Session 3 – Guest speaker: Kevin Duffy (15.10.15)

Kevin Duffy, founder of publishing house Bluemoose, came in to talk about the various areas of publishing in this session. He predominantly spoke about the editorial side of publishing within an independent publishing house, but he also discussed other areas such as contracts, marketing, and data services.
An area Duffy reiterated on several occasions was the running of publishing companies. He voiced his opposition towards aristocrats being in charge, stating that 99% of commissioning editors are from Oxbridge, which is a hindrance to quality writers being published on account of the authors stories being ‘too working class’. Duffy added that it is the ‘Oxbridge/private school upbringing’ that has clouded their judgement; they have never lived a normal life so their literary focus is therefore closed-minded as a result. This is perhaps the reason why Duffy decided to run his own publishing house in the north of England so as to aid literary talent. It is his passion to find great stories, regardless of social status.
If literature is anything, it is finding new voices“, he said.
Duffy gave the example of the investments in Terry Wogan’s novel preventing new writers from being noticed. It is an example of publishers concentrating more on commercial matters rather than quality writing. Although he recognises that investments in new writers is risky, he nonetheless feels that it is unjust. Duffy makes it his business to read the opening three chapters of every submission to see if the story has potential. Bluemoose publish five to eight books every year.
Marketing was an aspect of publishing he made very clear is critical, especially for an independent. For Bluemoose, he said, WHSmith Travel outlets – in airports – is a great way to make money. Traveller’s will buy books on impulse, so it is a excellent way for independents to make a profit on a book if they can get a shelf space at an airport. This was an interesting thing to learn since it distinguished, for me, the different targets independent publishing companies have compared to the ‘Big Five’ publishers. Also, I discovered that knowing when to publish a book is essential. Generally speaking, books will be published and available for purchase in the latter half of the year as 42% of all books bought are purchased from the end of September to December. This is the biggest opportunity for a real commercial success for publishers and booksellers. He said that the editing process for a book begins twelve to eighteen months before publication, with reviewers given a solid two or three months to write a review. I found this very insightful.
Additionally, during production, a book will undergo the Bibliographic Data Service (BDS) roughly four months before publication. This gives the book its unique ISBN, and its information will be passed to all UK and English speaking country libraries. This was another key fact I learnt from Duffy.
‘Discoverability’ is a word that is floating around the publishing world. This has particular relevance for independents like Bluemoose because it is the prime focus for them to find new writers. Duffy explained that the best way to find such talent is not through book fairs any more – he described them as ‘rights fairs’ – but through literary festivals. He named ‘Wordpool’ in Blackpool as an example. This led on to Duffy talking about the importance of reading in general. He is a big supporter of libraries and believes this is how to get children from poorer backgrounds to start reading and gain knowledge. He said, quite emphatically, that “if you can get children to read, it is a passport to life“. That is some message!
Overall, the visit from Kevin Duffy was very valuable for me in terms of learning more about editing and of the publishing industry as a whole, especially independent publishers. The blurb activity I did also allowed me to see what pitching would be like for a book and paired with the knowledge gained of AI Sheets (Additional Information Sheets), I feel I have learnt much from Duffy’s visit which will benefit me greatly.

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