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Tag: John Murray

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Author's lunch

It’s all about who feeds you the best. When I got my first deal with a large publisher for an early travel book, I was taken to lunch by the editor. Author-editor lunches were once the mainstay of the getting-to-know-you process, and were an author’s perk. A hungry writer, as I was then, looked forward to being wined and dined somewhere posh. The publisher was part of a huge publishing conglomerate, whose HQ was a vast towering glass monstrosity in the heart of London’s West End. Over lunch the editor lisped out details of the book and said how much she liked it. But my mind wasn’t on conversation as much as it was on the food. I hadn’t eaten for more than a day in anticipation. When the menus were brought, my editor suggested that I only order a main course as the prices were a little steep. I remember feeling my back warming with ire. I have never forgotten that moment, and the fact that my entre of ravioli had only three miserable bits of pasta. But then, years later, I moved to the fabulous old firm John Murray. It was before Murray’s had been bought by Headline. When the editor took me for the author-editor lunch, she pointed to the most expensive thing on the menu, grilled dover sole, and suggested enthusiastically that I order it, and keep enough space for the cheese plateau as well.



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Book Publishing

This next set of blogs is about getting published. I’m writing it because it’s an area that I have come to know, and one which I think is in many ways an outright con. I say this because I think the public are duped in the most obscene way by publishers, who hype fewer and fewer authors, and allow the majority to go to the wall. These days there are almost no real publishers. It’s all about making financial targets of course, and about the corporate ladder. There are less people who go into publishing because of the love of reading and books, and far more who revel in climbing up within a corporate system. I am published by some very large publishers around the world, and in my daily dealings with them I see toe-cringingly lack of interest in the product. It’s amazing to me. Imagine a car company or any manufacturing firm in which the product is so little understood by the people who are hoping to sell it. Ask any writer and they will tell you of how many people in the editorial process fail to actually read the object they are hoping to sell. All they talk about is the container and how it looks, rather than the content. Some of them skim books, but I’m ever more amazed at how few even skim. They write, for example, the blurb for the back of an author’s book, without reading the text. I can’t tell you how many times they have got even the most basic details wrong, or even misspelled my name. But, wait, this blog isn’t going to be a diatribe on modern publishing, but a few hint on how to break in by thinking from the inside out.



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In Production

13.     Have an already in production mentality. A few years ago, I met David and Leon Flamholc of Caravan Film and we decided to make a jungle film together. They planned to follow a rather madcap and ill-planned adventure into the densest cloud forest in the world, in search of an enormous lost city. We had no money, no commission, very little equipment and nothing except for mountains of enthusiasm. I wondered aloud when and if we would ever be in production on morning while we were at a greasy spoon diner in London’s East End. Leon looked at me hard over his bubble and squeak. ‘We’re already in production!’ he said grandly. And with that mentality, that outlook, we talked the establishment to back us. Within a few weeks we had a commission and equipment, and a staff… all because we believed in ourselves.



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Pipeline

12.     Keep your work pipeline choc-a-block with projects at different stages. At any one time I have two or three books on the boil, and a couple more in the publishing pipeline. I have movie scripts too, and charitable projects and reviews to do, and forewords to write, and documentaries in development. I am a believer that one thing eventually links to other things, and that the more balls you’re juggling, the more interesting life will be. But the key thing about this system is to make sure that all projects eventually reach fruition. There’s nothing easier that starting. Finishing is what it’s all about.



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Biography

11.     Learn from successful people. It’s not a new idea to read biographies of successful people. But it’s a great one. If you can read the blueprint of a life and map out key moments, cruxes, then you are more likely to recognise such moments in your own life, as well as understanding those times when the world is piled on to of you. Last year I read a small book by Richard Branson, Screw it, Let’s do it. I can’t even remember how it came to me. But I was touched by his outlook, his ability to turn misfortune into fortune, and to use cold, clear, common sense.



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Polymathy

11.     Be a polymath. Cross-pollinate ideas and information. Learn from all sorts of areas and try and apply what you have learned into other disciplines. It’s an idea, an approach, that hardly exists in the West, but one that’s been used in the Orient for millennia. If you are interested in accounting, for example, learn about flower arranging, and archery, about fly fishing and cryptography. Don’t struggle to link one area to the next, because the amazing thing is that the universe and your mind will do it for you.



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Storytelling

9.     Be a storyteller in whatever you do. We are all storytellers. We converse in stories whether we realise it or not. That’s because stories are a way of packaging information and ideas into a format that those around us can accept. We have done it so much and for so long that we hardly realise we’re doing it. The same goes with work. If you have a report, don’t churn it out in black and white. Use anecdotes, and little tales to get a message across. You’ll be amazed at how easily they are digested. And if you have a presentation to make, or people to train, do it with stories that have a beginning, a middle and an end. 



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Ambient Time

8.     Use ambient time. I often hear people telling their family, colleagues and friends that they don’t have time to do scratch their heads. Far too busy to meet for that after work drink, to write letters, to make a phone call, or take on a project. But stop. Look at your life. Really look at it. Could the minutes you spend wasting time… standing in a bus queue, waiting for the kettle to boil, sitting at the traffic lights in your car, be harnessed?. Spend a day with a stopwatch. Time it all. Time the lost moments, and the half-spent hours. That time can be used. I’m not saying it’s sensible to write letters, say, while you’re driving. But you could be listening to self help books or even novels on an iPod. And you could be planning projects. And even better, you could be multi-tasking as they call it across the Atlantic. Doing three or four things at once. I look at my life and I’m rarely doing one thing. Even while writing this I’m paying the electricity bill, planning the afternoon, and thinking about an email I have to reply to on shrunken heads.



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Problem Solving

7.     Learn to solve problems. See yourself as a problem solving machine. There’s very little as important to me as solving problems. Teaching our children and those around us to solve problems is a way of giving them an invaluable tool. We often find ourselves unable to crack a problem that’s smothering our lives. If this happens, put a space between you and the problem and look at it from a distance. Imagine it’s your best friend’s problem and not your own, and then start to work out what your friend could do to solve it. And remember that the best route to solving a problem is seldom a straight line.



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Reuse

6.     Learn to reuse material. I am a believer that good material deserves to be packaged in different ways, and that most people miss key stuff on the first time. By being exposed again and again to specific ideas, they get increased value. Think of it like this: if you were to shine a shaft of light on an apple from the top looking down on it, you’d see the stalk. But you wouldn’t see the smooth sides or the base. But by presenting the same object (or idea) from varying viewpoints and angles, the viewer gets a far greater understanding.



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