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DKW Literary Agency

On founding a literary agency: Bryony Woods interview

Bryony co-founded DKW Literary Agency in 2012, where she now represents everything from quirky children’s fiction through to YA and adult fiction and non-fiction. Bryony was selected by The Bookseller as one of their Rising Stars of 2013, and was a winner of the London Book Fair Trailblazer Awards 2016Here Norah Myers interviews her.

1) What motivated you to start your own literary agency so soon into your publishing career?

I’ve always been very driven and I don’t like waiting for other people to make things happen. In 2012, my colleague Ella Kahn and I had both reached a point in our careers where we felt there was a lack of opportunity elsewhere – so we thought, why not make our own opportunity? That and a gut instinct that we could do it, and do it well.

2) What gap in the market did you look to fill in starting your agency?

We’re a very young, innovative agency with a lot of passion and energy, and we’re not afraid of doing things differently or taking on a challenge. Out list is very eclectic and features everything from picture books to YA to adult fiction and non-fiction.

3) What has been the most rewarding thing about launching your own business?

Seeing our authors’ work being published and finding success around the world. I’m immensely proud when I look back at everything we’ve achieved in the last three years, at the authors we’ve signed and the fantastic books that are now displayed proudly around the office. And the Trailblazer awards that now decorate our mantlepiece don’t look too bad either!

4) What has been your most challenging experience so far? How did you work through it?

I think the weeks running up to DKW’s launch, back in late 2012, were probably the most stressful weeks of my life. But at the time I was so busy setting things up and determined to make the launch a success that I must have simply brushed all the stress to one side. It’s only when I look back that I can see just how nerve-wracking it actually was.

5) What do you attribute to such early success as a businessperson?

Determination, and a certain willingness to do things differently.

6) What advice would you give for others who would like to start their own literary agencies?

I had an MA in publishing and had spent several years working in other literary agencies before launching DKW, so make sure you have the right experience – and plenty of it! – and all the right contacts. Know the business side of things, and hire a good accountant. Be prepared for the first year to be tough. And don’t be afraid of the challenge!


Publishing on the move: unions and the EU referendum

This is a guest post by Douglas Williamson on EU referendum, unions and publishing. Douglas is design manager at Macmillan ELT. He started his career at Butterworth Law Publishers and since then has worked for Longman, HarperCollins and Heinemann Education. He has been a union member from the start, and has just retired from the Unite National Committee for the Graphical, Paper, Media and IT industries.

From where I’m sitting in the London office of my German-owned employer, I can see around me two colleagues from Greece, one from Italy and another from Spain. I’m on a project team where the production controller is Slovakian, the managing editor is Irish and the marketing executive is Polish. Our online English dictionary is managed from Brussels by a Hungarian. Nigel Farage and friends will be disappointed to know that none of them are undermining my terms and conditions, and most of them have joined Unite or the NUJ to help defend employment standards.

As far as the EU referendum is concerned, we ordinary workers will have difficulty verifying the claims and counter-claims of the Stay and Leave campaigns, so our votes might come down to a straightforward affirmation of solidarity with our EU colleagues, and a repudiation of the xenophobia that seems never far below the surface of the Leave case.

The leavers want to repatriate powers from Brussels. You can be sure that high on their target list will be the EU employment protection measures transposed into UK law, such as the Information & Consultation of Employees Regulations, the Working Time Directive, and the Agency Workers Regulations, not to mention environmental protections affecting health and safety at work – ironic, really, when you think that one of the main arguments of the leavers is that EU migrants are a threat to UK employment standards. If we leave, Messrs Gove, Johnson and Grayling will give us better workers’ rights, will they?

Unite the Union is backing continued UK membership of the EU to protect jobs, employment rights and the concept of the social market. But that doesn’t mean unqualified support: Unite, in common with the rest of the trade-union movement and many civil society organisations, is opposed to trade agreements such as CETA and TTIP, currently being negotiated between the EU, Canada and the United States behind closed doors. However, we can only exert influence from within the EU.

The EU finances research into the future prospects of the various industrial sectors, including publishing. Two years ago, using EU funding, the International Federation of Graphical Unions produced a report on the impact of digital publishing on printed media in Europe, entitled ‘Publishing on the move, followed up by an EU-wide conference of worker representatives in the graphical and media industry to plan for an orderly transition between technologies. Unite played a big part in that initiative, and that’s the way we want it to stay.

For more information on trade unionism and publishing, read this brief introduction.

The Pigeonhole: Serialised, sociable and gamified reading

The Pigeonhole provides readers with serialised, sociable and gamified content. They can join public reading groups or create their own private ones, and save, highlight and comment on their favourite bits. Publishers are able create a buzz around new titles ahead of launch using serialisation, enhance reading experiences with multimedia, test out new products on curated closed reading groups and have access to usage data. Here The Pigeonhole’s Paul French tells us more.

One of the great puzzles in Berlin’s startup scene is its determination to build beautiful products, often at the expense of distribution. ‘Build it and they will come’ is the most foolish thing a startup can tell itself; an engineering bias that sees so many young companies fall apart. The best product doesn’t always win, which is why, as we iterate and improve, I’m fully absorbed in the challenge of marketing The Pigeonhole’s new reading experience.

The challenge is threefold.

Our team has built a boutique online space for savvy digital readers to hang out, a new platform for pioneering authors and a risk-free technology for traditional publishers to experiment with. This trio – and what differentiates digital from traditional publishing – means that my job is not just to sell books. On any given day, we could be testing a new social or gamification product feature, launching a serialisation or drilling into analytical learnings from our new app.

The parade of technologies being created to claim the hearts of mobile readers (for that is what they are) is representative of the current climate: a digital gold rush. And who are readers if not writers? Who are writers if not publishers? We’re embracing the challenge of meeting all three in one place.

In an on-demand culture, more does not equal more. It’s important for us to curate a bespoke book-browsing experience and to make launching books exciting again. Our readers are enjoying a renaissance of Dickensian serialisation and, as we iterate, the first glimpses of what global transmedia storytelling will look like. We want to bring as many people as possible along for the journey. Reading empowers, but sociable reading can bring deep empathy and develop emotional intelligence. It’s also fun.

But the task ahead of us is perilous. There have already been plenty of digital publishing casualties in recent years – months, even. All of which are instructive. The question I love to ask hesitant publishers for Kindle-cradling readers is: “Could you complete this sentence: I would collaborate with The Pigeonhole if…” The answers give me great hope that the future is far from a closed book.


the pigeonholePaul French runs The Pigeonhole’s marketing from Berlin. In the comments, please complete the sentence: “I would collaborate with The Pigeonhole if…”

growth spiral book

The business book (r)evolution: the growth spiral

For most of my working life I’ve been involved in some way with the reinvention of the book – the technical, commercial and creative aspects of digital publishing. It’s ironic, then, that at the start of this year I find myself heading up a revolution in publishing that I failed to spot in all those years of future-gazing.

Turns out I had the focus on my future-of-publishing telescope adjusted too narrowly. Publishers tend to see books as quite literally the ‘end product’: their workflows, systems and supply chains are set up to create and distribute books and books alone. Not surprisingly, then, when I started my business as a publishing partner I saw my purpose as helping people plan, write and publish excellent books.

In this new role as a partner rather than a traditional publisher, however, I became more engaged with the lives of the businesses and organisations I’ve worked with, and over the course of the last year came a quiet revelation: to stretch the astronomical metaphor to its limits, the book is not a lone star but the centre of a solar system.

The growth spiral model

spiralSo today I take a very different approach to publishing, and one which I predict will become more prevalent amongst traditional publishers in the coming years too. I work with experts in all sorts of creative content fields – designers, illustrators, speaking coaches, videographers, podcasters, bloggers and vloggers, website developers, digital marketing experts, instructional designers and so on – to create for each client a progressive constellation of content that fits their message and their market.

I call it the growth spiral model, a multi-channel, evolutionary approach to building both the business and the content that supports it. The growth spiral, also known as the logarithmic spiral, is a mathematical construct but it also appears in nature, in the nautilus shell, for example, or the sweep of a galaxy. It captures perfectly the unfolding, expanding nature of both a small business and the thinking behind a book

This growth spiral approach has several benefits, not least:

1) You’re more likely to write and publish the book

It takes a long time to write a good book, and many writers lose their way and their will in the process, but planning to create intermediary outputs keeps you focused and motivated.

2) You see a faster return on investment

When you’re writing as a business, you recognise the opportunity cost; there are other ways you could be spending your time and energy to build your brand and your revenues. Creating these outputs along the way, carefully planned to promote and support your business activities, means you see the results of your hard work sooner.

3) You’ll write a better book

You wouldn’t launch onto an unsuspecting market a product you’ve been building in isolation. You’d create a prototype, have people test it out, refine it in response to user feedback, incorporate ideas that came up during the testing. Why should a book be any different? Start getting your message out in a blog, a talk, a workshop, a course, and take on board the feedback. See what lands well and rework what doesn’t.

If you want to try out this new approach to the book for yourself, you can download my Growth Spiral model here. If you want to discover more about the Practical Inspiration Incubator, get in touch and let’s find out if it’s right for you.


future of the bookAlison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com. 

A version of this post was originally published here.


Kindle Instant Preview reinforces Amazon’s dominance

Ebook preview widgets have been around for quite awhile but when was the last time you saw one on a blog or website? I can’t recall the last one I saw but I’ll bet that’s about to change.

Amazon recently released their Kindle Instant Previews widget in the US, and it does what its name suggests. In short, this tool makes it incredibly easy to embed or share an ebook sample on a web page or via email. The fact that it’s offered by the biggest ebook platform on the planet means it’s well positioned for success.

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barlow books freelance

Author-pays publishing: Sarah Barlow Scott interview

Sarah Barlow Scott is the founder of Barlow Books, a team of freelance editors, and experts in design, production and marketing. The team run their our own businesses but work together in a new business model, providing everything from planning the book to distributing and marketing the final product. Here Norah Myers interviews her.

1) Please explain the idea behind Barlow Books. What makes it different from traditional publishing and other author services that are already available?

Barlow Books uses freelance editors and designers from traditional publishing. Like the traditional publishers, we have sales and distribution deals to get books into stores in Canada and the U.S. Unlike traditional publishers, we ask authors to pay up front for all services. In return they get 100% of revenues from the sale of books to readers.

2) What about this model appeals to you as an editor?

Authors get top-of-the-line editing and design at the same level they might expect from a traditional publisher. But if they’re prepared to invest in their books, they don’t have to wait and hope for a big publishing deal. 

3) How do you see this model fitting into the future of publishing?

It’s an important opportunity for those who have a mission, and want to get the word out via a professionally produced book, or for those who care about their brand, and don’t want to undercut it with a sloppily produced book.

4) What sorts of clients fit well with this model?

Authors with a mission. Authors who care about their brand. People on the speaking circuit who want to increase the number and value of their speeches.

5) What happens if you receive a manuscript that you think will be very successful, but the author can’t afford the fees?

We suggest the author raise the money, just as filmmakers do. Kickstarter and other crowd funders are a good place to start.

6) What advice would you give editors looking to work with this model?

We use top of the line book editors, people who have edited dozens of books for major publishers. We pay well. Contact me if you’re interested in working with us. I’m at sarah@barlowbooks.com.

Bootstrapping your book

There are basically three ways to start a business. You can use your own private fortune, you can pitch to investors for funding, or you can bootstrap: start at the beginning, plough the early profits back into the business, own and earn every scrap of the company. None of them is intrinsically ‘better’ than another, each has its pros and cons, they’re just right for different people in different situations.

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Publishing partnerships: Joining forces to conquer the industry

Publishing partnerships are becoming increasingly popular due to the need for diversification in an industry that requires a broader range of skills and knowledge in order to get ahead. The merging of two companies can allow for more skills across more sectors for each party in the game of publishing.

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What are Words Worth? Falling author earnings and what we can do

Studies across the world have shown that authors’ earnings are falling fast. Authors remain the only essential part of the creation of a book and it is in everyone’s interests to ensure they can make a living. For that reason, the Society of Authors in the UK has banded with sister organisations worldwide to call on publishers to make contract terms more equitable and give authors a fairer share.

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Why the ‘smiling curve’ has publishers frowning

Are you familiar with the ‘smiling curve’ phenomenon? The details are provided here, but the short explanation is that a smiling curve depicts the value-add potential for each stage of an industry. For example, in the publishing space, you have three stages of content: creation, delivery and discovery. Those three stages are illustrated with a smiling curve here as part of a terrific article from Ben Thompson of Stratechery.

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Bring Your Own Technology

We keep hearing that America is a few years ahead of us in terms of technology. If this is the case then UK Publishers, Schools and Educators take note.

A recent report from the The Consortium for School Networking in America has highlighted that schools should be allowing their students to bring their own technology to the classroom, rather than just for use at break times. Whilst this is economically viable for schools it does pose a few problems, not only for the parents who will need to be buying this technology for their kids, but for educational Publishers. It essentially means that every title will need to work seamlessly across all devices. This is a big headache for educational publishers, who are creating digital components for their courses.

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