Manatee Books was set up in May 2017, by best-selling author Lisa Hall in conjunction with blogger turned freelance publishing guru Liz Barnsley. Their aim is to bring top quality fiction to the digital market.
Hi Lisa and Liz – Thanks so much for featuring on my blog. Can you both introduce yourselves to the readers?
LH – I am Lisa Hall and I live in a tiny village in Kent, with my brood of children, hundreds of animals, and poor old Mr H, who has to put up with me day and night. I write books for a living, preferably the darker the better, with twisted characters who are a little on the mean side. I like drinking wine, eating cheese and annoying Liz by sending her screechy What’s App messages about books that I’m reading.
LB – I’m Liz, I live in Bicester in Oxfordshire mostly known for the Bicester Village Retail Park, I live with my two younger children and a whole pile of books. I wear many hats – my main job is with Tesco in a small store working with a small team in my local community. I also do freelance slush pile reading and manuscript critique and other author supportive type stuff. When I’m not responding to Lisa’s shrieky messages I also like Wine and Cheese – I’m also a bit of a popcorn tv fan and regularly take a break from books to binge watch things like The Vampire Diaries and Grey’s Anatomy.
When did you both develop your passion for books, when did you start blogging, when did you get fully immersed in the book industry as a blogger and Lisa your journey to publication.
LH – I’ve always loved reading, ever since I was tiny. Most of my childhood memories have a book involved somewhere. When I read a book that I love I can’t help shouting about it, but there are only so many people in my life that I can force books on…that’s when I decided to set up my blog and start reviewing online. Writing my blog gave me the confidence to write a story that had been rattling around in my mind for a long time, so I took the plunge and started writing. When it was finished I sent it to Carina (now HQ Digital) at HarperCollins after seeing that they had open submissions. Two weeks late I got a call from a lady who would then go on to become my editor, asking for the full manuscript. A week later I was offered a two book deal. (That all sounds SO easy – it really wasn’t – there were a few rejections in between times!)
LB – I’ve read since I was a tiny tot and since my teens have been an avid devourer of all things book. I started my review website back in 2013 after being encouraged to do so by two authors who I had come to know quite well and we are still great friends – I feel I should give them a shout out, the gorgeous Sharon Sant and the equally gorgeous Jack Croxall. I also credit Kate Stephenson (now of Wildfire books) for sending me my first proof and being endlessly encouraging. Since then I have found a whole new family, fallen over piles of books many times, and still today I love doing that and it will not change at all now I’m doing Manatee. Its always been about the author support for me and about the great books.
How did you two meet? Do you remember where and what your first thoughts of each other were?
LH – I feel like Liz has been in my life forever! I can’t even remember the first time we met (I’d probably had wine, to be fair), but I do know that we hit it off straight away. I love her very much, and she keeps me grounded when I’m sweating the small stuff.
LB – I honestly don’t remember the first time I met Lisa – like her I feel I’ve never NOT known her. I’ve always loved her for her positive attitude and tendency to make me cough up tea all the time when she says something stupidly funny. She’s right I do keep her grounded when she’s having a mare – equally she keeps me positive when all I’m focused on is the negative. It happens!
Do you have the same taste in books? Are there any books you’ve disagreed over?
LH – Luckily we do have really similar taste in books, and we’ll regularly message each other to tell the other about a book that she ABSOLUTELY has to read. The only thing we disagree on is fantasy – Liz is a big fan and she keeps trying to convert me. Keep trying , Barnsley.
LB – We are very similar in taste whilst also randomly disagreeing – it keeps both of us honest. And she WILL read Fantasy one day I’m telling you!!! If I have to engage the glare then engage the glare I shall! But mostly we bond over the good books and debate endlessly on the ones we have different viewpoints on. It works for us, we gel well I honestly believe.
Why did you two decide to form Manatee together?
LH – I wanted to do something special in publishing – I’ve seen a lot of dissatisfaction with some authors out there, for various reasons, and I wanted to offer a publisher that treats all their authors equally. Having a book published is a dream come true and I want to make sure that every author we publish has their own bestselling experience. I knew I wouldn’t be able to manage the workload on my own, on top of all my own writing, so I asked Liz to get involved – her editorial expertise is invaluable!
LB – Lisa and I had many discussions over the years about the great authors and the great books that fall through the cracks. Oftentimes Authors are lost among their peers and obviously the large mainstream publishers whilst being brilliant do have to focus attention on the few not the many. We’ve both often read a manuscript and not really understood why it is not gaining any traction – equally we felt there was a gap in the market for a publisher that would really focus in on supporting authors every step of the way. When Lisa decided to start Manatee I was right on board. I remain freelance but hope to help her build it up into something special.
What do you think you can offer that’s different to the other digital publishers out there?
LH – It’s hard to find something totally unique to offer that others don’t, especially when there are so many good quality digital publishers out there. I’d like to offer our authors a stellar experience, but I’d like to offer all of our readers good quality, entertaining fiction with every book. I want our readers to know that when they purchase a Manatee book, they’re getting something special every time.
LB – There are MANY top notch digital publishers out there and some not so top notch ones and Lisa is right it is hard to find anything DIFFERENT to offer – personally I don’t see ourselves so much in competition with the rest as I do complimenting them and offering writers another option (Although of course in any business there is a certain amount of healthy competition) I am very focused on quality writing and author support – for that reason you will have to have something special – but even the best writers sometimes find themselves without any attention due to the sheer volume of novels being submitted everywhere every day. Therefore I do think we have a lot to offer and my intention is to seek out those writers and their books and HOPEFULLY give them a voice and a start.
What are your individual roles within Manatee?
LH – I am the Publishing Director, which mostly means I get to do all the boring admin stuff! I also read submissions, and I am in charge of the women’s fiction department. If you send us a women’s fiction sub and we accept it, the chances are you’ll be working with me. Liz deals with crime side of things, and she’s in charge of publicity too.
LB – Me I do what I’m told or Lisa shrieks at me some more. Seriously though, yes I am in charge of the crime list, which I’m hoping to build slowly, also editing and dealing with publicity. Chances are if you send us a crime sub and we accept it you’ll be working with me! (Please don’t run away everyone I promise I’m not that scary)
What type of books are you hoping to publish?
LH – We’re looking for women’s fiction of the highest quality – we want stories which have that something a little different about them, not just your usual boy-meets-girl. Crime-wise, we’re looking for much the same – we are both fans of quirky crime, so if you have a crime story that twists the genre in some way then we want to hear from you.
LB – Exactly what Lisa said – I am especially excited by our first crime signing, Daniel Culver, who has written a stunning crime novel that I immediately fell in love with. I’ll be looking for more with that quality and quirkiness and he has set the bar high! Women’s fiction is probably quite new to me but in that I’m looking for that quality – that x-factor that sets you apart from the rest. Usually either by making me laugh so much I hurt or by making me cry so much I can’t speak for hours.
What happens if one of you loves a submission and the other hates it? Do you play rock, paper, scissors? How will you decide ?
LH – We’ve been lucky so far in that we’re pretty much in agreement with the submissions we receive, but if there is a sub that one of us isn’t sure about we’ll have a deep discussion with the pros and cons of the story. Sometimes you need to look at things objectively to see if they’ll work. We both have to be passionate about a book before we take it on, in order for us to do the very best we can with it.
LB – We have been pretty much on the same page. On those one of us wavers on we debate and discuss and yes break it all down. Then one of us persuades the other and off we go. You do sometimes have to take a step back – we give every submission full attention and often a second read or a few days to mull it over will bring us back into line with each other.
If someone has written a book and thinks it might be suitable what should they do next?
LH – If you have a story for us, the first thing to do is head over to www.manateebooks.co.uk and click on our submissions page. All the information is there regarding our submission guidelines and how to submit to us. We aim to get back to people within 4-6 weeks, and we are inundated, but if you don’t hear from us within six weeks, then send us an email and give us a prod.
LB – Exactly what Lisa said above. I would add to that, with my current contacts in the publishing world, if you know me well and have something you think might fit with Manatee please do drop me a line through your usual channels. I personally have been overwhelmed with the amount of support we’ve had behind the scenes and the huge amount of faith some of the big hitters in the industry seem to be putting in us. Therefore we have a determination to live up to that.
How does a digital publisher work? Can you explain in layman terms the process from receiving a submission to #1 best seller on Amazon?
LH – Once we’ve decided we like a submission, I will usually call the author to discuss things and offer them a contract. Once we receive the signed contract then the ball starts rolling…we will take another look at the submission and send out editorial notes to the author. Once we have agreed that structural edits are complete, we’ll sit down to discuss titles (if it needs to be changed) and cover ideas. We send out cover ideas to the author and between us all agree on a cover that works for the story. While this is happening, we’ll also be doing line and copy edits, ensuring the manuscript is in top notch condition. Liz will be speaking to bloggers and early readers, including other authors, to arrange blog tours and quotes for the book. Once we have all of this together, the book is uploaded, and then the fun really starts!
LB – We are trying very hard for the personal touch – Lisa has given you the step by step – I would add that within that step by step is a lot of discussion and liaison with the authors – to ensure that their vision for their story is in line with ours – and that the final version is the best it can be. We want readers to know that any book they purchase with the Manatee name behind it will always be of a high standard – even if they ultimately don’t get on with it. Reading , of course, is ever subjective. Lisa knows that I would never put my name behind anything I wasn’t genuinely passionate about. Luckily she is the same. It is all very exciting!