UK publisher Hookline Books lets book clubs decide which books to publish. GalleyCat caught up with Hookline CEO Yvonne Barlow to discuss this process and how it works.
GC: Why are you letting book club members decide what to publish?
YB: Book groups are made up of keen readers who love to dissect the novels they read. They are the bread and butter of the industry as they buy more books than the average reader – why not draw them in and ask their opinion? Being in a book group means that they are used to sharing their opinion of a read, therefore they will tell you whether a character works or a plot strays.
All feedback from book groups goes back to the writer, and many writers have contacted me afterwards to say that rather than feel rejected the feedback made them realize where they had gone wrong.
GC: Do you have specific book clubs that have dedicated time to read manuscripts?
YB: Yes, some book groups dip in and out of reading for Hookline. They take a year or so off and come back with renewed enthusiasm. Sometimes a book group leaves, but individuals within the group stays with Hookline because they enjoy the process and like having a stake in choosing what goes to print.
GC: Can you describe the pitch to publication process in more depth?
YB: Writers submit the early chapters of their novel and a brief synopsis. I email the early chapters to book groups and post the synopsis on our website with a link to a PDF of the early chapters. Readers who like the early chapters can ask to read the rest of the manuscript. I give them guidelines for feedback such as does the plot flow, do the characters feel apt, how is the writing style, would they recommend the novel to a friend?
Feedback is vital. I love hearing that a work spurred readers to action. For instance, A Coin for the Hangman includes references to England’s last executioner, and some readers say it spurred them on to Google some of the other characters to find out if they were also real. The process also encourages readers to go outside of their normal reading habits. The Half-Slave, one of early publications, is set in 5th century northern Europe and is a little bit gladiatorial in nature. However some elderly female readers contacted me saying, ‘Oh, it was a bit bloody at times, but I thoroughly enjoyed it,’ or ‘not my normal read but I burned the midnight oil to finish it.’
I read the work that gains favor with a core of readers, even if other readers hated it. I then contact the author and discuss the work and any necessary rewrite (these are debut authors and often something does need to be rewritten). If the author is willing to undertake the work then I propose a contract.
Writers are only allowed to submit once a year to ensure they send their best work. Some writers do rewrite based on the feedback they’ve received and resubmit the following year.
GC: You only work with writing students. Why not include previously published authors too?
YB: Previously published authors already have a footprint within the industry. They have made contacts. My aim is to find the struggling unknowns and connect them with readers who may see a glimmer of promise in their work.
GC: What kinds of books are genres are your readers gravitating towards?
YB: That’s a very good question. Crime seems to have risen in popularity with our readers lately. I cannot possibly predict what will find favor in the future.