Interview with Tom Chalmers, Legend Press

 

 

 

This month I decided to go behind the scenes of UK publishers Legend Press to find out more about the impact of the changing publishing scene, common mistakes aspiring authors make and what new developments are in the planning.  Managing Director Tom Chalmers told me more…

 

 

As one of the youngest leaders in UK publishing, have you found it challenging to prove yourself in an industry where reputation, contacts and influence are held in high regard?

There are advantages to embarking on something knowing nothing, and that has probably been the case for me – Legend Press started out from an internet shop in north London.  I was working in magazine publishing but didn’t have particular contacts in the publishing industry or knowledge of business generally.

I think publishing can be very cliquey and doesn’t easily warm to new people trying new things.   It is sad when our creative industries operate in a conservative way, it seems completely wrong.  However, there are some fantastic, creative people in publishing and one thing I have learnt is to be less bothered about fitting into industry hierarchy and instead focus on implementing new ideas and looking for new ground.


What have been the key changes in the publishing world since you founded Legend Press back in 2005?

Where to start?  Rapid shrinking of the high-street, internet for buying and marketing, supermarkets, ebook, self-publishing, global markets, through to the profile of writers and book buyers.  Legend Press has hung in there as the industry has faced huge challenges and enforced change.
How is Legend Press responding to those changes?

The business I had in mind when I started Legend Press – the idea of seeing piles of books in key bookshops, the occasional prize and management accounts with only one or two lines of revenue – is no longer possible.

We, of course, now work a lot more closely with online and ebook retailers, plus supermarkets, and ebook and internet sales have grown to be a large portion of our book sales business (although I do see a big boutique opportunity for the high-street yet to be realised). Over the last year, we have restructured the business into five companies with fiction, non-fiction, business books, writer events and connections and self-publishing respectively.  Essentially, we have streamlined our business to work for the market today and are now looking to grow it.

In addition I am leading a new rights licensing platform (IPR License) and am involved in online retailer ‘BOOKS etc’.
How many books does Legend aim publish each year?

We have actually cut down slightly to be more in line with the boutique market (there is little room for the medium sized) and for Legend Press, our fiction list, we publish around 10 titles per year. For non-fiction (Paperbooks Publishing), around 5 and the same for our business books (Legend Business).


Do you prefer to focus on new authors or on your existing catalogue?

I am not sure it is a consideration – we are looking to develop brands, authors we can work with for many years and be a driving force for the success of their writing. This could be existing or first-time authors or a mixture of both.  We do though look at works individually and so when the list is being created for any year, we will see what works.  As a small company we have to focus a lot of our resources on what’s new, but this doesn’t mean all opportunities shouldn’t be explored for backlist – it’s just a case of being organised and focused.

What projects are you currently working on?

We are very excited about some fantastic books for the second half of this year – this includes THIS HOLEY LIFE by Sophie Duffy, A IS FOR ANGELICA by Iain Broome, LETTERS FROM YELENA by Guy Mankowski, the latest INVESTORS GUIDE TO THE UNITED KINGDOM for our business book company, and our first ever cookbook – THE DESSERT DELI COOKBOOK – for Paperbooks, which we have huge hopes for.
Which authors excite you at the moment?

Not enough would be my honest answer. I look at some of the books being pushed most prominently and they feel quite generic, safe and fit nicely into slots – slightly like chewing gum for the mind to steal a phrase from a friend. There are some fantastic writers out there and we need to get them through to the front. My personal favourite in recent years, in fact for some time, is Haruki Murakami as what he writes is completely different, ambitious and astounding.

I was recently reading about the Young British Artists, who came through during the last recession when the UK was in the financial doldrums and the international arts world was having its problems. In very similar conditions today, it would be fantastic to see a group of exciting, daring and ambitious writers burst through the grip of safe and generic. They are out there and that would be really something for the UK book industry.


Has the consumer appetite for fiction changed, and if so, in what ways?

Apart from the obvious, the move to digital readers and online purchasing, I don’t actually think, or maybe hope, the appetite itself has diminished – whatever may be said about the quality of writing etc, look at the success of FIFTY SHADES OF GREY. If it says nothing else, it’s that the public still loves reading fiction.

I think the success of that book is that is appeals to something in readers here and now. As an industry we need to better understand what today’s reader wants, not to be scared of speaking to them directly, and how we can strike a chord with them in this moment, books speaking to them powerfully about the here and now.

Where do you think the key areas for growth might be in the next 5 years?

Funnily enough, a good friend in publishing said a little while ago we should start an erotic ebook imprint as they were going to be huge – and she has been proven very correct… I think self-publishing will continue to grow and hopefully a strong line will emerge where traditional publishing and self-publishing both fit. There will also always be brief trends led by some runaway successes – see wizards, vampires, Scandi-crime etc etc.

As per above, I hope we see a stronger and braver book industry developed, one where we interact closer with readers and the public and publish some ground-breaking works. Over the last century the US has been a lot better at producing state of nation work that captures mass reader imagination, see Beat Generation etc, and I would love to see the UK take the lead for the century ahead.
What are the most common mistakes writers make when submitting novels to Legend Press?

 

We get lots of work that isn’t relevant for us, isn’t submitted correctly (guidelines on our website) and there have been occasions when we have asked to see more to find out it isn’t finished yet. Self-depreciation is often endearing but don’t say things like ‘needs a lot of work’ etc when we have 100s to read and equally don’t go the other way and say it is the best since WAR AND PEACE and if we don’t take it on it is because we don’t recognise earth-shattering talent when we see it.

Fiction comes down to the content and so what we want is a well-organised submission with a one page covering letter introducing the author and the work in 2-3 paragraphs, a one-page synopsis and the three chapter sample which by the time of sending the writer feels is ready and provides what they are looking to achieve in their novel.
What are your thoughts on the recent partnership between Amazon and Waterstones book stores?

It is hard to say with certainty without seeing the detail. My hope is for a dynamic, slightly maverick, book chain offering something different and exciting in every store, creating boutique space, which is the one thing Amazon, a ground-breaking bookseller, cannot offer. They are aware of this and it would therefore create strong competition for them. Therefore, the partnership is hard to understand at first glance  – images of inviting the grim reaper around for tea etc – but rather than speculate I think we should see how it pans out and I hope the detail provides clear and long-term benefits for both parties.

What impact do you think it will have on the industry and authors?

Again, this will become clear as it pans out, though one point is that the focus on this deal between two major booksellers illustrates how few major booksellers there are. Due to consolidation and company collapse, the major booksellers can be pretty much counted on one hand. We need more variation and choice and I would love to see some new bookselling chains come into the market over the coming year as I believe there is a big opportunity out there.

What kind of novels/genres do you hope to see come through the submissions process?

We receive a wide range – we receive a lot of fantasy and sci-fi, which we don’t publish (see note above about only submitting relevant work), and it does sometimes seem to go in trends, having a spell of lots of female fiction, then crime etc, then no more for a while. What we want is something that excites us – there is still no better feeling and nothing more energising and motivating that finding that jewel of a book in front of you.

For more information about Legend Press or for details of how to submit a manuscript log on to http://www.legendpress.co.uk/

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