Word of Mouth TV: an interview with Kate Forsyth and Sarah Mills

Today I’m delighted to bring you a great interview I recently conducted with writers–and now TV presenters!–Kate Forsyth and Sarah Mills, who very recently launched a book show with a difference. The Word of Mouth TV concept combines some of Kate’s and Sarah’s favourite things: food, books and friendship, to create lively, engaging TV, delicious in terms both of body and mind! The first episode, with authors and husband and wife writing team Graeme Simsion and Anne Buist, was most enjoyable, featuring great conversation, yummy food, and great literary–and cooking!-insights. I loved it, and am looking forward very much to the next episode. But while I’m waiting, I thought it would be great to talk to Kate and Sarah about why and how they’ve put together this excellent show with film-maker Claire Absolum. Enjoy! (And subscribe to Word of Mouth TV You Tube channel and website–it’s free!)

Photograph of Kate Forsyth and Sarah Mills by Claire Absolum.

Kate and Sarah, congratulations on the launch of Word of Mouth TV and the show’s first episode! It’s a fabulous concept–innovative and appealing, with so much scope for fun and warmth, and a great title too! How did you first come up with the idea?

Sarah: It was one of those ideas that took a long time to manifest. The idea struck me about six years ago when I was in one of my aimless dreaming phases. The idea kept revisiting me and I asked Kate about three years ago if she would be interested in doing it. We agreed it was something that the book industry desperately needed because there is so little good news and content serving this industry.

Kate: I thought it was such a brilliant idea, but I didn’t know how we would ever find the time to do it when we had such busy schedules. But we kept talking about it and tossing ideas around. We agreed we wanted it to have really good production values but we didn’t know how we would achieve that when we had no skills or experience in that area. Slowly the idea took hold of our imaginations, though. Once we had our title, it really seemed to come to life.

Sarah: We decided upon Word of Mouth as the title because the Sound Bites that accompany the show involve authors recommending the best books they’ve read lately and their favourite cookbooks – so viewers get their reading tips straight from the author’s mouth.

 Coming up with a great idea is one thing of course: bringing it to fruition quite another!  There must have been a lot of work involved in getting to the launch of the show. How did you get from concept to reality?

Sarah: Yes, well, the idea lay nascent for years because we were both writers and neither of us had camera or video-editing skills. Then former SBS and ABC producer Claire Absolum moved into my neighbourhood and we met through mutual friends. Claire was sitting with me on the day I called Kate: “Remember that idea we were talking about a few years ago about interviewing and cooking with authors? Are you still interested?” And to our relief, she said yes.

Kate: It was complete madness! I had such an intense workload and had sworn I would take on no new projects. But Sarah finding Claire just seemed like a sign from the universe. And I’d actually been thinking about how sad it was that there was no great book chat show anymore.

 Sarah: From there it was just a matter of putting everything together. We all have very complimentary skill sets. Claire obviously has the video production skills, I have creative direction and website production skills (I was a journalist for decades at Fairfax), and public relations, branding and marketing skills, and Kate had the contacts within the industry and styling skills from her time freelancing on magazines. And we are all reasonable cooks. We really liked the idea of three women working together to create the show – there is something magic about the number three. Perhaps we’ll be “Charmed”.

Kate: It just seemed to come together so well – I feel that we’ve found the sweet spot between people who love to watch cooking and lifestyle shows, and people who love to read. We’ve certainly had a great early reception!

The show has very high production values and works really well within its time frame. Not surprising, as you have such a skilled and experienced producer as Claire Absolum on board! Tell us what it’s like actually filming the show.

 Sarah: It’s fun and very tiring. It is only a 10-minute Youtube show but so much ends up on the cutting room floor. Particularly for the first episodes because we were a bit nervous and if it wasn’t one of us making bloopers, it was the other. Or the dog would start whining, or the neighbour would start up with a drill. It seemed a process of endless takes. We are still trying to hone the process.

Kate: We are really learning on the job, aren’t we, Sarah? It took us a while to work out a template for the show, and a balance between the cooking, the eating and the talking. We’ve learnt a huge amount in just a few months.

Sarah: It is also difficult because we all live so far away from each other (about two hours) and we are trying to shoot Word of Mouth TV in our spare time. On the upside, the food is divine and we are collecting recipes for a cookbook at the end of the year. And the champagne … it speaks for itself!

How do you go about choosing books, writers–and recipes? 

Sarah: Kate is plugged into the writing industry so this is her task. We try to interview a mix of authors from all different genres and levels of experience, and Kate is the best positioned to know who are likely to be producing good books.

Kate:  It helps that I have so many friends in the industry, and that I read so much anyway. It means I have a good general knowledge of who is launching new books and whether or not our audience is likely to be interested in it.

Sarah: If we don’t personally like the book, we don’t feature it because we have to review it and we want to be kind in our reviews – we are, after all, authors ourselves. We understand how much heart and soul goes into the production of a novel.

Kate: Our aim is to celebrate books and reading and writing, and to encourage people to read outside their comfort zone. This is after all, one of the great benefits of belonging to a book club.

Sarah: I occasionally suggest books that I think will fit the show too. We also recommend cookbooks on every episode. That process is pretty simple. We both have some well-used and well-loved cookbooks. Then we ask the authors to recommend their favourite books read lately and their favourite cookbooks.

Your motto is ‘food, books and friends’hip: it’s the perfect nurturing combination. What are you hoping viewers will get from it? And what’s the response been so far?

 Sarah: So far everyone who likes books has been really encouraging. We are steadily building a subscription base to the Youtube channel, the website, and to social media feeds such as Twitter and Facebook. The authors have been incredibly supportive as well. Mind you it is fun to be wined and dined and have the opportunity to talk about your book, and the subject of books generally, all at once.

 Kate: We hope to become an integral part of the Australian literary scene, a show that bookworms will love and recommend to their friends to watch. The show comes out every fortnight, so that means we are recommending books twice a month – our hope is that Book Clubs will start watching it together, or using it to help them choose books to read, or simply enjoy what we do on a regular basis.

How many episodes are you hoping to make in the series? 

Sarah: The first season will be 12 episodes, seven of which have already been filmed and the remaining five of which have already been scheduled. Hopefully, by the end of that time, we will have a big enough audience, and sponsorship, to continue filming. We really hope this happens as we’ve had more authors asking to be on the show and they are all so fantastic that we want to interview them all.

Kate: We hope there’ll be many more seasons to come!

 Anything else you’d like to add?

Sarah: Well, towards the end of the season, if we don’t get corporate sponsorship, we might run a crowd-funding campaign. In the meantime, it would be great if readers could subscribe to our Youtube channel www.youtube.com/wordofmouthTV000 because we need 1,000 subscriptions under Youtube’s new rules to be able to earn money from the site. If readers want to hear all the latest news, views and reviews, then they can also subscribe to our website at www.wordofmouthtv.com.au We also have a Facebook and Twitter page that we are having a bit of fun with.

Kate: Every fortnight we give away huge piles of books to our subscribers who help spread the word about the show. We want to foster an atmosphere of joy and excitement about the act of reading, and to support as many other authors as we can.

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The Big Country Book Club: an interview with Bernadette Foley

bernadettefoleyThere are such interesting things going on in the book industry at the moment, and readers of this blog will know I’ve spoken to several industry professionals who have left corporate life to start exciting new enterprises. One I’ve discovered recently is a great initiative connecting authors and their books with readers, while using the opportunities of the virtual world to enhance real-world possibilities!  This is the Big Country Book Club, the brainchild of longtime editor and publisher Bernadette Foley, which launched this month, and today I’m talking to her about it.

First of all, Bernadette, congratulations on the recent launch of the Big Country Book Club! How did it start, and what prompted the idea?

Thank you very much, Sophie. The book club grew from a few ideas coming together. When my long service leave came up, after working in publishing for decades, I decided to try something new but still within the world of books. Also, I had taken part in regional workshops with the Queensland Writers Centre, which were very popular, and that led me to think about bringing author events to people in regional areas via an online community. Thirdly, a publishing friend told me about a bookshop in a small South Australian town that was thriving by selling books to readers in remote locations. I thought I would like to do that too. These were some of the thoughts that led to the development of BCBC.

The BCBC–what a great acronym, by the way!–seems like a very nice mix between the kind of publisher-based book clubs such as the old Doubleday book clubs, and the Scholastic book clubs still very popular with children today, crossed with the very popular idea of book club personal discussion that we see now. Is that a fair description or is there even more to it?bcbc-logo

Yes, that is a good way to describe BCBC (I’m glad you like the acronym!). Another feature is the small, carefully selected line-up of new releases I present each month. Instead of facing a huge range of titles, which many people find overwhelming, members pick a book from this curated selection. This is why some people have joined BCBC – they love reading but want help to find books they will enjoy.

I would also like to mention BCB Clubhouse – the book club and bookstore for children from babies up to the age of ten or eleven. It has all the features of BCBC but for children.

 I can imagine that setting up BCBC must have presented quite a few challenges–and occasioned quite a few discoveries!–along the way. Can you tell us about the journey towards launching the club?

Ah, yes! There are a million challenges – one is being patient. A new business doesn’t blossom overnight, and I secretly thought it would! A happy discovery, though, was finding that people are generous with offering moral support and ideas. Authors I have published over the years have written blog posts, publishers send review copies of books they think will suit the clubs, and Joy McKean, whose books I’ve published, was one of the first people to sign up as a member.

bcbclubhouse-logoHow do you go about choosing the books your members receive? Are there particular genres you focus on, for example?

I check the monthly catalogues from most of the small, medium and large publishing companies in Australia. Also, I am keen to include books from new publishers, such as Christmas Press and The Author People. I want a mix of fiction and non-fiction but beyond that I am open to choosing across genres. I don’t only pick books that I would personally enjoy! With my experience as a publisher, I select outstanding new titles for different reading tastes. For example, a book about revitalising Newcastle, Creating Cities, was popular with members, as was Joan London’s The Golden Age.

Tell us about what it would be like to be a member of BCBC. What can members expect?

What a nice question. People subscribe to become members and some received memberships as Christmas presents. Members go to BCBC’s site at the start of every month, read about the latest selection of books and choose one. They are all printed, not ebooks, and are posted to members’ letterboxes, wrapped in brown paper and tied with string. On the site there are blog posts and competitions; members can share their thoughts on the books they’ve read and join online conversations. Also, members who are writers can post issues they are having with their manuscripts on the Writers Forum and other members and I will offer suggestions to overcome the problem and give some feedback on the writing.

BCB Clubhouse members can also read blogs from authors, take part in activities, competitions, and choose a book every month.

Connecting books–and authors– directly with readers is the ‘holy grail’ of all sectors of the book industry, of course. How do you see the role of new enterprises like BCBC in this?

Australia has great books, devoted readers and hardworking, talented authors. Those of us in these new enterprises have to think laterally to find the best ways to bring the three together. One of my goals for BCBC is to create a community where we share thoughts about what we have read and meet authors, on the site and through events and tours. This community should be fun, engaging and interesting, otherwise people will spend their time elsewhere.

There are many interesting and lateral-minded initiatives happening within the industry at the moment: including those driven by people who like yourself and Lou Johnson of The Author People, have had long careers in publishing. Why do you think this is happening?

Also, your Christmas Press Picture Books, Sophie. The children’s books you’re publishing are exquisite, and I am so excited about your new imprints, Eagle Books and Second Look Publishing.

Is it like seeing red cars everywhere as soon as you buy one? Am I aware of these initiatives because I’m involved in one too? I’m not sure, but I know that a few of us who have worked for publishing companies for decades have each decided that we need to try new ways to publish, promote and sell books. We are all asking, ‘Can we succeed in doing something differently and better?’ ‘Can we make a living out of it?’ is the other question. You, Lou and I all love books, and we’re excited by the process of writing, making and selling them. I never want to lose that feeling; to keep it alive I left a job at a very good publishing company to see what would happen if I threw lots of ideas up into the air.