Binding words: signing up our first author

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When Lesley and I first read Elizabeth Reeder’s novel Fremont, then known as Magnet to Compass, it was the quality of the writing that blew us away. We could tell that the novel was going to need some editorial work to clarify the lines of the story, which were a bit entangled, but the writing was like poetry and the style captured me straight away. I read the first line and thought, ‘oh, I am going to like this’. I sometimes think this in bookshops, browsing some piece of well-reviewed literary fiction, and it usually leads me straight to the till without stopping to check what the story is actually about.

In December 2011 we contacted Elizabeth out of the blue to say that we’d read her novel (passed on to me by a publishing friend, unbeknownst to her) and wanted to meet to discuss publishing it. While I like to think that this would always be a lovely surprise for any author, Elizabeth had to think carefully about what it would be like to sign up with a start-up publisher with no track record. Luckily for us, our boundless enthusiasm for the book and our discussions about how we saw the publication process working swayed her to take a risk with a new publishing house. She tells us that it was actually the fact that we told her we wanted her to work really hard that encouraged her! We wanted to be sure she’d be prepared to work with us on the marketing and promotion side before we made a deal. We don’t have a large budget for these things, so there’ll be a lot of DIY effort and ingenious ideas (not always unique to us!) to make the best use of the money we do have. We need the author to know what we’re doing and to understand how she can help us to make the biggest splash with the book.

Not long afterwards, Elizabeth wrote back to us agreeing to publish with us, and we started to talk contractual details. We’d drawn up a contract from the industry bible, Clark’s Publishing Agreements, and then had it vetted by a solicitor. Elizabeth had agreed to our advance and royalty offers and we hadn’t fallen out over any of the details. We blithely assumed this meant we were done. Well, two months later we were still to sign the papers. This was largely to do with our inexperience, had we had a closer grasp of the difference between a contract, which seeks out worst-case scenarios and protect against them, and the translation of this into everyday book production which just gets on with it, we’d have been better able to assure the author that most of the points were simply in there in case of problems later. Elizabeth asked the Society of Authors to check it over too, and while they were only protecting her interests, they queried nearly every clause. On the plus side, the next time an author asks me what a clause is doing in there, I should be able to answer straight away instead of checking with my solicitor!

However, the smaller details of the contract were finally finished and we signed the papers on 29 March 2012. Thanks to all our discussions of the contract having been fully amiable and rather a formality once the initial intent was established, we’d got on with the editing and the cover design in the meantime. Regular readers of this site (hi Mum!) will remember our competition for an illustrator and The Illustrator Interviews with the shortlisted people, and the selection of Emily Chappell as the winning illustrator. Keep an eye out for our Making of Fremont posts over the next week or two!




  1. [...] the book, and we’ll add updates as we count down to October 2012.  Read our first feature Binding words; signing up our first author, which describes the contractual process of signing up [...]

  2. [...] CRUICKSHANK: I mentioned in an earlier post that Fremont’s working title was Magnet to the Face of a Compass. Although it stood out as a [...]