Sunday, 29 November 2015

A view from the other side - John Dougherty

The lovely Jo Cotterill
Whoops! It's the 29th and I should have posted first thing this morning!!! Sorry. My life is chaotic at the best of times; at the moment I'm as scatty as anything.

It's at times like this I'm glad I have friends who are more organised and together than I am. And one of the very best of those is the lovely Jo Cotterill, whose powers of togetherness quite frankly astonish me at times.

One of the reasons I'm particularly glad of this right now is that some months ago Jo and I were invited to be guest programmers for the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, or ChipLitFest as it's affectionately known. It's been an interesting process, largely involving me going, "Er... where are we on things again?" and Jo sighing and opening her folder and telling me exactly where we are on things and what additional things we need to be doing.

But one of the most interesting aspects of the whole things has been seeing the publishing industry from a different angle. I'd always imagined the process of booking an author for a literary festival to be something like this:

LITERARY FESTIVAL BOOKING PERSON: Hello! We'd like to book some authors for our literary festival, please!
PUBLICITY PERSON AT PUBLISHING HOUSE: Certainly! Here is a long list of suitable authors, none of whom is John Dougherty!
LFBP: Thanks!

Instead of which, it's been more like this:
LFBP [in this case, me or Jo]: Hello! We'd like to book some authors for our literary festival, please!
Jo & I talk about specific authors we might like to book>
LFBP: Hello! Further to our last email, we've decided we'd like to invite the fabulous Author X to our festival. Are they free?

LFBP: Er... Hello! Did you get our email about Author X?
PPAPH: Oh - sorry. The person who deals with Author X was on holiday. They're back now. I'm sure they'll be in touch soon.
LFBP: Oh, good.

PPAPH: Sorry! Been busy. I'll ask Author X if she's free.

LFBP 1: You know, I do have Author X's email address...
LFBP 2: Do you want to just contact her? We have tried the proper channels...

LFBP: Hello! Has PPAPH asked you about  appearing at our festival?
AUTHOR X: Er... no.
LFBP: Well, would you like to?
AX: Yes! Yes, oh god, yes!!!

I'm not sure why this is, but I suspect in part it's got to do with publishing houses publishing more books with fewer staff. Anyway, if there's a lesson in here, it's probably that more than ever, professional writers need to take as much responsibility as they can for their own promotion. But also, perhaps, that writers and publicists both need to work together and keep channels of communication open. Oh, and that there may be established ways of doing things in the industry, but there are no 'right' ways.

Photo by Jemima Cotterill
 PS Jo and I were interviewed for the ChipLitFest website by the festival's own junior reporter, the fabulous Pheebs. You can read the interview here.


John's Stinkbomb & Ketchup-Face series, illustrated by David Tazzyman, is published by OUP - who will also be publishing Jo Cotterill's & Cathy Brett's Electrigirl in the spring.


Penny Dolan said...

A really useful other-side-of-the-booking- process to witness, so thanks for sharing it. I sometimes think that we all imagine everywhere else is well-organised & well-structured and it's only us who are struggling to make sense of it all.

Admiration for all that practical wrangling with publishers & authors and illustrators, Jo of the famous files! Hope the Children's ChipLit goes as triumphantly as it should after the hard work of the two of you.

John Dougherty said...

Thanks, Penny!

Dianne Hofmeyr said...

There's a slight problem to working 'with' or even 'alongside' Jo. She works with 'such' energy... which I imagine is a tremendous plus when you're organising a Literary Festival together, but can be remarkably daunting when you are sitting in the Library at Charney Manor and tickling your keyboard trying to coax words from it, while she is tapping her fingers at the speed of 1000 words in an hour flat. I almost waited to hear her zip the last page of her novel from the keyboard like a typist of old. If she had been one, she would've been slapping the return lever with such vigour that the typewriter would bounce with the 'ping'. (Of course few writers know what I'm talking of – a manual typewriter!)

What a lady! A great partner for any venture. She tells a good story too but then so do you, John!