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Infrastructure of publishing business

The reinvention of storytelling

Thousands of years ago, we told stories to each other. The best stories were those that could be repeated over and over again, changing little, those that embodied tribal memory, with strong, often repetitive structure and big heroes and villains. There wasn’t much by way of interior monologue or intertextuality.

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5 reasons to use social and mobile for scouting new talent

Sweek, a social platform for free reading and writing, and Ravensburger, a well-known German publisher, have successfully completed #SchreibMitRavensburger, a Young Adult writing contest. At an exclusive event at the Ravensburger headquarters, Samira Bosshard was revealed to be the winner of the contest and earned herself a publishing contract, after impressing both the Sweek reading community and the expert jury of Ravensburger.

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FutureBook … or FutureRead? Fostering the next generation of readers

Sheila Bounford has worked in service businesses connected to the publishing industry for thirty years. A former Executive Director of the IPG, Head of Business Development at NBNi, and mentor to independent publishers, she is currently teaching English to secondary school pupils as part of the Teach First Leadership Development Programme.

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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 WriteNow mentor Lydia Yadi

WriteNow, Penguin Random House UK’s programme to find, mentor and publish new writers currently under-represented on the nation’s bookshelves, is back for 2017. The world’s number-one publisher is looking for new writers from a socio-economically marginalised background, LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, Queer) and BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) writers, or writers with a disability, to make books and publishing more representative of the society we live in. Find out more and apply at www.write-now.live. Applications close on 16 July 2017. Join the conversation using #WriteNowLive @PenguinRHUK. 

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How to secure publicity for potentially divisive books

January this year saw the launch of our new series of books on gender diversity. From first-person memoirs to children’s storybooks, many of these books are written by trans and non-binary people and consider the particular challenges that this group faces.

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Interview with Sam Baker, co-founder of The Pool and Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction 2017 judge

Sam Baker has spent 20 years in magazine journalism, editing some of the UK’s biggest magazines, including Just Seventeen, Cosmopolitan and Red. In 2015, she co-founded and launched The Pool, with broadcaster Lauren Laverne, with a mission to celebrate and amplify women’s voices. An award-winning digital platform for women that has been described as redefining women’s media, The Pool was recently awarded Best Mobile Lifestyle Site/App at the Webbys (also known as the highest honour the internet can bestow). Here Norah Myers interviews Sam about The Pool and her role as a judge for the 2017 Baileys Women’s Prize for Fiction.

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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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The author platform: Why it matters for publishers

Adrian Zackheim, founder of Portfolio, Penguin’s prestigious business book list, knows a thing or two about acquiring and marketing business books. So when I spoke to him in The Extraordinary Business Book Club this week I asked what he looked for in an author. An existing platform – a strong social media following, highly ranked blog, YouTube channel, podcast or the like – is certainly one factor.

‘When we’re taking on an author who has never had a book published before, one of the indications that this is a person we should consider is the pre-existence of a significant platform… because that means that this person has already started to attract a community, and that that community can be built upon. It’s an obvious strategy for publishers to seek out people with pre-existing platforms and attempt to extend them.’

It’s not the only factor, of course. Zackheim describes the acquisition decision as a triangulation of three key elements – platform, sure, but also person and concept:

‘There is this calculation that one has to make about: where is that platform? How significant, how important is the platform, and how good is this person as a communicator? Then how significant are the ideas that are being developed here? You have to triangulate those three considerations in order to determine the prospects for an author, and obviously we’re wrong as often as we’re right.’

There’s a potential Catch-22 for publishers here, of course: if someone has a strong platform, they may be asking themselves if they need a traditional publisher at all.

And many authors, who see a book as a way of establishing a platform, certainly feel it’s a particularly vicious double bind: ‘You mean you won’t publish me until I’ve got a following? But I need the book to get a following!’

Zackheim’s logic is irrefutable, though. You may have needed a gatekeeper such as a publisher or broadcaster 10 years ago to get your ideas out and build some energy around them: now you have an embarrassment of channels and tools through which and with which to disseminate them. If you’re not using them, the inescapable conclusion is that something is lacking.

As Zackheim puts it:

‘Anybody who is a compelling thinker and communicator, who has been completely unable to build any sort of following or to even create a ripple of interest in the media world, when they come to us with their book proposal, we have to consider it with some suspicion, because how come nothing has happened around this idea set so far?… Particularly if [they are] now coming to us and saying, “I am dying to get this idea in front of a large community. You need to help me because this idea is so important, but I really have not been able to attract a single follower.”’

The age-old dance between publisher and author, the delicate power balance played out in pitch and offer and negotiation, has evolved: while the principle remains the same – to communicate an important idea effectively to the people who need to hear it – today the publisher is just one of a number of partners on the floor.

What’s exciting about this of course is that the partners aren’t competing: if the publisher takes the time to understand what underpins the author’s platform and finds ways to support and build those channels, the reward is more attention for the idea and more sales of the book.

The art of acquisition – it gets more interesting by the day.

membership economyAlison 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

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