Archive for 2009

Multi-Million Dollar Company

Saturday, December 19th, 2009


Over the last months Peirene has started to generate an increasing amount of interest. The guest list for the salon is growing and journalists webite-home-079smallhave started to reply to my emails. But even I hadn’t been aware of the real magnitude of the interest. Until Tuesday morning, when I got up as usual around 6.15. Lights were on in the office, lights were on in the kitchen, the living room, the downstairs loo. For a moment I was puzzled. I had worked late on Monday evening, until 1.30. Had I been so tired and forgot to turn off all the lights? Then my eyes fell on a open folder on the kitchen counter. It was the Bank and Tax Peirene file, which I usually keep in the study. A draft led me into the front room. And I discovered the open window. For a moment I stood still, then I panicked. I ran upstairs, into the rooms of the children. Both were soundly asleep. I rushed downstairs again, into every room and out again, trying to hold my sense of shock. We had been burgled! But it was a strange burglary. Nothing seemed to have been messed with, except that Peirene Bank folder, and my mobile phone was gone.


I called the police, barred my phone, rang up the banks and changed passwords. “But why did they look at the Peirene Bank and Tax folder?”, I asked the police. “It says BANK in big letters on the spine. You’re announcing to the world where your money is.” A thought suddenly crossed my mind and made me smile for the first time that morning: Perhaps these poor burglars thought they had hit the jack pot? Perhaps they even knew I was running a business?  Perhaps they checked out the Peirene website, the books, took one good look at all this and thought wow, we are going to rob a multi million dollar company? I know my little nymph looks good. I am very proud of her.  But that stunning and loaded with money?


The burglars’ feeling of disappointment must have been huge. I wish I could say my Peirene account is sporting big, beautiful round figures.

Not yet, I am counting on all of you to make that happen next year.

Have a lovely Christmas, hopefully without burglaries.  

Potato Dream

Friday, December 11th, 2009

And another fab weekend! Yep, my weekends are just a continuous stream of fabness. Turn green with envy – I don’t mind.  My weeks might potatoe heart. Image by  cuorhomebe hard work. But my weekends? Pure pleasure – first spreadsheet delight, now salon galore! I’m not joking. It was really nice. And it’s only now, four days after the event, that I really can grasp what a success it was.  It was the first ever totally sold out salon. I managed to fit 40 people into my study/office where we hold the reading. Truth to be told it wasn’t an exercise in physical comfort. 40 adults in a front room sat on little primary school chairs. I don’t think people minded too much – or at least no one has sued me yet for bodily harm. Instead the audience felt intellectually, creatively and emotionally uplifted by the three stars at the front, Matthias Politycki, Rosie Goldsmith and Anthea Bell. The Dream Team. Author, Journalist, Translator. As they made the audience laugh AND cry and laugh again, I suddenly felt incredibly lucky, that three such successful people were sitting in my literary salon.

So Dream Team went down well, the wine went down well – extremely well! – the cheese went down well, the cake went down well ( as you might remember I’ve given up on the strawberries) BUT the potato salad! The potato salad didn’t go down well. At the end of the evening I had 3.5 kilos remaining. My heart sank when I saw it. I knew something had to go badly wrong – and this time it was the potatoes. It took a bit of mental effort to remind myself that I had initially made 7 kilos of it. My guests therefore had dutifully eaten their staple food, hadn’t’ they? I calmed down and reassured myself that the salad had indeed been cherished. I also realized that I had sorted out our family dinners for the entire following week. Until …. my fourteen year old appeared on the scene. “I hate potato salad!,” was the statement. “Since when?” I asked back. “Since last week.” We managed to strike a deal. We had potato salad for dinner on Monday and Wednesday. Tuesday and tonight I will eat it alone. I think then I, too, will have finally reached my limit. Until the next salon.

Image by cuorhome.

Happiness in Spreadsheet-Land

Friday, December 4th, 2009


My last weekend was absolutely fab! Doing a spreadsheet. Can highly recommend it. Yes, you are right – that little green webite-home-065smallcross at the bottom of your screen. Just click on it – and you’re there – in spreadsheet land. Cheaper and quicker than going to Venice or Paris– and just as exciting. In fact I was euphoric afterwards, in Seventh Heaven, dirty weekend plus Spa plus five star hotel all in one little beautiful grid. Who can resist.


The weekend started off badly, mind. The joy of holding the first book in my arms had worn off, instead the huge task of trying to drum up enough interest so that it would sell had crept up on me. Also, I’ve recently made a lovely new friend who used to work for many years in the Contract department of a leading publisher. Besides giving me some valuable advice she has started to serve as my conscience. “Have you done your figures?” She asked once. Yes, yes, of course, I replied but didn’t dare to look her straight in the eye. Next time we met, she repeated the very same question. I repeated the very same answer, again avoiding eye contact. Then we had an email exchange and one more time she reminded me to do my figures. I didn’t lie. I did my sums right at the beginning of setting up Peirene. But I was also aware that much had changed: figures revised, new, unexpected figures added in. I hadn’t actually set down and worked it all out. Instead I did the maths in my head – enough to give me an idea of how many books I ought to sell to break even . An idea. Not factual knowledge.

So Saturday morning I woke up with a heavy heart. So heavy I couldn’t get out of bed. Husband got up, kids got up, son jumped on top of me to get me moving – no doing. Husband brought me a cup of tea. What’s the matter? – I think I have created a loss making business -  I sobbed into my cup. I am not getting up. Better still I will give up publishing!

Have you done your figures? Husband, too, then asked. I told him to get out of the room. I didn’t want to see him ever again. Give him up too.


Luckily I changed my mind and in the evening we sat down together in front of the lovely computer, and we held hands and clicked the green cross and entered spreadsheet land. And wow! If you haven’t done a spreadsheet you really have no clue what’s it’s actually all about. I learned about variable costs and fixed costs, and how different they are. And it’s the profit margin on the variable cost that really gets you going – anyway, I’ll spare you the details, I am discreet after all. Suffice to say that I came out of that experience a wholly satisfied woman. I haven’t created a loss making business and I now know exactly how many books I have to sell to break even on production, how many to break even on production plus overhead and how many to actually make some money. Beautiful, exact little figures – slightly higher of course than my rough estimate but not disastrously far off either.


So ladies, my advice for the Christmas period: If it all feels like getting on top of you, doom and gloom descending – just click yourself into happiness, into spreadsheet land – ideally with a knowledgeable business advisor at hand. Money back if it doesn’t work.

Baby News

Thursday, November 26th, 2009


A beautiful baby has been born – it came out of that box which arrived last Friday. I couldn’t tell you the joyous news until now as I had to webite-home-046smallrecover my health and strength after the difficult birth. There it is – so utterly gorgeous – I could eat it.

I have to admit, my fears from last week haven’t totally evaporated yet. True, no monster came out of the box, rather a perfect little book, absolutely touchable and readable. But like any new mum, I now have to learn to let my little darling go, hand it over every now and again into the arms of strangers. Can they understand my baby just the way I do? Will they pick up on the signs, know how to hold it?

Ok, let me cut the sentimentality. Of course I manage quite well to put copies of the book in envelopes and send it off to various lucky journalists, critics, academics, anybody who might perhaps say or write something publicly about it. I even sign the copies, put personal little notes. Love and kisses and hugs. What however proves much more painful is handing it over personally. It is nearly unbearable. When I sit opposite someone at a lunch or a coffee or just a plain meeting and I get the book out of the bag. I put it on the table and push it across with my eyes fixed on the cover. I see the other hand touch it. For a second the fingers just lay there, then they curl around my darling and lift it up. My eyes follow, see now two hands leafing through it. Utter silence. Some smell it, too, put their noses between the pages – beautiful pages no sick toilet paper – oh no – but real quality. Still no word. They put it down again, lift it up, look at it another time. And? I say with my heart in my mouth. Very nice, comes the answer. I get a smile. Thank you, I say, I bend over the table, take the book, open it, show them the flaps. I really like the flaps, I say, they look so beautiful. Yes, they are very well done. That’s it. Nothing else. They take the book, put it into their bag. Mission accomplished. The book is in somebody else’s bag, so it has a fighting chance to be read and even commented upon, too. I should be happy, right? I am not. Each time I struggle with a sense of disappointment because I want the other person to continue to talk about the book, to continue to stroke it, to tell me in the most elaborate terms – for an hour or so – what amazing product I have produced. But no one does it. After all it’s just a book. And there are 60,000 born in the UK alone every year.

So I go home, take another copy of my little darling out of the box, dress it all up nicely in a darling little hat and take endearing pictures to show my grandchildren in some distant future.

Box Fright

Thursday, November 19th, 2009



Tomorrow I will receive a big parcel – the advance copies of Peirene Title No 1, the rest will go straight to the warehouse. I should be excited, shouldn’t I? And infact I shouldn’t write this week’s blog today but tomorrow, to tell you all about the first ever proper Peirene book. But I don’t want to. I am eaten up by anxiety, that I will open the box and find – a disaster, an ugly monster. The cover awful, the text full of mistakes, the whole book unsalable, unreadable, an embarrassment. I really don’t want to look at the finished product.


I am good at jumping into deep cold water head first. I love it. Adrenalin rushes through my veins, I kick hard, I come up, I snort with laughter. Wonderful! Why isn’t everybody, the whole world doing it, I wonder. Same feeling when I started with Peirene – wow I am setting up a publishing house – name found, company registered, first two titles acquired – easy peasy – strange that not more people set up their own little business, their own little one-woman-show. It took me a while to see clearly – deep waters are murky after all – to understand why this isn’t everybody’s idea of fun, why other humans endowed with a better instinct to safeguard their comfort zones don’t have the faintest desire to do what I am doing. It’s the fear of having the sole and ultimate responsibility that scares the sensible creature away. Hey but not me. Oh no I jump right in, head first. And here I am now and my main occupation seems to be to nurse my own little pathetic angst, holding it, stroking it, calming it down. Tomorrow, when I will see that big box in my hallway, angst will be even bigger – and I just want to give myself the option of not opening it; of just letting it sit there, under the staircase. Perhaps until Monday.

Peirene: 1 – Random House: 0

Saturday, November 14th, 2009


I have a very unhappy friend. She didn’t like last week’s blog, where agents got a bad press. Why should this matter? Because she is one of mywebite-home-044small trusted sources with extensive experience of the book market world. She has worked for many years in a big publishing house selling foreign rights. As of this week she has also become – rather surprisingly – a free-lance defender of literary agents.

“They don’t ask for bigger advances for themselves, they do it for the authors. And just think, if a publishing house doesn’t pay a decent advance it won’t bother to put any effort into the marketing. It’s the advance that forces publishers to exert themselves to recoup the money they have spent.”

I thought about her comments for a while. I wondered if I should feel guilty? Guilty because I deprive poor authors of their bread and butter, guilty because I can’t pay much of an advance. And? No I don’t feel guilty. Actually I’m offering my authors something quite special – personal enthusiasm for their texts. And I tell you, personal enthusiasm generated by a one-woman-show counts for much more than an agent’s crafty negotiating.

Let’s take my latest acquisition for example, which will soon become Peirene Title No 4. This is an absolutely fantastic set of Kafkaesque short stories. In one, people turn into dolls. In another a man’s obsession with his neighbours causes him to hand over his life to them. Totally bizarre, totally gripping. Once again it was a translator – as with Beside the Sea – who had fallen in love with the text. She translated it on her own accord and did the running for a couple of years until she found Peirene. A one-woman-mission got this author and his text an English publisher. Now it is the turn of my nymph to bring this work to English readers. And she will do it with sparkling enthusiasm not because of any advances but because she believes the text is exciting and has something to say.

My point? Well, if Random House can publish you –you better make sure you get a mega advance to compensate for the many sleepless nights you will spend worrying whether your book will be pulped without ever having left the warehouse. If Peirene publishes you – the advance definietly won’t buy you a castle but your book surely will get the royal treatment.

Printer Man Praise

Thursday, November 5th, 2009


Peirene’s first novel, Beside the Sea, has just gone to the printers! Well it went there two days ago. Then last night I woke up at about four o’clock and I knew I webite-home-043small had forgotten to write something on the cover. No – not the title  – bad joke – the title was there alright. No, what was missing was the small reference on the inside flap announcing  “Peirene Title No 1”. I like to number my novels. I like the idea that because I only will publish a few books a year Peirene will develop a core fan base who will make sure they buy all the numbers – like an up-market lit magazine really. And why not – as Peirene’s books are so slim they could almost be read as quickly as a magazines. That’s the idea anyway.

So first thing in the morning the printer got a delightful good morning angst-ridden email from me: Has the book already gone into production if not please please can we resupply the artwork for the cover. This printer has endured a fair amount from me during the last few months – at least five new quotes – different papers, different size, die cut, no die cut, sleeve , no sleeve. Patiently he obliged and again this morning we were able to send the corrected cover. The printer has certainly replaced Martin H as my top man of the moment. No question about it.


The longer I am in the publishing business – I’ve been in it now for over a year! HeyHo! – the more I realize that the people who are closely linked to production – writers, translators, editors, publishers, printers, typesetter, designers – are all more or less working to a common goal: the Book. And everybody brings in their expertise. But then there are others linked to the publishing world – agents for example. Yep, I had a bad agent week, those agents whose only raison d’etre it is to squeeze more money and concessions out of any small publisher like me who wants to publish a book that so far no one has even bothered to look at. They smell blood and go wild. Tough luck for them, though, my wounds heal quickly, I pick myself up and go somewhere else. It’s a pity, mind, because my little nymph is heart broken, she had fallen in love with a text and now she can’t get it. But hey, the world is full of books that will love a little Greek nymph.

Heidegger Soup

Friday, October 30th, 2009


Some families go to classical concerts or visit an art gallery. Something truly cultured for the parents and educational for the children. We had webite-home-042smalla family outing, too, last night – a birthday treat for our ten-year-old – and we watched a rather striking performance of the American rock band Bowling For Soup at the Roundhouse in Camden. How many times can I scream the F-word and C-word into the mike – that, I think, was the name of their game, and whatever their aim might have been, I seriously believe they overshot  their target by far. Raving applause. Best ever gig – as far as the youth of today was concerned.


Back home I on the other hand needed to be consoled and threw myself into the arms of my newly found love of the moment – Heidegger, yes, Martin his first name. It’s taken me a while to succumb. He’s been standing in my bookshelf for some time now, stalking me, now finally I am starting to get his drift. But – blimey – what an abstract soul, completely locked inside language, while he claims to be sorting out the meaning of Being–in-this-World. I wonder if it would have helped him to attend just a single Bowling for Soup concert. How would he have reacted to the heaving mass of bodies and to the sexual innuendo left right and centre? Perhaps it might have helped him to come down to earth a bit. Maybe he then could have skipped his infatuation with the extreme right-wing politics? As I think about it, I’m nearly ready to defend Bowling For Soup – although not until they clean up their language a fair bit! 

High Heels brought down to Earth

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009


High hopes. That’s what I had for the Frankfurt book fair last week. Yep, those ones over there. But, my God, how low did I sink, stripped of all webite-home-031smallmy dignity at the end.


Day One I managed well, twelve half-hour meetings and two parties at night. The next day I was fading. Another twelve meetings, one reception and one party later, I stood at the side of a road, ready to burst into tears because my feet were so painful and there was no taxi in sight. The following day I woke up with a desperate urge for some down-to-earth pragmatism. With five minutes to spare I rushed into the next best shoe shop and grabbed the plainest boots with the lowest heel I could find in my size. They did the trick – I admit. As I walked pain-free to my next meeting, I could hear my mother’s voice in my head: I told you, didn’t I, you’d break your neck with these mickey mouse shoes. Ha, she was wrong – I didn’t break my neck, did I, merely had a little cry because of swollen feet. That’s all.


So obviously I was terribly busy with shoe issues. Did I achieve anything else? Well, I sold all the Peirene books to Canada, made headway with American and Australian publishing houses who might buy one or the other title, I pitched for three new Peirene books. But the best was the networking. I just love the Frankfurt book fair. The amount of people one can meet there is just phenomenal– old faces, new faces, unexpected faces and afterwards all the contact via email and phone becomes so much easier. Face-to-face communication is still the top runner.


I also had some deep philosophical thoughts about numbers and that we humans are so impressed by numbers and want to impress with numbers. The first day, when asked how many books I intend to publish a year, I’d say six. A straight forward lie. I intend to publish four. Because with four I know I can give them their due – after all I am a one-woman-show and publishing books is just one part of what I do, in fact the easy part. It’s the marketing and publicity that takes the time. And I truly want to give each of my little babies their fair share. Somehow that sounds far less impressive than throwing around big figures.  I got better at sticking proudly to the truth the lower my heels went. But I vehemently would like to reject the idea that there might be a link between numbers and heels. In fact my mission until the next Frankfurt book fair is to find the ultimate heel  – high but marathon proof. I am open for suggestions.

Voodoo Words

Saturday, October 10th, 2009


Ever heard of Sabon and Bembo? Really? Then you are – in my eyes at least – an interesting person, a valuable contact and skilled in typesetting.webite-home-026 I now also have something to do with typesetting – I am a publisher, aren’t I? – but until a couple of days ago I had never heard of Sabon and Bembo. I truly believed that a beautiful, readable text just appears on the page. Abracadabra – and that’s it!


The new-born publisher is very excited, her first text will be type-set today. She takes her beautifully designed cover, the preliminary pages, the layout and the text to the typesetter. The typesetter throws a quick glance at the stuff brought to him. “Bembo is a particularly tricky font, we might have to deal with a lot of gappy lines.” The new-born publisher, who has just arrived on planet print, never heard of gappy lines. And Bembo? All she can see are normal letters and that’s what’s matters. They look pretty similar to Times New Roman in her word documents. She shrugs her shoulders and thinks: Bembo? Some typesetter jargon, surely nothing she needs to worry about. She goes home, with a smile on her face, soon she will have a beautiful text ready to go to the printers.

Little does she know that her peaceful nights are counted.

The next morning she finds on her screen the type-set text, it looks odd. Some lines have more gaps then words. She e-mails back: We need to adjust those lines. The typesetter obliges. The gaps disappear but now the lines look cramped. Words run into each other. She spends a sleepless night. Surely it must be possible to just put a text normally on the page. She rings the typesetter the next morning. “I told you,” he replies, “that’s what you get.” Despair descends upon her. Again, she hears him mumble this Voodoo word, Bembo. She has absolutely no clue what he is talking about. “I’ll send you the text in Sabon,” he then adds with rising frustration. SABON?  There are just too many bizarre words around for this new-born publisher and she is overcome by an immense desire to crawl under the duvet covers. In the meantime the Sabon text arrives. She opens the file – the last act she will  perform before ending her life  – and Abracadabra the text problems have disappeared.


So, did she that night sleep safe and sound, with sweet dreams about Sabon on her mind? No! She woke up at 2am and laid wide awake until 4 am, worrying now about the book’s size. It’s a small book – because her texts are short. But is the book perhaps too small? Will people like the fact that in the bookshelves the spine will be shorter? And will the die cut on the book sleeve work. It’s a stunning idea but will it tear too easily? At 5 am she decides to get up. The least she can do is write her blog, a blissful simple task in comparison to her Voodoo publishing world.