Garrets and Gatekeepers by Jane Ayres

Photograph by Chris Ayres
http://scubabeer.uk.to/jalbum

More than 30 years ago I wrote an article for the now defunct Composer magazine called Starving in Garrets.  It was all about how painfully difficult it was for composers to get their work performed and heard, and even harder to make a living from writing music.  In many ways, I don’t believe things have really changed that much for artists and creatives. There is still that struggle for discoverability.

I’m a writer, primarily.  But I’m also a musician and have worked with contemporary composers.   I recently read some sobering statistics for writers.  For example, in 2011 there were 211,269 self-published titles and out of at least 1.2 million titles published by the entire industry over the course of a year, almost 80% sell fewer than 100 copies. (source: http://www.thebookdesigner.com/2012/09/7-book-marketing-mistakes/)

So how on earth do you get people’s attention? If you are a writer, it’s pretty tough.  If you are a composer, it’s even harder. We measure success by fame and celebrity status, regardless of quality.  So if you aren’t yet a “name” you are largely invisible.   How do you get the “gatekeepers” to listen to your music, or read your work? For anyone to take you seriously? If you are lucky, maybe 1 in 30 people you contact might reply and follow up your work. Many years ago, I decided to speculatively contact film production companies about one of my books.  I sent 35 emails with a pitch, had 2 replies, and this resulted in one meeting with a producer.  I was told this was a pretty good result!

The more successful you are, the busier you become.  Famous people have a whole raft of assistants (gatekeepers) which make it even harder to be heard.  Even a negative reply is a response, which acknowledges your existence.  You have been read, listened to.  Your creation is personal and precious and being ignored is far worse than rejection, though you may not agree.

But negotiating huge organisations like the BBC, for example, can be like scaling an impenetrable fortress.  If anyone knows how you manage to get a Proms commission I would love to hear from you.

Of course, the internet provides a global shop window on an unprecedented level.  Writers can publish without publishers, artists can create online galleries, composers and musicians can put their work on platforms like You Tube.  We can let the public judge.  As Natasha said in a previous post, artists don’t generally follow their calling for the money.  But they do need to be acknowledged, and better still, enjoyed.  They want to share their work.  That’s the whole point.

And so, with Xmas looming on the horizon, I’m including a recently discovered You Tube link to a moving performance of a haunting  Carol which a Canadian choir have used for their candlelit procession over the past 5 years.  The music was written by a UK composer who should be far better known.  Simply beautiful!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SIyhg8e04cI

To find out more about Jane’s publishing experiences, go to her blogwww.janeayres.blogspot.co.uk

Her trilogy of Matty Horse and Pony Adventures books for pre-teens and teens (and nostalgic older readers!) are available for Kindle on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk. All profits from these stories are going to Redwings Horse Sanctuary.

Limehouse Design : This Is What I Do – By Emily Foster

As a fellow creative, you will understand that not everybody understands us.

Since finishing university and making my first proper steps into the world of work, I am often asked what it is I do now. For an elderly relative, it is enough to state briefly that I am working in publishing (books have been around a long time). For my friends outside of the creative industry, this might not be enough; to them, I am the Graphic Designer, and sole creative person of the group. Even though they’re not sure what this truly means, the title seems to satisfy them.

But none of this is enough for my creative friends, nor enough for the Creatabot readers, I feel. The other creatives always seem to ask more questions; they need to know exactly what and how and why. They need the specifics. Luckily, ours is a sharing community, so here I plan to share exactly what it is I do, design-wise, at Limehouse Books.

So what is it that I do? And what does that involve?

First, the obvious. I create covers, and lay out the text, of the books. This involves some direction from my boss, the Managing Director of Limehouse Books. It involves accurate page sizes with bleeds and margins, and exporting to pdfs. It involves liaising with printers and pre-press teams who check (note: check, not fix) your file for you.

What else? There’s design for a purely digital purpose. The Limehouse magazine, for example, which is released online-only, and various digital catalogues. All of these can be seen here: http://www.slideshare.net/limehousebooks. There’s also a few other, little pieces that need to be done. Creating pack shots of books to go on our website, for example, or making an advert as a banner to go on another website. A desktop wallpaper, an event flyer, a cover image for Facebook.

However, all this stuff is still pretty standard. Loads of other companies manage their own creative output just fine. One of the hardest things about working for Limehouse is that we don’t do this with an experienced production team. We do this just us. Just me – the fresh-faced design graduate, not too much experience but eager to learn – and the Managing Director – smart but still doesn’t understand what a baseline grid is.

This sometimes makes for a very scary working day. At the moment we are preparing our next VIB – Very Important Book – to send to print. This project is different as we are producing it in collaboration with another company – so there are more people to potentially disappoint. If this wasn’t enough, we are printing not our usual two thousand copies, but ten thousand copies of this book. If this goes wrong, it will be all our (read: my) fault.

And why am I telling you all this?

I share all this for you to understand. If you feel like you’re in over your head – don’t worry, so do we. We learn as we go along. Being a designer, especially at Limehouse, is much more than knowing Indesign inside out. It’s about having motivation, about listening and learning all the time. Half of what I do now, I didn’t even dream of this time last year. And I hope I still feel the same in another year’s time. 

By Emily Foster

http://uk.linkedin.com/in/emilyjaynefoster

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