Since the old team left in 2011 it has been an uphill struggle at Leaf. We have been hounded by problems and have never managed to reach the point from which things were expected to ease off. Before taking joint ownership of the business in 2011 I volunteered at Leaf through much of 2010 and gained valuable first-hand experience of how the business worked and what the daily regimen included. It was this knowledge that helped us put in the most competitive tender for the business when Cecilia and the others decided to move on.
Bringing with me a team of four others (David, Anna, Hannah and Danny) that collectively ran Deadstar Publishing, we thought we could handle both the reformatting necessary to bring Leaf in line with Deadstar, the imprint that we already operated, and to continue to publish excellent literary works through Leaf’s range of poetry collections, short story anthologies and the Leaf Writers’ Magazine.
For much of 2011 it looked like everything was progressing well; we were on track with all the outstanding projects and the transition appeared to be going very smoothly. We moved to an office in Roath, Cardiff that was closer to where the new team lived and threw ourselves into the process of making Leaf flourish. Between projects for Deadstar and Leaf some members of the team worked upwards of eighty hours a week in those first few months, trying to integrate systems and streamline Leaf’s processes and procedures while optimising how we managed Deadstar’s workflow.
Then came our first major incident.
At the time I was working largely from home as I already had copies of all the publishing software installed on my personal computer from my time in a self-employed capacity as a proofreader prior to joining Deadstar and then Leaf. Through an error on my part I accidentally erased all files associated with Leaf Writers’ Magazine issue 5 and at that point we had not invested in a back-up solution to cover such a situation.
As if that wasn’t bad enough, in January 2012, within days of completing the task, started in June, of sorting through 6 years of Leaf’s records and computerised files the primary office computer suffered a catastrophic malfunction and everything – all of the organised files, the print-ready issue 5 of the magazine recreated from scratch, all of the Leaf and Deadstar work we’d done since June 2011 – was lost.
What’s worse is that we had looked into the cost of a networked back-up storage device the day before the computer failure and agreed within the team to purchase one. We managed to recover some of the data by corroborating records from other machines and going back to older files saved in the state that we’ve received them from the old Leaf team, or by locating files emailed within the team… but a lot was lost and needed to be redone, replaced or recreated from scratch.
January 2012 to April 2012 were particularly difficult times for me and I struggled financially in the build up to moving house so didn’t dedicate as much time to Leaf and Deadstar then as I should have done. Being out of the loop I wasn’t aware until it happened that two of the team were considering leaving. That meant that when I returned to working from the office in May, not only had the team lacked a fifth member and so had struggled to effectively recover from the massive loss of data and files in January, we were now undermanned and lacking dedicated people responsible for key aspects of the running of the business. Shortly after that we lost another member of the team who returned home for the summer to see her family and ended up changing jobs in the process. That left me and Danny, our art director, to run both Deadstar and Leaf.
With hindsight it was foolish to have even attempted it. We were doing the work of five people between the two of us and starting from a massively disadvantaged position. By then we were effectively a year behind with Leaf and it was having a negative impact on Deadstar too.
At this point another factor came into play; after David left we had trouble with the bank with switching names on accounts over. That meant that between May and September I had limited access to our finances and even less idea on the financial state of either business. When things were cleared up I found it was not good news. Now, I feel I should make a statement at this point: when I, and the rest of the Deadstar team, took over Leaf there was an agreement made within the team that nobody would receive a wage from Leaf until the business was clearly operating in profit, after all the expenses for relocating, bringing systems in line with Deadstar and clearing our outstanding commitments had been completed. To date that has remained unchanged and I have not earned a single penny from Leaf since I became part-owner in 2011.
In order to keep both businesses operating I began using my own funds in the form of a director’s loan to the businesses to keep Leaf and Deadstar operating and to date that has cost me, personally, a significant sum of money. This money had to come from somewhere and, with my own freelance work suffering due to the hours I’d put into Leaf and Deadstar, I was left with no choice but to take on additional jobs outside the field of publishing to both sustain myself and keep the imprints operating.
By the end of 2012 I was running myself into the ground: both financially and mentally. Something had to give, and being vastly further behind on its obligations, and requiring much more time to set things right it was Leaf that took the fall. I stopped answering emails and focused instead on my own wellbeing for a while. Of course, this led to further back-logs.
Returning to both imprints in mid-January I took the decision to focus short term on Deadstar as it had always been the imprint that had suffered least damage from our changes and misfortunes. Through January to March I went right back to the core of what Deadstar does and how it does it, stripped everything down and made sure that absolutely everything was running smoothly and on-track. I figured that with Leaf already limping it was crucial not to put our other imprint in the same position – and with the state I was heading towards at the end of 2012 it was going that way.
With Deadstar now debt-free, and with no outstanding work to be completed I’m able to turn my gaze to Leaf and address its issues fully. I am proud to say that Deadstar is now at the stage where I can maintain the imprint without significant additional effort. Unfortunately, Leaf is still nowhere near this stage.
State of the business
At present, Leaf is in a precarious position. We are coming up to two years late on our release schedule, our customers – you guys – are increasingly reporting an understandable dissatisfaction with what we’re doing and how we’ve managed things, and the business is currently losing money month on month.
This situation can’t continue.
When I led the tender to acquire Leaf I did so because I thought it was something special: a genuine independent publisher working, as its motto says, to “Get Writers Published”. I made a commitment to Cecilia that I would do my utmost to uphold the values she strove for when creating Leaf – and that’s why I continued the business against all the challenges we’ve faced. I don’t want to be the person responsible for the failure of a publisher that has put over seven hundred people in print – many for the first time – but being realistic, I cannot afford to bankroll a business that is losing money, where the customers aren’t happy with my perceived commitment, where the community of writers built up around us call into question our integrity. I don’t want to close Leaf… but if I have to, I will.
That said, I’m not willing to go down without a fight. A large number of you have been, and continue to be very supportive of Leaf. You have put up with poor communication, missed deadlines and unresolved questions because like me you have a passion for publishing, a passion for words and writing and literature. My personal financial situation is now more stable than it has been for years – although I’m still maintaining five jobs to do it – and with Deadstar fully up to date for the first time since June 2011 I can now concentrate my focus on Leaf.
There are currently just under a thousand unread emails in our inbox – on top of the thousand I have answered since January. We are making progress and I am determined to continue to try to do so. The next three months will be decisive for Leaf. If I can turn the business around, if it is possible to recover from our decline then these next three months will be key to showing that. If our sales and competition entries prove that Leaf is at least capable of breaking even then I can work to secure the finances needed to pay off its outstanding creditors.
I know that there are a number of competitions that remain unjudged and that is something we need to address; I’m not able to give a fixed timeline on when all of these will be announced, but over the next few weeks you should start to see competition results appearing in newsletters and on our website/Facebook pages.
We have three competitions open currently
, but will not be opening any more competitions until I know with certainty which way the future will go for Leaf. The three competitions are:
1st January 2013 - 30th June 2013 Open Competition
Did you miss the entry date to one of our other competitions? Or maybe what you're good at doesn’t fit into another category. Well, never fear, this is your opportunity to send us anything! Yes, absolutely anything at all! We'd like it to be connected to writing somehow... but if you don't want that, you don't have to do that.
For this competition we will accept any sort of writing or any combination of mediums. The best (and worst?) pieces will be featured in the January 2014 Leaf Writers' Magazine so whatever you choose to send us, it has to be something we can print or show photos of.
£6 for one entry or £15 for three.
Word limit: Surprise us!
Prize: £100 for the winner who will be featured along with selected runners up in the January 2014 issue of Leaf Writers' Magazine. All featured competitors will receive a complimentary copy of the magazine.
1st March - 31st May 2013 Review Competition
Have you had a good meal out somewhere? How about the last time you saw a good movie or play? Tell us about your partner – have they lived up to your idea of married life? We want you to review anything and everything, from your last trip to the dentist to the last music festival you went to. £3 for one entry or £8 for three. Word limit: 400 words. Prize £50 for the winner who will be published along with the runners up in the writers’ magazine.
1st April - 30th June 2013 - Comic Strip Competition
Have you always fancied yourself as a superhero? Well, don’t just stand there! Show us what you’ve got! We want your comic strips. All strips must be fully completed (including colouring, line work and lettering) and must have dialogue/directions as well as illustration. Regrettably we can only take fully completed pieces and cannot accept just scripts or examples of artwork. £3 for one entry or £8 for three. Word limit: 6 sides of A4. Prize £50 for the winner who will be published in the writers’ magazine and offered a contract to draw a series of strips for publication.
We’ve had problems with the competition entry system set up last year since it was instigated so entries should be made to firstname.lastname@example.org
and then emailed to email@example.com
or by cheque to Leaf Books Ltd. If you want to send physical copies of your work the address is 32 Pengwern Road, Ely, Cardiff, UK, CF5 4BQ.
When we switched last year from the old, out-dated, and difficult to update website it was with the intention of using it as a hub to build upon our community of writers. As a lot of the events from the first section of this newsletter suggest the website never lived up to that potential.
For the time being updates to the website will continue to be few and far between, but it was always a goal of ours to showcase the best of what is happening in the literary world in our resources section as well as to provide a home where authors and poets we have published could list their literary achievements and publications.
We also intended to make public an archive of all newsletters going back as far as our records allow so people could see how Leaf has changed over time.
While we still intend to announce the winners of the outstanding competitions on our website, it is also worth noting that we will post them to Facebook
Once the existing competitions have been concluded, and before we load any more to the site, we will be revisiting our store software to resolve the issue that has plagued the competition page all year and prevented some people from entering via PayPal’s ‘Buy it Now’ buttons.
Waking the Dead and The Mathmagician
These are the two titles that are furthest behind and have suffered the most over the last two years. Both manuscripts are now fully typeset and over the course of this week I plan to proofread them once more before sending proofs to the authors for final approval before printing.
As our anthologies are drawn from competition winners and commended entries there are a number of anthologies currently outstanding. As the results for each competition are announced I will ensure that each anthology is produced far more quickly than happened with Waking the Dead and The Mathmagician.
Leaf Writers’ Magazine
This is the major thorn in our side right now; issue 5, delayed by a year was due to be released October 2012 with a joint issue 6 and 7 out in December 2012 before we resumed our original timeline for issue 8 in January and issue 9 in April. When these plans were made I was optimistic about completing those workloads within the timeframes provided. I feel bad for having failed to live up to peoples’ expectations and issues 5 to 8 are all part-way completed but are not yet ready for print. It’s clear at this stage that I cannot complete the magazine alone – and in its current state Leaf cannot afford extra staff to co-produce it with me. This means that issue 11, which should be the January 2014 edition, will be the last regardless of what else may happen with Leaf in the meantime.
The primary reason behind this decision is that each issue of the magazine takes about 200 working hours to complete and even at its peak readership it could not be considered profitable given the time investment required to continue it starting from our current position.
I will be removing the option to purchase subscriptions from our store – but am unable to manually unsubscribe people who have previously subscribed through PayPal. If you fall into this category then you will need to log into your PayPal account and cancel the standing order yourself.
The future of Leaf
So where does this leave us? My workload is going to remain extremely high for the foreseeable future – but I chose to undertake this task when I could have baulked last year, so remain committed to seeing things through one way or the other. As for Danny, our other team member – who I have not mentioned much throughout this newsletter – his skills are highly focused towards image manipulation and artwork, so as valuable as he is to Deadstar, his abilities are not so well suited for Leaf’s current requirements. This places the vast majority of the outstanding work on my shoulders.
If, within three months, on inspection of the public reaction to this announcement and our financial situation, Leaf is found not to be sustainable or profitable for the future then I will start the process of winding things down – but I will ensure that anybody who has ordered a book, or a magazine, or has entered a competition will receive their money’s worth before that happens. As I have said from the start, two years ago, I’m not running Leaf to make a fortune. My intention isn’t to rob people or to have them think badly of me. I’m here because I have a passion for publishing and I want to share that with others.
I would be delighted if, three months from now, I can send out another newsletter proudly proclaiming “You did it. You saved Leaf” because at this stage, it isn’t the work I do that’s important. It’s your reaction to it, to us, and to your writing.