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Colin Steven

Velocity Press: interview with founder Colin Steven

Whatever else 2019 is offering us, one thing is certain: this is a great era for small-but-powerful publishing startups. In this interview, we meet Colin Steven, the founder of new independent publishing house Velocity Press.

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Infrastructure of publishing business

Now We Are Five

Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is founder of Practical Inspiration Publishing, a pioneering publishing partner for businesses, and host of The Extraordinary Business Book Club, a podcast and community for writers and readers of extraordinary business books. She sits on the board of the Independent Publishers Guild and is Head Judge of the Business Book Awards. 

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Riff Raff

Behind the scenes at The Riff Raff: why we built a community for debut authors

This is an interview with Amy Baker, founder of The Riff Raff. Amy is also author of Miss-Adventures: A Tale of Ignoring Life Advice While Backpacking Around South America, and a freelance writer, writing travel and lifestyle content for a range of publications. Learn more about The Riff Raff, and follow them on Twitter.

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Pluto Press

Pluto Press to shut office for the International Women’s Strike!

Emily Orford is Marketing Manager at Pluto Press, an independent publisher of radical, non-fiction books. Having been active in UK radical politics from the age of 14, she is committed to bringing a range of new, original thought to the discourse of the Left. Her work in digital marketing has been shortlisted for the IPG Awards 2018.

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Let frustration be your fuel: 7 lessons for start-ups from Salomé Magazine

Salomé is one of the newest publications to hit the independent press scene. Launched in April this year, Salomé is the literary magazine for emerging female writers, and gives self-identifying women the platform, confidence and experience to get their writing published. Jacquelyn Guderley, the magazine’s founder, shares lessons she’s learned along the way.

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Alchemy: Why poetry publishers need to get it together

In May this year, three wrestling matches were held in a library. Two small poetry publishers, Sidekick Books and The Emma Press, nominated their champions for the ‘Pamphleteers’ grand slam, roared about their scrapping prowess and set them against each other in a no-holds-bard smackdown. Pamphlet took on pamphlet, and the poetry pitted dinosaurs against dragons, witches against sinister government agencies and, most curiously of all, mackerel salad against Angela Lansbury.

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Interview with Alice Curry, winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize

Alice Curry is the Founder and Publisher of Lantana Publishing, a London-based independent publishing company nominated for the Bologna Prize for Best Children’s Publisher of the Year 2017. She is this year’s winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. Norah Myers interviews her here. 

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Strength in numbers: Why bringing independent publishers together works

I once worked for a start-up in which, with the grand total of four years under my belt, I was the person with the most publishing experience. Like many others in publishing, I found the challenges of growing a company to be immensely satisfying—but also, at times, a little scary.

Joining the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) helped immensely. I attended its Annual Spring Conference and exhibited on its collective stands at the London and Frankfurt Book Fairs. I met and learned from some experienced publishers, both formally and informally, and our business improved in many different ways.

Caring and sharing

Fast forward some ten years and I now head up the IPG. Our Conferences, stands and membership have grown much bigger; we now have more than 600 members, and our recent Harbottle & Lewis Independent Publishing Report estimated their combined turnover at £1.1bn. But the IPG’s spirit remains the same today as it was all those years ago: friendly, collaborative and generous. Our new members are always struck by the camaraderie of independent publishers and their willingness to share experiences and help one another.

They really value the sense of togetherness. As children’s publisher Big Sunshine Books told us recently, “it’s wonderful to feel part of something bigger.” It is easy to feel isolated as a small publisher, so it is heartening to know that others are grappling with the same issues as you. I left my first IPG Conference armed with a wealth of practical information and a list of people I could turn to for advice. Many of them are good friends today.

Larger publishers can gain just as much as smaller ones from connections, conversations and the chance to look outside their own businesses. Getting together can be especially valuable and reassuring amid challenge and change—as when we organised a meeting a week after last June’s Brexit Referendum to identify the issues arising. And learning from one another can be done virtually as well as face to face. Through the new IPG Skills Hub, we are giving members access to free online training in many areas of publishing, provided by fellow IPG members.

Telling it like it is

One of the best things of all about bringing independent publishers together is the honesty that results. IPG members will talk not just about what has worked well for them, but just as importantly, what has not. It was seen to hilarious effect when a panel of experienced publishers owned up to some of their biggest mistakes at an impromptu session at our 2016 Annual Spring Conference. Setting fire to tables, printers’ sabotages and an unfortunate misspelling of a title called Let’s Count were among the entertaining anecdotes. Just as anyone who organises awards ceremonies will have drawn lessons from this year’s Oscars shambles, so we can all learn from the failures of others, as well as the successes.

Bridget Shine is chief executive of the IPG.

Startup Snapshot: Squirl

Jef Van der Avoort is co-founder of Squirl, the first location-based book discovery app. Previously he helped brands like LEGO, Philips and Hasbro to create engaging experiences on the border between the analog and digital world.

1) What exactly is Squirl?

Squirl is a location-based book discovery app that lets you bump into the real-world settings from books (e.g. The Plaza Hotel in the Great Gatsby). You can read the excerpt that takes place right where you are standing and check in to the literary location. You may also click through to buy the book. In essence, we are building an augmented story layer on top of the world.

2) What problem does it solve?

Book discovery is the number one issue for authors and publishers. We want to level the playing field by turning the whole world into a bookstore. The places you pass by become portals into different worlds, no matter if it is from a book by a first-time indie author or a bestselling superstar. It is a new, engaging and serendipitous way to discover your next read.

3) Who is your target market?

The casual reader is very important to us. These are people who read 2 or 3 books a year and are mostly overlooked when it comes to publishing tech. Discovering new books is not on top of their list, but they are interested in stories that are relevant to them. Through this geographic relevance we can excite these readers to buy a book they might not have discovered in any other way.

4) What results do you hope to see over the next few years?

Our first tangible goal is to see a book rise to the New York Times bestseller list because it was discovered through Squirl. On a more macro-level, we would like authors and publishers to see Squirl next to social marketing platforms like Twitter and Goodreads.

5) What will be next for Squirl?

We are very excited with the positive reception we are receiving and we already have some Squirl fans. We are currently raising a seed round to build some great features and advance Squirl to continue to enhance the experience for both readers and authors.

life as a freelancer

A day in the life of a startup founder

John Pettigrew is CEO and Founder of Futureproofs, where he is trying to make editors’ lives better with software designed for the jobs they actually do. A recovering editor himself, John has been working in publishing since 1997, including stints on academic journals, educational textbooks, and print and digital materials of all kinds. 

06:40 Radio 4 comes on the radio. They’re talking about Brexit in Parliament so I’m quickly out of bed!

06:50 Make packed lunches for the family, then get our two children fed, packed and out of the door and off to school. Now I’ve got time to have breakfast – and one of my few chances to read a book during a weekday!

08:00 Grab half an hour for meditation with my wife before we’re both off to work. It’s hard to be still with so much going on!

08:30 On my bike for the 4-mile ride to the office. It’s fairly warm and not raining today, so I count that as a win.

09:00 Daily stand-up meeting. Every day, our whole team gets together for 15 minutes so that everyone can share what they did yesterday and what they’re planning to do today. This makes sure we all know what’s going on in the business, and gives us the chance to discuss anything that’s blocking progress. Fortunately, today, there are no blockers!

09:15 The first hour or two of every day I spend making sure I’ve dealt with all incoming emails from customers or potential customers. My general focus this week is fixing some final calls before Christmas, and starting to make appointments for January, so there are several emails to answer.

09:45 Realise that I’ve not had a drink yet, so I head to the kitchen area of our shared office to make myself a refreshing mug of hot water. (I used to drink vast volumes of tea but had to quit when I got IBS a few years back. But plain hot water’s a surprisingly good drink!)

09:50 Back to the emails.

10:30 With the overnight emails out of the way, it’s time to check on our users. I head to our support website and check that nothing unexpected or unfortunate has happened (although I should have received an email if it had). Then, it’s over to our admin website to download the numbers on how many users have been using Futureproofs and check that we’re on track.

10:50 The big task for this morning is updating our cash-flow projections in light of our actual performance so far this year. (The next Board meeting is at the end of this week: the Board’s job is to hold me to account, as CEO of the company, so they need full updates on our performance. Fortunately, our Chair is fantastic – both rigorous and supportive.) So, for the next couple of hours, I’m deep in financial spreadsheets showing our projected sales and costs. I check that they’re still realistic given the conversations I’ve been having with potential customers and revise where appropriate. I also check that our costs are as expected and that we’ve not had any surprises that we hadn’t planned for. Once this is done, I email a draft of the updated cash flow to our Chair for his comments.

12:45 Slack (the instant-messaging software we use to keep in touch during the working day) tells me that one of our developers has pushed an update to our development server. He’s been working on a new feature that I’ve wanted for some time, so I give it a bit of a workout and send him some feedback – it’s nearly there but there are a couple of edge cases where things aren’t working properly yet.

13:00 While my mind is on the product, I go to our project-management software to review the next few tasks that the developers will be working on. We describe all our features as user stories (that is, in the form, “As a [user role], I can [do something] so that [I achieve some goal]”) so that the benefits to users are always clear in anything we do. I need to clarify a couple of points in the acceptance criteria for one user story, and move a couple of tasks that we don’t need to do just yet into a later release. I also review the recent user feedback that’s been pulled in from our support website, and tag some suggestions to the user stories they relate to (so that we can remember why we’re going to do those tasks, when it comes to it!).

13:15 Time to have lunch, so it’s down to the kitchen area for the packed lunch I made for myself earlier. My office is in a co-working space for startups, and it’s great to be able to spend some time with people who understand the madness of my work life! Although most of them are still in their 20s or 30s and miss most of my cultural references…

13:45 Back to my desk with another mug of piping hot water. Now, I need to check through our CRM system and catch up on my tasks. A Customer Relationship Management system is basically a contacts book combined with a to-do list – it keeps track of everyone we’re talking to and all the emails we’ve exchanged, while also reminding me when I promised to get back to them. Today, I’ve got quite a few emails to send to check in on people I want to meet again soon and chase a couple of case studies we’re working on.

14:55 Another cuppa!

15:00 Quick phone call with our Chair to get his feedback on the draft cash flow. I need to make some changes and add some explanatory notes for the meeting on Friday, so I do that and email the result back to him.

15:45 If you want your startup to grow, you have to keep bringing in new potential customers. So I spend some time on LinkedIn finding relevant people at companies I’d like to talk to, and send them messages. This can be surprisingly effective, if you can write a message they want to read!

16:15 A new version of the new feature from earlier is on our development server, so I take a look and give a bit more feedback. So nearly there now, I can taste it!

16:30 Grab the backup drive from my desk drawer and start backing up my laptop. I do this every day, just in case. (Once you’ve had a hard drive die on you, it becomes surprisingly easy to make time for this. Always make sure you back up everything regularly!)

16:31 While the backup is running, I do some more work on revising our website. The existing site is pretty awful and I’ve been wanting up update it for a long time. (A word to the wise – don’t bother with a content-management system. Just learn HTML and write the website yourself. It’s quicker and easier, and avoids all the headaches of software updates and training.) The new site is a complete rebuild from the ground up, and it’s nearly there now. I refine some of the responsive styling (so that it copes with mobile devices better) and swap out a couple of images that might have been misleading. Making screenshots fit angled computer screens from stock artwork teaches me how to use a tool in my photo editor that I’ve never had to touch before, which is nice!

17:30 Throw my laptop into my bag and it’s back on my bike to ride home. Still not raining!

18:00 Dinner with the family and then some time to relax together until the children go to bed.

20:30 With both children in bed, my wife and I have the rest of the evening to ourselves. We do the Guardian Quick Crossword with a mug of tea and then watch some TV. I must be honest, though, and admit that I’m second-screening while I watch. Our website still isn’t finished, and I do some more work on the text and make sure the buttons are properly visible over the background.

22:00 The day’s almost over, and one thing I can guarantee about tomorrow is that it will be almost completely different to today! But, this morning, I finished the novel I was reading and so I spend a few minutes perusing my bookshelves to find something interesting to read in bed. Good night all!

10 Things you need to know before you start to publish

Do you ever think that you know SO much about publishing, but have missed the memo on how to set up a bar code or how exactly you should go about distributing your books?

Well here is a handy checklist from our friends at Nielsen – ’10 things you need to know before you publish’:


An International Standard Book Number (ISBN) is an essential identifier for anyone wishing to publish and sell their books widely. Retailers (online and high street independents/chains) use this identifier to manage their stock, inventory and to order from book suppliers. It is a unique number and each tradeable version of the book should have a separate number.

Numbers are issued by the local agency to publishers in that territory – because the numbers are International that ISBN will appear on a book, no matter where it is sold in the world.

To find out more click here.

2. Bar code

This is an essential for anyone wishing to sell their books to retailers and libraries – it is created from the book’s ISBN and therefore unique to that book. It is used by the industry for stock, inventory and purchasing purposes by distributors and retailers. Retailers participating in the Nielsen BookScan UK Total Consumer Market Panel also use it at point of sale; weekly scanned sales data is sent to Nielsen BookScan, this data forms the bestseller lists used by the media, booksellers and publishers – from commissioning to stock and inventory management and sales promotion.

To find out more click here.

3. Data collection and aggregation

Data aggregators (such as Nielsen Book) – collect, aggregate and curate book metadata for both print and digital editions and license that data to booksellers, libraries, publishers and other users worldwide, ensuring your book information is widely available to book buyers. Ensure you supply good, timely and comprehensive metadata to data aggregators at least 20 weeks before publication.

To find out more click here.

4. Legal Deposit

National Published Archive (Legal Deposit) – Publishers in the UK and Ireland have a legal obligation to send one copy of each of their publications to the British Library (print and digital), within one month of publication. The other five deposit libraries may then each request a copy of your book.

To find out more click here.

5. Public lending right

Authors and illustrators may be eligible for payments under the Public Lending Right Scheme. To qualify they must live in the European Economic Area (EC member states plus Liechtenstein, Norway and Iceland). Payment is made once a year in February and the amount received is proportionate to the number of times that book is borrowed from public libraries. The PLR year runs form 1 July to 30 June each year. The PLR cannot process an application on behalf of a deceased author or contributor.

To find out more click here.

6. Print, POD or Digital

How do you decide whether you print your book in the traditional way, use Print on Demand (POD) or go straight to digital (or a combination of print and digital) – seek advice from other publishers, join forums and associations such as the IPG, as this enables you to share the experience, knowledge and expertise of your fellow publishers. It also gives you a chance, via various events to meet suppliers so you can make an informed decision.

To find out more click here.

7. Distribution

Do you distribute yourself, sell direct via an online site or at events, or are you seeking a distributor who works on behalf of publishers and distributes titles to retailers who would not necessarily order from you? It very much depends on the number of books you are publishing each year, the quantity and format you are producing and whether you are self-published or a traditional publisher of other people’s work. Again, joining forums, publishing associations and attending events, exhibitions and seminars will give you access to a plethora of services and expertise so that you can make an informed decision based on your business plan.

To find out more click here.

8. Sales and Marketing

Depending on the size of your company you might do-it-yourself, have an in-house team or use a sales and marketing agency. Whatever your choice, it is important to understand that producing a book and putting it on your website is not enough to make sales. You need to have a good route to market – that means someone selling your books to the key retailers and independents. Good marketing – you don’t have to spend a lot to promote your book, you just need to know who your audience/customer is and what they want and read and, ensure you can put your book in front of them. Think about who they are and then make a marketing plan that will ensure you gain good coverage or hire a dedicated marketing agency. The IPG and other organisations (Editor: BookMachine too!) are able to put you in touch with contacts that can help you to promote and sell your books.

The Nielsen BookData Enhanced Service enables you to add rich information to your book records, aiding discovery and providing your book buyers with rich information to make an informed purchasing decision. It is vital to ensure that your books can be seen and purchased by booksellers, libraries and consumers. Our research shows that books with enriched data elements sell more copies than those without.

To find out more click here.

9. Press and Publicity

Ensuring that your book gets attention normally means sending review copies to the right press contacts, however there are other options now, so look at electronic distribution of your review copies to ensure you are maximising coverage without spending a lot of money producing review copies that might never be seen, let alone be reviewed. Get to know your audience and what they read and ensure you target your publicity to the right publications and that you have the name of the person reviewing books in your genre, or the editor.

To find out more click here or read the BookMachine Publicity Channel.

Nielsen Book2Look Book widget is a digital tool that will enable you to share the content of your books with your readers, reviews and bloggers via the Internet and through your own website. You can share content, add video and audio clips and much more to bring your books to life and make the point of discovery the point of sale.

To find out more click here.

10. Events, Exhibitions and Literature Festivals

If you are a specialist publisher and have a small company, then knowing your consumer and how they purchase, where and what they read will help you right at the start of your publishing cycle – you will produce books people want to read. You can also get a feel for where they go and how you can reach them; is that online, via social media or are they attending literary festivals, book fairs or local events? Ensure you spend your time wisely researching your consumer before you start and then ensure you reach them by getting your books to where they will be seen, enjoyed and purchased.

Nielsen Book is the leading provider of book information to booksellers and libraries worldwide and we are here to help. www.nielsenisbnstore.com

Why small publishers sell more books with Nielsen Book2Look

ralph-moellersSmall independent publishers and self-published authors need to maximize the impact of their books and ensure they are easily found on the Internet. Ralph Möllers, the founder of a children’s publisher based in German decided to develop his own book widget, Book2Look, that would enable book buyers, both trade and consumer, to look inside the book before they purchase. The Internet makes content readily available for free. Ralph felt by offering easily digestible free content as a hook would encourage readers to want to read on and most importantly to click ‘buy’. Making the point of discovery the point of purchase.

As a starting point before any book campaign, publishers should think about whom their current readers are and what is happening in the marketplace. Here are some of Ralph Möllers’ latest observations, together with how this led to the development and continuing enhancement of the Book2Look widget.

Your Readers are web savvy

According to BBC research, young people now spend an average of three hours online a day. This seems quite a conservative estimate really, and professionals must spend more than double this amount. Tech savvy millenials are wise to advertising and many use ad blockers to protect them from the ‘lure’ of online shopping ads, which are becoming increasingly sophisticated. According to eMarketer, about a quarter of all U.S. internet users, nearly 70 million people will use technology to block online ads in 2016. Publishers therefore need to develop respectful ways of promoting to these readers, as a result of this.  Nielsen Book2Look is therefore an ideal option that lets you share sample content, video, audio clips and other promotional material via the internet on social media sites, on your own site, author site or with retailers, bloggers and reviewers.  Each version can be tailored to meet your audience needs.

Shelf space is decreasing

Despite books such as the Cursed Child by JK Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, which achieve huge sales, shelf space for the average book in traditional book stores has been decreasing and this makes discoverability of new books extremely difficult for publishers. Author James Patterson launched an admirable initiative to help indie bookshops survive and thrive – however, in the UK in 2014, almost twice as many bookshops closed down as new ones opened. Between 2009 and 2016*, the number of independent booksellers in the UK and Ireland, has fallen by 25%. With fewer options to browse books in-stores, publishers need to replicate the ability to browse books online, and that’s where Nielsen Book2Look can help you reach a wider audience for your books.

The social media frenzy continues

Trends in Social Media usage are changing. Many Facebook users have migrated to Instagram or Twitter away from parental observation. Groups of friends prefer to communicate via closed groups on Path or What’s App. Professional networks such as Yammer give work colleagues a valid reason to chat online. Nothing remains constant but the one thing all forms of social media have in common is that they give their users the opportunity to share. Nielsen Book2Look lets your readers share sample content. It gives them a valid reason to communicate on their preferred social channels, and you can add a link to your preferred retailer, ensuring that you achieve sales.

Nielsen Book2Look is a tool that encourages readers to share and spread the word about the books they like. A tool that supports your local retailer by offering customised sample content. And lastly but not least, it’s a tool that gives you great analytical data about the performance of your book content that can be connected to your existing Google analytics account.


Today Nielsen Book2Look is helping thousands of publishers of all sizes worldwide to promote and sell their books. Nielsen Book2Look has achieved millions of book views, last year the figure was 20m, and we expect that to increase this year.  Ralph Möllers says: “As a developer and as a publisher I am really proud of this contribution to our industry and I am delighted that so many publishers around the world can take advantage of this remarkable book widget. Even better news is that Nielsen Book has launched its new ISBN Store which enables publishers not only to purchase their ISBNs online but the Book2Look widget too – what could be simpler than that?”

*2016 is seeing a number of new independent bookshops starting up, which might lead to a resurgence of high street retailing, but this is still a hugely competitive market with customers being offered a huge of point of purchase.



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