is very little risk at all with this model. It means that we can publish what we like and don’t have to worry about it being commercial or not.
Allison: Bridge House runs an annual competition/open submissions window (usually based on a theme). What are the advantages and disadvantages of running this? How can writers give themselves the best possible chance of success here?
Gill: Our themes are usually quite open to interpretation. It’s interesting to see what writers make of them.
We have a set period for submission (currently 1 January to 31 March.) We don’t start reading until the submission period closes. This allows us to assess the whole collection and see which are the best stories for us to publish. This then leaves us three months for editing and one and a half months for book design and pre-publication marketing. Some edits are finished before the end of the three months so we often start on design earlier.
Writers should read submission guidelines carefully. If a writer can’t get that right, can we trust them to be able to react to editorial suggestion?
It’s amazing and heart-breaking sometimes when we receive submissions so different from what we’ve asked for.
Allison: Is the rise of e-book publishing a threat to small firms like Bridge House or does it give you opportunities to offer another format to writers?
Gill: We don’t feel at all threatened by the e-book. In fact we embrace it and all of our titles since 2012 have been published both as a paperback and an e-book. We’re unlikely to take an e-book out of print and so far we’re doing all right with our paperbacks – they’re all covering their annual fee for hooking up to distributors.
Indeed, why still publish traditionally when e-book and POD is easier to access and use these days?
Allison: I would hate to see the death of the paperback. There’s nothing to beat the feel of a “real” book in your hands, ideally with your own name on the cover, but I appreciate that might be considered an old fashioned view these days.
How do you feel about this, Gill?
Gill: Personally I prefer reading e-books to paperbacks or hardbacks. They’re easier to hold. If you think about some of the bigger books, they can become very unwieldy if you are near the beginning or the end of the book.
Having said that, I love browsing in bookshops and if I go to a book launch or reading I nearly always end up buying a copy of a book. The hard copy almost becomes a souvenir.
I’ve bought a lot of picture books and graphic novels recently because you can’t replicate those so well on an e-reader.
One great advantage of hard copy is that you don’t pay VAT.
Allison: Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known when starting Bridge House?
Gill: I wished I’d appreciated how much work goes into producing a book. It’s not just a matter of loading Word document up to the printer. The original Word file has to edited three times. Then it must be type-set, converted into a PDF according to the printer’s standards. Designing a cover is complex. Then there is marketing, sending off copies to the deposit libraries, marketing and working out royalties.
Allison: Many thanks, Gill, for your wonderful insights into life as a small publisher. Future articles will look at Gill’s other writing lives as a creative writing lecturer and author but for further information about Gill’s wide variety of written work, please visit Gill’s Blog.
Note: Don’t miss Allison’s next post on Friday 15th May 2015.
Visit Allison Symes’ website: Fairytales with Bite
Read blog posts by Allison Symes published on Chandler’s Ford Today.