Thinking Business chats with Heather Boisseau

Heather began at RedDoor Publishing in 2014 and helped manage its transformation to RedDoor Press in 2019.

A hybrid publishing house bridging the gap between traditional and self-publishing, RedDoor aims to provide a credible platform for authors who are ‘slipping through the net as traditional publishers become increasingly risk averse’. RedDoor operates in the same way as a traditional publishing house except its authors pay for pre-production and the first print run of their book.

Although there are self-publishing services out there, RedDoor spotted a gap in the market for a curated list of author-funded titles. Titles are commissioned in the same way and apply the same production values, providing sales, distribution and rights management and this gives the authors the ability to publish in a way that retains credibility in the publishing industry.

As Publishing Director, Heather’s role involves project management, full author management, copy creation, commissioning of new titles, negotiating and selling translation deals and rights, and co-ordinating author photo shoots

Heather has 20 years’ experience in the world of publishing. She has worked for a variety of publishing houses, including Hodder Headline, The Friday Project, HarperCollins, Virgin, and most recently Anova (Pavilion), as Commissioning Editor for Good Housekeeping books. She has worked on a somewhat eclectic range of fiction and non-fiction titles – from Health & Fitness, MBS, Medical and Cookery, to Humour, Travel, Adult and Autobiography – with a little bit of children’s thrown in for good measure.

RedDoor Press titles are sold online and they promote this route as buying directly from the publisher is a great way to support authors and for every book sold directly, they donate £1 to the NHS. Books are also sold into the UK high street, online, libraries and non-traditional outlets by trade specialists Compass IPS. They also work with selected partners for global sales.

I assume you are a bookworm?

I do love a good book – it’s the ultimate escapism. I guess that’s why sometimes when books are translated to screen they are a bit disappointing – because it never lives up to your infinite imagination. Having said that, Sally Rooney’s Normal People is an exception to that rule – great book and a great series.

I’m fascinated with screen adaptation and I’m also really into audiobooks at the moment as they facilitate my background reading and allow me to multitask! I am a slow reader and have to read around books and manuscripts for my job, have a young family and work full time so audio books are great as they mean I ‘read’ the latest books that have come out. They facilitate a really good use of time management. A good voice can make a difference between a good book and bad. When you use your imagination, it shows that it can be the ultimate experience, I’m just time poor I guess! I’m currently listening to Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell but my favourite audiobook so far has got to be Queenie by Candice Carty-Williams – that was outstanding, and hilarious. I’m very drawn to screen and adaptations.

Word of mouth and sharing book tips is everything – it’s how books get popular and sell. People think that books sell just because they are in the shops, but it’s not, its organic growth through word of mouth. Even Harry Potter didn’t go in initially as a best seller. People read it, talked about it and then it got onto the best-selling list. You just don’t see that, all the behind the scenes work to get it to that point. What about all the other authors? They all have a journey when they start and we need to learn and understand about these too.

You were key in the transformation of RedDoor Publishing to RedDoor Press in 2019. Was this a change of leadership or a directional strategy that generated this move?

I’ve been a part of RedDoor since 2014 and I’ve known Clare, my business partner, who founded the business, since 2001 when we worked together at Hodder. Clare set up a trade publisher, The Friday Project in 2005, and I’d always wanted to work for a trade publisher so went there. She’s the entrepreneurial brains behind it all. She’s ideas driven and inspirational. It wasn’t so much a change of management, more me coming along to work.

Fundamentally we are a team and have a brilliant symbiotic working relationship. I think the nice thing about being a director is that we can bounce off each other and discuss ideas, rather than making important decisions in a vacuum.

You are a publisher so a move from larger publishing houses to the smaller RedDoor hybrid model must have been a big shift. What made you so sure it was a good move and how different are the two roles?

It was a big change for me but I’ve always wanted to work on the small side. I’ve always loved smaller houses from the very beginning. You get a tighter team, build great connections, you get to do so much more – I love that. My business partner Clare has so many brilliant and innovative ideas, I knew I had to take a risk and be part of that.

Moving from Hodder to The Friday Project it was my dream job. I decided then was the right time to take a risk – I had no dependants or mortgage. I had reached Editorial Manager level, but knew that was the right time and I had to go for it even though it was a big risk. I saw it as a huge opportunity and challenge. We were maverick, a great team of 4 and the first publisher to publish blogs to books. It sounds crazy now but back then we were working with names who are massive now, but only then were they just coming to the forefront.

The Friday Project was then bought by Harper Collins where I felt swallowed up and part of a wheel. I joined Pavilion which was only 50 people so it was a good transition, but I still felt it was still a bit too big. So, when Clare started up RedDoor I just had to do it!

Publishing is publishing at the end of the day – but in our hybrid model, we get to have much more of a collaborative approach with the authors and be by their side much more.

You have huge influence on the direction of the company and vast knowledge in publishing but what business knowledge did you have before RedDoor came into being?

I was Editorial Manager at Hodder Education in the mid 2000s so I began to learn about people management and workflow then, and my previous director at Anova taught me an immense amount about co-edition publishing. That was almost like an apprenticeship, she taught me the craft on the job. I learned how to build the list within an imprint, how to plan and most certainly how to schedule and be accountable for my books. Business-wise, I guess I’m learning a lot on the job, from Clare, from my father-in-law who also had run his own publishing firm and also from my husband who is MD of a publishing business.

Do you feel that RedDoor has broken the mould on publishing by using a hybrid model?

I really do – there appear to be lots of apparently hybrid companies out there but I’m pretty sure RedDoor was the first, certainly in the UK. There are now hybrids of hybrids. There is a bit of snobbery attached to the hybrid model but people are starting to realise, as a result to the reaction to the system – it’s hard to break out and so many authors are not getting a book deal as people are reliant on the ‘big’ names. Our hybrid model allows for risk and diversity that doesn’t always happen with the traditional method.

I think it really is the future of publishing, given how tough it is to sell books, how massively we have to discount to the retail, and indeed how tricky it still is for debut authors to get a book deal.

The model gives greater profit back to the author than traditional routes. Was the transition difficult to communicate to the wider publishing industry and how has it been accepted?

I think slowly the model is being accepted but it’s often dismissed as being vanity publishing which it is not – our list is carefully chosen and curated. We want our authors to make their money back – we want our books to sell.

Our aim is to do the best job that we can and as long as our reputation precedes us, we are ok. We aim to change the industry one book at a time. 

The hybrid model of publishing means that the financial onus is often on the author by paying for pre-production and the first print run. How does this work with you and the interaction they may have with platforms such as Kickstarter?

We are collaborative and flexible – so we work with our authors in various ways. Some authors have used funding platforms, some self-fund. It depends on the genre – a business author may have a set number of clients so knows they will have a certain number of an audience so we may do a larger first run.

Fiction is absolutely random! You know what’s trending but you can’t put a number on it. There is sometimes no rhyme or reason why it does or doesn’t sell. We don’t want to overprint, we want to mitigate the authors’ risk.

We have exciting plans to launch an imprint focusing on debut crime, which is actually sponsored by someone who wants to give debut crime authors a break. This is particularly exciting.

How does this model affect your cash flow and strategic planning?

Logistics-wise it means we are effectively free to publish quite quickly – when the publishers have their lists full for the next year or two, we can often slot in books within the same year which means an author can get to market that bit quicker. Our size means we are nimble and able to make decisions without sign off by committee. This flexibility means we have a more steady cashflow.

How do you select from submissions? And how do you tactfully turn down ‘vanity’ projects?

We are very selective – I’d say we publish less than 10% of what we get sent. We understand that a manuscript is someone’s baby, blood sweat and tears, their life’s work so we have to understand this and respond accordingly. We read everything that is sent to us – we are literally always reading! It takes a long time to read an 80,000 word manuscript so we have to put in commitment before a deal is even signed – we have published around 100 books to date.

It’s really important that we believe in a book and that we are ready to stand by the author and really want to sell their product. It has to be genuine because at the end of the day it’s all about sales and persuading a book shop or a book buyer to take a chance in what is a massively crowded market. If the writing isn’t there or we don’t get the concept, we will always be as gracious as possible and provide feedback, suggest networking, provide contacts and advice where we possibly can. Sadly rejection is part of the publishing world. It’s subjective so we use our skills, experience and knowledge to make a call on a manuscript.

What advice would you give to any aspiring entrepreneurs with an itch to get into publishing?

Do your research! There are so many people out there, get connecting with other publishers, join online groups, attend BookMachine, Byte the Book, meet people and really throw yourself into the game. The recent FutureBook online conference was really inspiring and had a number of presentations from various start-ups and entrepreneurs. I loved hearing about what they’re doing. It’s important to keep up!

And for any budding authors?

Join a book club. Join a writing group. Just write. Be willing to share your work and get feedback. Get creative and get it on paper. Then you can draft, rewrite ’til your heart’s content. Be open to letting other people see your work – you need external feedback, Beta Readers. And be braced for rejection. And obviously, don’t give up! 

With so much content available online and many, many more people writing than a decade ago, how does this impact your sector? 

It’s wonderful there is so much content. The market is flooded with books – there are just so many – it makes it so hard to get motived in a crowded forum.  There is only so much floor space in a shop. Not forgetting authors are also competing with Netflix, iPhones, other forms of online entertainment that can distract readers. It’s a tough marketplace.

But what KDP (content facilitators) for example has done, is open up the market for authors who are willing to do it themselves. And good for them – there have been a number of authors who have started that way and gone on to secure traditional print deals.

For us it’s great because we get to see more talent. There’s a place for everyone. And it’s all about giving people a chance.

What’s next for RedDoor?

We are launching our sponsored debut crime imprint which will be for debut crime novelists. It’s being sponsored by someone who wants to give these authors a chance. We have a few exciting plans including a new literary prize, due for later in the year which we hope to announce in the coming weeks.

Other than that, my big dream, I’d love to see one of our books adapted for screen. Watch this space…

Is there anything you’d like to share with us? 

I’m grateful for where I am. I have a job that I love and we are still working, hard as it is, and can carry on. I love my job! 

Quick fire round.

Beach or mountain?

Beach

Fine wine or cocktails?

Cocktail. On the beach! 

Home working or office?

Home

Fast car or luxury car?

Luxury

Silly question but… movies or books?

Very tough. Has to be books…just!

Favourite book?

It’s changed recently. It was Perfume by Patrick Süskind as I love a gory book but my new favourite book is Expectation by Anna Hope. It’s brilliant!

Thank you Heather it sounds like you have nailed the ‘do something you love and you’ll never work again’ philosophy! Great to hear from some who truly loves what they do and in an industry so many of us can relate. Good luck with realising a screen adaptation!


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