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5 lessons from a publishing life

Andrew Hayward is MD of Ether Books, and has previously worked at The Lutterworth Press, Penguin, Pearson, Constable & Robinson and Summersdale Publishers.

About eighteen months ago my CEO and I were in an investment fair pitching for money for Ether. At the buffet lunch an investment banker said to me, ‘Andy, I don’t think you have ever done a day’s work in your life.’

I was a bit taken aback and asked if she had spoken to my bosses. ‘No, my point is that you are so passionate about what you do and you love your industry, it is not work for you.’ And I am and I do. I think I have been very fortunate to have been involved in publishing, working with fun people and being involved with interesting projects. So that is the first thing to remember and be grateful for, publishing is a great way of life.

1) Always reply

The lessons I have learnt are very simple. Firstly, always reply to correspondence: it does not take long to send an email, simply acknowledging the other person, but it is professional and courteous.

2) Be prepared

Second is a mantra that applies to whatever you do, not just publishing: fail to prepare, prepare to fail. As anyone who knows me will testify, I am a real thickie but I am never underprepared. I can think of meetings where the other person was not up to speed and it is a waste of everyone’s time.

3) Be patient

Thirdly, plant the seeds and wait for them to come to growth. I had lunch with an editor this week who said she had spoken to an author over a year ago and asked if he would like to write a book for her company. She heard nothing for fourteen months and then she had a missive from him saying he would, indeed, be interested in writing a book for her company.

Likewise, in my role as an agent I had written three times to a newspaper suggesting that they would like to take my author as an occasional correspondent. Not once did I get a response and then two weeks ago the paper got in touch and we have now had two articles in a couple of weeks. Publishing is very much a matter of faith. Sometimes the seeds never grow and sometimes they grow gloriously.

4) Keep the faith

Fourthly, believe in your vision even when people pour scorn on you. I was on the original committee for World Book Day and it took three years to get it off the ground. I well remember my boss at Penguin at the time saying that we were ‘baying at the moon’ (a wonderful phrase) if I thought publishers would share their marketing money with other publishers for a generic campaign. Well our committee continued to bay at the moon and now people say, ‘What a great idea.’ Likewise with Ether. Reading from mobiles was a nonsense, I was told, but now the statistics are proving our arguments and we have people wanting to buy the company.

5) You just never know…

Fifthly, and finally, remember publishing is not an exact science. Any of us who have been around a long time can remember times where books that were going to be sure-fire bestsellers turned out to be duds and books that came from nowhere hit the bestseller lists.

Once when I had been pitching Ether and said, ‘You will get a lot of marketing information as feedback,’ the response had been, ‘Yes, we don’t publish now unless we have all the sales information to hand. The day of the inspirational publisher is gone.’ As they said that I felt a little bit of me die, but the truth is that is not, and cannot, be the case. (A Shepherd’s Life or A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing would undoubtedly have failed any sales and marketing criteria for being published but went on to become bestsellers.)

So, the most important lesson I have learnt over the last thirty-five years is to keep your passion and do NOT be put off by people who pour cold water on your ideas. Believe in yourself and enjoy your job.

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


What I wish someone had told me about publishing

This is a guest post from Alice Murphy-Pyle. Alice is Marketing Manager at Transworld Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Follow her on Twitter @alicemurphypyle

“Learn digital skills!’ people bellow when you try to get into publishing. ‘It’s the future!’

Well. It is and it isn’t.

When I started in publishing I did bring some digital skills with me – not exactly shaking the industry foundations, but enough to get by. I quickly learnt, however, that marketing is about much more.

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Editing tips

5 Tips from the Secret World of Editing

This is a guest post by Abbie Headon. Abbie joined Summersdale Publishers in 2010. In her role as Managing and Commissioning Editor she writes, edits and commissions content across a broad range of trade non-fiction titles. Her book Poetry First Aid Kit was published by Summersdale in 2013, and her Literary First Aid Kit is due to hit the world’s bookshelves in August 2015.

Editing is one of the Dark Arts of publishing. For proofreading and copyediting, there are books and courses that explain all the quirks and twists, but editing – and by this I mean structural editing, where you take somebody’s manuscript and help them make it better – does not fit this model. For me, editing is where the magic happens. And editing has a lot in common with magic: it takes a lot of practice, and it works best when you see its effects, but not the details of how it was done.

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