Today we welcome Sarah Quirke to the blog. Sarah will be known to members through her work with Ulverscroft.
Welcome, Sarah. Many authors know the name Ulverscroft but can you tell us something about the company?
Ulverscroft Large Print Books has, under its umbrella, F.A. Thorpe Publishing, Isis and Magna – so between us we produce both large print and audio titles. I work at F.A. Thorpe, which has been around for a while now; in fact, we celebrated our half-century earlier on this year!
Thorpe Publishing was founded in 1964 by Dr Frederick Thorpe, who had a bit of a battle on his hands at the time. Publishers were reluctant to risk allowing their authors’ work to be reproduced in this new medium, but a chance meeting with Dame Agatha Christie changed that. She thought the idea a great one, and gave Fred Thorpe permission to reproduce her titles in large print which, in turn, helped break down resistance throughout the industry. Today, the Ulverscroft Group is owned by a charity, the Ulverscroft Foundation, which supports research into and treatment of eye diseases. For example, the Foundation funds the Ulverscroft Unit at Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children.
What does your job entail?
We’re a small team in the Publishing office (four of us, including me), so we work quite tightly together. I’ll be setting lists, while someone else is sorting out the cover artwork and editing down back cover blurbs.
A big part of what I do is sifting through the titles that are submitted to us (we’re surrounded by book-mountains in our office!) and deciding which ones to go for. There’s the nitty-gritty part of that – looking at production costs and sales figures and working out our margins – and the more mundane part: do we really need any more non-fiction titles on our ‘bought’ shelves at the moment? No, but we could do with getting some more mystery titles before next month...
Much of the time I’ll base my decision on an author’s previous sales records, and we have people who read submissions from authors we’ve not published before and write reports for us, which is very useful. But sometimes a book will just grab you, and you know it’s worth offering on straight away. That was the case with Vikas Swarup’s Q&A (which eventually became the hit film Slumdog Millionaire), and with Emma Donoghue’s Room, which I knew was a winner the second I read the strapline on the proof’s cover.
Once I know I want to acquire a title, there’s the bidding process. For the larger titles, it can sometimes be a case of a one-off bid securing the large print rights, but more often there’s an auction. It can be galling to wave good bye to a title you’ve set your heart on acquiring, but we win a lot of the auctions too!
What kinds of books do you accept for large print?
As a second rights publisher, we really only want to publish work that’s either already been published in standard print, or has been accepted for standard print publication. There’s also the practical consideration of word count, which has a bearing on whether a title will be suitable for our lists. We have our genre fiction lists – the Linford Romance, Mystery and Western imprints – which are shorter reads, and our Ulverscroft and Charnwood imprints. These latter two contain longer fiction and non-fiction titles, of varying genres.
Are there any subjects you avoid?
Some years ago there was a glut of ‘misery memoirs’ which, for the most part, I tended to avoid; there were also an awful lot of books with suspiciously Da Vinci Code-esque plots... I’d say the main criterion for our titles is that they have mass appeal, and I do think we have a good, wide selection of titles: light-hearted reads, thriller titles, serious and not-so-serious non-fiction, the occasional horror, a goodly amount of crime, some family sagas – basically, I think there’s something for everyone. I can’t walk through a bookshop now without a running commentary going through my head: ‘We’ve got that one… Oh, and that one. Bidding on that one, fingers crossed…
Who is your typical reader?
I’m not sure we have a ‘typical’ reader. Our titles are, of course, intended to be read by those with poor or failing eyesight, but just as there isn’t a typical person affected by macular degeneration, so there isn’t a typical reader. This is why we try to get titles with a broad range of appeal into our lists. It’s a shame that all books can’t be reproduced in larger print, but I think it’s great that we can provide a good number of titles, so that anyone who needs to make use of large print has a range to choose from when they head to their library.
How many books are submitted to libraries each year?
At F.A. Thorpe, we publish 36 titles per month across all our imprints, so that’s 432 titles per year available for libraries to buy. We also do one-off Special Collections – for example, we re-published almost all of Agatha Christie’s titles a few years ago, and we’re looking at doing something similar again with another author (yet to be confirmed!)
Do you write yourself?
How would we submit to you?
Those authors who are submitting titles for consideration for our Linford Romance series tend to email me. As many of you will know, we no longer set titles directly from the D.C. Thomson booklets. Instead, we now need to see the manuscript, so it’s helpful if this is attached as a Word document.
Sarah can be contacted on: email@example.com
Thank you for finding time to answer our questions, Sarah.
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