The Reading Season

Like everything else associated with the holidays, I’m sure you’ll consider this article one that comes too soon. But, for the publishing industry, the looming spectre of the Christmas season has well and truly begun.

 

This post was spurred partly by my receipt of an actual gasp physical book catalogue last week, geared at – you guessed it – Christmas shoppers. With a smidge less than a month until the big day, every business even remotely associated with retail is pulling out all the stops.

 

However, I was curious as to what Christmas meant for the publishing industry. As one that produces physical objects that may easily be used as gifts, it would be clear to anyone that this particular national holiday is important to book sales.

 

And yet, for many, the book is not at the top of any Christmas lists. True, the rectangular package under the tree does have it’s own brand of predictability. The avid readers out there will also be familiar with the mingling of excitement and dread as you unwrap a carefully chosen book to be confronted with your fourth copy of Pride and Prejudice. Book buying can become a minefield at Christmas time, so how does the publishing industry address this?

 

Well, first and foremost, by increasing the number of new and exciting titles for readers to salivate over and parents to be confused by. The significant increase in books being released for publication around the first week in October has become so apparent that it now has its own name – Super Thursday. This is the day on which many of the big potential bestsellers are released, with plenty of time to entice shoppers away from shiny plastic and chocolate-coated nuts.

 

The reason for this is that new books are generally given between 2-3 months to prove themselves, sales-wise. Usually it becomes clear after the first two months whether the publisher has a bestseller on their hands or not. By releasing books on Super Thursday, these books have just the right amount of time to get on the Christmas bandwagon and help the word of mouth spread in the seasonal sales rush.

 

But this is done in order to target a certain type of recipient – the ones who (apparently) most commonly receive books for Christmas. An article published in UK newspaper The Telegraph a day before the publication of this year’s Super Thursday books noted a large skew in one area – children’s books, and a complete absence of one particular genre – chick-lit.

 

This says a lot about the expectations publishers have drawn out about who will be buying books this Christmas. Overwhelmingly, the season is targeted at children. So an increase in the release of books aimed at this age bracket makes sense. Christmas-themed books also represent a growing and popular trend. The Elf on the Shelf book, for one, has combined Christmas, books and toys in such an appealing way that many will choose to sit a small plush elf in their children’s room this Christmas, in an effort to both awaken their holiday spirit, and get some well behaved children in the bargain.

 

The other trend is more interesting. The absence of chick-lit novels, and the presence of those focused on crime and war suggests that – if you’ll forgive me for invoking a stereotype to demonstrate how I think the industry is using it – that book publishers consider men (particularly older men) to be the recipients of books more often than women will be this Christmas. This is certainly not to say that the industry is ignoring women over this time, but it does not appear to be their focus.

 

Interestingly, this surge in publication around Christmastime is also a positive step for the future of the print book. Let’s face it; an eBook has to be one of the more underwhelming presents available. Oh cool! A digital file! – said no one ever. And the rush is predominately towards print.

 

This Christmas, you may choose to buy a book for a loved one, or even yourself. Certainly the outpouring of usually non-existent catalogues and a higher percentage of new, physical books would suggest that this might be a good time to stock up. For the publishing industry, just like others involved with consumption, Christmas is an important time, with products produced especially for those swept up in the spirit of the season.

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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.

Gold-Plated Nothings: Celebrity Books in the Literary World

After a dose of political intrigue, international news and the unsolicited opinions of numerous journalists, my surreptitious lurking in the entertainment section revealed an interesting piece of news. Comedian Amy Shumer has landed a book deal, with an advance suspected to be around $8 million dollars. I almost fell off my chair. As a young editor working for a small press, that kind of money around an advance is still awe-inspiring. But as I thought about it more, it increasingly began to disturb me.

Before we go any further though, I want to make it clear that this is not a rant about Amy. I’m a huge fan of her work, and she can make me laugh harder than I thought possible. But her work is as a comedian, in stand-up, television, and film. What she isn’t, is an author.

We can be pedantic all we want about what the term author means. If whether all you have to do to be an author is write something, or if all it takes to be considered one is to be published. But the increasing rise of celebrity ‘authors’ bodes ill for the rest of the literary industry, as they take away from those who wish to write more than just a recap of their lives and their endearing, charming, hilarious or heartbreaking thoughts.

Books published by celebrities usually constitute autobiography, memoir, or collection of thoughts and essays. There’s the occasional cookbook of lifestyle guide, and British celebrity Katie Price, also known as Jordan, has written a novel. For the most part, these books fail to add much to the literary landscape, and rely on our cultural fascination with the lives of celebrities. The quality of the writing varies greatly, the story is often much the same – young aspiring star walks the hard road to achieve their dreams, and examines the struggle with being rich, famous and adored.

By all means, worship a star if you want to. Go see their movies, hang off their television interviews, and buy the products they endorse with that winning smile. But what do their books really add to that? More of the same things you see in their films, their stand-up, their interviews. They may be entertaining reads for those obsessed with their favourite celebrity, but as books, they often fail the test of time, and become one time reads to collect dust on your bookshelves.

And these books are doing a significant amount of dust collecting. In The New York Times bestseller list from this week alone, almost half of the top twenty are written by some celebrity, whether they be from the comedic, film or political persuasion.

With such solid represent in the bestseller lists, we can see why publishers are so keen to embrace these books, and why Amy has been given such a huge advance. No doubt her book will make it a number of times over. But it displays a worrying trend of pursuing financial gain to the detriment of literary quality.

In an increasingly risk-averse market, the booming celebrity book industry produces numerous carbon copy memoirs that make bank for their publishers, and their authors. But this takes the time and energy away from less well known authors, as they work to produce original and painstakingly crafted works, only to have them rejected because they won’t sell the same way the glittering, celebrity endorsed hardbacks will.

When the bestseller lists indicate a particular trend, naturally publishers are going to jump on as quickly as possible, ever thinking about that bottom line. The only solution for those who wish to patron higher quality literature is to of course, stop buying celebrity books. But in a society obsessed with the minute movements of celebrities, I don’t see that happening any time soon. The cost is, and will always be, the smaller authors, those who haven’t yet got the money, the influence or the fame behind them to push a book like a celebrity can.

The Shelving Game

In some of our marketing blog posts, you would have heard Brendan or I talk about the need for small publishers to look at alternative ways of selling and advertising books, other than bookstores. What you small press aficionados may have already noticed in your search for the perfect indie novel is that you will rarely find a small press book on the gleaming shelves of a shiny bookstore, particularly if that bookstore is a chain.

You may have bemoaned this fact as you drag your feet away from the rows and rows of choices, back to Book Depository, Amazon, or even the publisher or author’s own website to find what you’re looking for. It’s definitely a pain, but many people don’t generally question why. What is it about the organisation of bookstores that prevent small press from getting a real foothold?

Start by thinking about your favourite bookstore. Picture it in your mind. Whoa! There’s SO MANY BOOKS. I always find it a bit overwhelming when I walk into a bookstore. There’s a multitude of choices, and that’s the reason very few people are still brave enough to venture into one with me.

But step back for a moment. That choice that we’re all confronted with, those who own the bookstore are confronted with that decision on a far larger scale when they are considering how to stock their store. Those seemingly endless shelves hold only a small fraction of all the possible books a store could stock. There is so much choice; bookstores need to find a way of cutting through them all.

Obviously, part of what they decide to stock is based on demand. If five customers a day come in and want a particular book, then it makes sense to start getting a few on the shelves. Customers are notoriously impatient people, and will be far more satisfied with their experience if they don’t have to wait a couple of days for their book to be ordered in.

But another key part of the decision making process are distributors. These are companies that act like sales executives for books, and liaise with bookstores to get books on shelves. They often provide promotional material for bookstores, and have large selections that sellers can choose from.

Like everything else in this world, they cost money. Often a lot of it. Therefore, those with the most books to sell, and who usually publish books in high demand, have the most to gain from a distributor. If you’ve only published one book, or even only ten, the cost of a distributor will be far more prohibitive. So once again, we have a means for accessing consumers dominated by the large publishing houses.

If you aren’t with a distributor, your chances of getting on the shelves are much lower. Distributors are respected companies, and the fact that they accept a book, author, or publisher into their repertoire is a vote of confidence. A distributor with a nice shiny catalogue will always be considered more respectable than an author who can’t afford such resources off the bat, but is still passionate about what they have produced.

Unfortunately, getting your book into a bookstore isn’t as simple as just sending them a bunch of copies. It involves a complex mix of ordering, permission, returns policies and sales figures. Distributors can smooth this process, which is why they are an important part of getting a book on the shelves. But small press are often left out as big companies and bestsellers take the place of lesser-known books. The fact that small publishers have such difficulty getting into bookstores is often something that prevents their growth, as you can’t make sales if no one sees your product. It’s unfortunate that, although it seems like we have so much choice in a bookstore, the decision on whether to read small press books or not has already been made for us.

if you’re keen to explore what small press has to offer, think about exploring the websites of small publishing houses. Odyssey conducts sales through its own website, as well as on Amazon and Book Depository, as do most other small presses.

Is A Picture, a Blog, A Tweet, worth a 1000 word Resume?: Interning in the age of Social Media

There’s no longer any doubt that this is the age of social media. It seems like barely a year goes by without someone telling me something about a new way to broadcast myself, my life or my thoughts about cats all over the internet. Social media has become a major way through which we connect with people, events, and pop culture. It’s becoming rarer and rarer to find an individual of my generation who isn’t engaged with at least one social media platform, usually several.

It’s not just individuals who are joining the social media revolution either. Businesses are increasingly taking up the mantle, and choosing to advertise to or engage with their target market through the computer screen, as well as the many other screens advertising has always dominated. The publishing industry is no different. You would be hard pressed to find a publishing house that doesn’t have a Facebook page, but it is really Twitter reveals the increased engagement of publishing with social media. Not only do most publishing houses have very active engagement on Twitter (seriously, I’ve found so many new books since joining, just because they appear on my Twitter feed) but social media interns are now a recognised position, as are full time employee positions to cope with the overwhelming demands of continuous engagement with social media.

However, with social media becoming a defining feature of our generation, engagement with sites like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Reddit – to name just a few – is becoming more than just a part of an intern’s leisure time. It’s now often necessary part of employment.

The internship market is a competitive one. Now more than ever, you have to make yourself stand out, and appear as appealing as possible. Many young individuals are turning to their social media to do this. Since we started this blog, I’ve been told plenty of times how beneficial it is to be able to link potential employers to it, to show what I can do. It’s not why I do this, but I guess I can see the benefits of that. As I move closer to the end of my degree, and begin eyeing the job market increasingly warily, a variety of people have offered several gems of social media wisdom:

‘Keep your Facebook clean, your employers don’t want to see you stumbling around drunkenly’

‘Without a LinkedIn profile, your chances of networking and getting a good job are way less’

‘Be up on as many social media platforms as possible, that’s where employers are looking these days.’

Now none of these things are necessarily bad advice. They’re probably all true. But, at least for me, they also reveal a worrying shift in the focus of employers from what you can do for their company, to what your social media – often your private social media – says about who you are, and maybe, and only maybe, your ability to be a competent employee.

This puts the more private, the more reserved, and the less blatantly sociable interns at a distinct disadvantage. Not on Twitter and willing to retweet all your employer’s promotional tweets? You can guarantee there are 100 other interns who are. Spend most of your nights chilling with friends and don’t feel the need to photograph everything, resulting in a dry and barren Facebook page? You must not be digitally engaged, and as the power of social media continues its meteoric rise, an intern’s ability to be digitally engaged and digitally aware is becoming a necessity.

Social media allows us to digitally document parts of our lives, and showcase them for others to see. Some people share all of it (maybe too much) and some people share very little. But at what point should the amount of your life you choose to share with an often-undetermined amount of people, be a consideration in your employment?

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.