“Today’s publishing landscape is more complex,” begins Judith Curr of Atria and Simon & Schuster, as we delve into author-centric publishing at FutureBook. There are, according to her, three types of authors and readers.
“The publisher’s role is to establish environments for authors to be creative.”
First, the traditional. They write a book and circulate it, gain a publisher’s attention, engage directly with readers within the window of the book’s publication, and write on average 1-2 books every 3 years on a regular publication schedule. Their readers are largely baby boomers, Gen Y and millennials who view reading as a way of life and find books from reviews and recommendations.
Next is the indie/hybrid. They begin by self-publishing and build a readership through social media then come to the attention of publishers, drive word of mouth on social media and write 2-4 books per year on an accelerated publication schedule. Their readers are largely Gen Y and are frequent readers of romance and New Adult whose recommendations come from bloggers, online reviews and social media.
Then there’s the digital influencers. The Zoellas of the world have large online audiences via digital media and publishers will pick them up to develop a book project, and are published on a hyper-accelerated schedule. The readers are largely millennials who find books via social media and prefer to read in print as a change from regular screen time.
These are obviously broad strokes, but Judith believes that the publisher’s role is to establish environments for authors to be creative regardless of their route to publishing, to encourage experimentation and to understand the shifting needs and nature of readers.
“It’s about relationships.”
Hannah MacDonald of September Publishing begins by saying you need to respond to authors, working with them. You’re more being paid to be a 360-degree author support, to consider what the exact alchemy is in which you need to outperform your competitors.
“Publishers and authors hitting their stride can shape culture,” she notes. There’s lots of things that can be done to offer more, whether it’s author photos like those she displays that are slightly more interesting and personal than the typical portrait, versions of themselves that they want to show the market.
“Authors know how to connect with readers more than we traditionally give them time for,” she continues. They are a smaller publisher and cannot offer high advances, but they can work with authors, as they have previously, to create particular benefits that suit them. One author who would sell lots of books on the road would get a higher discount rate and higher royalties to compensate, and they’re happy with that because it’s personal to their situation.
“Seek new authors and develop them,” she concludes. “It’s about relationships.”
“Let’s reinvent these people.”
Robert Caskie and co formed Ipso Books, a digital publishing company, after wondering, “If publishers won’t do [a certain author’s] backlist, then why not do it ourselves?”
As literary agents at Peters Fraser and Dunlop, they already had some grasp, but they had to learn how to do social media, having to reinvent and reignite the brand. The product has to be perfect. It’s really self-publishing in a sense. You’ve got great talent, so what next?
“Let’s reinvent these people,” he says. Many had been badly edited, with too many mistakes, and they wanted to make their work perfect and give them a better chance of growing an audience. They’d edit them, request sequels or novellas to expand the brand. There were some skirmishes with publishers who viewed them with hostility and suspicion initially, but now they’re a fully fledged digital publishing agency.
Overall, what’s clear from this session is that author-centric publishing should be what it says on the tin, putting the author at the centre of the work they do.