8 March 2011
The Hot Hive is an independent book publisher based in Worcestershire. I first heard of the company last autumn, via a couple of authors who’d secured a deal through it. Given what I was then learning about the book-publishing world, said deal sounded very good, but at the time it was one more lead I didn’t have time to follow up. Crucially, I got my hands on one of the Hot Hive’s books. It was a thing of beauty.
At the start of January, I spent a three-day weekend at home, creating order out of disorder. On the Saturday night, among other things, I checked the company’s website, printed their literature and read it through before bedtime.
The writers of the book I’d seen were known to an acquaintance, who I began pestering for an introduction. By Monday evening, she’d got back and agreed to help. By Wednesday, she’d made the introduction. I called the writer on Thursday.
The author in question is called Louise Claire-Pardoe. She co-wrote the book with her partner, Jason Paul Claire. It’s called The Serenity Code. Louise was extremely helpful and, by then, I knew which questions to ask. The deal they’d secured sounded even better in the detail. After a bit of phone-based bonding, Louise said she would introduce me to the publisher. She texted on Friday morning to say they’d spoken. I made the call that afternoon.
The name of the Hot Hive’s managing director is Karen Swinden. She took my call, and I told her what I’d done, what I was going to do and what I needed. Karen signed-off with the comment, ‘you sound like a dream,’ – she was the first publishing professional who’d ever heard me pitch, or asked to see the manuscript in all its glory. That Saturday, I stayed up until 3 a.m. saving a new version of it, double-spaced, and sent it off, by recorded delivery, on the Monday.
The following Friday, I received an email from the Hot Hive saying they’d completed their desk edit. The comments were encouraging. Karen wanted to meet. That Wednesday, we sat down together in London. It was a two-hour conversation. Finally I could begin showing my full hand. What a relief.
I spent the first 20 minutes grilling Karen on her CV and background. She spent the following 20 minutes finding out what I knew about the publishing industry and filling in my knowledge of wholesalers, discount rates, distribution channels and book-publishing costs, while explaining how those costs are affected by page count, paper type, jacket design and the inclusion of photos. We talked until there was nothing else to discuss, without crunching numbers.
When I got home that evening there was an email waiting from a certain well-known public-sector organisation, approving my front-cover image.
Two days later – on Friday – the protests in Egypt were on the front of the Financial Times. By the time I left work and hit the gym, it was kicking-off in Cairo. As I’m addicted to 24-hour news, that was the backdrop as my journey of: adventure > interactive art > concept > creative process > polishing > finding a publisher > product, reached its next sub-stage – specifying the book’s physical parameters.
I worked away all weekend while, on the telly, the pivotal country in the Middle East began shaking off a limited political system, that will never be viable in the long term, and take a faltering step towards something sustainable, rational and in harmony with underlying realities. Blooming marvellous. I refer you to chapter nine (subchapter seven) of my forthcoming book.
For the next week I obsessed over the shape, weight, page thickness and internal graphics of various tomes. Tony and I pulled examples off shelves and mulled them over. I sent emails to my advisors, fielding opinions as to the pros and cons of pictures and maps. Anyone entering my immediate radius was peppered with questions about bindings and cover prices.
The following weekend – as I prepared for the second face-to-face meeting – street battles had erupted across the greatest Arab metropolis: depicted in high-definition and real-time on Tony’s fifty-inch, flat-screen, wall-mounted television. Carnival had given way to urban warfare. The Egyptian political establishment, seeing the waterfall’s edge their canoe was approaching, had panicked and sent in the thugs – blinded to those underlying realities by their own internal hardwiring.
I refer the honourable reader to chapter nine (subchapter one) of my very-soon-to-be-in-your-hands first book.
That Tuesday, I took the train to Worcestershire to meet the Hot Hive’s team. I rocked up at Evesham station, fired-up with caffeine, and was picked up in a convertible BMW by Karen’s husband, Nigel. At the business park where they’re based, I was introduced to Sara, the production manager, Emma, who does the numbers, then shown around the warehouse – now I know what 1,500 books looks like. After lunch, Karen and I sat down and got technical. Cold hard reality. Printing costs. Profit per book. Sales plans. Legal contracts. Information overload. I returned on the train that evening, my head in a swirl.
The next morning marked the beginning of two brain-meltingly intense days at work. The first crisis kicked off at 9.10, the second by 10.00. It was Thursday before I could sit down at home, get out my calculator and think through the implications.
The following evening, I had dinner at an Italian restaurant in the East End with Simon Cann, my most technical book person. We pored over the numbers, thought through potential futures, firmed-up strategy and tactics, and discussed what would feel wholesome and right. By the time I returned home, President Mubarak had got the message. They were partying on the streets of Cairo; joy exploding across the city. The wheel of history was turning, live on Sky News.
On Saturday morning, a coffee by my side, I spent two hours reading though the 17 pages of legal documentation I’d been given, making several pages of notes. Then I called Karen. We spoke for 40 minutes. Final negotiations. This is the crux – one of the most important decisions I’ll ever make. These are the things I am prepared to do to make this work. These are the dice I will roll. In return, this is what I need.
‘OK,’ she said. Then a pause, ‘OK, we can do that.’ Here we go. A rising sense of elation. Game on. You’re an author, so capture the moment.
‘Can you hold the line for a second Karen? I just need to write something down …’
Not for the proud man apart
From the raging moon I write
On these spendthrift pages
Nor for the towering dead
With their nightingales and psalms
But for the lovers, their arms
Round the griefs of the ages,
Who pay no heed or wages
Nor heed my craft or art.
- Dylan Thomas