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New writers a fairer are given hearing; INTERVIEW Citron Press claims to have broken the stranglehold of the la rge publishing houses. Carole Ann Rice reports.

Nikki Connors has ambitious plans for Citron Press in the dog-eat-dog world of publishing.

It started with a fear of spiders and lead to a revolution in the world of publishing. Clad in designer couture and good jewellery and with the gloss and glamour of someone who wouldn't look out of place on the set of Dynasty Nikki Connors is a woman who doesn't take rejection lightly. She makes it into a career move.

For she is the nuclear blonde who has dropped a bombshell among the literati by coming up with a concept so unique to the world of books that she has had to define a whole new market for her enterprise.

Nikki Connors is a New Zealander who came to Britain six years ago with a young son who didn't quite survive the move. At four and three quarter years old the changes took their toll and he developed an irrational fear of spiders.

A devoted mother as well as well seasoned career woman who had worked in the higher echelons of advertising for 15 years, Nikki set about helping her son over-come his anxiety. She wrote a book for him that said it was OK to be afraid. It helped andhe l oved it. Then, for the fun of it, the award-winning creative director who was enjoying a successful career at Channel 4, decided to try to get her children's book published and found it was easier for a high-flying exec in stilettoes to pass throughthe eye of a needle than to get a publisher to read her book.

"I naively sent it out to nine publishers and got eight, crumpled photocopied rejection letters back. The other response was my own letter returned with my spelling and punctuation errors outlined in red. I was so humiliated," she says looking back."I k new then that there must be tens of thousands of others like me going through the same frustrations. So I looked at the market, which was my background anyway and I talked to literary editors, welnown authors and the marketing director of Waterstones and I could see there was a huge number of writers whose works needed to be read and who required advice and marketing."

Her research revealed that publishers and agents simply do not have the time or resources to read the 25,000 manuscripts which cross their desks every year, although there are bound to be potentially best-selling authors waiting in the wings. These autho rs are given no advice, no encouragement and often have nowhere to turn except to the doors of vanity publishers so Nikki Connors created a whole new publishing niche with Citron Press which is already causing a mighty revolution.

So here's how it works. A budding author responds to the Citron Press advertisement or is referred on by a publisher and he/she is sent a pack which outlines the seven steps to becoming an author if their manuscript is accepted. The first two chapters ar e sent to two editors to read. If the manuscript is rejected the author will receive a detailed critique of their work. This is virtually unheard of from major publishing houses and is a valuable and free service. It's a no lose situation.

If the book is accepted the author pays pounds 399 membership fee then the work is sent to 12 freelance editors and every manuscript is read, given an ISBN number, fully proof read with a fine tooth comb and then it is put on line for a 26 book print run . Twenty go to the author and six to libraries. Books will then be despatched to literary editors, it will then go onto the Citron Press book club, which will also be on the Internet and the book will be professionally marketed in the commercial arena.

Citron Press is different in that it does not decide to publish a book based on its perceived mass appeal; does not rely on selling thousands of books to cover the cost of printing - it prints on demand, it does not make the decision to print and promote a book based soley on the quality of that book, and it invests a considerable sum each year in promoting and advertising all of its titles.

Martin Amis who has generously confided to Nikki that he probably wouldn't have got to where he is today as a writer without having his father's name to kick off his career, has become Citron Press's Patron and says of the company that it is "an idea, in deed of almost mathematical elegance. There are tens of thousands of writers in this country who feel permanently excluded from the world of mainstream publishing. Citron Press will give them what the vanity presses have never even pretended to offer: an audience, a fair hearing and a chance to excel."

The idea is brilliant in its simplicity and finally provides an effective solution to the dilemma of the slush pile.

Although Nikki has been researching for the company for the past two years Citron Press was given life just three months ago. But walking around their hi-tech offices in the Islington Design Centre there is the excited buzz and enthusiasm which comes fro m a young team of highly motivated people who truly believe in what they're doing.

The company has already had over 200 referrals, the first three books will be released next week and anyone who has an interest in fiction coming from a publishing house that is not restricted by political, commercial or artistic boundaries can't help bu t be excited and intrigued by this thrilling new literary venture.

"Given our ability to print books to order we will have the flexibility to publish an enormous range of fiction based purely on merit, without the constraints of list identity, fashions in fiction or print runs. I believe we will inspire all kinds of nov elists to come forward with their work," says the enthusiastic Connors.

Putting in 14-hour days with her husband and business partner Steve, it is only time before Nikki Connors is a name that will be heavily featured in female business award ceremonies.

Integrity, is however, her middle name as she is 100per cent committed to her authors and each writer is given a first-class service, their needs considered and she insists that their professional dilemmas are addressed personally and thoughtfully. With the Citron Press Book Club destined to be the fourth largest book club by spend in the country she has created a platform for talent and an audience too that had previously never existed with this much needed but refreshingly commercial enterprise.

"I see never-ending possibilities for Citron," says the glamorous entrepreneur. "I want to sponsor the Book Show on Sky as well as literary awards. I want to investigate the possibility of Hollywood options on our works and overseas deals. I want tosee a Citron Press identity forming so that book shops will have their own stands of our works and eventually I want us to have our own mainstream publishing arm," she enthuses.

"Our biggest hurdle is spreading the word so that writers understand that we are not vanity publishers and that there is no catch. Eventually people will see that we are fulfilling our promises."

Already publishers and writers including Jeffrey Archer and Melvin Bragg are referring writers to Citron Press and if you've ever had a story just waiting to come out now is no greater time to put pen to paper and join the literati. I just wish I had one in the can ready to roll.

And, if you were wondering, her book on childhood arachnophobia never did get published. "I don't think it would get past our editors," laughs the golden gal of publishing who now has a whole new story to sell.

Telephone Freephone 0800 0136533 for the Citron Press Author's Helpline for general inquiries and author liaison.

Ten leading books which were originally rejected by publishers

1 The Time Machine (H.G.Wells)

2 The Mysterious Affair At Styles (Agatha Christie)

3 The Razor's Edge (W. Somerset Maugham)

4 The Good Earth (Pearl Buck)

5 The Picture of Dorian Gray (Oscar Wilde)

6 Moby Dick (Herman Melville)

7 The Naked and The Dead (Norman Mailer)

8 Northanger Abbey (Jane Austen)

9 Barchester Towers (Anthony Trollope)

10 The Gingerbread Man (J.P. Donleavy)
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Author:Rice, Carole Ann
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:May 27, 1998
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