Saturday, 30 April 2011

Getpublished Conference 2011 - May 14th, London

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If you are an unpublished writer or considering the path of self-publishing and you live in the UK, then you won't go too far wrong by booking a ticket to the Getpublished Conference 2011 taking place on Saturday 14th May at Tuke Hall, Regents College, London.

The event is billed as 'A Practical, One-Day Masterclass For Writers.'

According to the event information and website (also Facebook page) you will:

  • Have decided whether a traditional publisher or self-publishing will work best for your specific book idea

  • Have learned vital lessons from successful traditionally published and self-published authors

  • Understand the advantages and disadvantages of each of the publishing approaches

  • Know exactly what a formal publishing proposal should contain

  • Be able to identify the right publishers to approach, and know what you should submit to them

  • Understand the likely advances, royalties and rewards achievable, whichever route you decide to take

  • Have met professional publishers, editors, designers and typesetters who may help you on your way

The confirmed speaker line up includes:

Jane Streeter - Award winning independent bookseller and President of the UK Booksellers' Association

Andy Cope - Award winning children's author with Puffin

Katie Roden - former Publishing Director at Hodder & Stoughton, now a publishing consultant to many commercial publishers

Andrew Reece & Martin West - Two mainstream publishers and authors who have worked with many of the UK's leading publishing houses

Ed Peppitt - former Publishing Director at Letts Education, now running workshops and seminars on publishing throughout the UK

Imran Akram - CEO of the Brit Writers Awards

Today is the last day to avail of the early bird ticket price - £97 (normal price from May 1st - £149). The event is supported and sponsored by tunelit,, Writers Forum Magazine, Write Now! and Book A Poet.

I would though add Getpublished is not doing themselves any favours having a website which is currently down, and I'd suggest as a goodwill gesture they extend the early bird price discount well into next week to help bolster conference attendees. The Getpublished Facebook page boasts just 13 fans and a heavy trawl across the net does not reveal any mass market press release apart from Twitter feeds.

01273 257007
Getting Published In 2011:
A Practical, One-Day Masterclass For Writers
Saturday 14th May 2011
9.30am – 5.30pm:
Tuke Hall, Regents College, London

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Life is a Rollercoaster | Coming Soon!

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It has been a busy week for me on the site and I have been working on several reviews, news updates and developments at POD, Self-Publishing & Independent Publishing.

Later this weekend, I will have an update on the twists and turns at Callio Press, a full review of SilverWood Books UK, and some tweeks to the Self-Publishing Index for May. Right now, publishing is a bit of a roller-coaster! Hop on board over the next three days. You never know what you might miss! 
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Tuesday, 26 April 2011

Coelho, Archives of Hell, Oh, and Self-Publishing!"

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I picked up a copy of Paulo Coelho’s Like the Flowing River today. It just happened that I opened it randomly in the centre to browse and get a sense of what I might be about to purchase. This is something I do when I browse books rather than rely on a back blurb or first few pages. I happened upon the following paragraph.

I had published, at my own expense, a book entitled The Archives of Hell [Hell’s Archives in other references] (of which I am very proud, but which is not currently available in bookshops simply because I have not yet found the courage to revise it). We all know how difficult it is to get published, but it is an even more complicated business getting your book into the shops. Every week, my wife would visit the bookshops in one part of the city, whilst I would go to another part to do the same thing.”

Now, I am by no means green about Coelho, his books, his beliefs or his life, but even in light of the author’s willingness to allow many of his books to be freely downloadable online and a liberal attitude to file-sharing; I was somewhat surprised at the above admission. I hadn’t come across such a reference to Coelho ‘financing’ or self-publishing his work until now.

In reality, Coelho may have emerged into the mainstream publishing world in 1987 with The Pilgrimage, followed by publication of his seminal work, The Alchemist, but both works in their native editions suffered from poor sales. The Alchemist, in its first print run in Brazil, only ever ran to 900 copies before it was sold on to a larger Brazilian publishing house. It was actually only after the publication of his third official book, Brida, in Brazil, and after those sales and eventual overseas rights were sold, led to worldwide success for the author. Most of the Coelho’s work was originally published in Portuguese in his native Brazil and predates—sometimes by several years—the English speaking worldwide editions. Coelho actually began writing song lyrics and some drama in his early days and had some input in the following published books:

The Revolt of the Whip, drama. Ed Loum, 1969.
The Limits of Resistance, tales. Ed Conservatory Theatre, 1970.
The Foundation for Krig-Ha. Raul Seixas, ed. Intersong, 1973.
The Theatre in Education. Ed Forense Universitária, 1974.

Crucially, in 1982, comes the book Coelho refers to in the cited quote above—Archives of Hell—financed under the author’s own imprint, Shogun Editoria e Arte. It was not the only book Coelho released under his own imprint; there was one other - Vide versos: Poemas revistos e novos poemas.

“The last book of this initial phase of Paulo Coelho, Hell Archives, is perhaps the most striking attempt to literary expression by the author in this phase. It is not strange, then, that has been published by Shogun Art, a publisher that had been created by the Paulo Coelho. The book that will mark the continuation of the career of Paulo Coelho and his entry into the space of the "culture of the borders" is the practical Manual of Vampirism, written by him and Liano Nelson Jr. and published by the ECO label Carioca. The publishing history of this book and the continuing writer's career in the ECO provides examples of the strategic direction of the author in gaining an audience and change circuit which passes through his work.

In 1991, when the fame of Paulo Coelho in Brazil was still consolidating and fame abroad yet been announced, Martin Claret Publishers released a book called Himself by Paulo Coelho. The book was never reprinted since. Who knows why the revelations that have been brought to book, as well as fragments of Hell Archives and numerous short texts of Paulo Coelho that he never republished?”

Much of Coelho’s life seems spirited in intrigue and mysticism and even a reread of Juan Arias’ ‘Confessions of a Pilgrim’ doesn’t shed too much light on this , but then, I suspect, that is the magic and mystery Coelho will always leave us with.

It left with the thought tonight on the hokum tales of John Grisham being a self-published author and Jim Hines accurate take on it (it was his number one self-publishing story irk) Actually, Jim really lets fly on some of the top self-published hokum stories, but for now – John Grisham:

1. John Grisham self-published A TIME TO KILL. Actually, Grisham sold A TIME TO KILL to a small publisher, Wynwood Press, who did a 5000-copy print run. Grisham bought the remaindered copies, which he sold himself. While this is the sort of hard work self-publishing often involves, A TIME TO KILL was certainly not a self-published book.

It got me wondering:

(Early 1980’s – sleepy American town)

Young boy helps guy to sell guy out of the trunk of a car.

“Pop the trunk boy and I’ll open them boxes of books we got”

Boy opens trunk of car and steps back.

Guy takes knife and slices open boxes.

“You’re better with books than me – so, what we got today?”

Boy looks at content of boxes. [shrugs head]

“John Grisham and Paulo Coelho.”

The guy spits on the pavement.

“Ah, Jesus, a Mississippi do-gooder and a Brazilian hippie!”

“You gonna take a break, already, Pa?”

“Yeh, I’m gonna go for pancakes, boy. I’m gonna phone head office, too, and tell ‘em to just start sendin’ us bibles again!”
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Monday, 25 April 2011

Google Settlement Parties in Court Today | PW

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 Google Settlement Parties in Court Today
"The book world should get a little better sense of what is next for the Google Settlement later today as the parties are scheduled to gather in judge Denny Chin’s courtroom at 4:30 pm for a court-ordered status conference. The conference comes after Chin’s stunning rejection of the proposed settlement on March 22. But while the conference will likely provide a better idea of what is likely happen next, no big announcements are expected."

Blog update will follow after today's hearing.
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Amazon Introduce Author Interviews@Amazon

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Amazon has today introduced "Author Interviews@Amazon". From the press release: today introduced "Author Interviews@Amazon," the new author interview series that will be available in a new content destination called The Backstory ( Author Interviews@Amazon launches with five video interviews, including celebrity chef and James Beard Award-winning Tom Douglas, New York Times bestselling debut author Joshua Foer, young adult authors Holly Black and Cassandra Clare, and Gossip Girl producer John Stephens. New author interviews will be announced via the Books Facebook page and on, the Books blog. Customers will be able to post questions for visiting authors that will be incorporated into each interview. All edited videos will be available on the book's detail page and accessible from archives in The Backstory.

"We're extremely lucky to have fascinating and talented authors gracing our hallways here at Amazon and taking time to chat with us. We love these conversations so much that we wanted to share them with our customers. We hope that customers will take the opportunity to submit questions on our Amazon Books Facebook page or through our blog, Omnivoracious. They can also contact us at with questions for visiting authors."

Mari Malcolm, Managing Editor, books at

The Backstory will feature Author Interviews@Amazon interviews and other exclusive author content such as guest reviews, interviews, authors' favorite playlists, recipes and more.

Author Interviews@Amazon interviews, including sample quotes, are included below:

Holly Black is the bestselling author of contemporary fantasy novels for teens and children, including her first book, "Tithe," "The Spiderwick Chronicles" with Tony DiTerlizzi, the graphic novel series "The Good Neighbors (with Ted Naifeh), and the mobster fantasy series "The Curse Workers." A quote from her interview: "All my other work has been about fairies, but I've always loved heists, I've always loved capers, and I've always loved noir. So I thought, I'm going to do something totally crazy and come up with this crazy world."

Cassandra Clare is the bestselling author of the "Mortal Instruments" series, and "Clockwork Angel," the first book in the "Infernal Devices" series. A quote from her interview: "I really like writing teenage characters more than adults. You love your adult characters, but they're also obstacles."

Tom Douglas is a James Beard Award-winning chef from Seattle, owner of ten restaurants and author of four books, including the Kindle Exclusive, "Chef Walks: Seattle." A quote from his interview: "Chefs know. We all know. We get out, we go to each other's places, we know where the best food is around the city, we actually take the time to search out and support all these places."

Joshua Foer has written for National Geographic, Esquire, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Slate. "Moonwalking with Einstein" is his first book. A quote from his interview: "The one thing that tends to describe a lot of 'memory geeks' is that a lot of them are actual, physical athletes. The guy who won this year's U.S. Memory Championship is, as we speak, on a plane to Kathmandu to climb Mount Everest. Because, what else would you do after winning the U.S. Memory Championship?"

John Stephens spent ten years in television, was the executive producer of Gossip Girl and a writer for Gilmore Girls and The O.C. He was inspired to write novels for children after reading Philip Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy. "The Emerald Atlas" is his first book. A quote from his interview: "I'm a morning writer; I tend to work early in the morning, and even if I'm hungry or thirsty, I don't allow myself to get up and go eat. So frequently, I'll be writing in the morning, I'll be starving, and all of a sudden my characters will magically be eating food!"
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Faber Academy Comes to Dublin in July

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The renowned Faber Academy in the UK is coming to Dublin in July of this year with 'Write A Short Story In A Weekend'. The course will take place at the James Joyce Centre and will be presented by Éilís Ní Dhuibhne, Carlo Gébler and Tobias Hill. Full details on the course and how to enroll on the links provided from the press release below:

Write A Short Story In A Weekend
Friday 1 July to Sunday 3 July

The James Joyce Centre, Dublin

The aim of this intensive and inspiring three day course is very simple: to give you the skills, insights and encouragement you need to write and critique a brand new two- to three-thousand word short story -- all in a weekend in July.

Eilís Ní Dhuibhne, Carlo Gébler and Tobias Hill will take you through the best short stories and what makes them great, from Alice Munro to Gogol to Roddy Doyle to Chekhov. We'll also send you a complimentary copy of New Irish Short Stories, edited by Joseph O'Connor. With a toolkit full of techniques, you will be ready to write, only stopping to give and receive the highest quality feedback from your tutors and classmates.

Fun but challenging, this course will leave you with not just a completed short story, but also with an armory of lessons, tricks and tips, plus the vigour and enthusiasm you need to keep up the creativity once you leave.

Friday 1 July–Sunday 3 July 2011 (10am–5pm)
The James Joyce Centre
35 North Great George’s Street
Dublin 1

Course cost: €425 [Book Online]

For more information click here or call Ian on +44 (0) 20 7927 3827.

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Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Are Publishers Ignoring The Goldrush? | Declan Burke - Irish Times

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Irish author and journalist Declan Burke took the unusual step of buying back the rights to his debut novel from his publisher. Just three days later he published it in ebook for the Kindle.

This morning he writes in the Irish Times about his experience and asks whether publishers are ignoring the digital publishing goldrush.

"Buying back the rights to a debut novel and republishing it yourself as an ebook sounds complicated, but it's not, writes DECLAN BURKE , who is selling his for 99 cent on Kindle

SIX WEEKS ago I bought back the rights to my debut novel, Eightball Boogie , which was published by Lilliput in 2003. Three days later, I republished the book on Kindle, complete with a new cover. To date, the ebook of Eightball Boogie has sold 108 copies.

That may not sound like a lot of books sold, and in truth it’s not. Worse, given that the ebook of Eightball Boogie is retailing for 99 cents and 86p, the royalties aren’t going to buy me a Greek island retreat any time soon."

You can read the full article here.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

The Peregrine Readings | Irish Writers' Centre

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The Irish Writers' Centre presents The Peregrine Readings, a national tour of prose readings by some of Ireland's leading writers and poets in both Gaelic and English. It will start on the 26th of April with readings in Irish language. John Connolly, Alex Barclay and Kevin Barry will launch the English-language segment on the 3rd of May. Full details can be found at the Irish Writers' Centre. Here is the official press release:

Crime writer John Connolly among this year’s Peregrine highlights
Sponsored by the Arts Council under the Touring and Dissemination Scheme
The Irish Writers’ Centre is delighted to announce the launch of the second series of Peregrine Readings.  Writers such as John ConnollyDermot BolgerJennifer JohnstonAlex Barclay, and Kevin Barry will spook, enthral, entertain and inspire audiences in Dublin, Cork, Galway, Kerry, Kilkenny, Longford, Roscommon, and Sligo.
The Peregrine Readings will run every Tuesday over six weeks from the 26th of April until the 2nd of June. The participating writers will read in the Irish Writers’ Centre and then take the readings on a nationwide tour.

The Peregrine Reading Series is part of a continual quest to promote prose literature and to develop an audience for prose readings both in Dublin and around the country. The Irish Writers’ Centre is also dedicated to providing a regular platform for Irish writers to maintain a continuous rapport with their readers through talks, readings and launches.
Other writers touring the Peregrine Readings include Jennifer JohnstonJohn MacKennaDermot BolgerNuala Ní ChonchúirKevin PowerEugene McCabeEmer MartinJohn MaherMolly McCluskeyLeo CullenAnne HavertyPól Ó MuiríColette NicAodhaMícheál Ó RuaircMaidhc Dainín Ó Sé and Mícheál Ó Laoghaire.

About the Peregrine Readings:

The Peregrine Readings is a touring prose reading series, started in 2010 as part of the Touring and Dissemination Scheme funded by the Arts Council.  The Irish Writers' Centre often gets requests from people to put on some of our great events around the country.  The Peregrine Readings does just that.  The Peregrine by its definition is a wanderer or a traveler, we have taken writers back to the oral tradition to share their words aloud, and like writers in the oral tradition, they will travel from town to town sharing their stories.
For details of venues and download the brochure please visit the Irish Writers’ Centre website:

The Irish Writers’ Centre is a non-profit organisation that promotes contemporary Irish literature. It also provides a regular platform for Irish writers to maintain a continuous rapport with their readers through talks, readings and launches.
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Amazon Japan Launches Print-On-Demand Program for Publishers

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Image representing Amazon as depicted in Crunc...Image via CrunchBase

Amazon Japan has launched a print-on-demand program for publishers. From the press release: today announced a new Print-on-Demand (POD) program for Books, which dramatically expands the selection of titles available to customers and offers publishers a cost-effective way to make the broadest possible range of their authors’ titles available.

Using POD technology, can rapidly print and ship a single book in response to a customer’s order. Titles in the program will always be in-stock, allowing customers to benefit from’s shipping offers such as Amazon Prime and Same Day Delivery. There are currently over 600,000 titles available for printing from POD provides a cost-effective way for publishers to offer titles for sale to customers in Japan. POD will in particular help foreign book publishers who want to sell both their backlist and frontlist into the Japanese market without the expense and risk of overseas shipping and local inventory. POD is also a great solution for out-of-print works, niche titles, custom books, foreign language editions and alternative formats, such as large print.

Leading publishers from around the world are working with to offer their titles via its POD service, including Cambridge University Press, Macmillan, British Library, Taylor & Francis and Springer.

“We hope to bring hundreds of thousands of books to’s customers that might never have otherwise been available,” said Kazufumi Watanabe, Vice President of Media at Amazon. “Especially in Japan, foreign language books were hard to keep in stock due to their relatively lower demand and longer lead times. By introducing POD, publishers will be enabled to keep all their titles perpetually in stock at Such an innovative new solution will be a significant benefit to both the publishing industry and our customers.”

“We are pleased to add our U.S. POD titles to this innovative program,” said Tom Stouras, Vice President of Supply Chain and Sales Operations at Macmillan. “Being able to print these books locally, through the CreateSpace platform, will get the books to the readers more quickly and supports Macmillan’s environmental initiatives.”

“We are pleased that has been producing Springer STM Books in Print-On-Demand in Japan,” said Ryoji Fukada, Managing Director, Springer Japan KK. “Currently Springer publishes more than 5,000 new English-language titles every year. Since many of these titles concern new scientific information, it is crucial for our readers to be able to obtain them as soon as possible. Using POD, our books will reach our readers faster.”

For a limited time, will provide free setup for publishers with POD-ready PDF files. is also offering competitive manufacturing rates as part of its comprehensive solution. For more information, pricing and details on the Print-on-Demand program, please contact

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Monday, 18 April 2011

Egan Wins American Pulitzer Fiction Prize

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Author and journalist Jennifer Egan has been awarded this year's American Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

The jury citation issued today read:

Awarded to A Visit from the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan, an inventive investigation of growing up and growing old in the digital age, displaying a big-hearted curiosity about cultural change at warp speed.
The Pulitzer Prize for Fiction is awarded yearly to a single work of distinguished fiction by an American author, preferably dealing with American life. The award also comes with a financial prize of $10,000. Here is a list of the other Pulitzer Prize winners for 2011. 

Jennifer Egan was born in Chicago, where her paternal grandfather was a police commander and bodyguard for President Truman during his visits to that city. She was raised in San Francisco and studied at the University of Pennsylvania and St. John's College, Cambridge, in England. In those student years she did a lot of traveling, often with a backpack: China, the former USSR, Japan, much of Europe, and those travels became the basis for her first novel, The Invisible Circus, and her story collection, Emerald City. She came to New York in 1987 and worked an array of wacky jobs while learning to write: catering at the World Trade Center; joining the word processing pool at a midtown law firm; serving as the private secretary for the Countess of Romanones, an OSS spy-turned-Spanish countess (by marriage), who wrote a series of bestsellers about her spying experiences and famous friends.

Egan has published short stories in many magazines, including The New Yorker, Harpers, Granta and McSweeney's. Her first novel, The Invisible Circus, came out in 1995 and was released as a movie starring Cameron Diaz in 2001. Her second novel, Look at Me, was a National Book Award Finalist in 2001, and her third, The Keep, was a national bestseller. Also a journalist, Egan has written many cover stories for the New York Times Magazine on topics ranging from young fashion models to the secret online lives of closeted gay teens. Her 2002 cover story on homeless children received the Carroll Kowal Journalism Award, and her 2008 story on bipolar children won an Outstanding Media Award from the National Alliance on Mental Illness. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband and two sons.
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40+ free tools for authors, by Piotr Kowalczyk | TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics

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40+ free tools for authors, by Piotr Kowalczyk | TeleRead: News and views on e-books, libraries, publishing and related topics

"This post is designed to give you a concise, yet comprehensive preview of most important free tools you can pick up to publish and promote your e-books. I hope it will help you discover the ones, which in a best possible way fit your author profile and personal needs."
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Are Publishers Fit for Purpose in a Digital Age?

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courtesy MacMillan blog
The opening day seminar debate last week at the London Book Fair asked the provocative question: ‘Will publishers in the digital age soon be irrelevant?’ It was always a debate destined to be a little heated. It isn't just provocative but also suggests there is an alternative destiny for the book publishing industry to the one envisaged by many commercial publishing houses.

The debate was hosted by Susan Danziger, CEO of DailyLit and organizer of the Publishing Point, and moderated by Michael Healy, executive director of the Book Rights Registry. Richard Charkin, executive director of Bloomsbury Publishing and Andrew Franklin, founder and MD of independent publisher Profile Books were arguing against the motion. Supporting the motion were Cory Doctorow, bestselling author, activist and Publishers Weekly columnist, and UK technology author and publisher James Bridle.

Andrew Franklin presided over one of the great British publishing industry success stories after spending eleven years at Penguin UK in a career that began in bookselling. In the 1990's he co-founded Profile Books, which later took over Serpent’s Tail and grew a tremendously strong list of authors. That’s a mark of experience and should command a degree of respect to any comment he makes on the publishing industry. Seeing Franklin’s name on a list of debating speakers always guarantees that you will you will hear that experience in publishing delivered with sharp wit and forthright opinion.

Cory Doctorow began the debate and cited his editor at Tor Books:

“A publisher is an institution that identifies a work, identifies an audience, and takes such steps as necessary to connect them.”

This is book publishing boiled down to its simplest terms, but the essential part of what a publisher should be. For me, I can distil that down to a pure mantra that must define all publishers going forward in the digital age:




Right now, many publishers work in their own self-imposed vacuum of reversed marketing and profit. Here is how it currently works:





The above might—just might—work in four years time if you can turn a book around from submission to publication in six months, but as a business strategy and long-term model, it’s dead in the water when that model of production requires a turnaround of 12 months on average. Simply put—if you are going to react to what sells well at a given time and placate and fill the market with similarly trended books—you must have a business model that can react as quickly to changing trends and tastes. You don’t get that information by looking at the P+L reports provided by the sales department every month. You get it by CONNECTING WITH THE READER, and only then are you a publisher in a position to place the author at the top of the publishing evolutionary chain. In the digital age information travels quicker and modern readers have access to information through multiple mediums and networks.

Richard Charkin of Bloomsbury conceded that the time taken to move a book from acquisition to point of sale is one of the fundamental things publishers need to address. He said marketing needed to become 24/7, and while I agree with him, this should not be pushed solely on to the author to do it outside of 9-5.

"The average speed of getting a manuscript, and publishing it, is 12 months, and if I have to pick one thing to get better at, it would be that."

He also spoke about the more traditional approach publishers had to marketing and questioned its relevance and value in the digital age of publishing.

"It used to be that publishers launched things, and had big parties, and hoped they caught on.”

I wondered if Charkin did actually mean that parties caught on rather than the books they promoted!

Charkin and Franklin firmly believe there is a place and relevance for publishers in the future, but that there must be changes. What bothers me most is how much they are willing to admit that this viewpoint has been almost reluctantly accepted by publishers rather than be embraced as a real defining opportunity to develop digital platforms and reconnect meaningfully with readers and authors. In the new digital age the reader wants access, freedom and choice and Franklin’s description of what a publisher is didn’t exactly fill me with the confidence that publishers have the required innovation to fully grasp the challenges of digitalization and think outside the proverbial publishing box:

"The job of publishers is to persuade readers that they should part with money to read an author's work."

Hmmm, while I accept publishing is a business, this isn’t exactly inspiring or about to light up the world of any author or reader.

Doctorow cemented his argument by saying the web had changed the whole proposition of publishing and future publishers might well be small entities focused on solving 21st-century problems and probably won’t look anything like the publishers we have today.

During the discussion, Franklin expressed his views on self-publishing in light of the digital era. He pulled no punches and laid his colours to the mast. In the wider global field of publishing, he considered self-publishing as pretty irrelevant in light of the debate. He expanded on his argument and remarked that while digital publishing brought many great challenges to publishers, it had also resulted in self-publishing becoming ‘easy’.

"If you self-publish on the internet, you might as well not bother, you will be silent. Free is far too much to pay for the overwhelming majority of books self-published‚ you can't even give them away."

Franklin’s comments got me thinking about Garrison Keillor’s opinion piece in the New York Times just before last year’s Book Expo America. Is Franklin saying that the rise and ‘ease’ of self-publishing is seen only from the platform of digital publishing? In other words—in respect of print self-publishing—when Franklin leans over the front seat of the car on the motorway and asks; ‘are you all right in the back there, Lads?’ - is he addressing solely the established print publishing fraternity? Is he saying that self-published authors are in the majority a distant and shoddy camp on the sidelines of the motorway holding up signs bearing the motif – ‘Serious Publisher – 20000 miles?’ Garrison Keillor was equally disparaging about the ease to which self-published authors in the digital age have it now, while reminiscing on a bygone age when authors pushed thick manuscripts into padded envelopes and sent them off in the hope of a New York publishing deal.

For me, this debate reflected a couple of observations and frustrations. Remember, the London Book Fair is a trade show for the publishing industry, and like any trade show like the Frankfurt Book Fair or Book Expo America, debate is always going to be at the sharp end of what is challenging or changing in the industry. A count was taken at the start of this debate about those who were for the motion and those against it. At a trade show people tend to drift in and out of seminars and I believe there was also a question mark on who should and shouldn't be counted in the vote. It turned out that there were more votes at the end than at the beginning, maybe re-enforcing the attraction of the sharp and heated debate going on at this particular seminar.

My main observation was why we were even having such a debate. There is a duality at trade shows like this. On the one hand booksellers, publishers and agents are meeting up and lots of deals are being struck. This trade show proved to be a real generator of deals between publishers and agents. On the other hand, it is also a chance to take stock of where the industry is, just as long as the balance is right between constructive discussion and analysis and not a descent into outright naval-gazing.

We all know publishing is changing and publishers must adapt to change or go bust and we didn’t need this debate to tell us that. There were frustrations from attendees as to why the subject of self-publishing and arguments for and against it arise at every ‘damn’ trade show. One attendee confided that for years he could put up with the PublishAmerica, Lulu and Vantage Press stalls at these events, but he was sick to death of why the ‘sons of bitches were now trying to ‘vanitize’ digital publishing’. His comment amused me, but no more than Andrew Franklin’s comments amused me about how he seemed to inadvertently place some of the publishing industry ills and challenges at the door of self-publishing or used it as some pointless distraction. I would rather hear more of how publishers are actually addressing the challenges facing the industry. Too often trade show debates like this become a 'commercial publishing versus self-publishing' boxing session. This was a trade show and the whole premise of asking an audience of people working in the publishing trade if they felt their industry and livelihood was ‘irrelevant’ was a bit like quaintly tapping a rafter of turkeys on the shoulder and enquiring as to how they might like to spend this Christmas.

Doctorow worked himself up a few times in the debate and asked pointedly:

"Why do we need publishers to simply pay a bunch of other companies to do work on behalf of an author?”

Doctorow was reflecting on his view that publishers were farming out so much marketing work on authors that the question of whether an author actually needed a publisher should at least be considered, and that some authors where better placed to extract the maximum from their work by going it alone.

Franklin went for the kill, made his remark about self-publishing being ‘easy’ now with digital, and self-published authors were making the mistake of thinking they could replicate the work a publisher did.

"All of the tasks publishers do, you can do yourself. Equally, if you have an ailment, you can do that yourself, including operating on yourself, but I don't recommend trying it at home - exactly the same is true of publishing."

Therein lies the Franklin Fault Line. Yes, cheers, Dr Franklin, authors can do what publishers do, but the savvy and successful ones do it by hiring professionals— editors, designers and marketers. He is right, though—many self-publishers don’t and make a complete publishing shit-house of it, but the subtle innuendo is that self-publishing is akin to an ‘ailment’ – a disease, the publishing industry is best left without. Clearly, Franklin is a big fan of Jackass and its warning:



Firing indiscriminate pot-shots at the self-publishing fraternity in the safe environment of a trade publishing debate may have simply been Franklin’s way of driving home his points to defend his industry in a difficult time, as well as cranking up the heat in the spirit of a great debate, but his comments clearly irked some in the audience.

"The reason there are lots of slightly forlorn authors clutching manuscripts at this fair is because they have tried it themselves and it hasn't worked."

The reason there are ‘lots of slightly forlorn authors clutching manuscripts at this fair’ perhaps says more about the publishing industry as a whole than self-publishing, and the disdain some within the industry hold for the common author. It was a particularly below-the-belt shot at authors and one that I felt underlined some publishers disdain for sharing trade space with authors. Again, the innuendo was so subtle, but made a devastating point on where some publishers really are.

So now the self-publishers had been kicked into touch, it was time to round on the authors. In writing this article I happened to come across this piece written by Andrew Franklin in The Independent entitled, The Real Reason Publishers Miss Good Books. In it, Franklin writes insightfully and sharply on authors and publishers.

"The sort of person who lies awake worrying about the books that they are not publishing is not cut out for the job and should confine themselves to running a cosy literary society."

And on the real reason why publishers miss good books:

"It is the numbers game - the sheer volumes of paper (and now, worse still, the email attachments), that cross our desk every day. Every year 200,000 books are published. This is far too many, and really the first duty of every publisher should be to publish fewer, rather than more, new titles."

Ah, it’s Dr. Franklin below, again!

"Apparently GPs give their patients an average of six minutes before they are shown the door of the surgery. The average author sending an unsolicited script certainly gets much less. No one can be surprised to learn that not every manuscript gets the careful attention it deserves. It should not come as a shock that many manuscripts are returned unread to the sender. We need to clear our desks in order to look after the authors whom we do sign up, and the unsolicited manuscripts are often a chore to be dealt with at the end of the day by an overworked intern.
Publishers now rely on specialists - agents, in fact (think of them as the consultants of the publishing profession) - to supply them with novels, though we all still buy some non-fiction directly from authors."

And on those pesky authors who send unsolicited manuscripts to publishers:

"A terrifying proportion of these manuscripts come from people writing in green ink on scraps of Basildon Bond - surely its only use now. And if they aren't in green ink, the manuscripts arrive handwritten in capital letters, or from prison, or from a secure mental hospital. Of course there may be lost masterpieces lurking in the mad rantings of the sad, the bad and the dangerous to know (to plagiarise again), but publishers are not social workers."

Franklin is certainly right to stress that if an author wants to be taken seriously by a publishing house today, they simply must submit through a literary agent. But to suggest, or even imply, authors sending unsolicited manuscripts are ‘sad’, ‘mad’ or ‘bad’ is pretty preposterous and insulting [inset depressed, insane or criminals]. At the start of the article, Franklin questions why publishers are seen as a ‘whipping post’. There are probably several good reasons in the above paragraphs why publishers become ‘whipping posts’ and why so many authors decide to self-publish without even considering the established route. Remember and consider how I spoke earlier about CONNECTING WITH THE AUTHOR? This is how it shouldn't be done.

For a technology expert, James Bridle actually has a very simple and concise way of delivering his message. He disagreed with Richard Charkin’s view that the lively debate they were all having (audience included during the Q&A) was proof that publishing was in a healthy state. Indeed, it takes more than debate to change an industry which has essentially stood still for hundreds of years. For Bridle, using an example of advertising, he saw publishers focus on the book as a singular product to sell, whereas, he countered, Apple’s advertising shows people reading and interacting with content.

“It isn’t about selling an object; it’s about the process."

Bridle also made a critical point that publishers are already ceding the next generation of readers to companies like Amazon. But what seemed to irk Bridle most was the ease and willingness of publishers to let this happen. I often wonder if in wrestling off the shackles of old traditions and habits, publishers as a whole are quickly learning that the remaining vessel they are sailing in may not be very seaworthy and not actually up to the task of embracing the digital waves ahead. The debate posed whether or not publishers would become irrelevant in the digital age. A more appropriate question to ask might be:

Are Publishers Fit for Purpose in a Digital Age?

If there is the least wavering or hesitation in answering that question, then we may be dangerously close to the tipping point where our best authors follow the lead of some self-published authors and acknowledge the vessel they need to be in is the one being developed by Amazon and Apple. If the future of publishing is disintermediation and readers reside in community-based clouds, then publishing as we know it may become an unnecessary and meaningless sideshow.

There are currently two solid bolts keeping the current status quo in publishing. The primary bolt is published authors. You can talk up self-publishing all you want, but the reality remains that the vast majority of authors want to write books—not become publishers or get involved in the day-to-day sales and marketing of their books. They are happy to let their agents cut the best deals and keep most of the paperwork off their writing desks. That might change if publishers continue to push more and more of the marketing and networking promotion onto authors.

The secondary bolt is the growth in ebook sales and how committed publishers really are to the ebook. It’s estimated that ebooks are at about 10% of overall sales in the USA (about 5% in the UK). Many within the industry concede that ebooks will outstrip mass paperback sales (2015, maybe even earlier). By then, companies like Amazon, Google and Apple will be in greater control of the book market, reader trending and the cloud community. If they haven’t already won the pockets of the publishers, they will certainly own every road that leads to the mighty publishing castle. Right now, publishers appear to see ebooks purely as a new and growing revenue stream to support print publication and not the central spoke and opportunity to embrace digital change and develop a business strategy that engages with readers on a community level.

For small publishers, I can understand a reluctance to invest much needed capital and energy into something which generates 5% of sales (UK), but big publishing is about seeing the bigger and longer-term picture and not giving up control easily. The agency agreement was partly an attempt to arrest back some of that control on pricing and discounts, but the ordinary reader doesn’t think one iota about who the publisher is of a book. The brand will always be the author or the subject of the book. James Bridle said that the ordinary reader sees publishers as the people who charge excessively for ebooks and prevents them from loaning what they have bought to their friends, and concluded:

"If publishers are not yet irrelevant, if they don't act soon, they will be."

Wherever we are going, it’s hard to see publishers playing anything like the role they play now in the not too distant future. I’m inclined to feel we may see a much splintered industry in the future with books reaching readers through a multitude of different sales platforms and formats and the greatest Achilles' heel will be a lack of standardization.

It may seem a strange thing to say, but I actually believe publishers can still do all the things needed to change and survive. I think Richard Charkin (Bloomsbury) and Andrew Franklin (Profile) are right to highlight the fact that there is a great deal of vitality and resolve amongst publishers at the moment. Both publishers are great success stories of the past fifteen years and engage and embrace digital publishing fully. While Franklin may hold to his view about self-publishing, I think his view more reflects self-publishing from the 1970’s and 1980’s when it really was vanity driven. If anything, self-published authors utilising digital print advances and social networking have actually shown how a publisher can best use it to connect with readers in a more direct way and even make a profit doing it. Because it is executed well by a fraction of self-published authors doesn’t make it any less worthy of what can be achieved and provide in its own way a blueprint of what is required by all authors and publishers for the future.

How we comprehend and view ‘The Book’ in five to ten years time may completely change. Publishers will transform into content providers and literary agents will also have to re-align their business models and become purely author and rights managers, rather than the conduit and gatekeeper role they currently adopt for publishers. In the future, literary agents may operate businesses more like modelling agencies. It will be a universe where the author and agent will have more of a business partnership than just a PR one. In some ways, because of the splintering and disintermediation in the publishing world, agents may play an even greater role in developing academies and workshops.

For the most important people in the publishing industry—the readers—they may inherit a great deal of choice and variety, but where content is king, quality may have to settle for being queen.
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