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Marketing: How to Break Through the Noise

Elisabeth NWilkes18 May 2016

In 2014, the UK officially published more books per capita than any other country in the world, with over 184,000 books published in just one year (Flood). This is great because who doesn’t want a world full of books? It also, however, poses a big challenge to making a book stand out. This isn’t just little fish in a big pond. This is little fish in an ocean, making it seem as hopeless as Marlin’s quest at the beginning of Finding Nemo.

This challenge has been met with a slow shift in publishing to put a lot of focus on discoverability, which has made Marketing become a much bigger player in the process than ever before. It is a field that requires as much creativity as the books they are selling, and where some of the most exciting advancement in the industry are coming from.

In last month’s blog we talked about how Publicity works to bring this book to the readers, but Marketing does this in a way that requires slightly different skills. Here are just a few:

1. Know how to budget– You will have more money to work with than Publicity, but not much more. Unless you are a big publishing house working with a brand name author, you will be expected to do a lot for a book with very little funding. So if you have expensive taste and wild expectations, you might want to learn how to tone them down a touch.

 
2. Be a good researcher– Because you will be given money, you will have to be able to justify your plans to many people along the way. You might have a wonderful plan that looks great on paper, but you have to be reasonably sure it will reach the right people and will encourage them to act. So be ready to back up everything you suggest to the finance team.

 
3. Understand the reader– It used to be that the main selling relationship was between the publisher and the bookseller, who in turn would know how to sell to their customer. Now that more direct publisher to reader interaction is viable, due mainly to the introduction of the Internet, it is much more important to understand the readers directly. Your marketing plan will have to reflect reader’s behaviour and likes and dislikes, so knowing them is crucial.

 
4. Have a good head for planning– Like many sections of the industry, you will not be working on one title at a time. Perhaps a big name will force you to put a lot on the back burner, but most of the time you will be juggling many campaigns at once. Not only will you have to keep all of your projects straight, but you will have to be able to give them each their due amount of energy. So be ready to have multiple checklists and find some helpful apps to keep everything straight.

 
5. Be creative and innovative– You cannot do what everyone else is doing or even what has always done. First, each book has its own purpose, audience, and voice, which would make any cookie cutter marketing plans forced. Second, we are bombarded by advertisements and other marketing ploys everyday, and it’s not just books competing for our attention. If you are bland or safe, your book will just become part of the background. Finding different angles that fits what your title is and how to inform the people who would care about it is key to discoverability.

For those who also have the skills above, you really should consider this segment of the industry. If not, check out what will be the final blog in this series, International Publishing and Licensing!

Publicity: Magicians of Free Press

Elisabeth NWilkes20 April 2016

Why pay for what you can get for free? In the publishing industry, where marketing budgets are usually tight or practically nonexistent, this question has given people in Publicity space to work their magic.

For a long time, Marketing and Publicity were handled under the same leadership, if not the same handful of people, as their aim were similar. They were to get the publisher’s titles out into the public eye and noticed. However, more and more publishers are splitting the group into two separate teams in an attempt to divide and conquer.

While it is not a perfect definition, the main difference between Marketing and Publicity is often cited as promotion that cost money (i.e. adverts, window displays, etc.) and promotions that do not cost money (i.e. interviews, reviews, etc.). The Internet has been a huge game changer, because as Ella Gascoigne, founder of The Book Publicist, explains that with “online media and social media we have so many more ways that we can promote a book” (The Guardian). It is certainly an exciting time to be a publicist. 

If you are interested in pursuing Publicity, here are a few skills that are necessary for success.

  1. Know your way around social media—Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Tumblr… and so on, are places where people can run into your books and, if done right, cost little to no money to use as a tool for promotion. If you know how your potential readers use these platforms and what contest, images, or interaction will grab their attention, you are bound to go far.
  1. Good people skills—You will be working with a lot of different types of people, from the authors that you have to usher to events, to journalists that you have to convince your book is worth their time, to members of the media who may or may not care about books at all. Understanding people and being able to connect to them is completely vital to navigating through your work.
  1. Be assertive and persistent—Publicity involves a lot of pushing to have your book on top of the pile of books for reviewing and constant friendly reminders to newspapers of their promises to feature you in their edition. There is a fine line between being enthusiastic and being annoying, but if you don’t push, your job will not get done. It’s a tricky balance, but when it’s done right, you’d be amazed at how willing people are to work with you and just how much unexpected promotion you can earn for your book.  
  1. Have some tough skin—There will be times when you worked very hard to secure an interview for your author, and the journalist possibly has it written and ready for print only to have it end up on the cutting room floor when a bigger and better story comes along. It is hard to see all that work come to nothing, but deals fall through and promises are not always kept. It is very easy to get frustrated or discouraged, so be prepared to go to plan B, C, and D at any moment.   

Publicity can truly be an amazing part of the industry for those who really care about books and know how to connect with people. However, if Publicity doesn’t sound like quite the right fit, check out its other half, Marketing, next month!

Literary Agents: How to Be a Publishing Gatekeeper

Elisabeth NWilkes30 December 2015

After clearing up misconceptions in the last post about what an editor does, I think it is important to take one step backwards in the publishing process and start with the gatekeepers: literary agents.

Literary agents are a relatively new addition to the publishing industry, only starting to appear in the 1880’s. As the book market began to flourish and authors had less face-to-face interaction with publishers, writers with no connections found it harder to get their books published and sold. Authors needed a liaison to help them, especially those who knew nothing about the publishing process. Thus the position of literary agent was born to fulfil that need.

I’ll admit that out of all the positions in publishing, this career is the one that intrigues me the most. It is close to the literary action and it is the position closest to the authors. However, there are a few things you have to know to be a successful agent.

  1.     You have to know your own taste: If you cannot answer what your favourite book or genre is, you have to figure that out. For authors to find an agent and submit their work, they need to know who will be interested in reading it and who has connections to publishers who would interested in publishing the book. If you say you like, “everything,” you will get everything. And if you are not passionate about what you are receiving, you will have a hard time selling your works. So be picky!
  2.     You have to be diplomatic: If you hate being stuck in the middle, literary agency would be hell. Editors will want to make changes to the book that authors would sooner die than submit to and authors will want to know why the marketing team isn’t renting a Good Year blimp to advertise their book. The job is much more people-oriented than it appears, and if you are not efficient at diffusing tense situations, you might want to consider a different part of the industry. 
  3.   You have to be social: This is probably the hardest part of the job for naturally introverted book lovers. Not all of your books will come to you through emails. If you want to be successful you have to woo authors and discover rising stars that you can add to your clientele, and that involves going to writing events and booking coffee dates. Publishers also rarely approach agents first. You have to seek them out, pitching books you know they won’t buy just so that in the future they might remember you and ask what you have new. It really is a lot of social legwork and networking.
  4.     You have to care about money: Your main job is not only to get your authors published, but to get the most financial benefits for your author from that publication. The margins are not that great for book sales, so publishers will do anything they can to keep as much of the money for themselves. Your authors, especially those who have little experience with publishing, will depend on you to get them a fair deal. So you will, at times, have to play hardball. You will also have to encourage friendly competition during book auctions or even turn down deals from big-name publishers who aren’t taking your author seriously enough. If you don’t care about the deal as much as the book, you won’t get very far as a literary agent.

 

Don’t get discouraged if you aren’t inherently a social butterfly or have a few things to learn about negotiating. You will likely start as an assistant anyways, so you’ll have time to practice.

If the job just doesn’t quite sound like your cup of tea, however, tune in next month, when I will be talking about moving from the words on the page to the actual book in the exciting world of production!

 

Commuter Insights: Thoughts on writing

Sarah LOsborne16 December 2015

I’m back with commuter diaries; this time providing you with some contemplative thoughts, inspired by a train journey.

So, I was sitting on the train home, reading Inside Book Publishing by Giles Clark and Angus Phillips, when my phone vibrated, interrupting my focus. As I turned, a lady who had previously been studying me from afar found an opportunity to ask me, “What do you do in publishing?”

“Oh, I’m a student at UCL” I replied, “not yet officially ‘in'”.

The lady then went on to describe how she was writing a book that she was interested in publishing, and listed all of the difficulties it entailed. I fully understood her troublesome feelings, but instantly it highlighted the kind of industry I was going into – a challenging and eternally changing industry: one which can change a writer’s life, but one that can also shatter a dream. I felt as if it wasn’t my place to advise her, as I need to get my foot in the door first! But all the same I encouraged her, promoted social media as a useful tool to gain recognition, and told her not to lose hope.

Photo by: Gerry Balding | Flickr

Photo by: Gerry Balding | Flickr

On reflection – with a greater understanding of publishing – it has made me realise the need for publishers to nurture hope in aspiring writers. We see time and time again writers rejected on the basis of their work not being good enough; not filling a market need; not having a well known name. Occasionally we see lives turned around; a single mother who wrote on a train… was rejected by many… but soon became one of the biggest selling authors in the world – J. K. Rowling.

J. K. Rowling for me, like for many others, has been an inspiration to continue writing, and has kindled my belief that, yes anything is possible. Although, over the course of this degree, I have become increasingly concerned about my chances of getting published, I won’t let this kind of thing ruin my ambitions, nor should it for anyone else. Like Rowling, I like to think that when I graduate I will spend hours on train journeys, up and down the country, writing books (although of course, not during rush hour). Despite being confined to a chair, I can spend hours absorbing inspiration from the life around me – the business, the diverse group of people I encounter, and the contradicting, yet pleasant blur of countryside and city through the window.

It’s easy to get lost in deep thought on a quiet journey.

There are so many alternative opportunities today if you struggle to get traditionally published. If you want to write then write, don’t let the rejection of others ruin your own ambitions. Learn about publishing. Put yourself in uncomfortable positions. Explore and get inspired. But, don’t quit. Keep fighting. Keep adapting until you get where you want to be. I do believe anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Oh, and publishers, be supportive of writers. Don’t write off their dreams, or tell them they’re not good enough – after all, one day in the future, saying no may be your biggest regret.

Find author’s writing tips here:

http://freelancewritingteam.com/2013/06/19/j-k-rowlings-top-10-good-tips-for-writing-a-book/

http://uk.businessinsider.com/stephen-king-on-how-to-write-2014-8?r=US&IR=T

http://www.theguardian.com/childrens-books-site/2015/nov/03/how-to-write-a-book-nanowrimo-national-novel-writing-month-top-tips-mg-leonard

UCL Publishers’ Prize for Young Adult Fiction

Sarah LOsborne4 December 2015

BY ISABEL POPPLE

Flyer 2Hands up if you’ve heard of the UCL Publishers’ Prize…

Publishing students: if your hand isn’t in the air, then what have you been doing for the last eight weeks? I’m worried about you, truly.

Non-publishing students: the Publishers’ Prize is a writing competition for UCL students. Any student enrolled at UCL can enter, and the shortlisted entries get to be published in an anthology that actual people can buy and read – your writing gets read by lots of cool people, there’s a big prize for the overall winner and, you know, accolades.

Next challenge…

So, hands up if you’ve heard of the UCL Publishers’ Prize for Young Adult Fiction. No? Well, that’s because it’s new this year. Ta-da!

The UCL Publishers’ Prize for YA is an offshoot of the main prize. We’re working alongside each other, but this secondary prize is celebrating the breadth and depth of YA (that’s code for Young Adult). Why is it called the Publishers’ Prize, you ask? Because it’s awarded by UCL’s publishing students, that’s why. And why YA? Well, why not? Many of us are young adults, and plenty of those of us who aren’t, still like a good young adult novel – and we want to celebrate and encourage new writers in this genre (if you can call it that, though really YA is so much more than just a genre…).

The Competition…

I hope you’re all eager to learn more. Yay! Please enter!

Ok, so you have to be a current student at UCL. It doesn’t matter what discipline you’re studying, what level or stage you’re at, or how old you are. You have from now until 22 January 2016 to send us your work. Your entry must be no more than 4,000 words long (I probably should have mentioned that before: it’s a short story competition), it must be your own work, and cannot have been published elsewhere before. You email it as a Word document to us at: uclpublishersprizeya@gmail.com (both saved as with the email subject line: SURNAME_YAPRIZE). You can send us up to three different stories, and you can enter the original Publishers’ Prize too, but only with a different set of writing.

What exactly are we looking for and what is YA? Well, what do you think YA is? It’s not that easy to define when you get down to it! That’s because the best YA is diverse, smart, boundary pushing; it can be fun, it can be dark; it can be light or intense, romantic or adventurous – and with any luck it’s all of these things and more. You decide. After all, you’re readers as much as we are (at least, I hope so) and you know what you look for in a good story.

We are seven UCL Publishing students: Michela, Naomi, Mia, Natalya, Sarah, Kara, and Isabel. Follow the prize on Twitter, like us on Facebook, or visit our website. Over the coming weeks we’ll be announcing the prizes and the judges. We promise you won’t be disappointed – last year’s judges on the main prize included bestselling crime author Peter James, Waterstones fiction buyer Chris White and Lee Brackstone, the creative director of Faber Social – and more. So we’re aiming just as high this year.

And the prize? Well now, that’d be telling…

We look forward to reading your work and discovering what hidden writing talents this year’s UCL students have to offer!

If Isabel’s writing interests you, then follow her on Twitter @bookythought!