Double Act 7: Anna Solding of Midnight Sun

anna soldingToday,  I’m revisiting my ‘Double Act’ series of interviews with authors who are also publishers, and who started their own publishing houses.  And I’m interviewing Anna Solding of Midnight Sun Publishing, a small press that has gone from strength to strength since it started a few short years ago.

Anna, when and how did Midnight Sun start? What motivated you to start your own publishing company?

It started one day when I had lunch with a close friend who is an entrepreneur. Even though my novel manuscript The Hum of Concrete had been nominated for three awards for unpublished manuscripts, no publisher had picked it up. My friend thought this was a shame so he suggested: ‘Why don’t we start a publishing company?’ You know, as you do, over lunch, just like that. My, quite logical and heartfelt, reply was: ‘Because we are not crazy…’ Five years later, we are crazier than ever and MidnightSun is beginning to take off in a big way. My friend’s initial expertise and help was invaluable and I would never have contemplated starting a publishing company if he hadn’t come up with the idea. My novel The Hum of Concrete went on to be nominated for another three awards once it was published, including the Commonwealth Book Awards, which meant we were off to a promising start and we felt that perhaps we could keep doing this.

How did you initially persuade booksellers to stock your books?

I was lucky enough to convince Wakefield Press, another independent Adelaide publisher, to distribute our books nationwide. It’s not really what they normally do so they only did it to be kind and give me a break, which was very nice of them. For the last couple of years our books have been distributed by NewSouth Books, who do a terrific job, getting our books into bookshops (and occasionally even into discount departments stores) around Australia and New Zealand.

Have your aims and strategies as a publisher changed from the beginning? How?

Yes and no. The aim has always been to publish amazing books, both in terms of content and design; books that you can lose An-Ordinary-Epidemic-Amanda-Hickie-The-Clothesline-192x300yourself in, books that look stylish and feel good in your hand. That is still our main aim. On our website we say: ‘MidnightSun Publishing has grown out of a disenchantment with the established publishing houses in Australia. We know there are plenty of fabulous manuscripts about unusual topics floating around, but publishing new and unknown writers poses a big risk. MidnightSun is prepared to take that risk. We want our readers to be entertained. We want to challenge, excite, enrage and overwhelm.’

When we started, we were mainly focused on adult literary fiction but now we also publish a wide range of books for children, from picture books to YA. I have always said that I will only publish books that I love and I think that is a good strategy for a small publisher. Because we spend so much time with each book, we really need to be comfortable talking about all aspects of it to anyone who will listen. Originally, I thought we’d just publish one or two books to see how they went but as all our books have made a profit it has always been easy to keep moving on to the next project. The more well-known MidnightSun becomes, the more high quality manuscripts are sent our way and the more projects we take on. When we started publishing in 2012, we did two books per year, in 2017 we are planning to do five. To publish five or six books per year would secure a more regular cash flow situation, which is something MidnightSun is still struggling with. The more I learn about the business, the more confident I get about all the small steps that need to happen for each book, including the metadata, the AI sheet, different ways to promote the book and which festivals and media contacts to approach.

Has working as a publisher impacted on your own career as an author–whether that be positive or negative?

Yes, I don’t think of myself as a writer first and foremost any more. Publishing has taken over my life, but I have let it happen and I love my job passionately so I’m certainly not complaining. I work with interesting people who all love books, so that has to count for something. Last year, I was fortunate enough to be awarded two writers’ retreat residencies, one month in Finland and one month in Perth, which were both fantastic months when I felt like a writer again. For years, I’ve been working on a ‘companion novel’ to The Hum of Concrete, also set in Sweden where I grew up, and it’s almost finished but I think I need one more retreat to get there. I would like to incorporate more writing into my everyday life, but when I can’t even get a Q&A like this one written until weeks after I should have delivered it, I’m not quite sure how to manage it.

What are the challenges and pleasures of small-press publishing, in your experience? Any memorable anecdotes?

IPLKS_cover love finding new talent and nurturing the writers from the beginning. Kim Lock, whose novel Peace, Love and Khaki Socks, was published by MidnightSun in 2013 has since evolved into being our regular designer. Her new novel has recently been published by big publisher Macmillan, which we think is fantastic. Last year, we published Amanda Hickie’s An Ordinary Epidemic and that book will come out with a new cover and new title (Before This Is Over) in the US next year. There are so many pleasures.

The challenges are plentiful, as they should be. It took almost a year to design the cover for Cameron Raynes’ First Person Shooter and we finally decided on one we all liked after rejecting about 30 others. Fortunately, we have a very patient designer. However, one of the biggest challenges for small publishers is to get noticed in the mainstream press. MidnightSun has a loyal following in Adelaide but it’s always a struggle to even get a tiny review in the larger newspapers, let alone a feature article. The other main challenge, at least for us, is to manage our cash flow. Because MidnightSun is doing really well, our first picture book One Step at a Time by Jane Jolly and Sally Heinrich has been nominated for several awards including the important CBCA award, we are in a position where we need to reprint the book but we have had to take out a loan to be able to do so.

As much as there are plenty of challenges for small publishers, the pleasures of seeing a project through from manuscript form to the final product, a beautiful and thought-provoking book, clearly outweigh the challenges. The buzz of opening a box from the printer to see a new book for the first time is very special and I don’t think I’ll ever get tired of that feeling.

Any advice for aspiring author-publishers?

Go for it! If you are passionate about books and have some sense of business, publishing might be the perfect place for you. I’m not going to pretend that it is easy, because it certainly isn’t, but if you surround yourself people who can help you with aspect that you might be less familiar with, it could be worth giving publishing a go. I have had a bookkeeper and a designer from the start as those were two aspect of the business that I didn’t know that much about. Other than that, you have to learn to wear many different hats; as editor, publicist, sales director, head of marketing and the one who is ultimately responsible – whether things go fabulously or the complete opposite.

Distribution is extremely important and it’s very hard to find a distributor so it’s worth doing some research on this before you take the plunge. Dennis Jones distributes many small publishers. Talk to other small publishers, research printers, become a member of Small Press Network, learn the terminology (what is metadata? AI sheets? ISBN?), subscribe to the daily newsletter from Books+Publishing and, most importantly, find amazing manuscripts to publish. Without intriguing content One-Stepand stunning production your books won’t be noticed. MidnightSun started in 2011 and we published our first book a year later, which felt right as that is how long it took to learn a bit about how the business works. The longer you have to prepare for a book, with marketing material, review copies, interviews, the better. Now that we are more established, we often work on a book for two years before publication. But don’t be scared, if publishing is your passion, just go for it!

Anna Solding

P.S. Metadata is the information that is put into search engines so that it will be easy to find. AI sheets are advance information sheets about the book, which often contain the cover image, a blurb, an author bio and photo, size, price, publication date and the all-important ISBN. The ISBN is the 13 digit number that is under the barcode, which is used by booksellers to identify the book.

Advertisements

Do It Yourself Book Publicity: An interview with Emma Noble

diy book pr guideGetting your book written and published is one thing. Getting it noticed in the flood of new titles is quite another! Today, I’m interviewing publicity specialist Emma Noble, who’s just released a book that answers a lot of questions about how to plan and run a great book publicity campaign. It’s a book that will be of much interest both to authors and small publishers.

Emma, your book, The DIY Book PR Guide: The Happier Guide to Do-It-Yourself Book Publicity in Seven Easy Steps, has just been published. Can you tell us something about it, how it came about, and who it’s aimed at?

 It’s aimed at self-published authors mostly, but also at traditionally published writers who want to better understand what their inhouse publicist is doing for them, and perhaps even to support their efforts. I wrote it out of sheer frustration, actually, at the number of authors I wasn’t able to take on because of time constraints. I wanted to try to help them in some other way. Book publicity is most definitely not rocket science but it’s convoluted and time-consuming if you don’t know what you’re doing. The DIY Book PR Guide lays down the basics of planning and executing a campaign that is tailormade for your book.

You run a boutique communications and book publicity agency, Noble Words.  What kind of services do you offer writers and publishers? And what sorts of projects have you been involved with?

I mostly work with big publishers who need a helping hand during busy periods, and I tend to be given campaigns that might be slightly more complex or time-consuming than usual; for example, footballer Chris Judd’s nationwide tour to promote My Story in late 2015. I also work with an increasing number of self-published authors on promoting their books. This month, I’m working with: social enterprise Thankyou on their book-slash-crowdfunding campaign Chapter One; self-published YA urban fantasy writer Karyn Sepulveda on Choosing Xaverique; novelist Lynnette Lounsbury on her modern take on a beatnik road-trip, We Ate the Road Like Vultures, published by indie outfit Inkerman & Blunt; ReadHowYouWant, the Australian company responsible for bringing the dyslexie font (which greatly improves the ability of dyslexics to read) to a huge range of local titles; the Little Darlings Childcare Centres on their self-pubbed cookbook, Yia Yia’s Kitchen Secrets; parenting expert Maggie Dent’s first picture book for kids, My Cool Plastics Cupboard; and, last but not least, I’ve been running courses on DIY book PR for the Australian Society of Authors and the NSW Writers’ Centre.

Phew.

Self-published authors often ask me about other aspects of the publishing process, too – distribution, bookshop ranging, a little marketing, and so on – and I find myself offering informal advice but I try to connect them with other specialists in these areas instead.

Before starting your own business, you worked for publishers in Australia and the UK. Can you tell us about that? What writers did you work with? And what prompted you to start your own publicity agency?

I started out in editorial for illustrated non-fiction with Phaidon and Quadrille Publishing in the UK, before deciding publicity was where all the real action was and moving sideways across departments. I worked with Orion Publishing in London for about five years, before moving to Sydney to head up publicity for Orion’s Australian office within Hachette Australia. I was lucky enough to have worked with some incredible writers, with a particular specialty in crime fiction, and celebrities.

Very few publicity director roles exist in Australian publishing so, when none of these jobs came up during my four years at Hachette Australia, the obvious step seemed to be to use my contacts and experience to best effect and start my own agency.

What in your view are the top publicity challenges for small press and self-published writers? 

Organisation and planning are huge challenges for self-published authors and small presses. When you’re responsible for every aspect of a book’s production, carving out time to sit down and nut out a comprehensive publicity plan can be hard. What’s more, self-published authors often have little PR experience so it’s all new to them. The planning phase is really crucial; spend your time well here and you’ll end up with a handful of great story ideas and a plan for which media to pitch them to, resulting in a campaign timeline that you can simply plug into your email calendar so you never miss a media organisation’s deadline.

Competing with larger publishers with marketing budgets and established relationships with media can also be challenging. But the beauty of book publicity is that it is an option for absolutely every author, and will cost you little more than your time and a few free copies of your book.

What are your top tips for book publicity?

a) Answer these two questions – what is my story and who is my audience – and you’re well on your way to creating a winning campaign. The first gives you your story ideas, the unique ‘angles’ arising from your book or personal history, that you will use to promote yourself. The second tells you who you should be trying to talk to and, by extension, the media you should be targeting. That’s half the battle.

b) Be honest. Firstly, with yourself; it’s a rare book that genuinely appeals to everybody and being frank about your target market will help you avoid wasting time pitching ideas to media who will simply never cover your book. Secondly, with media; it’s hard to keep track, in this increasingly multiplatform-oriented media world, of who publishes what and where so let journalists know when they indicate interest in your story what else you have lined up and let them decide if they want to proceed.

c) Work up a killer elevator pitch. This is a short, succinct and persuasive description of what your book is about and how it is different from others on the market. You’ll use variations of this description as the basis for all your interviews, press releases and pitches to journalists so it’s worth spending time on getting it right.

WIN! One lucky reader of this blog will win a copy of The DIY Book PR Guide, kindly donated by Emma Noble. To enter, simply contact me (through form on Contact page), with a comment on any aspect of book publicity–could be an anecdote, an observation or your own tip! 

 

International Authors Forum: an interview with Katie Webb

IAF-logoThe increasing global challenges to authors’ rights and livelihoods in many different spheres has had one very positive result: the formation of the International Authors Forum, an organisation whose membership consists of national author organisations from across the world, and which exists to ensure authors’ rights and interests are represented worldwide.​​Today I interview Katie Webb, Executive Administrator of the IAF, about the important work the IAF is doing for the cause of authors globally.

Katie Webb holds an MA in Medieval English from King’s College London and a diploma in EU, US and UK copyright law. She has worked extensively with British writer and authors’ rights campaigner Maureen Duffy. Since 2012 Katie has coordinated the International Authors Forum.

Note: All images are from the IAF website, and used with permission.

The IAF is a fantastic initiative, and feels like an idea whose time has really come. Can you tell us about how and why it started? 

IAF was established formally in April 2014 but had been meeting informally since 2009. Its purpose is to give a worldwide voice to authors, in particular to writers and visual artists. It is a federation of organisations representing authors all over the world, and in particular their interests in copyright (or droit d’auteur in Civil Law countries) and access to fair contracts.

IAF started with a coming together of authors’ organisations in different countries – at that stage mainly Anglo-American and European – who met regularly, along with publishers and organisations which manage their rights collectively, through the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO). This group decided that their members needed an international platform that was independent from publishers (who already have their own well-established international organisation) where they could be represented at WIPO (the World Intellectual Property Organisation) in Geneva, which is the UN special agency that regulates the international copyright framework. (http://www.wipo.int) WIPO also recognised this lack of representation from the very group for whom the rights it looks after were created to protect, and has been very supportive of the initiative. Another very important reason for establishing IAF was to work for authors to achieve fair contract terms with Promo-pic-Version-2-e1453989402672publishers, unfair contracts being a near universal problem for authors, which is only getting worse in these global, digital times as the publishing industry is increasingly driven by the corporate interests of shareholders and only authors who will produce bestsellers and write works for the ‘mainstream’ get a look in.

IAF is here not only to tackle the problems though, but to give more authors the means to take advantage of the wonderful opportunities for finding audiences and making a living from their work independently, which are available thanks to new technology and the internet. We do this through solidarity, information exchange, creating a worldwide network and encouraging authors to strengthen their collective representation in their own countries. We also have partnerships with relevant organisations. For example, we have recently entered into partnership with the International Public Lending Right (PLR) Network and are working to promote the benefits of PLR to authors worldwide, as PLR is a right which is currently only available to authors in certain countries. The same goes for the re-sale right for artists, the campaign for which we also support, and are hoping will eventually be enjoyed by artists in all countries.

Links:

PLR International – https://www.plrinternational.com

Artists Resale Right Campaign – http://resale-right.org

 

What challenges did you face along the way to establishing the IAF?

Creators are not by their nature necessarily given to operating within organisational frameworks, as the businesses which work with their rights are, so it is always going to be a challenge to create an organisation made up of authors. However, despite the individualistic nature of their work, working together to preserve the diversity so essential to their profession by advocating for their rights is a necessity most authors recognise and support.

Tavores-MakoreOf course, the more immediate and frustrating challenge is of resources. Creators of course need to spend most of their time creating, and it is a notoriously difficult profession in which to make ends meet – so of course the same goes for an organisation representing them – we are really pleased with the progress we’ve made so far, and have been lucky to have secured the funds to get as far as we’ve got, but getting IAF onto a sustainable footing is an ongoing challenge and one that won’t go away, so we are always open to opportunities for ways to make our limited resources through partnerships and joint projects. And, of course, we have to channel some of those resources into fundraising!

What is the aim or philosophy of the IAF?

IAF is here to give authors a voice worldwide.

The vision is to ensure the world is an environment where authors can create, in which their work is appropriately acknowledged for the value it brings to society, and that authors have the opportunity to be fairly paid for all uses of their work so that they can continue doing it.

Our mission is to preserve individual, independent creative expression and enable authors to exercise their human rights in the moral and material interests in their work (the wording used in Article 27 (2) of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), to which a well-functioning copyright regime makes a fundamental contribution, and also ensures that everyone can enjoy the access to science and culture to which the counterpart of this right (Article 27(1) UDHR) grants them.

We’d also like to remedy the perception among ‘free culture’ advocates that copyright is somehow ‘anti-access’ and bring the creator back to the heart of the rights in their work and the discourse about those rights.

Which author organisations are in the IAF? How is membership determined? And how do you go about holding meetings when members are scattered across the world and in different time zones?

Currently we represent 56 author organisations – unions and societies of writers and artists – in different countries, who between them have over 600,000 individual author members. We have members in all regions – we are pleased to say after a meeting in Mexico last year our first members in Latin America joined – they are from Panama, Belize and Mexico. A full list of members is available on our website.

Link: http://internationalauthors.org/iaf/iaf-members/

To become a member, the criteria is straightforward: an organisation must represent only or primarily authors. We aim to be as inclusive as possible. We are lucky that our current Chair (just re-elected for the next two years) is the wonderful poet, novelist and Executive Director of The Writers’ Union of Canada, John Degen.

We hold two physical meetings a year alongside the International Federation of Reproduction Rights Organisations (IFRRO), which many of our members attend because they are also IFRRO members – so this cuts down on travel costs. Our Annual General Meeting is always attended by the majority of members by teleconference. This year it was in Sweden, which meant our members in Sweden and neighbouring countries could come. But to keep costs down we communicate with members mainly through regular newsletters and our website. We attend the Copyright Committee at WIPO in Geneva, which has two meetings a year, at one of which we usually hold a ‘side event’ on a particular topic relevant to authors, which are made up of presentations by authors from different countries describing their work and why their rights are so important.

For example:

http://internationalauthors.org/business-author-iaf-reports-event-geneva-latest-sccr/

We invite these authors to come to Geneva to meet IAF and the Government Delegates at WIPO who are members of the Committee – nearly 200 countries are represented on this Committee in total.

If we could get everyone together in one place at one time, that would be wonderful, but for now we have to see each other when we can, and make do with all the other ways to connect of which, luckily, there are plenty.

What are some of the issues affecting authors that the IAF is currently working on?

Authors’ rights are under attack on many levels worldwide. These can be seen in the issues arising at national and international levels.

Our members identified the priorities for IAF’s work in a survey we carried out in 2012 – 13. These are still relevant and determine the focus of our work.

They are:

  • For IAF to lobby to ensure that any exceptions to copyright are balanced properly with authors’ rights and enable them to be paid fairly for all uses of their work. Certain governments, particularly in Africa and South America, have proposed worldwide treaties for copyright exceptions for libraries and in education, which are currently being discussed at WIPO. Whilst the motivation for such exceptions comes from the good intentions to improve standards of education and access to information, if these efforts do not include the means to compensate creators for providing the essential ‘content’ upon which they depend – which could be the effect of overly broad copyright exceptions – the quality, quantity, variety and locally authored nature of such resources are severely threatened. This can be seen from the unfortunate case of Canada, where the broadening of the exception for education in copyright law in 2012 led schools and universities to abandon their copyright licenses and has resulted in losses of tens of millions of dollars to Canadian authors and has diminished the Canadian educational publishing industry. This change, intended to benefit education, has in fact seen costs to students rise at the same time as it is eroding the quality of materials to which they have access.

IFRRO has produced this valuable case study on what’s happened in Canada, and in February this year, the Copyright Board in Canada made the devastating decision to severely cut the tariffs set on its educational copyright licenses.

Link – IFRRO Study: http://ifrro.org/sites/default/files/canada_after_the_changes_to_the_copyright_legislation_in_2012.pdf

Link – Canada Copyright Board decision:

http://internationalauthors.org/new-blow-to-canadian-educational-writers-incomes/

IAF is working to ensure delegates at WIPO know of these dangers and consider the impact of any decisions they make on the creator, especially with regard to copyright exceptions. Last year we produced a booklet of testimonials from authors around the world focusing on this issue which is available on our website (http://internationalauthors.org/wp-content/uploads/Copyright-Works.pdf) along with the truth behind some popular ‘copyright myths’ http://internationalauthors.org/wp-content/uploads/copyright-myths-website-full-version-english.pdf by our very own John Degen. Both are available in English, French and Spanish.

Kevin-Francisco-Maureen-Maggie-7-Dec-2015-e1450277962780We have also developed ten principles for fair contracts for authors, which are applicable to authors in all countries.

Link: http://internationalauthors.org/wp-content/uploads/IAFs-Ten-Principles-for-Fair-Contracts.pdf

Authors’ organisations in some countries are very active working with publishers to achieve fairer contract terms, but IAF’s principles are broad enough that they can be useful to any author who is confronted with the daunting prospect of signing a publishing contract that asks for their rights.  When this happens, although authors are pleased to have a contract, they are often in the position of being unfamiliar with the legal language used and up against a team of powerful business people who have access to their own legal support, when the author has none.  It is a joint venture in which the partners are not very equal. Ultimately, though, publishers are the authors’ means of getting their work to an audience and so they are often too willing to sign away more than they need to, or is fair to ask them for. Our fair contracts campaign aims to stop this exploitation and ask for fair contracts for authors, like those which are offered by the many responsible publishers out there.

About the campaign: http://internationalauthors.org/3105-2/

Another counter to this, self-publishing is being adopted by an increasingly significant number of authors and we are thrilled that the Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) (http://allianceindependentauthors.org), became our first member working specifically in the interests of self-publishing authors last year.

We are about to publish a set of guidelines for authors on how to publish their works in formats which are accessible for people who are blind or have ‘print disabilities’, meaning they cannot read text in conventional formats, as part of our work on the Accessible Books Consortium (ABC). http://www.accessiblebooksconsortium.org

ABC is facilitated by WIPO and has arisen in the wake of the Marrakesh Treaty adopted at WIPO in 2013, which represents a global commitment to ending the ‘famine’ of books available to people with such disabilities. ABC is dedicated to making this ambition a reality. We are very excited about our guidelines. By making their books accessible, self-published authors can ensure their work reaches as wide an audience as possible, which is after all what most authors set out to do.3-Maribel-in-red-jacket-updated-photo-April-20151-e1439914511681

The concerns of IAF and our members are not limited to the challenges and opportunities of technology, however. Our activities also include supporting and strengthening the representation of authors in so-called ‘developing’ countries. For example, we are currently supporting our member in Sudan, the Sudanese Writers Union (SWU), whose license to operate was last year revoked by the Government. The Union is struggling to be reinstated but of course, IAF and its members still recognise the SWU as a legitimate and important representative of Sudanese authors.

http://internationalauthors.org/iaf-appeals-shows-solidarity-dissolved-sudanese-writers-union/

How do you see the future for the IAF?

I would like IAF to continue to grow and to represent authors in all countries in order to ensure the preservation and on-going operation and evolution of their rich and diverse cultures. Using the expertise and experience of its well established and active member organisations, we would like to encourage authors in countries whose collective action is not so strong, to take an interest in, understand and advocate for their own rights. Of course, this all strengthens IAF’s voice at WIPO, but we would also like to begin working more closely with relevant intergovernmental organisations such as the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNHCR) and UNESCO – so that they too, through IAF, have access to the perspective of real, working creators and are encouraged to give their rights appropriate weight in the decision-making processes that work toward the objectives which governments the world over are trying to achieve, especially at this time of such geo-political instability. That everybody can access the work of professional, independent, working creators – whose job is to communicate new ideas, foster tolerance and cross-cultural understanding and innovate with information – is such an important part of working towards a world with less of it.

 

 

Connecting with readers: an interview with Patrick Lenton of Town Crier Consultancy

Photo of Patrick Lenton by Daniel Boud

Photo of Patrick Lenton by Daniel Boud

Recently, author and digital and social media marketing specialist Patrick Lenton launched his brand-new business: Town Crier Consultancy. Town Crier is a social media and digital marketing consultancy for authors, teaching the skills authors need to create an online platform and sell their books. Patrick’s got the runs on the boards for his new business, having recently worked for Momentum–where I first met him–and several other major publishers. As a Momentum author new to the world of digital-first publications, I found Patrick wonderful to work with: both savvy and sensitive, flexible and focussed. And so, learning of his new enterprise, and intrigued to find out more, I asked him a few questions.

Congratulations on the launch of your new business, Patrick–what a great idea Town Crier Consultancy is! How did it start? Tell us about the development of the concept.
 
Thank you so much, Sophie. The idea was a bit of a slow burn, generated from conversations with authors who seemed to have a lot of misconceptions about marketing their books. There seemed to be a lot of fatalism – leaving the success of the book completely up to chance or the attention of the book gods, or believing that promotion involved more time or effort or skills than anyone possessed. There were also a lot of authors spending money on expensive one-off promotions and advertising that I knew from experience didn’t really do anything. I felt like lots of authors would jump at the chance to learn the skills they need to market efficiently, and decided to go ahead with the idea and create Town Crier!
You are both an author and a social media/digital marketing specialist. How do you combine these different strands?
 
It’s actually fairly separate skills for me right now – as an author I have a collection of literary/comedy short stories, which is a genre that is fairly immune to most digital marketing. However I think being an author myself means I have a lot of empathy and understanding for other authors. Unlike a lot of generic social media strategists, I’m fully aware that an author’s main job is writing, and all my town crier final logos small-01strategies and campaigns try to reflect that.
 

Before starting Town Crier, you worked for some time at Momentum, the very innovative digital-first arm of Pan Macmillan. What kinds of things did you learn from your time there?

Momentum believed in growing the author, rather than just marketing a book, which can be a very different strategy to a lot of publishing houses. That meant that we invested the time to teach an author skills and grow them as a cohesive brand (sorry for the marketing talk, it’s not great to be referred to as a brand). This was the biggest lesson I learnt, and one that helped created my view for Town Crier. It was also great to have the freedom to test out different strategies, and see how well they worked.

Your services are suitable both for self-published authors and for more ‘traditionally’ published authors looking to expand their digital and social media horizons. What kinds of things do you think each group of authors might be looking for?

 
All social media and digital marketing is about using online spaces to connect with readers! It’s an exciting time to be an author, because more readers than ever are online, and able to interact with authors and find more books that they want. Social media and online communities are basically digital word-of-mouth machines. Self-published authors are looking to sell to them directly, whereas traditionally published authors aren’t so dependent on that, and instead use the space to promote buzz and excitement about their books, so people can go and purchase them from bookstores.

What’s your number one tip for effective use of social media and digital marketing by authors?

Be genuine! The last thing ANYBODY wants is to engage with a Twitter or Facebook account that’s just an endless stream of ads and promotions. We’re very good at shutting advertising out, and even if it’s the best book in the world, we’ll probably ignore it if it feels like an infomercial is trying to sell it. Create your community by being engaged, genuine and interesting.

Small but Mighty book productions: an interview with Karen Small

1407558371118Since late 2014, my colleagues and I at Christmas Press have worked with a wonderful book production manager, Karen Small, whose fantastic business, Small but Mighty Productions, has enabled us as a small press operating on a shoestring budget and a tiny if very creative and hardworking staff to produce hard-cover books of very high quality, by taking the worry out of sourcing printers, materials, giving advice on all kinds of technical aspects of production, dealing with shipping, etc. We’ve worked on three picture books with her now, as well as the beautiful limited edition of the launch title for our new imprint Eagle Books, Jules Verne’s Mikhail Strogoff. It’s been a great, very productive relationship and also a very interesting process to be a part of. So today I’m interviewing Karen about what goes on behind the scenes, and the fascinating story behind her business.

 

How and when did you come up with the idea for smallbutmightyproductions?

Establishing my own business was something I always wanted to achieve – it was just a matter of timing. I discussed the original idea with one of Australia’s best book designers back in 2012 and he was very supportive. At the time, the publishing industry was shrinking dramatically with mergers and acquisitions, job losses, dwindling publishing programs and less emphasis on quality production. It felt like the creative heart was being torn from the Australian publishing industry and that’s when I started the first draft of my business plan. It took roughly 12 months of preparation, research and many more drafts of the business plan before I was ready to exit my day job and leap into my new venture. I launched in 2014 and I’m now in my third, exciting year.

The name itself sprouted when I was troubleshooting a problem many years ago and I achieved a great result for the customer. A colleague was impressed and said to me “you may be small but that was a mighty effort”. It stuck in my mind over the years and it seemed like the best descriptor of what I’m about, as well as being a play on my surname.’ 1441006207992

What were the challenges involved in setting up the business? And what are they now?

Setting up a small business is a mammoth undertaking, but the key is breaking the steps down into smaller, more manageable tasks. There were many days early on where I was overwhelmed, but I reminded myself that it was a marathon and not a sprint and the longevity of the business had a great deal to do with me setting things up slowly and accurately. The other factor was being a solo operator. There were so many thing to achieve and no one else to assist, but it also meant I was exposed to all the facets of a business, so the experience I gained outweighed the challenge of doing it all myself.

Three years on, the biggest challenge is keeping up with the level of enquiries, making sure my potential customers receive the best customer service I can offer. I am known as small but mighty, but it is essential for me to be known for my quality, as well as my speed and accuracy.

IMG_3339What kinds of projects have you worked on?

The projects I’ve worked on with my customers are many and varied. I’ve collaborated with self-publishers looking for very limited editions of around 100 copies, right through to custom marketing pieces with print runs of up to 40,000 units. I can basically tailor my services to the individual and the type of book, using the very best, hand-selected suppliers. No book project is too large or too small.

What exactly does a book production manager do? How does a project go from start to finish?

The role of a book production manager is an interesting mix of a number of tasks, including project and files management, customer service and liaison, budgeting, forecasting, trouble-shooting, new vendor research, scheduling, inventory management and quality control. There is no such thing as a typical day and even after many years in the job, there are learnings to take away from each project. In a nutshell, I manage the project from initial costing enquiry, through to supply of print files, right up to final destination delivery in Australia or worldwide.

A typical project starts with a RQF (request for quotation) from which a project costing is created and supplied to the customer. Often a planning schedule is requested at the same time. Until the book specification is confirmed, the quotation stage can continue for several months or weeks. The schedule and project is then booked with the relevant print supplier and a sample book ordered. Customer files will then be prepared and supplied. Any issues with files will then be solved before approval is given by the customer to start printing. The book is then printed and bound with many quality checkpoints before progressing to each stage. Finished copies are checked and approved, with bulk copies then being placed onto the chosen vessel for sailing to the final destination. Freight logistics and delivery to the customer is the final stage in any project.IMG_1927

 

Your business involves many interlocking connections–how do you go about synchronising it all?

Often it feels like I’m a circus performer juggling 20 different objects at the same time, but the ability to successfully manage many different suppliers, projects and customers at the same time comes from experience. Being able to multi-task is essential and a keen eye for details is also an absolute must. I love my job, am passionate about the projects I work on and thoroughly enjoy seeing my customers bring their books to life. This is motivation enough to ensure everything gets done according to the customer brief.

IMG_2980You worked in other aspects of the book industry before you started smallbutmightyproductions. How has that influenced what you do in your own business?

I see each role to date as a learning experience and a stepping-stone to where I am today. Little did I know that in my first role as a production ‘runner’, pulling printing films from a dark and dusty library would have equipped me with valuable knowledge of traditional 4c offset printing. I used to hand-write all correspondence to suppliers and send via fax machine! I progressed from magazine production to books, entered and learnt about the next generation of CTP, digital printing, switched from the publishing side to a role with a major Japanese printer and also worked in London dealing with large-scale European printers, as well as taking up a position with a leading, global, trade publishing house. This colourful wardrobe of experience gave me the confidence to establish smallbutmightyproductions and offer a bespoke publishing experience where quality and customer service are best in the industry.

 

 

What are your plans for the future of smallbutmightyproductions?

From a strictly business point of view, I’d like to see continued growth each year, with an all-important expanding customer base with new and repeat clients. From a personal perspective, I want to continue to enjoy working with highly creative individuals who are as passionate about high-quality books as I am.

 

 

An interview with Rebecca Lang of the Alliance of Independent Authors

74121_462951207350_6316793_nThe book industry has changed a great deal over the last ten years or so, and self-publishing, or going it alone as an independent author, is something that has grown phenomenally during that time. It certainly no longer has the stigma once associated with it. It’s not only debut authors who go the independent route: many established authors, including, in Australia, such well-known writers as Isobelle Carmody, Steven Herrick and Hazel Edwards have all experimented with it for various projects, as indeed I have, with a couple of ebooks of short pieces produced with my micro-press Sixteen Press. But some writers choose to go the independent route not just for an experiment, but because they prefer it. And now there’s an organisation to support them: The Alliance of Independent Authors, or ALLI, which started and is based in the USA but which has chapters in several countries, including Australia.

I first came across it as one does, through a glancing mention in an internet article on publishing, and, intrigued, wanted to find out more. And so today I’m speaking to author Rebecca Lang, the Australian representative of ALLI, about the organisation and what it does.

The Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) is a fairly new organisation, isn’t it? Can you tell us a bit about how and why it started? And how long have you personally been involved?

ALLi was founded in 2012, I have been a member since the organisation’s inception, but I have personally been self-publishing since 2010.

I spent several years writing a book with my partner on Australian folklore – a niche interest area at the best of time – and shopped it around to a couple of Australian publishers, receiving a somewhat lukewarm response. As I used to work in newspapers as a journalist and editor, I decided to have a go at creating and project managing my own publication, and co-opted another friend into designing the book cover. I was really pleased with the end result. To date, I have produced three books and have another two in the pipeline this year, including my first foray into fiction.

I have also worked with other authors to guide and advise them on their own publishing journeys, editing books, refining book ‘blurbs’, assessing the quality of book covers, and creating successful marketing strategies.

As a writer and self-publisher I think my ALLi membership is one of the best investments I have ever made. Through ALLi I have been inspired, supported and most importantly connected to a community that by its very nature is ‘disruptive’ – it’s all about shaking up the publishing model to allow fresh and diverse voices to be heard.

Self-publishing – actually, ‘author-publishing’ is probably a better term given the number of hybrid and traditional authors who have now adopted the model (including successful children’s authors Cornelia Funke, and J.K. Rowling – the latter selling her Harry Potter ebooks exclusively through her Pottermore.com website) – tends to attract dynamic and energetic people who have a strong creative drive. I think it’s this passion to succeed that authors need to get their work into print and into the hands and minds of readers. After all, it’s a highly competitive industry.

What does membership of ALLi offer to authors? 

ALLi offers authors an unrivalled peer-to-peer author-publishing experience, allowing seasoned and first-timers alike to interact, share their expertise and network to promote each other’s work.

There’s a real esprit de corps, and its membership is highly informed about all the latest publishing developments in business and technology.

And it’s quite a diverse crowd – you have romance and fantasy writers rubbing shoulders, and authors of non-fiction and fiction keeping company and swapping marketing advice. And it’s not just writers. ALLi also counts graphic designers, editors, copywriters and publicists among its members.

I would go so far as to say an ALLi membership is almost compulsory if you’re going to strike out on your own and navigate the publishing trail. Why wouldn’t you tap into the best author-publishing network in the world?

What are ALLi’s relationships with other author organisations, such as, in Australia, the Australian Society of Authors (ASA), the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) and others, such as the Writers’ Centres? 

There have been some early discussions with some of these groups, but author-publishing is still in many ways in its infancy in Australia, despite being a successful pathway for many now ‘traditional’ authors including the likes of thriller writer Matthew Reilly (Contest), sci-fi author Simon Haynes (his first three Hal Spacejock novels), cookbook authors Rachel Bermingham and Kim McCosker (of 4 Ingredients fame), Frank Hardy (Power Without Glory), and Patrick White (Flaws In The Glass).

ALLi is very much about encouraging its membership to not only produce quality, professional products but to use the channels open to them to more effectively market their books. ALLi welcomes professional partnerships with likeminded organisations.

Over the years I have been a member of the NSW Writers’ Centre, the NSW Society of Editors and the Society of Women Writers, and have attended countless writing festivals around Australia. I see real value in writers coming together to seriously tackle the business of writing – not just mastering it, celebrating it and sharing it, but actually coming to grips with the nuts and bolts of marketing it, selling it (into foreign markets and on multiple platforms), and navigating the world of digital publishing. This is where ALLi excels.

I’d love to see more Australian author-centric organisations embrace, include and work with ALLi members and the author-publishing model.

As the Australian representative for what is an international grouping of independent authors, how do you see your role? And what kinds of things have you participated in? 

Being a regional representative involves raising awareness about ALLi’s services and getting involved in Australian publishing life. Most importantly, it’s about helping to build a network of writers and author-publishers to share knowledge and champion each other’s work.

I have been involved with quite a few online conferences and blogs, but I would welcome the opportunity to speak with Australian writing groups, centres and organisations about the benefits of ALLi membership, the role of author-publishing, and the business of being an author.

What’s planned for ALLi in the future?

ALLi has quite a few irons in the fire for 2016, chief among them the free Indie Author Fringe events, featuring some of the world’s most successful self-published authors.
Indie Author Fringe (formerly known as IndieReCon) offers FREE online one-day conferences for any authors interested in self-publishing.

Over the course of 2016, ALLi will take authors through the entire indie author journey, from writing to promotion and beyond. There are three planned online international events in 2016 on the heels of London Book Fair (April 12th-14th 2016), Book Expo America (May 11th-13th 2016) and Frankfurt Book Fair (19th-23rd October 2016). But it doesn’t matter where you are in the world, if you have an internet connection you can join in.

Thanks Sophie for the chance to share what ALLI does. It’s a really exciting time to be a writer involved in self-publishing!

From publisher to author: an interview with Michael Johnson

Michael Johnson headshotToday, I’m interviewing Michael Johnson, publisher turned author.
Michael Johnson has lived in Bundeena for the last eighteen years. He graduated M.A. (Law Tripos) Trinity College Cambridge followed by four tumultuous, exciting years in Nigeria with British American Tobacco followed by then thirty years in book publishing & book selling in the U.K, Asia and Australia after moving to  Sydney in 1968 with his wife and three children. Retirement has seen him assume a variety of interests including book reviewer, slush pile reader, columnist with the late lamented Village Noise and now a published novelist, with a second novel in progress.
Michael, your first novel, Noah’s Park, has just been published. Can you tell us about it?
The trigger for Noah’s Park was a drive past a Circus setting up the Big Top. It looked bedraggled. The posters showing lions, tigers, and horses were plastered on every telegraph pole. Returning home through the National Park I started to muse about the feasibility of transporting those animals at night and releasing them. The ammunition was my twenty years living in a quiet seaside village at the heart of Australia’s oldest National Park. The lives, feuds, passions, friendships, pecadillos were a powerful incentive to create what one kind friend called ‘a beautiful example of magic realism…comparable with The Life Of Pi’. A faithful fan group know it as ‘That dirty book about Bundeena’! Perhaps due to some fairly explicit lesbian sex scenes, which caused several people to query my research. My many gay women friends are far more understanding. I stress that it is fiction, of my imagining. I pursue the effect of the Circus animals on the village, the Park Rangers, the State Government and the wider public. It is a light brush I use, gentle satire, hopefully perceptive of the human condition.
What was the journey to publication like? What challenges and discoveries did you make along the way? And what have the reactions of readers been like?
It took about a year to write. An agent showed interest but finally felt ‘it was not commercial enough’. Experienced in the use of the notorious ‘slush pile’ I made a decision to go the eBooks route, the Fifty Shades of Grey highway. My artist friend Garry Shead offered cover artwork and we settled on Rosie the elephant, the heroine of the plot.
 It was a good decision. Sales on Amazon and iBooks are steady. Friends of Bundeena Library launched Noah’s Park and more than 100 people seemed to enjoy the evening, listening to my stories about the book and my publishing/bookselling life. There may be a paperback edition on the horizon.noahs-park-cover
Before becoming a published novelist, you’ve had a long career in the book industry, as a publisher. Is writing something you’ve always wanted to do? Or something you have only recently been inspired to take up? And how does it feel, being on ‘the other side of the fence’, as it were?
I have always loved to write. In the 1970’s I wrote a cover story for Richard Walsh’s Nation Review, under a pseudonym. Titled The Sensuous Politician, modelled on the bestseller The Sensuous Woman. My piece is still scarily relevant today. I reviewed books for SMH, ABR, Herald Sun and had a regular ABR column. In retirement I, with like minds, ran a newspaper The Village Noise

There are no fences. For me publishing, bookselling, authors, readers, should be a seamless holistic experience.

I believe that over your many years in publishing, you met some extraordinary people. Can you tell us about some of them, and about some of your experiences over that time?
My memories?
*Being interviewed by Allen Lane, founder, with his brothers, of Penguin Books. I still have his signed letter of appointment to the Management Group in the U.K in 1964. ‘ 2000 pounds sterling p.a and an interest free loan to purchase a car’!

 I was entranced by the Albert Tucker painting on his wall which was the cover of The Lucky Country. He seemed intrigued by my sales technique in Nigeria with British American Tobacco, which involved standing on the roof of my Landrover, in some remote village market, blowing a hunting horn!

*My first appointment at Penguin as Export Manager for the World outside Europe.

*Setting up Granada Publishing here in Sydney.

* Key memories from this time include buying paperback rights for Frank Hardy’s Power Without Glory from Sphere and capitalising on the ABC TV series. Those unforgettable lunches with Frank

And

the-female-eunuch1In 1970 we published the Paladin edition with the iconic John Holmes cover of Germaine Greer’s The Female Eunuch.  The promotional tour I set up included events in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Adelaide (she taught me to love oysters), and I witnessed her literally change womens’ lives.

*Don Chipp phoning to tell me that he was releasing our Henry Miller titles from the prohibited import list. Griffin Press started printing two days later.

*Selling 500 copies of the hardback edition of Robert Ludlum’s first book The Scarlatti Inheritance firm sale to Hedley Jefferies at A&R.

*The great booksellers. Hedley, Ron & Eve Abbey, Jim Thorburn, Norma Chapman, Nan Jacka, Wattie Thompson, Cedric Pearce, Charley Dickens, Mark Rubbo, David Gaunt, Peter Milne, and those long lunches.

Do you think publishing has changed over the time you were a publisher, till now? In what way? How do you see the book industry at the moment–both from a publisher’s and an author’s points of view?
Publishing, bookselling, authors are a fluid formula in times of constant change and challenge. Existing models of distribution, retailing and the shibboleth of ‘sale or return’ need forensic examination. If, with honourable exceptions, the acceptance of a manuscript is wholly dependent on how many copies Big W is likely to take then a disruptive approach to the art, science and soul of publishing, that indescribable ‘gut’ feel, the awareness of the reader (o.k consumer), the awareness of a global revolution in the carriage of the written word become mandatory. In this the author should be an equal partner, dovetailing with his or her publisher in a symbiotic relationship. My daughter Lou Johnson, co-founder of The Author People is one face of this new thinking.
TAP_logo_pos (small)(ED Note: An interview with Lou was published on this blog a few months ago.)
What are you working on now?

I am writing another novel drawing on my experiences in Nigeria, linking the conquest and imposition of fundamental Islam in Northern Nigeria 200 years ago and the terrorism of today’s Boko Haram. It’s an ambitious project and I have dedicated 2016 to it.