Ask An Industry Expert: Laura Mayers
25 June 2021
Today I’m delighted to welcome Laura Mayers, Rights Executive at Ulverscroft Ltd.
Hello and welcome, Laura. I understand that Ulverscroft was set up more than half a century ago, filling a much-needed role in supplying large print books for sale to public libraries. What have been the main changes to the business in the period since then?
Hi and thank you for having me! Ulverscroft has seen so many changes as a company since we first started doing business in the 1960s. We now produce audiobooks as well as large print books and we have extended our sales channels to include retail – via third party download suppliers such as Audible, as well as via our retail website: The Reading House (www.thereadinghouse.co.uk). We’ve really adapted to the different opportunities and challenges as a company over the past few decades and we look forward to seeing what the future holds!
What does being a Rights Executive encompass?
It’s a busy role that involves everything from liaising with the studio and cover designers through to creating publishing schedules and everything in between. The core part of my role is acquiring audio and large print rights from publishers and literary agents for our Oakhill Children’s imprint, ISIS large print imprint and our Australasian-focused imprint, Aurora. Agents and publishers send manuscripts to assess and if I think the title will fit with our lists then I’ll offer for the rights. Once a deal is made I then look to plan the title into our publication schedules and start thinking about marketing pointers, cover design, narrator options and all that fun stuff!
Could you tell us some more about your overseas operations?
We have sales offices in Australia, New Zealand and the US and we sell throughout the world to libraries and also in retail via various channels. We created our specific Australasian-focused imprint, Aurora, in response to the sales success we saw in that part of the world and also the feedback from librarians based there who wanted to see more homegrown content available.
We gather that audio books have been growing in popularity, especially during the Covid pandemic and library services are now making available a wide range of audio books, as well as ebooks, free to access on line, in addition to the old cd format on the library shelves. How do you assess the balance between large print, on-line audio and recorded cd, in terms of your production priorities?
There’s been a huge increase in the popularity of audio in the past few years, which is great to see. It’s important to us that we can provide this format to libraries and to offer the choice to those who may not be able to (or choose not to) read a conventional print book. Offering choice is a big driver for us, we aim to cover all bases with both physical and digital formats and via library and retail consumers. We’ve recently improved and expanded upon the direct-to-consumer area of the business, as this has become a vital component during these times. We’re keen to reach people in whatever way works for them whilst also securing our future as a company with both library and trade options. All formats are incredibly important to be able to offer and are of equal priority in terms of production. We are lucky that we have a large warehouse on site in order to process the physical orders efficiently and also our in-house studio and post-production team at our offices in Oxford, who manage the digital production so skilfully. There has been more of a trend towards digital and this has been especially relevant during the Covid pandemic, when most physical libraries were closed but still able to offer online content through our uLIBRARY digital app. It’s been an invaluable resource to all, from children who have been home-schooling to find a bit of escapism in story time, through to those suffering from loneliness in single-person households, to stop them from feeling quite so isolated.
As someone with a few eyesight issues, I often make use of audio books and find that the ‘voice’ can vary somewhat, from a reader mispronouncing words or using odd emphasis, to a brilliant actor who uses different accents and tones and puts across emotions really effectively. How do you match a book to the right ‘voice’ for recording purposes?
Our in-house studio team have been doing this for over 20 years and so we’re very experienced in sourcing the right voice. We have a pool of experienced audiobook narrators that we work with on a regular basis, as well as finding the next voice talents by working closely with voice agencies. It is particularly important to us to find the appropriate regional voices, we certainly don’t use RP English accents for everything! For series, we also try to keep the same narrator wherever possible for consistency, as such, series narrators often have quite a fan base and following themselves.
Could you describe the typical journey of a book to publication? For example, does it always have to have first shown commercial viability in ordinary print or e-format? Are there different routes depending on the original publisher or the genre? Can an agent or author approach directly with a publishing proposal?
Once we have made the rights deal with the publisher or agent, that’s when we can start to think about when we’ll publish the title – is it themed around a particular celebration/holiday? Or is there a relevant important anniversary that we can tie our publication to? We usually aim to publish our editions as close to the original print publication date as possible, which means that we aim to assess manuscripts 6-7 months ahead of their pub date. Due to this we don’t usually have an indication as to how the title will sell, unless we’ve published similar works by the author previously. We are generally sent submissions from literary agents or publishers to review, however sometimes authors will submit to us directly. It’s always worth authors asking their agents if there have been any steps made to create accessible formats of their titles and if these will be available to libraries, as these editions really are a lifeline to so many.
I believe you publish a number of genres under different labels. Could you tell us more about them?
Of course! We publish a range of genres across our imprints, from westerns to up-lit and everything in between. As mentioned previously, Aurora (audio and large print) is our Australasian focused imprint with a title list consisting of some of the biggest names in Antipodean literature. Recent releases of note include Anna Jacobs’ Australian-set titles and Ngaio Marsh Award winner The Nancys as well as non-fiction titles from Michael Robotham and Kerry Greenwood. Isis (audio and large print) is our flagship imprint, with a focus on recording the largest names in literature, read by a world class roster of narrators. Since April 2018, Magna Story Sound (audio and large print) has been the home of the biggest names in family saga writing, from classics like Catherine Cookson to contemporary bestsellers like Dilly Court, Evie Grace and Nancy Revell. Our Oakhill Adults list offers an exciting mix of commercial fiction (including titles from our library partnerships with Orion, Hodder and Headline) and our Oakhill Children’s list is our audiobook imprint for younger listeners. Publisher Selections offers new listeners an entry point into popular authors with bitesize collections of their work. Authors include M.C. Beaton and Rebecca Tope. Soundings is home to the British Library Crime Classics, as well as sagas, historical fiction and cosy mysteries. Charnwood is Ulverscroft’s leading commercial fiction and non-fiction large print imprint, featuring international bestsellers from the likes of Lee Child, Jo Nesbø and Margaret Atwood. Linford Large Print publishes four western and four romance novels per month.
What a range of genres and audiences! Where do romance and its sub-genres figure in the titles you publish?
We publish a lot of romance and its sub-genres across our imprints. Our Linford Romance large print list focuses on titles that are suitable for all audiences, where vocabulary is without vulgarities, violence and graphic sex. Linford publications are much loved favourites of large print collections worldwide. As part of our main imprints, we also publish rural romance (romance set in the Australian Outback) in our Aurora imprint, as well as contemporary romance (such as Milly Johnson, Carole Matthews and Beth O’Leary), historical romance and chick-lit amongst others across our other audio and large print imprints. We’re also very proud of our partnership with Choc Lit in order to bring a wealth of romance authors and titles to our audio imprints.
What does the partnership with Choc Lit involve?
We’ve published all of their titles in audio since 2018. Choc Lit’s digital Kindle releases (2 or 3 per month) get released in audio via Audible and all major download and streaming platforms and uLIBRARY one month after their publication. If Choc Lit publishes a physical paperback (1 per month) we creat a physical audio edition on CD and MP3 in libraries and via our Reading House website as part of our main Soundings list. We’ve loved being able to offer more romance in audio and Choc Lit covers all bases with romantic suspense, historical as well as lots of uplifting commercial fiction and rom coms. We’ve also recently launched Love Your Shelves, an anthology podcast from the Ulverscroft Group and Choc Lit. in each episode, one of our favourite romance authors names and discusses the books they’ve spent the most time with, from first loves to literary liaisons that have lasted a lifetime.
It sounds like audio narrators must be much in demand! Can I ask you now about diversity and inclusion, which are high on the agenda for the RNA, as for many other organisations. How do you encourage this and how does your selection of books and authors reflects these principles?
Diversity and inclusion are incredibly important to Ulverscroft too. We strive to offer titles for all members of the community, so that anyone can walk into a library and can find a book/audiobook where they feel represented. This is particularly important to me when buying titles for our Oakhill Children’s list, as it is these stories and authors that will shape and influence young minds. We’ve featured stories that highlight characters with autism (Can You See Me? by Libby Scott and Rebecca Westcott), champion strong female role models (Fierce, Fearless and Free: Girls in myth and legend from around the world by Lari Don and The Unstoppable Letty Pegg by Iszi Lawrence) and are written by authors/feature characters from a range of ethnicities.
Having perused Ulverscroft’s picture gallery of the Leicestershire headquarters, it looks a very busy place! How have you managed through the Covid pandemic, given the widespread closure of libraries during ‘lock-down’ in the face of the vital importance of books, in whatever format, for all those readers stuck at home?
Although libraries were closed for a lot of 2020 and also the beginning of this year, library users were still able to access, browse and borrow eBooks and eAudiobooks from our digital library app, uLIBRARY, which has proved a vital resource to many.
We’re lucky that we have a very dedicated warehouse team who have been working in a safe, socially-distanced manner throughout the course of the pandemic in order to prepare stock to send to libraries when they have been able to reopen. Our studio team have also adapted fantastically to the restrictions that COVID-19 has imposed by ensuring that recording booths are thoroughly sanitised between uses and that narrators are given clear instructions on socially-distanced recording before they arrive. We were also lucky that some of our experienced narrators already had home studios and for those actors new to home studios, our studio team were on hand to walk them through the process with techie advice and direction.
What’s the best/worst part of your job
The best part of the job is when you win rights for a title you really love and have set your heart on, there’s no better feeling! Especially when authors celebrate the deal (or their accessible formats in general) on social media and you see their fans’ responses. The worst part is probably the data entry onto the systems side of things, it’s a necessary evil but I’d rather be assessing manuscripts!
If you actually have time to read for pleasure, can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why?
I’ve listened to a lot of nature audiobooks during lockdown and found A Honeybee Heart Has Five Openings by Helen Jukes both soothing and completely fascinating! It effortlessly interlinks passages about the novice beekeeper’s life and facts about honeybees in a way that’ll make you view the world differently.
Thank you so much for finding time to talk with us, Laura, and best wishes to you and all at Ulverscroft.
To contact Laura or for more on the company there are lots of Twitter contacts: @lauraemayers @UlverscroftLtd @AuroraImprint @Isisaudio @uLibraryDigital @TheReadingHouse
And these Websites:
Laura was talking with Susan Leona Fisher (Website: http://www.SLFisherAuthor.co.uk)