It’s always interesting to talk to people about writing, publishing and promoting books – the different roles in the industry show us a different slant on things.
However, it is unusual to have this multifaceted viewpoint coming from the one source, which is partly why I was intrigued to talk to bestselling crime novelist, Arlene Hunt, a woman who now sees the industry from many angles. An established bestselling author she chose to turn down a publishing contract with Hachette Ireland to go it alone – to set up her own publishing house, Portnoy Publishing.
When Arlene set up Portnoy, a little over a year ago, she says, ‘it was nerve-wracking of course, but also exciting to leave the relative security of an established house and forge out on one’s own.’ The drive to take on this new role for Arlene, ‘was a combination of wanting to explore new terrain, and feeling the time was right to take on a new challenge. Learning the technical side of publishing, you need to learn how to create covers, spines, understand paper depth: how to deal with printers, distributors, and cold calling shops and so forth. Luckily for me,’ says Arlene, ‘Andrew [co-owner of Portnoy Publishing] is something of a technical whizz.’
The switch from author to publisher sounds daunting to me, but Arlene believes the transition wasn’t as strange as one might think, ‘my world revolves around books, and publishing seemed like a natural extension to me. I knew a lot about the business and I knew a lot of people. My previous publishing house, Hachette, were a great team of people to work with and I learned a lot from them.’
There have certainly been plenty of highs for Arlene and Andrew since starting out. The latest of which was the launch of, The Station Sergeant, by John McAllister. They were delighted to see so many people in ‘No Alibis’ bookshop in Belfast a couple of weeks ago for the launch. Arlene also says, ‘Seeing ‘So Paddy Got up’ go to the top of ibook charts and pretty much stay there for days on end, was another high, along with, seeing the same book picked by Arsenal football club to be included in their membership pack.’
With the highs come the lows of setting up any business, and publishing is no different, with many of the lows being outside of your control. ‘If I could micro-manage every aspect of publishing I would,’ says Arlene, ‘but unfortunately it’s just not possible.’
Having been on one side of the writing submission process and now finding herself on the other – receiving submissions as a publishing house – it was inevitable that I would ask Arlene what Portnoy look for in a submission. ‘A good story, competent writing and compelling characters,’ was Arlene’s straightforward answer to that, but she also explained that during the selection process, within Portnoy Publishing, the role is shared – in the interest of being fair to every submission, experts are called in to advice on the different genres.
Asking Arlene if her publishing role takes away her time from writing, she says, ‘I’ve always been very strict with time in that regard.’ And talking openly about what she believes is one of the most important aspects of her role as publisher, Arlene says, ‘it’s vital to be fair and honest with people. Don’t say you can do something if it is beyond your capability. Portnoy is a small boutique publishing company, totally committed to providing hands on and personally driven performance.’
Since opening its doors, Portnoy, have published Arlene’s novel, The Chosen, a thriller set in America, which has recently been published in Germany as Blutwald; So Paddy got Up an Arsenal anthology, edited by Andrew; Deepest Red a Manchester United anthology, written by the fans for the fans and edited by Brian Foley; and as mentioned above, recently Portnoy had the Belfast launch of, The Station Sergeant, written by John McAllister, a wonderful evocative crime novel set in rural Ireland. Arlene says of John’s novel, ‘it’s character driven and just magical.’
The Station Sergeant which we featured last week over at Crime Scene on www.writing.ie tells the story of Detective Sergeant Barlow, a man of considerable fortitude and intelligence, who finds himself in turmoil as his personal life and professional life clash upon the discovery of the body of much despised local farmer, Stoop Taylor. The Station Sergeant says Arlene, ‘is a genuinely moving novel of a man trying to do right by his family and his community in the face of staggering odds. I could not put it down when I got my hands on the first draft.’
Just as crime fiction is a passion for Arlene, so too is sport for co-owner, Andrew. Both will continue to be components of Portnoy Publishing, and both target a huge market. There have been many decisions made since taking on the new role of publisher, but for Arlene, one of the most important ones was around her role as a crime writer, ‘I put to one side a novel I had been working on for over a year that was important– to me. It was just growing bigger and bigger with no end in sight, and I’m long enough in the business to know when to stop. It was a relief in the end and it won’t be wasted, but the time was not right.’
Currently, Portnoy are getting proposals ready for three new authors, they have the release of The Station Sergeant into the UK later in the year, and Arlene’s latest crime novel, The Outsider, will be published in October. So all in all they are flat out, which Arlene says, is the way they like it.
Before I finish up, and knowing that Arlene Hunt fans will want to find out more about The Outsider, this is how Arlene describes it:
‘Set in a small village in Ireland, Emma Byrne has always been considered an odd ball by those who know her. As a child she barely communicated with anyone other than her twin brother, Anthony. Emma’s family are baffled by her. But Emma has a gift, she understands animals- particularly horses- in ways that amaze people and before long folk the length and breadth of the country are lining up to work with her. So why would anyone want to hurt this shy reserved young woman and who was it that tried to shoot her dead in the woods?’
Already intrigued? I know I am!
Portnoy Publishing:- http://portnoypublishing.com/
Arlene Hunt:- http://arlenehunt.com/
The Chosen:- http://portnoypublishing.com/arlene-hunt-the-chosen/
So Paddy Got Up:- http://portnoypublishing.com/so-paddy-got-up-an-arsenal-anthology-2/
The Station Sergeant:- http://portnoypublishing.com/john-mcallister-the-station-sergeant/
(c) Louise Phillips
Born in Dublin, Louise Phillips is the crime writing mastermind behind writing.ie’s Crime Scene blog. She began writing in 2006 when her youngest son turned thirteen. Since then, Louise has won the Jonathan Swift Award with her story Last Kiss. She was a winner in the Irish Writers’ Centre Lonely Voice Platform, short-listed for the Molly Keane Memorial Award, Bridport UK, and long-listed twice for RTE Guide/Penguin short story competition. Louise has been published as part of many anthologies, including County Lines from New Island, and various literary journals. In May this year she was awarded an Arts Bursary for Literature from South Dublin Arts Council.
Hachette Books Ireland bought Irish and UK Commonwealth rights for Louise’s debut psychological crime novel Red Ribbons, which was shortlisted in this year’s Irish Book Awards for Best Crime Novel of the Year 2012. Louise’s second novel The Doll’s House will be published in 2013.