Keynote panel for uPublishU at BEA 2015
recorded May 30, 2015
- Robert Gottlieb, Chairman and founder of Trident Media Group
- Kirsty Melville, President and Publisher, Andrews McMeel, Universal
- Angela Bole, Executive Director, Independent Book Publishers Association
for podcast release Monday, June 8, 2015
KENNEALLY: On behalf of my employer, Copyright Clearance Center at copyright.com, I’m very happy to welcome you all. And we do call this session today The Rise of the Hybrid Author.
And the first wave of independent publishing in the digital age promised a golden age of reading and writing. Many were caught up in the excitement and swift to proclaim the demise of traditional publishing models.
What we see in 2015, though, is a world that has found room for both the upstarts and the established players. Authors frequently migrate from indie status to traditional houses and back again. Authors like yourselves are making choices based on personal and professional ROI – return on investment – assessments, not only about revenue potential but also considering long-term career goals.
Depending on the book you’ve written and the trajectory of your career, independent publishing is the right choice now or a year from now. The important thing is to understand the implications and to educate yourself to take full advantage of the promise and potential.
And it occurred to me, when we think about the hybrid author, that the term itself – hybrid – it’s one of those fine-sounding words that engineers use. But if you ask me, a hybrid author doesn’t quite ring right. We need a better word. How about mutt? (laughter) Over the last few years, the numbers of fancy dogs has grown dramatically. But the American mutt is a mixed breed of great distinction. And the critical point, though, is that the dog has no pedigree. There is no distinguished ancestry. The mutt is a survivor.
But to return to science – as well as hybrid, you could use another scientific term to describe the current situation in independent publishing – heterosis. Heterosis describes the improved or increased function of any biological quality in a hybrid offspring. The American geneticist George Shull established in fact that, the more numerous the differences, at least within limits, the greater on the whole is the amount of stimulation of traits.
In other words, hybrid individuals are stronger, more vigorous, more successful. So go out there today and, when someone asks what kind of an author you are, tell them you’re a heterotic author. (laughter) It’s OK if they think this means you write books like Fifty Shades of Grey.
So with that as an introduction, I’d like to introduce my panel here. And moving from the very far end, we want to welcome Kirsty Melville. Kirsty, welcome.
KENNEALLY: Kirsty is President and Publisher of Andrews McMeel Universal, based in Kansas City, Missouri. A native of Australia, she was the founding publisher of Simon & Shuster Australia. In 1994, she moved to the U.S. as Vice President and Publisher for Ten Speed Press and led in its transformation from a niche publisher into an internationally recognized, award-winning house.
Andrews McMeel Universal was founded in 1970 as Universal Press Syndicate by Jim Andrews and John McMeel. Today, Andrews McMeel Universal is the largest independent newspaper syndicate in the world and an emerging leader in book and calendar publishing and gift and stationery merchandising. Among the familiar names published by Andrews McMeel Universal are Charles Schulz, Bill Watterson and Judith Martin.
And then, in the middle there, is Robert Gottlieb. Robert, welcome. Welcome back to uPublishU.
GOTTLIEB: Thank you.
KENNEALLY: Robert has been a guest on these panels in the past, and he is Chairman and Founder of Trident Media Group, with over 30 years of experience working in major trade publishing as an agent. Robert Gottlieb began his illustrious career in the mailroom of William Morris, as part of the company’s famed agent-in-training program. He discovered international bestselling author Tom Clancy and later became Executive Vice President of the WMA – William Morris Agency – literary department, the youngest agent to do so in the history of the company.
He continues to grow his list of authors, which includes international bestsellers Deepak Chopra, Catherine Coulter, Dale Brown, Elizabeth George, Sherrilyn Kenyon, Lisa Scottoline and Karen Robards. Since its founding in 2000, Trident Media Group has become the world’s leading literary agency, ranking number one on Publishers Marketplace for overall deals and six-figure deals.
And then finally, to my left here is Angela Bole. Angela, welcome.
KENNEALLY: Angela may be familiar to you. She is the Executive Director of the Santa Monica-based Independent Book Publishers Association, the largest book publishing association in the U.S., serving small presses and self-published authors. Its mission is to lead and serve the independent publishing community by providing advocacy, education and tools for success.
Prior to joining IBPA, Angela served two years as Deputy Executive Director of the Book Industry Study Group, and she currently serves on the boards for both BISG and the International Digital Publishing Forum.
So I wanted you to know a bit about these individuals and sort of you get, I think, a pretty quick impression as to why we’ve brought them together here for this discussion.
And, you know, Kristy Melville, I want to turn to you first, because it was something you had said to me that made me think about things like hybrids and heterosis and heterotic authors, because you said essentially that we’re all hybrids today. Not only are authors hybrids, but publishers are hybrid as well.
MELVILLE: Yes. I think a lot about this in the sense that, with the rise of self-publishing, publishers have become a sort of endangered species – or dinosaurs – and that we have to think about our relevance. And so what’s happened for me is I’ve thought about our relevance as a publisher as how do we think about how to work with authors in a different way? And so we’ve started to craft different agreements with our authors – authors who started out self-publishing but then realized they couldn’t get the distribution that they needed.
I have one author based in – actually in Australia whose books sell mostly in the Philippines, but she couldn’t actually get her books distributed unless we did it. And so what we found is that we formed a partnership where she has a high royalty but we provide the distribution.
We have other relationships where an author looked to us and said, you know, there’s something about being published with that logo on the spine that matters, but we really still want to make money. And at first, when I met some of these authors, I’ve said you don’t really need us. And they said, well, actually we do. We want the distribution that you can provide and we want your expertise in production and so forth.
And because we’re an illustrated publisher, predominantly, with cartoons and cookbooks and gift books, it means that we have something to offer that’s a little harder than just when you’re only fiction and can do the distribution through black and white distribution. Yeah.
KENNEALLY: Right. And what’s intriguing to me is the way that Andrews McMeel has really been pioneering in thinking about different platforms. So you’ve got GoComics.com. And that becomes an opportunity for an up-and-coming cartoonist to create an audience – to find an audience. And there are other ways, of course, that independents are doing that today. They’re choosing to work with Amazon or Smashwords and various other players, and they get their footing that way.
And it’s at that point that they then may find they want to turn, for very specific reasons, to a publisher like you. They do so for that distribution piece but also, as you said before, there’s a certain kind of marketing force that a publisher could offer.
MELVILLE: Well, I think, being the home of Bill Watterson and Calvin and Hobbes and Gary Larson and Gary Trudeau – if you’re a cartoonist and you have your cartoons on GoComics, where you’re getting a direct-to-consumer experience and a connection, being published by and being associated with those great cartoonists matters.
And that’s a sort of an intangible relationship that we can provide. And we work – it’s interesting – we have creators on GoComics who we then publish in the book side or in calendars or – and that goes back and forth. And there are different relationships, depending on where the creator came from as well.
KENNEALLY: Right. And indeed, the creator of Big Nate, which is a very well syndicated comic strip that people will be familiar with, I think, is now a published author with HarperCollins. So the hybridization sort of flows well.
MITCHELL: And that’s a very interesting story, because Lincoln Pierce, the creator of Big Nate, had done the strip for nearly 20 years. And then an editor at Random House very smartly commissioned him to do an illustrated novel.
And then United Features, who represented Big Nate – Lincoln at the time – came to Andrews McMeel and said what about doing a cartoon strip collection for children? And at the time, most of our publishing was with adults – was in the adult section. In the olden days, if you went to Barnes & Noble, the entire humor section was Andrews McMeel. It’s changed a little these days. But so we published the Big Nate in a collection for children, and it’s really launched a whole new direction for us.
So thanks to the sort of brilliance of the editor at Random House who continued to publish the illustrated novels – then we published the comic collections – and then we would work with HarperCollins on the distribution – suddenly we had a hybrid publishing relationship with HarperCollins. And at one point, we were both publishing comic collections, and I was sure we could do ours better. And we ended up adding bells and whistles to ours and sold more than theirs did. And then eventually we took back the comic collections.
So there’s a sort of hybrid relationship happening between publishers as well, where you have key characters like a Big Nate.
KENNEALLY: Right. Well, Robert Gottlieb, the whole notion of hybridization must sound very familiar to you. You’ve been seeing it happen in the course of your career. But now, indeed, Trident Media – this prominent literary agency – is itself a kind of a hybrid, because you are doing the traditional deals, finding the bestsellers, but also you have an e-book publishing wing that is helping to support some of those authors, to bring some authors to an audience and then build it for them so they can go on to other kinds of deals.
Talk about that. Talk about the choices that you can offer authors today and the kinds of choices they have to work with.
GOTTLIEB: Let me first say that publishing is similar to what Yogi Berra once said, which is good hitting beats good pitching and good pitching beats good hitting. (laughter) And that’s, I think, a very, very accurate depiction of our industry.
There’s the macro picture of publishing and there’s the micro. Most authors think about publishing from the micro standpoint. Agents and businesspeople often look at things from the macro standpoint. And at Trident, we saw changes occurring in the industry and decided that we wanted to innovate.
Now, e-book publishing is a format. And it’s a format that generates a whole new business and a range of opportunities for authors. New formats have come along since the turn of the 19th century, with radio, film, television. And I’ve always understood it as a layering process – and as a layering process because the cassette player goes by the way of the dinosaur, but then the – you know, Apple comes up with a new digitized way of delivering music.
So operating in that kind of space as an agency and understanding how intellectual property works and succeeds in various formats, we innovated, and we created a digital e-book department in our company that focuses on front-list and back-list titles for authors that we choose who we want to be in that program.
And that program is a hub. It’s not a publishing program. So what I mean by a hub is that we take a commission for our work, as we would normally if we were representing an author with a traditional publisher. We’re not a rights holder.
The authors’ contracts are with the retailers, although we negotiate those contracts, so that the author has the best opportunity under those contracts because companies like Amazon and iBookstore or Apple and Kobo – they want access to our client base, so they give us great contracts for our clients to sign as publishers themselves, working within the hub of the digital group at Trident. And that group is really designed as a very strong marketing tool for the authors that we represent and who publish their books through that hub.
KENNEALLY: Right. And what I was hoping the audience would understand, Robert, is that today the walls have come down and that any type of author, whether an author just starting out or a very well established and bestselling author – it’s not as if there’s a kind of a black and white distinction – you’re an independent author and then suddenly you make the leap and you’re a traditional author, and you’ve left that other part of you behind.
Many of your clients today are again hybrids. They are working in both ways. They’re independent, working with you at Trident. And then they may be signed to a contract at Random House. And so their example, I think, really is illustrative of the opportunity that’s out there right now. You’re not confined to any one particular corner of the business.
GOTTLIEB: Well, writing a book is a gateway into what intellectual property can afford an author – create for an author – in a variety of platforms. And it’s always been my philosophy and my business practice – whether running Trident or managing authors’ careers – is an author should be in as many revenue streams as possible and as many formats as possible.
There are some authors who do very, very well at Amazon, who are in that space. They’re in the space not only here in North America, but they’re also in that space in markets outside the United States. Amazon’s very strong in Germany, in the U.K. They’re building their businesses up in places like France and Italy. But the opportunity for authors in those markets differs than it does in North America because of the types of laws and regulations that exist overseas in terms of how e-books have to be priced – not original e-books, but e-books as part of a traditional publishing contract.
And there are over two million authors on Amazon, so the question is how do you get – if you’re an e-book author, how do you get yourself noticed? But I do think that the key really for any creative individual is to have as much access to different tributaries of the river system as possible, so that you get the greatest amount of readership and exploitation – in a good way – of your work in markets both in North America and outside the U.S.
KENNEALLY: Right. Well, Angela Bole with the Independent Book Publishers Association, I would imagine as well that this is what you see among your membership. And I believe you break it down – when you think about who are your members – into a number of – I think four different personality types. And I think this describes the co-mingling of publishing and authoring today that really is important to grasp and understand. Tell us about that. I mean so you have aspirational authors, you have established authors, entrepreneurial in the middle. What does all of that really mean – and hobbyists, I think?
BOLE: Well, to a degree, IBPA – once again – is the largest professional association for indie publishers. We need to understand who our members are. And what we’re trying to do is figure out where we sit in that market. And we are a professional association for people who are interested in self-publishing or indie publishing at a professional level. So we look at the market, and there’s a lot of content out there we see. And we wonder – there are a lot of people publishing books. So who among these people might be good IBPA members?
And we see this in terms of four different areas. So there’s the hobbyists. That’s where a lot of people start. They have – yeah, I wonder if my mic’s on – yeah.
BOLE: The hobbyist is where a lot of people start out – that’s better. And that’s somebody who just has something to say. They might want to publish a memoir for their family picnic, and they publish it. They’re not worried about putting a barcode on the book. They’re not worried about getting their own ISBN, potentially. They have no idea about putting it into the supply chain. And there’s a lot of content like that in the world, so – and that’s great, and that’s fine, but that’s probably not an IBPA member.
At some point, you might decide you become an aspirational publisher, and you think, well, I have some ideas about becoming professional in my business, and I want to know what that means. And so then you might start to join IBPA and get an idea of it. You can move toward then being entrepreneurial. You’re putting out more books. You’re working within publishing standards and ethics, and you’re networking with people at conferences like this.
And then, if you continue on the journey, you can become established. And we have about 40% of our members in what we would call an established publisher category and the rest of our membership really in that entrepreneurial category. We’re not a hobbyist association, so not a lot in that space.
And we were talking earlier – we see that barrier really between the entrepreneurial publisher and the established publisher as distribution – not availability within a warehouse so that your book can be purchased through Ingram but actual distribution – more people selling your book than you. That is the difference between being an entrepreneurial publisher – a very scrappy space – and becoming established – figuring out how to get into distribution.
KENNEALLY: I love that idea – more people selling your book than you – because I think that begins to approach the important point here, which is that, as much as writing a book is a craft, is an art, selling the book is a business. And grasping that is going to be very critical for any author. I know, when I was a freelance journalist in my previous life – and that became something that I lived with every day. It wasn’t simply the article I was writing but the next article I was going to be writing that was going to keep me in business.
BOLE: There is a fundamental difference between being an author and being a publisher. And that’s, I think, really important and critical to understand as you think about whether or not you want to publish your own work or whether you want to go work with what we might call a hybrid publisher or try to get a traditional publisher to take on your work. It is a different profession to learn, with its own related standards, etc. So it’s very different.
I have a friend – I was telling Chris that she’s a hybrid author. She’s got two books traditionally published and 12 on her own, and she says, when she made that leap into self-publishing, there were a lot of reasons she wanted to do it, one of which was, if you‘ve ever been traditionally published and your book is midlist and it may sell 10,000 copies, you may not get picked up for another book. And that happened to her. She’s got great content – wonderful work – but she just didn’t get picked back up.
And she said that, once she made that leap, she had to adapt a personality somewhere between Sisyphus and a Jack Russell Terrier in order to really make that work for her, because it was – I mean it is as she describes it, I think. But what I love about what she says there is yes, it’s an extreme amount of hard work and you have to really engage with publishing. It’s not going to engage with you. There’s nothing really friendly really in this space. You have to figure it out, and you have to be tenacious, and you have to continue to push that boulder up.
But the Jack Russell Terrier is a really important image to keep in mind as well because, if you can’t find the fun and the joy in what you’re doing and being able to spread your message and have something to say that you’re talking to people about and getting your word out, I don’t believe you could last very long in this business, because the rock will continue to fall down on top of you. So I love that image of the Jack Russell Terrier and Sisyphus.
KENNEALLY: Right. Well, Robert Gottlieb, when you discovered Tom Clancy, I’m imagining – at least in – maybe it wasn’t this particular example, but certainly it often happened – that an unsolicited manuscript would come in the mail in that very mailroom you started out in, and you’d open the package and start reading and couldn’t put it down. That was the slush pile of the past. Is independent publishing, from the perspective of an agent like yourself, now in a way the kind of slush pile where people become discovered?
GOTTLIEB: Well, the slush pile still exists, but it’s just a lot bigger (laughter) – you know, because the barriers to entry have changed, so you see a lot more authors publishing than you have ever before, because there are limitations to what traditional physical publishers can do – and I call them physical publishers because they’re still very much in the hardcover and paper space, although, depending on the category of book, they can also be heavily into the e-book space.
But just to quickly tell you the story of Tom Clancy, because it’s similar to what I do even today – is that, when I was a young agent at the William Morris agency and I went to my first BEA – or Booksellers Convention at that time – and by the way, there were 17,000 independent booksellers in America at that time versus, I think, 1,700 today –
KENNEALLY: Oh, I think a little better than that, but you’re right – it has come down considerably. Just to that point – ABA is here – has been here as part of BEA – and they are seeing slow –
GOTTLIEB: Steady increases.
KENNEALLY: – steady increase – so demise of the independent bookstore may be a bit oversold at this point.
KENNEALLY: But you’re right – nothing like it was before.
GOTTLIEB: So I went to the Booksellers Convention. I went to the back of the convention. Men like Larry Kirshbaum didn’t pay attention to me in those days, because they were big-shots at Warner Books. So I went to the back of the convention. And there was a small press called the Naval Institute Press. And that’s a press that is a book club, essentially, for retired naval personnel. And they had a book that they were featuring. It was a cardboard standup like this of a cover. And it said The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy.
So I went over there and I said to them, you know, can I have a set of galleys? And they said, well, we only brought one with us. (laughter) And normally, you know publishers would bring many galleys because they want to hand them out to people. So I said to him, well, you know, I’m a motion picture agent with the William Morris agency, and we want to represent the movie rights. Can I read the book? He said, well, if you promise to bring it back in the morning. (laughter)
So I read the book overnight. It was a great book. They put Tom Clancy’s address in the back of the book. I brought the galleys back, as I promised, in the morning. And I called Tom Clancy. And that’s how I began my relationship with him.
And it’s not that different today. Colleen Houck is a client of ours. She writes YA books. She’s a New York Times bestseller. Her first novel was published on Amazon as an original e-book called A Tiger’s Curse. I found her. I thought that – you know, at that time she had sold about a quarter of a million copies of the book on Amazon. I called her, and I asked her if she had an agent. She said no. And I said do you have any ideas of what you want to do going forward, because this book is getting great reviews – it’s a wonderful book? And she said, well, I have two other books planned in the series.
So she agreed to become a client. We found her a traditional publisher, because she wanted to be in that space. And the result of that sale began a great relationship between Colleen Houck and Trident. And the first book, The Tiger’s Curse, went on to the New York Times bestseller list as a hardcover YA book at number four. So the slush pile’s larger than ever before.
KENNEALLY: And in a case like Colleen Houck, she continues to straddle both worlds, because I believe a recent example – there was a new book coming out from Random House, I think.
KENNEALLY: And at the same time, Trident published a novella of hers to kind of have a bit of a boost for the sales of that new book.
GOTTLIEB: Yes. We talked to Colleen about how to help launch her new series, which is an Egyptian motif series YA series. First book is called Reawakened in the series. And we discussed with her how our digital team could help with marketing Reawakened, and it began with a discussion about her writing a novella that was connected to her previous series, releasing it and using that novella to promote the new book.
And of course the digital team reviewed all the marketing plans of Random House children’s books – and also very important, by the way, the metadata – it’s on the page for the book – is extremely important. And between the publisher and Trident and Colleen, we were able to make Colleen’s novella also a bestselling book and has begun the discussion, excitement, about the new book, Reawakened.
KENNEALLY: Right. Well, Kirsty Melville, I know you believe that self-publishing is an important indicator of a commitment that authors and creators of all types – cartoonists and others – make. And it gives you, as a publisher, a sense that they’ve got some skin in the game and that they’re ready to work with you as partners, really.
MELVILLE: Yes. And I was thinking, just as Robert was talking, a little bit about how this whole self-publishing thing has been around a long time. And I was reflecting on Ten Speed Press and how that began – just as an aside – the Dick Bolles, the author of What Color Is Your Parachute?, started writing that book for out-of-work Episcopal priests, since he was out of work, and somehow he gave that manuscript that he’d self-published to Phil Wood, the founder of Ten Speed Press, who had been a former Penguin sales rep.
And he thought to himself, I think I can sell this. And that’s what started Ten Speed Press. And What Color Is Your Parachute? is still in print today. And so Dick Bolles had written that and self-published it initially.
So that’s sort of an interesting – I think – and Mollie Katzen, The Moosewood Cookbook, was very similar. She self-published this hand-lettered book, which turned into The Moosewood Cookbook and that whole success. And so what I learned actually at Ten Speed Press was to look for authors just like that.
And so when I see a book – and the one that I’m thinking of that I referenced earlier was Lang Leav’s book Love and Misadventure. It’s a book of poetry for angst-ridden young women that she self-published through Lightning Source. And she came to us through a connection in Australia.
And I saw that the sales were there and that Barnes & Noble was asking for the book, and she couldn’t supply the book fast enough. So I said we’ll take you on, and we’ll pay you an extra – I know how much you’re making through Lightning Source. We can’t match that, but we’ll get you better distribution. And as a result, the book became the number one poetry seller at Barnes & Noble.
And then, because of her fan base – and again she had skin in the game at marketing and had this enormous fan base in the Philippines and Southeast Asia – the book had this extraordinary success. And what was crazy about physical books, of course, is that you print them in China, you ship them to the United States. They’re then shipped to the U.K., where people in the Philippines order from the book depository, who then ships them from London back to the Philippines when they could have gone from China in the first place.
But – long story short – we’re up to her – we’re publishing her third book in September, and I met yesterday with the National Book Store in the Philippines, who are bringing her there, and they have the Manila Book Fair, and it’s a big – she has a huge audience. And so to Robert’s point about finding markets everywhere, I think one of the things that I’ve learned from self-published authors is to look where their success is and to follow them. And then it’s really a partnership between the two of us.
I mean Lang – in terms of even the cover design – she gave us a cover for the second book, which I talked to Barnes & Noble – how do you like it – we hate it – books like – doesn’t work. I sent it back to her. No, I know this cover, which has a Sleeping Beauty sort of look – and the title of that book was Lullabies, and Barnes & Noble says it’s a children’s book – won’t work. I said to Lang, OK, we’ll follow your instincts. She was right. Barnes & Noble was wrong. The book is sold everywhere.
So it’s definitely a relationship and a partnership that’s a different type – well, I think, maybe for Andrews McMeel, because we work with creators, where it’s a collaboration and it always have been, that helps us as we work together to build authors who don’t want to ship books that are sitting under their bed forever. They need the help to get broader distribution.
KENNEALLY: Right. And what I think is exciting about that for this audience and for anybody who wants to write a book is that self-publishing is not an end – it’s not simply, oh, I’m going to write that book because I have to write it – but it can be the beginning of a career.
And there is a question, though, I want to raise – because I think it’s important to at least touch on briefly here – at Copyright Clearance Center, we’ve got copyright in our first name, so we care about things like rights. And I wonder how complicated it is for you, as a publisher, when you look at a self-published work or a series and think about some of the rights issues that may be sort of underlying any negotiations. Can you talk about that briefly?
MELVILLE: Well, sometimes, obviously, some authors want to hang on to certain rights. And I think, philosophically, we take the position that of course we’d like to be able to work with the rights we have and as many as we can. But sometimes an author’s in a better place to sell movie rights or has an agent who can do that or has the experience more than we have. And so it is part of the negotiation that I think all publishers would like all rights and all agents wouldn’t like them to have them. And so that figuring out who’s – it’s a bit like sales – who’s the best person to sell this best is part of the negotiation.
And then I mean we’ve always been a publisher that’s aspired to selling world English rights as one edition throughout the world, and that’s been our position all along, because then – and it’s a global world, and so we’re selling direct to Amazon Germany as much as we’re selling to Amazon Japan or within the United States, so –
KENNEALLY: Right. But Robert Gottlieb, as an authors’ representative, I suppose you do agree with Kirsty that, you know, all publishers want all the rights, and the agents or the authors want to keep as many of those rights as they can. That’s an important point, though. So when people are thinking about this kind of migration back and forth, they need to be watchful of their rights and to make clear choices about which rights they might assign to a publisher and which rights they keep for themselves.
GOTTLIEB: Publishers are a business, and each author is a business. And so publishers – today especially, with the changing environment – want to have as many rights as possible in order to offset potential risks and have the up side of controlling those rights financially.
At Trident, our foreign rights department is one of the largest in North America. We have five foreign agents who go to the Frankfurt Book Fair, the London Book Fair and meet with publishers from all over the world and sell direct in the major markets, not using middlemen or middle agents to handle rights for us in the international market. It represents about a third of our gross business. But more importantly is it creates additional revenue in the wheel of income for authors.
And how rights are managed – and I’m not speaking for Kristy, of course, but I’m speaking in general – my experience – how rights are managed with publishers is very different than how rights are managed with agents, because publishers are looking to sell rights as quickly as possible, and they’re looking out for their interests, whereas, with an agent, the agent has a fiduciary responsibility to look out for the interests of the author. Career building in the foreign market is as important as it is in the United States – being with the right publisher, managing the publishing process, knowing the people who you’re in business with.
The majority of publishers – again, I’m not speaking for Kristy’s company because I don’t know them that well, but – the majority of publishers in America use middle people – agents abroad – to sell rights. And those agents not only sell publishers’ rights, but agents’ rights, authors’ rights, so they’re sending boxes of books over to buyers to look at, hoping that someone’s going to buy a book and make an offer.
When you deal directly in the foreign market, you’re talking directly to the buyer. You know the publisher. You know the editor. You know what they’re looking for. And you also have an influence and impact on how that book is going to be published – that book and other books by that author with that publisher – going forward.
KENNEALLY: Well, before we turn to the audience for questions, I want to end with Angela Bole, because the other part of thinking about publishing as a business, if you’re an author or some kind of a startup independent publishing company, is you’re going to need a marketing plan, you’re going to need some access to capital because, after all, as you put it – and I love it – you don’t want to be the only one selling your book.
BOLE: No. No, not if you want to move to the – I guess the right side of that spectrum we talked about – not if you want to move into being more entrepreneurial or established. Yeah, it’s true – you’re going to want to figure out how to set yourself up as a business. I think that’s what you’re saying, Chris, and –
KENNEALLY: Right. And we know mutually Rana Diorio, who is a startup publisher, wrote some of her own books – really looked at it as a business and recognized that she needed some investors. She really needed people – outside capital, not just sort of revenue feeding the business. She needed to go outside.
BOLE: She did. Well, Rana Diorio is one of our board members. She’s got a great company called Little Pickle Press. And what’s amazing, I think, about her story is what could be amazing about anybody’s story and what they’ve been talking about in the success stories they’ve mentioned today – that it is absolutely possible to make this work.
It’s a commitment. You have to understand the business of publishing, and you have to raise capital. I don’t know many that do it without figuring out in some way to raise capital to get their books out and to figure that, because there is a lot of money you put out on the front end. It takes a long time to get the return on that investment. So Rana’s company has really been able to do that and is growing. And she has her own set of aspirations. She would like to sell her company and reap the benefits of that, so she’s trying to build up enough capital in her business and books that she can make that happen.
Everyone will have a different idea of what they want to do with their book and what they want to do with their business, and that’s great. It’s really just about understanding what your motivations are and then moving forward.
And I’d say, just to comment on the content, there is an amazing amount of content. I think there’s always been self-publishing. It’s always been a huge part of IBPA’s business, since 1983. But it’s true – there’s a lot more content that’s coming into the market today that the slush pile is even bigger, and the content available on Amazon is bigger.
But I wouldn’t let that deter me. I think that, if I look at myself as a reader – and I’m a voracious reader – there has always been more content in the market than I have ever been able to read and I will ever be able to read in my lifetime. I will never be able to read all the books that I want to read. It’s not changed at all.
So you’re entering a crowded market, but you’re entering a market that has always been crowded – right – so there’s really – that differentiator isn’t as strong, in my opinion, as some people make it out to be. Now, there’s a lot of content in the market that isn’t as great. So I think, for us as professionals, it’s our job to make sure we differentiate our content – make it as professional as possible. It can stand on any shelf in any bookstore, and it could shine. I think that’s what we need to be doing as indie.
KENNEALLY: Right. And Robert Gottlieb, finally, there always has been a lot of content. Angela has a good point. It’s really about the quality of the content and the quality of the way you approach the business of selling that book.
GOTTLIEB: Well, I agree with that, and I also think it’s also about opportunity, which you have greater opportunity today than ever before in publishing, because barriers have come down for authors. And content crosses formats and media. That’s the thing to always keep in mind when you’re an author is that it crosses over. It crosses into film, it crosses into audio, it crosses into foreign sales, it crosses into the print world.
And so that’s really, I think, what an author should keep their eye on and be thinking about in the back of their mind as they’re managing their business, because the thing that hurts content is when you are in one ecosystem alone.
That’s where authors – and I speak for authors because that’s the world I live in – that’s where authors get into trouble, because it’s like the midlist author that you were talking about before – that author now has options to become more than a midlist author, whereas, seven years ago, a decade ago, 15 years ago, that author would have had no options or very, very limited options. Today the authors have a lot of options, but it’s also understanding how to manage what you’re doing over and into a lot of different formats and media.
KENNEALLY: I want to close returning to that notion of the hybrid author and the mutt. You know, the ASPCA says, if you can’t decide between a shepherd, a setter or a poodle, get them all – adopt a mutt. And Good Dog magazine gives some creative notions of hybrid breeds, and here’s a couple I wanted to share with you. If you breed a deerhound with a terrier, you get a derriere. (laughter) If you breed a bulldog with a shih tzu, you get – you know what. (laughter)
My name is Chris Kenneally. I want to thank our panel – Kirsty Melville, Robert Gottlieb, Angela Bole, thank you for joining us today. (applause)