Frequently Asked Question: I am a best-selling and/or award-winning author but I am not a nice person. Will you work with me?Brubaker Ford Ltd is a book packager/agent/literary consultancy. Yeah. A bit confusing. But it becomes clearer later on. They've been up and running for two years and last Thursday, founding partners Brett Brubaker and David Ford, as well as senior editor (and author) Dr Roberta Butlert came to meet SCBWI members. Here is a picture of (left to right) Roberta, David and Brett at the SCBWI meeting:
Answer: Absolutely not. We are committed to creating the world's finest books while working only with nice people. Good things come from love.
Okay, that's Michael York and other actors in a current production of Camelot.
But I couldn't resist because David really has a striking resemblance to Michael York. I swear, this is what he looks like:
I mentioned this to Brett and Roberta after the illuminating talk (yes, yes, I'll get to that later but this is much more important) and Brett said actually David looked a lot more like Harrison Ford in his youth.
And here is a totally gratuitous picture of Harrison Ford to keep you all going.
Okay, having got the important stuff out of the way, I will tell you about their presentation.
I have to confess that I came to the talk purely with the intention of seeing my SCBWI friends and hanging out. Book Packagers have never been in my radar, having invested all those years on the slushpiles of publishers. Now I thought book packagers develop ideas themselves, then employ authors/illustrators on a work-for-hire (no royalties) basis. The ownership and creativity is all on the packagers side and the authors/illustrators provide a service.
But the moment these guys began to talk about what they did, I became very confused.
Like any book packager they develop books that they sell to publishers.
But they also take picture book and YA submissions.
And then they said they liked to work with authors to turn the author's idea into the best book it could possibly be.
And then they said they don't believe in a flat fee or work for hire.
They then said they put the author's wishes first and will only negotiate a contract with the full agreement of an author. Where some publishers don't involve an author beyond the text "we make sure our authors are involved".
Brett Brubaker, whose scintillating marketing pedigree includes Armani and Prada, puts it this way: "When we are representing an author for a novel, we are like agents. When we are working on a picture book we are more like publishers."
They chose to base themselves in London (with outposts in the US and Canada) because the UK market was small enough so that "here we are able to get together face to face ... we do think it is terribly important to sit around a table". A Publisher's Weekly report described their move thus :
Although Ford and Brubaker are working with authors and illustrators on both sides of the Atlantic, Ford said initially they will spend most of their time in London. "It's far easier to work more intimately with people [in the U.K.], because the country's smaller."Ford was part of the formative years of Walker Books, spending over ten years as Managing Director before moving to the United States to launch Candlewick Press. He was Candlewick's President and CEO for several years then ran a bookstore in Georgia before returning to publishing via Little, Brown and Co Books for Young Readers as Vice President and Publisher. At Little, Brown he played a part in the launch of the now monster bestseller Twilight by Stephenie Meyer.
"We were taught by Sebastian (Walker Books founder Sebastian Walker) that it is the author's name on the cover of the book." Thus whenever there was a disagreement between an editor and a writer, the author inevitably got their way. And what if the editor was right? Says David: "You have to accept failure to get better."
In part, the BrubakerFord collaboration appears to be a reaction to the new realities of publishing, in which the creative control of editors is subsumed to the opinions of accountants in the search for ever bigger profits.
The aim, says Ford, is to do the FUN side of publishing. Distribution and Sales? Boring! Their website explains:
Recent developments in the publishing world have resulted in many authors and illustrators feeling more and more distanced from the creative minds and caring hands within some publishing houses. Working with innovative and imaginative individuals is what we most enjoy, and it is for that reason that we have decided to concentrate on the collaborative development of ideas and leave the business of sales and distribution to others ... Our authors have told us that this personal interaction reminds them of the "good old days" of publishing ...It made me feel quite sentimental for those good old days.
They talked about lots of other things of course - like the cultural differences between UK and US publishing, what works and what doesn't, the currency of chick lit and vampire books, novelty books, YA, Gossip Girl, Maurice Sendak, Helen Oxenbury, pop-up books, what they're looking for, how to submit, and about all their exciting projects and some inside gossip about some other famous people but no, can't report it here. Not because I don't want to but because I can't read my handwriting and I have to tidy the hallway.
Maybe next time!