From Manuscript to Market

An interview with Indie Account Manager, Rebecca Souster

Hello Rebecca. You’re the Indie-publishing Account Manager at Clays. What exactly does your role entail?

My role is to guide authors through the print and production process and to offer advice, where I can, on the manuscript to market process. My primary aim is to give confidence to the authors that I work with, giving them certainty about the services we provide and assuring them that together we can make a beautiful product.

A lot of independent authors and publishers assume you only handle large print orders, which was actually true until recently. What changed?

The main change was significant investment in digital printing technology in 2009. We made these investments in order to keep up with our publishers’ needs to print smaller runs – a direct implication of the changing publishing landscape created by the digital revolution. Digital printing is a more cost effective way of printing books because you don’t have all the start-up costs you have with conventional printing, which means printing small numbers of books is now affordable.

In order to provide the high level of customer service that Clays are known for, Clays brought me in to work directly with authors and small publishers to make sure we had a dedicated resource to provide support and advice at point of need.

You are printers, but do you ever vet the content and/or the creative integrity of submissions?

Since I have been here, I have only refused to be involved with one book and that was because of controversial content. We had to make a very difficult decision and ultimately chose to reject working with the author, but that is extremely rare.

I will always read the first few pages of the text file but that is more to check margins and font sizes as opposed to the production side of things. We don’t currently offer any editorial services or creative input in-house.

Do you only print books?

The majority of what keeps us busy is monochrome book production, but we also have the ability to print marketing materials like posters, flyers, postcards and bookmarks, all of which we can do in-house. We can also print what we call a ‘sampler,’ which publishers tend to use as marketing material when releasing taster chapters, hooking readers in on the lead-up to pub date.

Are there any services Clays offer aside from printing?

Alongside printing your books we can also provide a distribution service via Gardners where we send your books directly to Gardners via our warehouse and Gardners make your books available to all retailers throughout the UK. Although we don’t offer any creative services in-house, we do have contacts across the publishing sphere that can assist you with cover design, typesetting, publicity and editorial.

What are the most common mistakes you see from independent writers?

Authors with no business or marketing plan

In order to be successful in self-publishing, authors need to be entrepreneurial and look at themselves as a business. New generation indie-authors have become better known as ‘Authorpreneurs,’ where they take the traditional publishing model and market their books six-months prior to publication, build their fan base whilst building their author brand, send out their AI sheets to Waterstones, solidify their distribution channels and have written 3 books before they have even published the first. An author can’t expect to be a successful self-publisher if they don’t want to invest in a solid marketing plan because essentially they are investing in themselves. That’s what I would say is the biggest mistake.

Publishing book in a non UK industry standard size

Many of the authors I work with have started off self-publishing through Createspace. This is how they have built their presence alongside a strong author website, which is great, but the sizes that are available to you on Createspace sit outside the UK industry standard book sizes. If you want to supply your books into retailers they may be put off by the fact that your books won’t sit neatly on their shelves and it is more economical to produce them in standard sizes when you want to print large quantities.

Poor textual and cover design

It breaks my heart to see a great book packaged badly – not only in p-books but also in e-books. A book is an experience and all of the choices that you make: the cover, the paper, the typesetting, the format, all contribute towards the reading experience. Design is key!

What stage should a book be at before a writer/publisher approaches you?

Personally, I like to get involved from the very beginning because it creates a relationship. I may not be able to answer all the questions they fire at me but I may know somebody who can and no question is a silly question.

The average turnaround time from an author approaching me to an author printing a book is around 4-months but it has been up to 9-months. At the same time I have had authors approach me with print ready files and this is where you don’t get the opportunity to build those relationships. Every author is different though, so it just depends on how they like to work.

First-time writers are often overwhelmed by how much work is involved in print. Do you offer any advice and guidance or do you expect them to know exactly what they want upon approach?

We offer a lot of advice from the very beginning. I had no experience in book production when I began working at Clays and I am still continuously learning new things. Book production is extremely complex and I would never expect an author to know how it works. I try to keep it as simple as possible for authors and as long as we provide the support that we promise, the process will be smooth and painless.

Are there any useful tips you have for authors/publishers based on questions you are asked quite frequently?

I get lots of questions based around ISBN numbers, getting your book to market and distribution, but the heart of what we do is printing and that is where we are experts.

The advice that I give is based upon what I have learnt from experts at conferences, seminars and interviews, including:

1. Always print to UK industry standard book sizes.
2. Invest in design.
3. Get your ISBN registered with Nielsen Bookdata at least 22-weeks prior to publication and make sure that your metadata is hot. Google trawls this metadata and makes your book visible across the web. The better the metadata the more visible you book will be. Your meta-data is like an online salesman – you wouldn’t want a salesman going into Waterstones with your book when he doesn’t know how much it costs, what it’s about, or when the pub date is.
4. Build your author brand.
5. Ask questions! You won’t learn if you don’t ask and like I said before, no question is a silly question.

On a personal note, you’re a rather prolific reader. What’s your favourite book and what type of genres do you most enjoy?

I am, yes.

My top books are Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita, Albert Camus’ L’Etranger, Georges Simenon’s The Blue Room, John Cheever’s Falconer and John William’s Stoner.

I recently read a fantastic book titled Adventures in Human Being by Gavin Francis – a narrative non-fiction about a doctor’s experience of the human body. It relates it back to fairytale myths and ancient medicine and makes wonderful connections between how the art of the human body, our cells, ligaments, blood vessels and wrinkled skin relates to the natural world we live in. It’s a stunning book and is beautifully written.

I am currently reading Paper Trail by Alexander Monro, which is about the history of paper and how it has allowed the dissemination of knowledge – political, religious, creative – and shaped the world that we live in today.

So my favourites are a real mix, as you can see, but at the moment it would seem I’m on a bit of a narrative non-fiction binge!

Clays LogoFor more information, visit the Clays web site or contact Rebecca on

We would like to thank Rebecca very much for her time and look forward to seeing the final prints of The Moors for the book’s release this July.

Jody Writing at Clays

“The speed and professionalism of Clays is second to none and Rebecca adds
a personal touch that makes you feel you’re the only publisher on their books.”
Jody Medland, Director of Pen Works Media

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