Today I’m thrilled to have the fabulous Karen Sullivan pop by the book review café and take part in my latest feature #BehindTheBooks. Karen is the owner of Orenda Books and I’m sure most book bloggers would agree Karen publishes some of the most compelling books I’ve had the pleasure to read. I hope you enjoy this feature as much as I did putting it together……
Good morning Karen I’m so excited to have you finally visit the book review café, first thing first tea or coffee?
Coffee all the way. I don’t speak to anyone in the morning until my Nespresso machine has done its business! Being Canadian, I never really ‘got’ the tea thing, and shhhhhhh don’t really like it!
What made you decide to set up a publication business?
I was an author for years (non-fiction), and got a bit bored writing about the same things (raising children, emotional health, discipline, nutrition, etc.), particularly as my boys got older. I took what was ostensibly a one-day-a-week job in a little independent, writing jacket copy and advance information sheets/press releases, etc. It soon turned into more than full time, and when my boss was sacked and a new group of shareholders brought in, who clearly didn’t understand the ethos of the list or the company, I decided it was the to leave. It took me 24 hours to decide to start Orenda Books, and I haven’t looked back!
What genre of books do Orenda Books publish?
We publish literary fiction, with a heavy emphasis on crime thrillers, about half in translation. What defines the list is the superb writing!
What makes Orenda Books unique from other publishers?
That’s a good question. It’s a small list, and our authors come from 14 countries around the world, so there is immediately a big international element to Orenda. We work hard together, as Team Orenda, and all of my authors are as approachable and engaged as they are talented. My goal was to publish beautiful, unforgettable books … and create a brand identity that would mean readers picking up the next Orenda book, regardless of its provenance or genre, on the basis that they KNOW it will be good. We work super hard at all stages of editing to make sure that happens! We really believe that if someone wants to buy a physical book, they want something gorgeous. So we have great covers, and use excellent-quality paper, with neat little design touches; for example, a little ornament or illustration in the runnings heads.
What would you say has been your biggest success so far?
I think getting this far is probably my biggest success! It’s a crowded, noisy market, and it’s not easy being a little guy! In terms of books, Ragnar Jonasson’s Dark Iceland series has been far and away our bestselling titles, with over a million copies sold in various territories around the world. Amanda Jennings, Matt Wesolowski, Louise Voss, Michael J. Malone, Kjell Ola Dahl, Lilja Sigurdardottir, Thomas Enger and Antti Tuomainen have also been strong sellers. All of them have done well, really!
We publish a lot of debut authors, and it can take some time to get them established, but sales are up across the board for everyone! One of the nice things about being small and working so closely with authors is that we build very strong relationships. We are completely committed to all of our authors, and growing them with the company, regardless of how long that might take.
Which brings me to my next question, What has been the biggest challenge?
The biggest challenge will always be trying to compete with the big players. We don’t have the marketing budgets that they do, or teams of creatives, and can’t generate the same type of hype for books. Sometimes I want weep when I see heavily hyped books getting all the attention (and publicity and sales) when I know that ours are much, much better! I also struggle with the growth of the 99p digital publishers, who are doing great damage to the industry as a whole … the value that books are perceived to have, an author’s ability to earn a living. As a matter of principle, we refuse to discount without a retailer-supported promotion, but it is very hard to compete against publishers offering books so cheaply. But we chose to play with the big boys, so we have to get on and do it. I give a lot of books away, but I do get frustrated when people are always want everything free or cheaply. I feel a huge weight of responsibility for my authors, and they have to be able to eat! I wish sometimes book buyers would understand how hard it is to do this. If they don’t support independent publishers, buy their books, and actively choose them over some of the over-hyped big-company titles, a lot of fabulous books will never be published and we will lose the vibrancy of the community, the variety of literature available. This has become one long rant!
You must get hundreds of submissions from authors, how do you choose which books you will publish?
We get so many submissions, it’s almost terrifying! We have a reader who has worked with from the very beginning, and she knows exactly what will excite me! So she acts as a filter, and gives me a yes, no, maybe response, and a full report for every book. She has NEVER been wrong yet! Sometimes I may revisit a ‘no’, but I haven’t ever seen anything that she has missed. Then it comes to me and my editor, and we both read it. So the process is long … particularly because we are so busy with the day-to-day running of the company and keeping books going through. If I absolutely LOVE a book, I might offer for it. But the list is tiny, though, and we can’t publish that many new titles a year … having made a commitment to existing authors to grow them! I sometimes read fantastic submissions that are just a little to close in style or plot to something we already publish. One thing I definitely want to do is make sure that every single book/author is completely different. So we might have several police procedurals or psychological thrillers, but they share nothing apart from their genre or sub genre.
If I sent a book I wrote to you how long would it take you to review and respond?
I’m almost embarrassed to say that it could take six to eight months … just because of the sheer volume!! And we do like to read everything!
What would put you off reading my book I sent to you?
Poor spelling, a cliched plot or characters. Weak writing. A submission letter that isn’t personalised (i.e., Dear Sirs).
Lots of things can be fixed in books (and are) but an author needs to be a great writer to be published here and bring something fresh and distinctive.
If you accepted my book how long is the process from accepting a manuscript to final publication? And what does the process involve?
Usually about a year, but it depends upon what time of year it’s signed. What we do first is a structural edit … loads of editorial notes that send the author back to his/her writing desk to get the bones of the book … the plot, characters, timeline, continuity, atmosphere, setting. It might go back and forth several (or even dozens of) times before it’s ready for copyediting. This is the line edit, and the copyeditor always finds more things that need addressing, and the prose is polished at this stage. The author then answers queries and checks the edits to make sure he/she is happy. During the process, we write a blurb, commission a jacket, get it up for pre-order, pitch to the sales teams around the world, discuss marketing and publicity approaches, etc. Once the book is in good shape, it is typeset. We usually print uncorrected proofs at this stage (about five/six months before publication), and these go out to the press, booksellers, other authors for jacket quotes, the sales teams, and some of the bloggers. The book is then proofread by author and an outside proofreader. Then a couple of months before publication, we print the final book! It takes a while…
You have some fantastic covers for your books, how do you choose a cover?
We have the MOST AMAZING jacket designer – Mark Swan. I give him a detailed brief … basically what the book is about, the kind of images we might be looking for, or the approach … and he delivers a series of roughs. It’s honestly VERY hard to choose. He is a genius! Sometimes the jacket we choose doesn’t meet with the approval of the retailers, so we go back to the drawing board. Usually there is another rough in the bunch that fits the bill. Jackets DO have to stand out, and we spend a lot of time getting them right.
Are there any books you are publishing this year you are really excited about?
Hand on heart, I am absolutely thrilled to be publishing every single book on the list. Quite a few authors are on their third or fourth books, and they just get better and better. It’s such a delight … a source of huge excitement … to get this list of books out there to readers. I am probably as nervous and excited as the authors themselves. In terms of new authors, however, we have a WONDERFUL book from Norway, A Modern Family, by Helga Flatland, who we are calling the Norwegian Anne Tyler. It’s so exquisitely written and moving … and it will resonate with anyone who has EVER had a sibling! It’s out in June. We’ve also got Paul Burston’s new psychological thriller, The Closer I Get, which revolves around the world of social media, where a follower becomes a little obsessive. These are authors who are new to Orenda. Others are making their return with books that quite simply smash it out of the park!
As for the marketing of your books, what have you found works best for Orenda Books?
A combination of things! We do a lot of giveaways, and Anne Cater organises the most incredible blog tours (sometimes with over 80 bloggers involved in each), which really give a book a nice headstart with some fabulous reviews and a great buzz. We do promotions with retailers, and place ads in online sites and in some print media (a lot more in the USA/Can than here). We are very active on social media, and have just started our ‘Orenda Books at Bedtime’, which is a series that goes out every Sunday night at 8pm
. An author reads from his/her book from the comfort of their own home, and it’s really taking off. I absolutely think that the best marketing imaginable is to get authors in front of readers, so the ‘online’ intimate bedtime story is definitely a good way to do that. Our authors did over 300 events last year between them, including loads of festivals, and most also took part in our Orenda Roadshow, where we visit four bookshops across the country in four days. We have big launches, and parties, and try to make readers and anyone who reviews our books or shares the book love feel like part of the team. Our book trailers have been a surprising success. We also have a newsletter that goes out via the Crime Lounge every couple of weeks!
Can you tell us a little about a typical day at Orenda?
I don’t think there is any typical day! One day I might work from 7am
till after midnight on edits, or I might spend a whole day trying to organise events, pitching for festivals. I might have sales meetings, or be on the road with authors for days on end! We could be preparing books for press … chasing up praise and getting the final cover designed. Spending time on social media, checking sales figures, writing a press release or jacket copy, reading submissions, crying at cash flow, rewriting metadata for online retailers (particularly for ebooks), coming up with strategies for marketing or publicity, looking at reviews for blog tours, in the press, on goodreads or Amazon. Talking to the sales team, or Sophie, who helps with PR. Updating the website. Working out why something isn’t selling as well as expected, perhaps, and finding ways to give it a boost. Talking to my editor, West Camel, and Cole, my son, who now works for us as an assistant everything! I’m getting a little better at delegating. There are hundreds of emails every day, too!
I am up at seven, get my youngest off to school, and then work well into the night (stopping to cook dinner!). I go to lots of launches for authors from other publishers, too, and am away a LOT a book fairs, author events, festivals, international sales conferences, etc. Every day brings something new and maybe that’s partly why it is so much fun. Although there are a lot of extremely boring administrative tasks, I can always do something else if I start to lose my mind!
One final question can you sum up Orenda Books in five words?
Well, our little ‘tag line’, which I thought up in about 20 seconds when I started the company is: Beautiful Readable Unforgettable. I’m not sure I could actually top that! Just Team Orenda?
About Orenda Books
Karen with author Thomas Enger
Orenda Books was founded by publisher Karen Sullivan in late 2014 to specialise in literary fiction with a heavy emphasis on crime/thrillers, about half in translation. The company has fast made a name for itself, being shortlisted for the IPG Nick Robinson Newcomer Award, shortlisting for and winning a clutch of awards, including CWA Daggers, Authors’ Club First Novel Award, the Petrona Award, the Glass Key and the Dead Good Reads Awards. Karen was also named as a Bookseller Rising Star for 2016.
My thanks to Karen for taking time out of her hectic schedule to take part in this feature.