How 'Maverick' Seren's Getting Ready for the Next Chapter in the Story of Publishing; TheBIGInterview Publishing House Seren Continues to Sparkle 30 Years after Its Creation, as Robert Llewellyn Jones Discovers
SEREN has, in the past, been described as "a maverick publishing house" but today it seems a very grown-up business.
The company was launched 30 years ago by Kerry Archard, editor of the quarterly magazine Poetry Wales, and today publishes a wide range of books by Welsh writers in English.
Publisher Mick Felton, who now heads Seren, has been there since the start.
He recalls that it was the many manuscripts received by Mr Archand that led him to create the business.
"He was getting a number of good manuscripts from young writers in Wales and wanted to publish them in book form so he decided to produce slim volumes of verse," he said. "The Arts Council heard about it and offered funding towards their publication. When this money was made available they were able to employ another member of staff which happened to be me. An office was set up at Danie Abse's house in Ogmore by Sea and that's where Seren started."
The publication list grew to encompass fiction, biographies and literary criticism.
"Our aim was to publish writers from Wales, in English, giving them a platform and publishing books to do with Welsh culture and that of the border country," Mr Felton explained.
"The idea has always been to spot gaps in the market and maintain a niche publishing house because there was a need in Wales for Welsh voices to be heard here and beyond."
He added: "Welsh authors had been shaken out of metropolitan publishing in the late 1970s when there was a publishing recession, they needed somewhere to go and others have followed since."
From a business viewpoint there are two ways a typescript is published.
Publishers receive unsolicited submissions - poetry, fiction and some non-fiction, especially memoirs - from authors who want to be published.
Another approach involves commissioning, where the decision is taken to publish a particular author or book on a particular subject.
In this instance someone is commissioned to write it.
"In our case an instance of this would be Wales' Best 100 Churches which has been a best seller," Mr Felton said.
He continued: "We ask someone to write for us or else the manuscripts come in and our editors sort through the submissions pile. Our poetry editor will receive anything from 80 to 100 typescripts a year.
"We publish between eight and 10 of those, which means there's a lot of work in sifting through them and are a lot of disappointed people as a result."
Seren publishes 20 to 25 titles a year across the range, which means accepting a typescript and agreeing terms with the author for the right to publish their work. The work is then licensed to the publisher before undergoing an editorial process where suggestions for improving or restructuring text are made.
Mr Felton explained: "We talk to the authors about where they think readership is going to be and what the market is. Then we give them our thoughts, discuss the design of the book and the cover and get on with the production."
Thanks to modern technology, typesetting is done in-house before being sent to the printer.
While this is being done Seren's sales staff talk to bookshops and wholesalers about how many copies they would like to take. This means that by the time the book is back from the printers a rough idea of the initial subscriptions can be obtained as an aid to indicating future sales.
Explaining this further Mr Felton said: "We send our review copies to the national press, the broadcasting media and sometimes work with a PR company in London on specific titles. With niche publishers like us advertising doesn't work very well so you are reliant on word of mouth, social media and feature coverage."
This current trend, he explained, has come to the fore in relation the Seren's latest publication entitled Heads Held High, an account of the Welsh team at the Rugby World Cup which has its own Facebook page. …