On the Tyranny of Forms . . .

When I started JFB, in January 2011 – yes, I know: a quarter of the way into my fourth year; doesn’t time fly when we’re all having so much fun? – Quercus was a bit . . .  well, independent, let’s call it. And it was such a difference, just to get on and do things without having to go through seventeen different meetings, or getting half a dozen signatures . . . and I loved it.

But here’s the thing: it didn’t take me all that long to realise that actually, I like a bit of structure to things (I know: sad, right?). There was a lot to be said for being able to rock up in MD David North’s office and say, ‘Look, I love this book and I think I should offer X for it,’ or to stop by Art Director Patrick Carpenter’s desk and brief a cover on the fly.

The trouble is, these days I have the memory of a thingy – you know, that thing that hasn’t got any wotsit . . .artichoke? Something like that. Anyway, you know what I mean . . . So when I’m then trying to put my budget together, or needing to brief the next in the series before we’ve actually seen the first cover, I’ve got nothing on paper to remind me what was running through my brain at the time I had the earlier discussions.

So I started to introduce a few simple forms, just for my own benefit really, and only to buy books and brief covers; nothing else needed to be so rigidly documented, as far as I was concerned.

And then the rot set in . . . and before I knew it I was once again up to my ears in administrative forms which went from being useful, helpful – and most importantly, brief – to novelette-sized monstrosities that demand you include everything, from ISBNs for every single edition you might ever want to publish (and God forbid you might change your mind at some point and decide to add in a limited-edition price-promoted hardback because you’ve got an excited bookseller ringing you three times a day to tell you you’d be crazy to miss this opportunity) to an appendix including every individual territory you are allowed to sell into (in the old days, ‘World’ did the job. Not now, oh no, now I need to list them all,  Vanuatu, Nauru, Mauritania, the lot . . .)

And then we joined Hachette, and with Hachette came Biblio . . . Of course, I told Nicola, it can’t be anywhere near as bad as Information Mangler, the title database I used to use. Famous last words . . .

And of course, it’s not just Biblio; there’s also DAM and SAP and Global Expense and Vista and Nielsen (and no, I have no idea what most of them are for; that’s why I have Nicola).

So if you’re wondering why I am running JFB entirely by myself this week, it’s because I deemed it prudent to graciously allow my super-efficient Editor to go on holiday . . . Even I have to admit it’s a just reward, as it’s not even been a case of just filling in all the necessary information once. Oh no, the process of inputting not just the frontlist books but also every single one of our backlist titles onto Biblio has turned out – what a surprise! – to have been a job not dissimilar to the cleaning of the Augean Stables (although admitted slightly less smelly). But she’s spent months entering and then re-entering the data after first one glitch and then another wipes out her hard work  – and then, just when we think we’re safe, we attended a presentation on eBook sales, which strongly suggested we should rewrite every single one of our new title descriptions, and then we decided we’d better start over again because it was a Thursday . . .) No, all right, one of those might have been a slight exaggeration. But what wasn’t was the enormous amount of form-filling that’s taken place in JFB Towers this year.

So Nicola has put down her quill and I have waved her off with a cheery smile on my face (and despair in my heart—) No, no – for she will be back*! And then Jo Fletcher Books will once again run like clockwork.

And in the meantime, Andy is just a few desks away. I haven’t yet told him his job description is changing for the next ten days :)

So HAPPY EASTER, Team JFB, Beloved Staff and Authors and Artists and Readers alike, and Happy Hols, Nicola.

Jo

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*If only because I know where you live . . .

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