This is the second of our TIPM Q&A interviews featuring people from the publishing industry with a particular focus on The Future of Publishing today. This week TIPM caught up with Sarah Taylor, Marketing Manager at Troubador Publishing, Editor of The Self Publishing Magazine and co-organiser of the Self-Publishing Conference UK. Sarah joined Troubador in 2010 shortly after graduating from De Monfort University with a degree in English and Journalism. Previous to joining Troubador, she also worked in magazine publishing and local radio.
Sarah, thanks for joining us on TIPM this week. You’ve a busy couple of months coming up with Troubador’s presence at the London Book Fair and also helping to organise the Self-Publishing Conference UK, due in May and now in its third year. That’s really where I wanted to start.
Troubador Publishing first launched the Self-Publishing Conference UK in 2013. It seems every book fair and trade conference in the industry has a strong element of representation from the self-publishing community. Tell us about the background to the Self-Publishing Conference UK and the reasons why you launched it and how it benefits authors?
We’ve seen the acceptance of self-publishing increase enormously over the last ten years or so, and especially so in the last five. Part of that acceptance led to an explosion in many self-appointed ‘experts’ on self-publishing appearing at Book Fairs, seminars and writers’ events; yet most of these ‘experts’ had very little experience of publishing and usually only in one specific area. We felt there was a lack of a trustworthy source of information on self-publishing, and no forum where authors considering or already involved with it could learn and share their experiences. From the start, the event was intended as an informal forum at which authors could learn about all aspects of self-publishing from those actually working in the field on a day-to-day basis. So we gather together people working in, for example, marketing, ebook distribution, design, and who have enormous experience in all types of self-publishing for authors to both listen to and quiz.
I’ve attended both national and international book fairs and conferences over the past ten years and it struck me how many authors — trade and independently published authors — now attend these events and play a much more constructive role beyond just being there for publicity and to sell books. Authors now want to play a constructive role in the future of an industry they rely on. There seems now more a sense that book fairs have become active think tanks, and not just promotional affairs and events to develop industry partnerships. Even prior to the launch of the Self-Publishing Conference UK in 2013, Troubador was playing its part to encourage the book industry into an acceptance of self-publishing, not as an alternative, but as a viable part of the book industry which deserved a rightful place. In light of this, where do you see self-publishing within the industry today?
We have always seen self-publishing as one route to publication for an author, one that is equally as valid as ‘traditional’ publishing if done for the right reasons and done properly. That’s a view I know that our Directors have had since the very start of the Matador self-publishing service they launched. In a way, the rest of the publishing industry has been catching up with that view since then, and now it’s a view that, like it or not, I think they have to share. There is still resistance to self-published books from bookshops, but in general that’s based not on the way in which a book has been published, but on the quality of what they are asked to sell. Bookshops will sell a book if they feel it is right for their customers and is of a suitable standard, something that many self-publishers fail to understand.
As a self-publishing consultant, I’ve always felt there were significant differences when the UK and US publishing service markets were compared. The US publishing services market appears to be much more DIY centric, whereas the UK has remained much more centric to assisted publishing services for authors — certainly more print over e-books when it comes to sales. We haven’t seen services on the scale of CreateSpace or Lulu develop in the UK. I think this goes a little deeper than just the comparison size of both author service markets (or the adoption of e-books in the UK lagging behind the US). What are your thoughts on this comparison?
I think the chances of a UK company competing against any of the US giants in the DIY area are slim, simply because of the size of the comparable markets. Such DIY services are, by their nature, globally available anyway, and as they’re based on a print on demand model, there’s little benefit to a UK-only service. I think also that there are fundamental differences in attitude between the US and UK; authors tend to want a more personal service in the UK and a less ‘hard-sell’ approach than the US market, one possible reason why the US giant AuthorHouse ended up closing its UK office a couple of years ago… its hard-sell tactics just didn’t sit well with UK authors. I think there’s also more of a literary inheritance in the UK as well, where people perhaps attach greater value to books and bookshops in particular, and that doesn’t necessarily sit easily with the approach of most US self-publishing outfits.
Troubador’s Matador self-publishing imprint has been at the forefront of services in the UK for many years – indeed, it was one of the early adopters of POD (print on demand), combined many aspects of a traditional publisher with contracted services, and played an important role in trying to shift the perception of publishing services providers away from the old vanity-styled publishers. In the past year we’ve seen two big UK service providers disappear — Indepenpress and Authors OnLine. It’s a highly competitive market now. How does Troubador plan to hold its place in the future?
Our ethos has always been to deliver a high quality of product with an excellent level of customer service at a reasonable price. In the end, we are in a customer service industry where what we do and how well we do it are open to public scrutiny as never before. The publishing industry has been through some fundamental changes, but as a company we have always been flexible and eager to do anything we can to improve the chances of our authors’ books selling. Most self-publishing companies concentrate on the front end, actually making the product itself (as do most authors, by the way!), but it’s the back end that sells books… the marketing and distribution infrastructures that are in place. We’ve seen numerous self-publishing companies come and go, and those that have gone under have tended to be those which offer poor customer service or that have failed to recognize those seismic shifts in publishing in general that you mention.
Our Managing Director, Jeremy Thompson, also thinks that there’s a distinct difference between the Matador self-publishing service as part of a commercial company and most other self-publishing companies that are ‘lifestyle’ companies, meaning that they are owner run to make a living for one or two people. The fact that Matador is part of a larger commercial company means that it can invest when it needs to, in things like qualified staff or new warehouses, for instance, and that it can be a part of the wider commercial publishing industry, bringing all the benefits of that to self-published authors, where a lifestyle business will struggle to be accepted.
But we are also constantly changing; we’ve recently launched Matador Marketing & Distribution, offering marketing and retail distribution services to authors who have published themselves elsewhere; and we’ve launched an entirely new service, Indie-Go, offering a range of self-publishing services for authors who want to go down the DIY route but who need some help with one or two elements of the process (www.indie-go.co.uk). And there’s more coming apparently… watch this space!
There’s been so much talk about the future of publishing and the seismic changes digital publishing and social media have made in publishing and book marketing (for authors and publishers), but how do you see publishers in every aspect evolving over the next ten years?
Publishers historically have been slow to adapt to change, but that in itself is now changing. Those which have been accepting of change and have adapted to the new publishing landscape are and will succeed, those who don’t are already suffering. Publishing will undoubtedly continue to fragment, with specialist and niche publishers thriving, but also those general trade publishers who are nimble will thrive as well. Self-publishing, by its very nature, is likely to remain a fragmented, disparate part of the publishing landscape; we’ll regularly hear of successful self-publishing authors, but they’ll be individuals not companies.
Amazon now plays a major role in the publishing industry, both as a giant online retailer and now publisher in its own right. One of the biggest questions often asked last year during debates on the book industry was Amazon: Friend or Foe? I guess it is also a question of eggs in baskets, but should publishers and indie authors fear Amazon’s developing role now and in the future?
Amazon has undoubtedly been good for authors in many ways, but let’s be realistic here; Amazon exists to make money, and if it can do so out of authors then it will. Recent, almost evangelical, pronouncements on how wonderful Amazon is for authors and how terrible traditional publishers are for authors ignore the wider picture that Amazon has no loyalty to authors as a group, and if they see a way of making money from them, then they will. I don’t think that Amazon should be feared, but at the same time, I don’t think they are to be trusted.
There are two important key factors for self-published authors today; distribution and discovery. When authors contract a publishing services provider, they often embark on a steep learning curve, and depend on the services provider. They can sometimes feel their expectations are let down by their understanding of what self-publishing really is and the extraordinary competition in the retail marketplace. How does an author find a reputable publishing services provider and what are the essential elements a good one must provide?
Finding a reputable service provider involves little more than some research. Authors are very good at sharing their experiences – good and bad – of using any self-publishing service, so some time spent online will soon show who is rated and who not. Ask other authors, either online or at events like the Self-Publishing Conference; there’s also sources like the annual Writers & Artists’ Yearbook and this very magazine that rate self-publishing companies. Having identified maybe two or three likely companies, see what each has to offer in some depth. Visit their websites, read their information, get samples of their books… ask lots of questions, by email yes, but also talk to them either by phone or in person. You’ll very quickly get a good idea of who knows what they are talking about and who is giving you the ‘spiel’!
What elements are essential from a service provider will depend really on what you want; if you’re seeking the least help at the lowest possible cost then the service provider doesn’t need to provide a lot; if you want the best product with the best chance of selling it for you then they’ll need considerably more. Look out for anyone paying lip-service to marketing and distribution if you actually want to sell your book or ebook; both are essential yet neither is actually provided by most self-publishing companies!
If I’m an author with a completed manuscript — looking to self-publish — what are the six-pointers I need to consider before taking the next step on my publishing path?
- Decide why you are publishing, as that will tell you the best method to use (ebook, print on demand, short print run).
- Make sure that your manuscript is in as good a shape as it can be. Edit, edit and edit again.
- Research the self-publishing services market thoroughly to find companies that can help you, and get detailed written costings from them.
- Plan ahead! Allow at least six months if you want to market and distribute your book properly. Don’t rush things as you’ll regret it later.
- Whether publishing for personal pleasure or for profit, do it properly. To compete commercially you must have a top quality product to sell; even for a personal project, there’s no joy in a poorly produced book.
- Don’t get stuck in an ‘I know best’ mentality. A good self-publishing company will tell you when you are making a bad choice and will offer guidance based on market experience; if they tell you that all your self-publishing choices are right, go elsewhere!
Finally, you should enter into self-publishing with your eyes wide open, with faith on your work and with an open mind… and be prepared to enjoy the experience!
The Third Self-Publishing Conference takes place on Saturday 9th May 2015 at the University of Leicester. Once more the event brings together key figures in the self-publishing industry for the benefit of self-publishing authors. Thanks to Sarah Taylor from Troubador for joining us this week for our Q&A.