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6 tips for growing an indie press

bloodhound-books Bloodhound Books was founded in August 2014 by author, Betsy Reavley and sales & marketing man Fred Freeman. They saw a gap in the market for an indie press that really put their authors at the forefront. Specialising in crime fiction, they have quickly become one of the most recognised names in the sector. 2016 has been a breakout year for them, which has seen meteoric growth in sales across digital, print and audio. In September 2016 they signed author M A Comley, a USA Today & New York Times best-selling author whose books have sold over 1 million copies to date. Here are their top tips for growing an indie press.

1) Work closely with your authors

Don’t dictate, collaborate. Understand what it means to your authors to receive a publishing contract and work with them sensitively during the editorial, design and promotional phases.

2) Interact with your readers

Social media provides a unique platform to understand who your readers are and what they like. So join in discussions and forums and show some personality.

3) Specialise

Don’t spread your wings too far too soon. Become experts in a genre and build your following in that area. You don’t want to become predictable and it’s ok to challenge a little, but you need to give your readers what they want.

4) Build a brand

As an indie fiction publisher branding is critical. You need to be recognisable and have a brand that no one will forget

5) Build a mailing list

A targeted mailing list is the very best way to communicate with your readers. Bloodhound Books give away a free eBook to new subscribers and have seen their mailing list grow by 600% in 2016.

6) Be responsive and approachable

Bloodhound Books receive a huge volume of submissions, they read every single one and always reply, normally within a week or two. If they can’t offer to publish it, they’ll explain why and give an honest appraisal. Remember that authors are also important customers!

New children’s book publisher: Richard Carman interview

Fourth Wall is a brand new children’s book publishing company based in the Wirral. They pride themselves on standing out from most other publishers as they’re looking to grow by looking for brand new material through submissions. Here Stephanie Cox interviews Richard Carman, International Rights Manager.

1) Please can you introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your career.

My name is Richard Carman, and I am International Rights Manager at Fourth Wall Publishing. My first managerial role was at Omnibus Press. From there I was UK Sales Manager for Penguin, then South Africa Sales Manager for Dorling Kindersley, which let to five very happy years as Head of Export. Made redundant when DK went bust, I was a freelance for nearly ten years in Africa working for people like Orion, Walker Books, Kingfisher and Kogan Page, and I joined Award Publications in 2010. I joined Fourth Wall in March of this year.

2) Can you tell us a little bit more about Fourth Wall Books? How did it come about?

Fourth Wall Publishing was originally conceived a few years ago, but the owners’ background led them to found a very successful branding and marketing agency first. We work with some very well-known high street brands as well as a lot of the Premier League football clubs. Fourth Wall Publishing was launched at London Book Fair 2015, and the first ten titles published in the autumn of that year. Our pace picked up this spring, and we’ll be publishing around 50 books a year.

3) What is the most challenging part of your role as International Rights Manager?

A lot of the companies I worked with in the past publish different kinds of books to those that we specialise in, so finding new customers and establishing relationships with them from scratch is probably the most challenging element.

4) What do you enjoy most about your role?

I like people, I like being in a busy team and in a creative environment Because the majority of my colleagues are designers, it’s good to be involved in every book from day one of its creation, and to be able to look up from my desk and see books being developed just across the room. And I love book fairs (anyone in publishing who tells you they don’t are liars), and travelling.

5) What trends are you currently seeing in the children’s book market?

YA fiction continues to be a big pull I think, but really good, contemporary, international-feel illustrations seem to be increasing in popularity. There’ll always be the pull of Disney and big-branded products, but underneath that it’s a healthy market too I think.

Translated literature: Is the buzz to be believed?

Jonathan Ruppin is Literary Director at digital start-up Orson & Co and the founder of the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club. He was a bookseller for 18 years, including 13 at Foyles’ flagship branch on Charing Cross Road. Translated literature is having a moment, the press has being claiming of late. It’s being said by the sort of journalists who have previously claimed that short stories or novellas or enormous doorstop novels are having a moment. The press, of course, is always keen to portray itself as a keen trendspotter and constantly makes assertions based on having received three vaguely similar books in the post lately or perhaps just one particularly cut-n’-pastable press release.

The facts are these

According to Literature Across Frontiers, translated fiction currently makes up 4.5% of UK sales, up from 3% at the turn of the century. This compares with almost a third in Germany and around half in Italy. Discount unrepeatable phenomena such as Elena Ferrante and Stieg Larsson and the increase is negligible. If translated literature was really what everyone is buying, it would be reflected in what chain bookshops were putting in front and centre, in bestseller lists, in the pages of magazines as well as literary journals. And it’s not.

Translated literature, as the Twitterati smugly proclaim, is not a genre

To yoke books together on the grounds of their not being originally written in English is arbitrary and senseless. Except… consider, for example, a novel set in ancient Rome and another in revolutionary France sitting side-by-side on a table of historical fiction: many readers adore exploring the past by reading fiction and plenty of them are interested in more than one era. Similarly, readers travel the world vicariously through novels. An interest in Italy is unlikely to correlate with a passion for China but, in both cases, the reader is exhibiting curiosity about other cultures. A table of translated literature, therefore, makes perfect sense. Mostly importantly, it works: when I was at Foyles, we had one almost permanently, with an ever-changing selection, and it consistently outsold almost every other themed display. It’s all very well dreaming of a world where readers are language-blind, but hoping that we’ll get there by leaving translated books to fend for themselves in the run from A to Z is wishful thinking. Positive discrimination is needed, just as we need to highlight female, working class and BAME writers, to avoid the cultural default of just waiting for the new one from Ian McEwan.

There are some major issues with exactly what does get translated into English

Safer choices by publishers lead to a preponderance of male writers. The lack of languages among British publishers means that Western Europe dominates. A lack of familiar cultural references in commercial fiction or British perspectives in non-fiction apparently makes anything other than English-language titles in these areas too problematic to consider. Credit for the translator is often buried somewhere discreet, as well as remaining largely absent from reviews. Random House even removed the diacritic from the name of Jo Nesbø lest such exoticism startle fragile crime fans (although Simon & Schuster have more faith in the child readers of his Doctor Proctor books and kept it). We chose Senegal as the first destination in Africa for the English PEN Translated Literature Book Club, but were soon stymied: even names of global import such as Mariama Bâ, Ousmane Sembène and Fatou Diome are out of print in the UK. (Literature from any African nation can, incidentally, most often be identified by the hackneyed image of a sunset behind an acacia tree on the cover.)

The indies

We can only be grateful to the independent publishing sector, who have stepped in to cater for this vastly untapped market. Istros Books, for example, specialise in books from the Balkans. The main focus of Tilted Axis is books from Asia and Africa. And Other Stories and Peirene Press have achieved the sort of brand recognition that the big houses have long craved, signing up subscribers with a guarantee of literary intrepidity. This is being mirrored by independent bookshops, who have capitalised on the millions of readers in search of something other than the cosily familiar. Globalisation of every aspect of life on Earth is happening now, whatever the Brexiteers may think of that, and Anglophone literature can only be enriched by embracing the remarkable variety the rest of the world has to offer. Thanks to Norah Myers for sourcing this guest post. 
IPG

It pays to work in independent publishing

Ahead of BookMachine’s event on pay and working conditions in publishing, the Independent Publishers Guild’s chief executive Bridget Shine looks at working life in the indie sector.  In independent publishing, people really matter. At the IPG, we talk regularly to members about pay and conditions, and are often struck by just how much they value their staff. That’s because in the relatively small teams of many IPG members, the contribution of every member is vital. When we undertook our biggest ever survey of members for our first Independent Publishing Report late last year, we found they employ an average of 9.3 staff—so each of them is valuable and valued. The report also showed the importance that our members place on training, and we have responded to that by increasing the learning opportunities that we offer as part of membership, including new online training packages and bursaries for those who want to improve specific skills. We get more insights into conditions in independent publishing through our salary surveys, the most recent of which suggested that pay at all levels of publishing was increasing steadily if modestly, despite all the challenges and uncertainty in the market. It showed too how independent publishers make good use of perks and incentives to reward staff. Bonus schemes, linked to either company-wide or individual performances, and sometimes including share options, are becoming more popular. When small teams need to pull together and chip in to a multitude of tasks, these schemes can be excellent incentives. Publishers supplement pay in lots more ways. Our salary survey found that four in five offer flexible working, for example—something that is really appreciated by staff who want to balance work and family life. Other perks include private health or life insurance, enhanced maternity pay, season ticket loans and study leave. The IPG has a huge range of members, from big international operators down to tiny start-ups, and the scale of pay and benefits naturally varies enormously. But what companies have in common is the awareness that great staff are absolutely pivotal to their success, and an eagerness to recognize and reward good performance. It is pleasing to note that this loyalty is reciprocated. Staff in independent publishing—and first or second jobbers in particular—tell us that their companies offer responsibilities and opportunities for progression that can be harder to come by at larger companies. “When you work in a small team you take on more responsibility to cover the workload, so you develop your skills and knowledge a lot faster,” Carcanet’s Katie Caunt said in our ‘Me and My Job’ series recently. “I’ve always enjoyed trying to see the whole machine… In a small independent you can really immerse yourself in every part,” said Salt’s Chris Hamilton-Emery. Working for conglomerates can be rewarding too, but IPG members offer some terrific and unique experiences and opportunities. They are great places to start and build careers.
noticed

Getting a book noticed: 4 tips from the UK’s bestselling indie author

Rachel Abbott self-published her first novel, Only the Innocent, in 2011 through Kindle Direct. It reached the number 1 spot in the Kindle store just over three months later,held its position for four weeks and was the second highest selling self-published title in 2012. In August 2015, Amazon confirmed that Rachel is the UK’s bestselling independent author over the last five years. She is also listed at number 14 in the list of bestselling authors – both traditionally and independently published – over the same five year period. Here are her top tips for promoting a title. The one question I am always asked by writers is “How can I get my book noticed?”. As we all know, it is possible to write the most brilliant novel in the world but, unless people know it’s out there, how are they going to find it amongst the millions of books available for the Kindle? The tips below might help you to be noticed and to build and maintain a high readership.

1) Run an awareness campaign

Don’t only think about marketing activities that result in immediate sales – focus on making sure that people recognise your books, seeing them in as many places as possible. Display your covers: at the end of each email you send; in guest posts for popular blogs; in tweets or Facebook posts. Awareness is crucial to success. When readers see your book in a store you want them to think ‘I’ve seen that book before – it looks interesting.’

2) Develop a list of reviewers

Most bloggers post their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as well as on their own blogs. Keep a list of the reviewers you like, and make sure you invite them to read the book before launch. Find other reviewers by searching similar authors, plus the word ‘review’. Send reviewers all the details they might need including what the book is about, the word length and genre. Good reviews create a desire for people to buy.

3) Build your mailing list

A perfect example of a marketing plan objective would be to increase your mailing list by 500 readers. Your actions might include putting a link to a sign-up page in the back of your books, running a promotion, creating a newsletter sign-up form for the author Facebook page, blog or website. Then you can send readers regular updates on the book launches.

4) Use social media tools to help you

It’s all so easy to get hooked on Twitter and be on their all day – but use scheduling tools to cut down on the time spent on social media. Remember the average Twitter user reads tweets for no more than 15 minutes per day and follows 270 people, so if you want to catch their eye, you need to tweet at regular intervals.
business book author

Every business book is a start-up?

It’s a terrible irony of nonfiction publishing that the people with the most interesting things to say are often too busy actually doing their thing to sit down and write a book about it. Business leaders are not natural writers, at least not usually. They’re often great communicators, especially on a conference stage or in a training workshop, but writing a book is a sustained, lonely effort and there’s no reason why your average extrovert entrepreneur should be any good at it. Which is a problem for publishers. We Have a Deal – the book that nearly wasn’t What got me thinking about this was this week’s Extraordinary Business Book Club interview with Natalie Reynolds, one of the smartest people I’ve ever met. She trained as a barrister, has negotiated on behalf of top companies and government, and is now CEO of AdvantageSPRING, training companies around the world how to negotiate more effectively. She’s also written a book, a damn fine one, called We Have a Deal (Icon Books, 2016), and it was Icon’s Andrew Furlow who recommended that I talk to her after my Guardian article in February bemoaning the fact that there are so few good business books by women out there, and even fewer that are not aimed specifically at women. (That’s one reason Natalie’s book is so refreshing, by the way: it’s by a woman, it explicitly engages with the question ‘is negotiation a man’s game?’ [spoiler: No], but it’s aimed at ANYONE who wants to get better at this key business/life skill.) But forget negotiation and gender politics; what really blew me away was Natalie’s experience of writing the book. She had around five months in which to write it so very sensibly, in textbook fashion, carved out time to write a few hundred words each day. By the time she left on a trip to Hong Kong, about three weeks before the submission deadline, the manuscript was finished and she took it on the plane with her to read it over in full for the first time. ‘I hated it,’ she says, simply. She hated it so much that she threw away the manuscript, deleted the file and then, to make REALLY sure it was gone, she emptied the trash folder on her computer. Her husband ‘went quiet’ when she told him, she says. Then when she got back home, he pointed out the obvious: ‘You do realise it’s due in in three weeks?’ The story has a happy ending: after three weeks of pretty much non-stop writing, Natalie submitted her manuscript on schedule. When you know the backstory, you appreciate the freshness and immediacy of her book that much more. But it could have been very different. Each book is a start-up Now, Icon Books are very strong on supporting their authors editorially (Natalie was very clear on this, and I’ve heard it from other authors too), which is one key reason for the happy ending here. But it made me think: how many stories must have ended differently for other authors with other publishers? How many lost books are out there? How many authors have simply failed to deliver, or delivered too late to hit their moment, or produced something that didn’t live up to its potential, because they didn’t get the right support? When a publisher signs a business writer, or indeed any writer, they’re investing in them. They’re effectively getting in on the ground floor of a promising startup. When hopeful entrepreneurs pitch on Dragons Den they’re seeking more than purely financial investment – they know that having access to the mentoring and experience of a Dragon will help them succeed. So it makes sense for publishers to protect their financial investment, to do everything they can to make it come good. Generally they’re good at doing this after delivery: creating imaginative covers, selling translation rights, publishing in multiple formats at a variety of price points to hit all the markets. But the critical time is the lonely period between the signature of the contract and delivery, when authors are up against a thousand different ways to fail and facing them pretty much alone. Procrastination? Self-doubt? Overwhelm? Imposter syndrome? Competing priorities? Writer’s block? Lack of clarity? Scope creep? Check – and more besides. What do writers need? Sometimes agents fill this gap for literary or celebrity authors, but business books are a perfect storm: typically unagented, usually written by people who wouldn’t consider themselves writers and who have competing demands on their time. Many business book authors who’ve made the decision to self-publish recognize very early that the actual publishing is only a small part of the process: their immediate need is a book coach to help them clarify their ideas, overcome these pitfalls and allow them to create and, crucially, complete a book they can be proud of. I’m seeing more traditional publishers recognize that many authors – particularly those who aren’t professional writers – need access to this kind of support if they’re going to deliver on their full potential: think of Springer’s Author Academy and Random House’s Author Portal, amongst others. This will be an interesting space to watch over the coming years, as the rich ecosystem of services for indie authors shapes the expectations of traditionally published authors. Alison 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. 

On experimenting with digital: Nathan Connolly interview

Nathan Connolly is the Publishing Director of Dead Ink Books. Dead Ink was founded in 2010, set up with funding from Arts Council England as a digital-only press. At a time when ebooks were really just starting to blow up, Dead Ink were experimenting with what a book could be. Dead Ink’s focus is now based on two strands: the first is to develop the careers of new literary authors and the second is to do that through experimentation with digital technology in publishing.  Here Stephanie Cox interviews him.

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Orenda Books

The benefits and risks of independent publishing: Karen Sullivan interview

Karen Sullivan founded the independent publisher, Orenda Books, a little under a year ago. They publish literary and crime/thriller fiction. Karen moved to the UK from Canada at the age of 21 and worked for a small independent publisher before forging a career as a health editor and writer. Here Stephanie Cox interviews her on the benefits and risks for independent publishers.

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On independent publishing and the North: Kevin Duffy interview

Kevin Duffy founded the independent publisher, Bluemoose Books, with his wife, Hetha, after re-mortgaging their house. He’s been involved in sales and marketing for the last 30 years with commercial, academic, fiction and non-fiction publishing companies. Here Stephanie Cox interviews him.

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From book blogger to independent publisher

This is a guest blog by Thom Cuell. Thom is the Managing Director of Dodo Ink, an independent publisher specialising in difficult and daring fiction. His writing has appeared in 3am Magazine, The Weeklings and The Literateur, and he has an MA in English and American Literature from The University of Manchester. From the outside, the publishing world can seem like a scary place. The image of the stuffy Old Boys’ club might be a little outdated, but breaking in is still tough. Moving to London, or taking an unpaid internship, isn’t for everyone. But are there alternative routes into publishing? I’d like to tell you a bit about how I went from amateur book blogger to Managing Director of an independent press.

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independent press

On launching an independent press: Jamie McGarry interview

Valley Press is an independent publisher of poetry, non-fiction and fiction, founded in 2008, and run as a full-time business since January 2011. Here Stephanie Cox interviews Valley Press founder Jamie McGarry about setting up a new press and how it all came about.

1. Tell us the story of how Valley Press came about.

The short version: after an unsuccessful attempt to become a Primary School teacher, I fell into an English Literature degree, and then realised this was not a subject that was going to make me highly employable. I had been making books of various kinds since the age of 6, so decided to start doing that a bit more purposefully, to enhance my CV – using the name Valley Press, as I lived on Valley Road at that time. It was the summer of 2008.

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Books On The Underground

On launching Books On The Underground: Hollie Belton interview

You just finished that amazing book you’ve been reading, and you want to share it with the world? Well that’s what Hollie Belton wanted to do, so she created Books On The Underground. Here Stephanie Cox interviews Hollie about how it all works and what we should look out for next from the creative due behind this successful venture.

1. Please introduce yourself, and the others behind Books on the Underground, and give us a brief overview of your careers?

I’m Hollie, I started Books on the Underground in November 2012. I’m originally from Lincolnshire, but I moved to London 7 years ago after graduating from university. I’m a Creative at an Advertising agency, where I’ve been for the last 4 years. I met my BOTU partner, Cordelia, on Twitter. She reached out to me to to help out and now has become an integral part of the project and we’ve been doing it together ever since.

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Publishing yourself

Publishing Yourself

Lisa Edwards runs her own independent publishing consultancy, Redwood Tree Publishing. She has twenty years’ experience in the publishing industry, primarily in children’s books, where she has managed brands such as Horrible Histories, The Golden Compass, The Hunger Games, Tom Gates and Stick Man. She is currently developing and leading a training course for trade commissioning editors at The Publishing Training Centre.  As the one-year anniversary of my blog hoves into view, I’ve realised that what I’ve been doing all this time is publishing myself. I haven’t been self-publishing, as to me that means something different – the act of distributing a single novel, short story or work of non fiction online is very different to publishing a series of micro-works via a website.

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Sam

A unique take on publishing: Sam Rennie interview

Sam Rennie founded Readership in 2014. Readership is a reader-generated publishing company where booklovers decide what is published. Here Stephanie Cox interviews Sam about the concept and the success of the company so far.

1. Please introduce us to Readership! How does it work?

Readership is a publishing company controlled by readers. We let them decide what we publish. But, more than that, our goal is to build a community that effectively becomes a company by the people and for the people. We want to be a publishing company that the reading world wants. We also want to let them have more control than the typical user may have with a company. Any changes to our website, what features to prioritise, what services should be added to the company, and so on. It seems like something that would sit naturally in the digital age, because modern technology lets users tell the world what they want, and even lets them help create it, which is obviously vastly different to the age before, where industries basically told their audiences “These are your choices.” etc.

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Amazon and publishing

5 Questions for Deborah Emin about Amazon and publishing

This is a guest interview with Deborah Emin. Deborah began Sullivan Street Press as a way to change the publishing paradigm. An advocate also for how we relate to this planet, the press publishes titles on veganism, animal rights as well as on the occupy movement. Follow @SullivanStPress.

1. If we could turn back time, how could the Amazon/publishing relationship have been established differently?

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