My GAMMA.CON Review

It was a couple of weeks ago now that I attended my first GAMMA.CON, Canberra’s answer to Comic-Con. Being my first experience not only of GAMMA.CON, but in fact any Con, I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect.

At first I did a loop around the arena, getting my bearings, and a glimpse of the event. While it wasn’t packed with people, there was an energy and enthusiasm that certainly filled the space. I meandered, slightly lost, between the stalls, the striking cosplay, art, and other wonderers.

Initially I felt a little out of place, and underdressed, but my feeling of estrangement didn’t last long. I found that people manning stalls were very happy to have a chat, the Cosplayers were always keen for some positive feedback, and the general atmosphere was one of inclusion and creativity. There were so many talented people gathered in the one place. The time, the effort and the passion put into their work was truly inspiring.

When I finally settled at the Odyssey stall, I then got the opportunity to talk to the interested readers and writers that came past, chatting with them about favourite genres and reads. Both the reading and the writing of books can be isolating, often solitary exercises, and I enjoyed engaging with people so set on making these passions a social experience. 

One of the best things was to see was such an avid interest in Odyssey’s books, many who came past the stall keen to experience the worlds and adventures Odyssey authors have created. I was especially stoked to get to read and purchase a new book published by Obscura (an imprint of Odyssey which specialises in beautiful and unusual gift books) called Octopus and Family. It’s witty, punny and comes highly recommended!

It was fascinating to catch a glimpse of such a passionate and engaging community, so thanks for having me GammaCon! 

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Judging a Book by its Cover

Recently it was revealed that ebook sales, once booming, have now slumped considerably. Simultaneously, more consumer interest is being shown in traditional printed books. In an article titled “How eBooks Lost their Shine” which you can find here – https://www.theguardian.com/books/2017/apr/27/how-ebooks-lost-their-shine-kindles-look-clunky-unhip- Paula Cocozza examines why this might have come about. She suggests that you just can’t do all the tangible things like dog-earing a page, or cracking a spine with an ebook, that ebooks are becoming more expensive and thus not worth it, and that things like children’s books just tend not to work as well in ebook form.

But one aspect which I found particularly engaging about her argument was her hypothesis that ebooks simply can’t be as beautiful as their printed counterpart. Cocozza writes “Another thing that has happened is that books have become celebrated again as objects of beauty.” She emphasises that the cover art, the font, even the binding, can be things of great aesthetic joy; something an ebook could simply never achieve.

While the criticism and dialogue surrounding books tends to focus on what’s inside the cover and what is typed across the pages, Cocozza reminds us that what’s on the outside, this time, does in fact count. The visual appeal of the book is something we experience, in different measures of consciousness, each time we pick it up, open it, close it, and put it down again (despite the often long period of not putting it down in between).

The physical cover of a book is something that can be incredibly striking and meaningful, and this new appreciation of printed books and their clothing is encouraging us to finally allow ourselves to judge a book by its cover.

Social media is certainly on the bandwagon. In fact, there are whole Instagram pages dedicated to displaying the beauty of bookcases, reading nooks and books themselves.

On the gorgeous page Foldenpagesdistillery (https://www.instagram.com/foldedpagesdistillery/) books (always closed and with their covers on display) are integrated into carefully constructed scenes. The backgrounds tend to either mimic the setting or themes of the book itself, as with the tartan and rustic items surrounding Outlander by Diana Gabaldon below…

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Or create a setting which evokes the act of reading itself, the space adorned with flowers, hot cups of tea and reading paraphernalia, like notebooks and glasses.

The colours and shapes of the cover art are mirrored in the surrounding elements of the photo. Here the significance of the cover is truly recognised and considered. It’s not just the ideas inside the book that are important, but also its physical form.

The page Bookotter (https://www.instagram.com/bookotter/) is full of character and similarly adorns the book with objects which relate to its fictional world, reconstructing the narrative in real life objects and images. Again the images and colour scheme of the cover art are mimicked in the surrounding objects, like the wooden board that pairs with the hazel eye, or the pink flowers that match the titular font. This page often brings the natural world, usually in the shape of plants, into shots like this one:

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Another breathtaking page is OliverSkyWolf (https://www.instagram.com/oliverskywolf/) who seems to forever walk around with a book held out in front of him. He captures striking scenes, again often within nature, where the backgrounds imitate the colours and resonances of the book’s cover.

Like this one for example:

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On these Instagram pages book covers integrate themselves into our world, and the foreground book and background world interact with each other through colours, shading, shapes and feeling. The books come to life in a setting which expands the cover into life itself.

In our evermore visual world of social media, so dominated by the immediate distribution of images, it makes perfect sense that Instagram pages like these ones have come to revel in the physicality, the aesthetics and the beauty of the book.

And it’s not just the book itself, its the whole library. A Buzzfeed article simply lists images of beautiful home libraries – https://www.buzzfeed.com/tabathaleggett/home-libraries-that-will-give-you-serious-living-room-goals?utm_term=.tpn0KrXBG#.qj56rbvw7

And they are stunningly beautiful. These home-decorators have used their books to decorate and embellish their rooms. Something I noticed about these different rooms is that without the books it would just be a fairly ordinary space. A lounge room, a bedroom, a study. But in these spaces the books are the focus, their arrangement on the shelves is not just storage, it is expression and style. The delicate shaping of the shelves, the use of light and focus, the arch over the reading chair – all these techniques take books as a design tool in their own right, as pieces of art.

There are multiple methods by which books are displayed – by author, by genre, or the beautifully visual choice of by colour. My personal favourite is the colour-coded wall below, designed by 7 Interiors. It’s so beautiful I can feel tears welling up. I mean who needs art when you have a bookshelf like this?

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I thought about my own apartment and the time I’d spent making my bookshelf look good. And actually, I realised, I’d spent probably the most time of all decorating that one small space, figuring out how to separate the books, how to display them, and which ornaments to adorn them with. Two of my favourite things in the apartment sit on top of my bookcase: my fern and my typewriter. It’s the area that I think looks the best in my whole apartment, and while I would like to take the credit for the breathtaking decorative skill, I’m sure about 90% of any aesthetic beauty is simply down to the books themselves, their colours, shapes and images.

There’s something very special about cover art that takes what a book is about and means and reconstructs it into a 2D image. It must be eye-catching and different. It must be commercial but also aesthetic. It must fit the genre and style but also make its mark so that particular book will standout. It’s a complicated process. The clothing that a book wears can become a work of art in itself, visually stunning and semiotically loaded.

With the decline of ebooks, and the resurgence of printed books, coupled with the highly visual, online culture we live in, this really is the time to appreciate and explore the beauty of our bookshelves. And even better, we now have yet another reason to keep buying books: they’re great for decoration.

 

Social Stalking: An Investigation into the Social Media of the Author

First of all I want to introduce myself. I’m Kate, one of the new interns with Odyssey. I am about to start my PhD in creative writing and I really, really like books. Nice to meet you.

I’m excited to contribute my first blog post, so thank you for indulging me with your readership. One of the first things that sprung to mind when I was deciding what to write about was a topic we discussed during my interview. I was asked about social media and if I knew much about how authors use their social media accounts. My answer was basically no… I was completely, pitifully naive to how social media is used by authors and how central it has become to modern marketing strategies. For much of my undergrad degree and all of my Honours thesis I studied mostly Victorian authors for whom the internet and social media would seem about as conceivable as teleporting to Mars. But I had always been interested in how the social image of an author impacts the way their work is received. During Honours I read diary entries about Thomas Hardy’s conversations at dinner parties, so I figure that’s the 19th Century alternative to stalking his twitter; I’m already in the right frame of mind, I just have to update my tactics.

I thought that I should take a look at the social media accounts of a modern author to gain a basic understanding of how they are used. I’m particularly interested in young adult fantasy fiction and its authors, which is a convenient place to start given the suitability of social media for this demographic. So I decided I should investigate an author of that genre who is well known, successful and savvy, and I settled on J.K. Rowling. The two social media sites I looked to were Facebook and Twitter. Facebook I chose because it’s arguably the most widely used site, especially for young adults, and Twitter because it’s particularly apt for authors due to its focus on text and writing, rather than say Intagram which deals in images.

These are the things that struck me most from exploring J.K. Rowling’s official Facebook page:

  1. J.K. Rowling has A LOT of followers, which really shouldn’t be surprising, but right now it’s 5,386,803. Just by posting one status, or sharing one interview, or plugging one publication 5 million people are probably going to see it. That’s some pretty damn effective advertising.
  1. The main things shared are, as you would expect, to do with publications, current projects, interviews, and information about the charity she established, Lumos.
  1. Importantly the interaction Facebook enables is very much a two way street. While the author is using this platform to share things with fans, what’s really important is that the fans can share things back. Being able to not just like, but also comment on posts, means fans are able to engage in a direct dialogue with the author. For example on Rowling’s page a Brazilian fan has commented on a post, addressing it to the author directly, and remarking how grateful he is that her books have encouraged Brazilian children into reading and engaging with literature. This comment has been liked by hundreds of other users, and a stream of comments follows it discussing the benefits of children’s literacy.
  1. So this is a space for authors to share things with their fans, but also for fans to share things with each other. Often Rowling will share a post that begins a dialogue, which is then taken up entirely by the fans. This is the epitome of networking and marketing, when the author can contribute to a discussion about their work that then continues and flourishes even without them. What Facebook creates on Rowling’s page is a keen and engaged community of fans.
  1. Facebook is complicit in this process. The page tells the user when they come across it which of their friends has already liked it. Facebook shows the user that they already have links to the community. It says “be a part of this community, these friends of yours already are, you don’t want to be left out do you?”
  1. Lastly, there is a “Shop Now” button at the very top of the page giving users immediate and convenient access to purchase her novels. While Facebook offers a platform for the author and her fans to simply interact, it doesn’t forget the opportunities that could stem from that.

Next I looked at her Twitter page, and this is what I noticed most:

  1. She has even more followers on Twitter, 8.98 million! Merlin’s beard!
  2. Much like Facebook she uses Twitter as a platform to share promotional articles and videos, giving them more scope.
  1. Twitter’s cap on the characters means Rowling’s posts are shorter than on Facebook, or sometimes in instalments. They’re also often quite jovial and much more conversational. She speaks to her followers as if she knows them, and you are convinced that she does.
  1. Finally, in comparison to Facebook, Rowling’s Twitter certainly seems more personal. She tweets and retweets about a plethora of different things. While she often references Harry Potter and promotes new releases etc., she also writes passionately about social justice issues, the writing process itself, and even her social life and New Years Eve plans. It’s social, political, literary and personal. It’s not just her books and how to purchase, but instead her everyday thoughts, those valuable thoughts that have made her one of the most successful authors of the century. By looking at J.K. Rowling’s Twitter you can feel like you’re actually getting to communicate with her; she becomes very real.

So what struck me most when investigating these two different social media sites is that despite often sharing similar material, Rowling takes quiet a different approach to each. Facebook seems to serve as the more professional platform, with links to interviews and a “Shop Now” button, while Twitter is much more conversational, where the fans can really get to know the author and read tweets about her hanging out with her cat. Nonetheless both sites offer to Rowling’s fans a means of staying in touch with the author, her projects and the wider community of her readers. Social media is changing the way we communicate with the authors that inspire us, it puts them right in our back pocket, where we can interact with them on a daily basis.

Unlike the networking antics of Harry Potter’s Gilderoy Lockhart, modern authors need not employ tactics such as smarmy charm, bleached white toothy grins or the shameless and even forceful circulation of autographed photos. Instead through social media they can consistently connect with their readers on a more substantial level, whether it’s through starting important discussions, or simply saying Merry Christmas. Significantly for me, despite being unable to read diary entries about Rowling’s conversations at dinner parties, I feel equally happy with the stalking levels achieved via her Twitter feed.

 

The Forgotten Readers

We’ve all been inside one. For many, including myself, our love of reading was grown and cultivated in a building absolutely bursting with books. You could stroll through the seemingly endless rows of towering shelves, trying to find that perfect book. Especially as children, libraries seem to house never-ending possibilities for reading. Across the country, indeed, across the world, libraries are institutions that open their doors to thousands of avid readers every day.

Whilst the library is the main source of reading material for numerous individuals, it is a commonly overlooked vehicle for increasing promotion and awareness of your book. This is largely because many don’t consider an institution that buys one copy of a book and then lends it to as many people as possible an opportunity for substantial profit.

However, if you look a little closer, you’ll see that there are far more opportunities for promotion than first meets the eye.

It has been suggested that libraries purchase as much as 12% of all books sold in Australia. Although many towns no longer have bookstores, especially rural ones, many of them still have a library, or have access to a travelling library – yes, those still exist! All these libraries need to be stocked, and librarians are always looking for new and interesting titles to attract readers to their shelves.

The fact that libraries only buy one copy of a book, and are therefore not worth spending time marketing to, is a common argument. However, not only is this not always true, even when it is, that’s no reason to discount the library. School libraries in particular are known for ordering class sets (usually around 30 copies) of books they are interested in acquiring. If a book proves popular, libraries may buy multiple copies in order to cater to demand.

But even if they only buy one copy, that copy is one more sale you didn’t have yesterday. In a 2011-2012 report, Australian Public Library Statistics recorded 1,505 public libraries across the country. If every library in Australia bought only one copy, that’s still a significant sales count.

Additionally, the report noted that there were approximately 9 million visits to libraries every month. Consider the exposure that one book could get if it was seen 9 million times a month. Nowhere but a library will you have that kind of potential for people to see a book, and quite often pick it up and read it. If they love it, not only do you have a loyal reader, but they’re very likely to spread the word to all their friends, who can easily access your book from their library.

For the small press author, libraries, especially your local library, can be a great support in getting your book talked about. Many regularly host events with authors, including talks and signings. Others may also support the idea of launching your book right there in the library. Events like these not only open up more opportunities for sales, but also make sure your book is exposed in a place that has regular and dedicated traffic – and they ALL read books!

As many libraries purchase largely through library vendors, this can limit the opportunity for small press and self-published authors to get their books on the shelves. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t a chance. Local libraries in particular love supporting authors who reside nearby. And once the word spreads about books that are popular, other libraries may begin to show interest.

Nowhere else in the world can you regularly attract such a concentrated group of readers as you can in a library. Those who are focused on the bottom line in the short term can dismiss those non-paying individuals who grip tightly to their library card. However, increasing the number of people who see and read your book is never a bad thing, in the long term it will contribute to an increase in sales. Especially if those library patrons are all as impatient as I am and, when faced with their desired book being on loan, goes out and buys their own copy because they cannot bear to wait. The book industry forgets about library patrons at their peril.

Fostering Beginner’s Luck: Branding Debut and Midlist Authors

As I mentioned in Monday’s blog, one of biggest problems ahead for the publishing industry is the closing of opportunities for debut and midlist authors. There is an unfortunate reduction in paths to publication through a traditional publishing house for both debut authors and for those who are steady but not spectacular on the midlist. There are a variety of factors contributing to this reduction including digital disruption, margin-squeezing and cultural homogenisation, but I won’t go into them in this blog. There are also some fantastic and brave people out there actively working to boost the opportunities for debut and midlist authors. This blog isn’t about them either. Today I want to cover how that shrinking window of opportunity can be combatted at a small press, by both the publisher and the authors.

In my opinion, I think a small press is probably best suited to work with debut and some midlist authors. It might not be the dream scenario for many authors, but it’s the most workable. Small presses, by neccessity, have to help grow new talent or nurture midlist talent as it’s the bread-and-butter of the small press industry. Small presses have both the ability and the motive to get out there and find new voices and take risks on them. Further, many small presses are less constrained by structures which can limit the bigger houses and hence can be more nimble and diverse in their publishing efforts.

One of the most important things a small press can contribute to helping debut and midlist authors to succeed is help with development of the author brand (as well as their writing craft). An author’s brand is an essential tool in the digital world, potentially more so than before Amazon and ebooks. An online presence is a necessity for community engagement. While this may not lead to direct sales, if an author’s brand is properly managed it will lead to a broadening of the base to which authors can hawk their books. It means reaching more new readers more often.

In 2013, bestselling author Neil Gaiman teamed up with a smartphone company to unleash a campaign where he could collaborate with his fans on a series of short stories. The response to the campaign was overwhelmingly positive and highly engaging. Fans submitted story ideas corresponding to themes that Gaiman then turned into short stories. Fans then submitted artworks inspired by the stories. This was a modern, technology-enabled creative conversation between an author and his audience. It worked brilliantly.

Here, Gaiman used his author brand to create momentum for a campaign that wasn’t aimed directly at selling books. Instead, he engaged his readers in a venture that allowed them inside his creative process. The cynical benefits were that Gaiman’s brand and the smartphone company’s brand both got a boost from this campaign. The more idealistic benefit is that Gaiman expanded on an excellent connection with his readers and further developed their passion for him as an author.

The take away for debut and midlist authors is not they can do exactly what Gaiman has done, but that they could replicate it, in part, to create bigger brand awareness and engagement for themselves and their audience. This isn’t a strategy for hard sales of books but more about increasing online presence. The purpose of this is to indirectly or eventually increase sales, but that’s not the direct outcome or immediately tangible reward for the exercise. For authors this is a no-brainer as building a strong brand helps your marketability with publishers and makes them more willing to take a risk on publishing your book.

Another brilliant example of author branding, that is in the physical space rather than digital is Odyssey author Rachel Drummond. This year, Drummond appeared at Supanova with a stall marketing her book The South Forsaken. With distinctive yellow signage and an open and engaging personality for readers, she was a huge success.

These two examples show approaches to branding that should be informative for how authors can push forward both online and at events:

  1. Be Distinctive/Interesting.
  2. Be Open and Engaging.

These seem to be rather generic ideas, but they are fundamentally important for authors when designing and implementing an online presence for their readers to engage with. I haven’t put forth an argument as to whether authors need to do this, because they absolutely do. It’s really non-negotiable unless you’re a bestseller. To get ahead as an author today you need to get out there and engage in whatever way possible.

Reaching for the Stars – The Importance of Book Reviews

by Jenna O’Connell

You’re sitting in your chair, pondering the barren wasteland that is your bookshelf. You wish there was a book, any book, to fulfil your yearning for words. But you’ve read everything. You’ve got that craving, that craving for something new and exciting. You’ve decided! You’re going to get a new book! Hooray!

But as you approach the fantastical world of online book shopping, or that cave of magic and wonder we call a bookstore, you skid to a sudden halt. There’s so many! How are you possibly going to choose one? You need some advice, and the blurb isn’t enough. You want to know the real story, the underground mutterings from someone who has read the book.

Congratulations, you’ve just jumped into a world that authors and publishers face every day. Not because they’re rich enough to buy new books everyday (although that is the ultimate dream) but because they are trying to sell one book within that many.

Marketing today is a complex battle to try and engage readers and draw their attention to one specific book in a market flooded with dozens of options. So we use a number of strategies, including social media, cover teasers, press releases and releasing preview chapters. But one of the most important is the full utilisation of book reviews.

Many of you purists out there will be recoiling in horror. I know many of us would like to believe that book reviews magically appear out of nowhere, penned by an enthusiastic reader who stumbled across the book and fell in love. I’m not saying that those reviewers aren’t out there; I’m just comparing them to our favourite mythical white horse with a horn. The majority of reviews are requested, whether by the publisher sending out review copies, or by the author themselves.

Review copies are copies of the manuscript produced about four months before a book is due to be released. These are usually sent to book reviewers, often for newspapers and magazines, but more and more frequently to book bloggers. Each reviewer usually has their own stipulations for what sort of book they wish to be sent. Most still tend to favour print books over eBooks. Although, as publishers, especially small press, are increasingly reluctant to send out physical copies with no promise of return, sending eBooks to reviewers is a growing practice. Often there is no guarantee that a reviewer will even review your book, let alone say nice things about it, so the more you can send out, the better. Unfortunately, this tends to favour the larger publishing houses, which have more resources to produce and send out more review copies.

This is where services like NetGalley come in. NetGalley is a website designed to bring those eager to review, and those wanting reviews, together. Publishers sign up, and post summaries of their works to be reviewed. Interested readers and reviewers then request a copy of those they would like to review. It does have its flaws, at least from a publishing side, in that there is no obligation to post a review – no one can chase you down after you have requested a book. But it does provide another avenue for publishers to have their books reviewed.

No one who has bought a book online can honestly claim to have not looked at the reviews, even if they only have a quick glance at the star rating. For many authors, especially those with smaller publishers, word of mouth is the best publicity there is, and reviews are the internet’s version of that. With the rise of websites like Goodreads, reviews are increasingly becoming a part of the way we decide which book to read next, making them a vital part of marketing strategy. So next time you dive into the multitude of available books and emerge victorious, consider writing a review! Having now done a couple myself, not only is it not as scary as I thought, but it allows you to think more deeply about what you do and do not like in a book. And if you stumble across one of those little undiscovered gems we’re always looking for, it’s a great way to show how much you loved it.

The Hitcher in the Picture: An Odyssey Intern takes Supanova

by Jenna O’Connell

Have you ever been to a convention? No, not those super boring things in the boardroom where everyone wears a name tag, and if you’re lucky there’ll be a Monte Carlo and some hot orange juice for morning tea. I’m talking about a fan convention, in this case, a pop culture and all round awesomeness convention. I hadn’t been to anything like that before I started interning for Odyssey. But for authors and publishers, they are so much more than a chance to dress up and overspend on a heap of cool things.

What I’m constantly learning about, working in the small publishing industry, is that there are so many more ways to market books than just shipping them off to a bookstore and crossing your fingers. And when you’re a small press, you REALLY need to be pursuing all those other opportunities. So far this year, I’ve tagged along with our publisher and some of our authors to two Supanova conventions, and learned a ton about the opportunities that come out of events like these. For those of you who haven’t heard of it before, Supanova is a pop culture convention that runs across Australia at various points in the year. It bills itself as a celebration of all things pop culture, so fans of anime, fantasy, sci-fi and everything in between unite over three days to dress up, meet some of their heroes, and (hopefully) buy a lot of cool and quirky things.

The set up for those selling things is quite like a market. A lot of booths, mostly small, although the bigger companies had massive ones. We were located in what is called Artist’s Alley, which is an area specifically put aside for smaller artists, from comic book designers, to jewellery makers, to publishers and authors like us. Before we went to our first one, I assumed we were going just to sell books. We publish quite a bit of sci-fi and fantasy, so I figured this was a new way to sell to our target market. And it definitely was. What I didn’t realise, is just how much more than that it would also be.

Supanova was a great way for us to make our brand more recognisable. For every one person that bought a book from us, we had 10 more picking up cards, chatting to us, wanting to learn about our website. Many of those people will lose the cards, and forget all about us. But a picture of us is in their head, and they’re more likely to recognise us next time. I began to realise that awareness is just as important as actual sales. Awareness is about engaging a customer so that they will return to see what we do next, and who wants to know what else we do. I also learnt just how important being different is in building that awareness and recognition.

On the second day of Sydney Supanova, I dressed up as the Hitcher, from the television show The Mighty Boosh. One of our authors, Tracey Joyce, dressed up as Isaura, from her very own novel Altaica. The amount of photos we got stopped for, even when we were just hanging in the booth, was amazing! And just by drawing people into the booth, having them look at what we were doing, we captured a lot of people who otherwise might have walked right past us. And not only that, we had some awesome conversations with some truly amazing costume artists.

Speaking of conversations, one of the things that took me most by surprise was the amazing opportunity for networking that Supanova is. At both conventions, not only have we sold our current books, we’ve also been approached by prospective authors. A couple have already joined our Odyssey family, others who have amazing manuscripts that I honestly can’t wait to read. And not only that, we’ve met self-published authors and talked strategy, we’ve met illustrators and graphic designers interested in working on cover art with us, and we’ve also had a chance to chat with other publishers, both small and large, and see how they approach conventions, and even marketing in general.

Just sitting around with our publisher and her authors at these conventions, I absorb so much. The conversations that come with meeting others in this industry casually, or even in outlandish costumes, provide more hands on experience than you could ever hope to get trying to research all this stuff. Selling books at a pop culture convention turned out to be so much more of a learning experience than I could have ever expected it to be. For me, it shows just how much can be learnt by being a fly on the wall in every possible publishing and marketing experience. As usual, I learn just as much outside the office as I could ever hope to inside it.