Monthly Archives: November 2012

‘An event to be celebrated’ – A review of the Loughborough Literary Salon by The Student Wordsmith

We are delighted to read this lovely review of the Loughborough Literary salon by The Student Wordsmith.


#digitalsurvival Literary Salon – An Overview

The theme of Loughborough University’s Literary Salon event was to discuss the impacts of the rise of technology on the traditional and trusty book industry. To meet the aim of the event, the hosts Dr Melanie Ramdarshan Bold (Publishing lecturer) and Dr Kerry Featherstone (Creative Writing lecturer) invited a selection of people from different sectors of the industry to speak about how the digital-age has influenced their experience in publishing.

So, who attended and what did they talk about?

Allan Guthrie – as an agent, author, and publisher, Guthrie has a well-rounded, but conflicting position relating to the publishing industry. Guthrie began by talking about how the publishing industry used to be: author writes a book, agent accepts it, agent sends to publisher, publisher produces it. It is not necessarily like that anymore, technology is allowing authors to reach their readers directly, sometimes cutting out agents and publishers entirely. The key advice that Guthrie gave was to tell people what publishing is about, tell people that publishing is about more than simple copy editing, to make sure the world knows that publishing has an important role to play in society because producing quality books is to the benefit of everyone.

David Varela – has a really cool job. Varela takes a serious attitude to the idea that: ‘anything you can use to tell a lie you can use to tell a story’ and he has created some innovative ways of doing just that. One of the most popular things he has worked on is ‘The Secret Life of Lewis Hamilton’, where the famous F1 driver goes around the globe retrieving valuable stolen paintings; it is such an out-there idea, but so intriguing! So many more means of telling stories are available because of the digital environment, giving authors a wider audience and allowing a more creative approach to stories. The concept of Zombie Run even made me think about buying a pair of trainers just to try it out; if you haven’t heard of Zombie Run it is worth a look!

Ben Galley – with knowledge of the music industry, Ben Galley used his initiative and thought about whether the book industry might be heading in a similar direction. With this thought in his head and computer at hand, Ben Galley set out to self-publish. Galley shared many enlightening thoughts and processes that he went through, too many to discuss them all. A main one was the idea of self-marketing, it is true that no one knows the product quite as intimately as the author himself and it also allows a more personal approach to readers. Galley demonstrated that small details matter when taking up a large venture alone, such as uploading a preview of work on Amazon. Galley claimed that there’s a lot of rubbish out there, especially in the Sci-Fi genre. Self-publishing means no publishers’ logo and thus no official seal of approval, so readers need to know what to expect. Finally, it would be rude not to mention that shiny silver suit!

Joanna Ellis and Chris Meade – conducted a round table, the more questions that Joanna Ellis and Chris Meade answered the more questions the audience seemed to think of. Joanna Ellis has a wide background in publishing, with 5 years in marketing at Faber and Faber under her belt she is now an Associate Director at the Literary Platform. Chris Meade was representing if:book, a Literary Salon partner, if:book deals with the issues directly relating to the digital survival of the book trade, and so Chris Meade was a fountain of knowledge and inspiration for thought at the Salon. Some of the questions answered during the round table were about social media and the impacts it has on marketing and communication. As a point of interest, Joanna Ellis noted that the digital impacts came about simultaneously to the release of the first iPad, as people began interacting in new ways and expecting more from online services.

Pigeon Park Press – is formed of a partnership between Heide Goody and Iain Grant, throughout the event the pair worked closely as a team. Pigeon Park Press came prepared with a witty presentation that suited the exciting small publishing house. Pigeon Park Press gave an open explanation of their sales figures, it was interesting that they related their sales graph to real life events and could pinpoint particular marketing activities. Goody and Grant professed that doing events were not useful in terms of sales and the most effective marketing approach, in their experience, is to give things away for free, which encourages traffic back to Pigeon Park Press.

Comma Press – was represented by Jim Hinks, who is clearly very passionate about the niche market that Comma Press is aimed at. Comma Press publish short stories in translation; Jim Hinks claimed that the business could not have chosen a more difficult market, as it combines the difficulty of selling short stories along with works in translation. This area of business means that the acquisition of rights is important to Comma Press and book fairs are used for this, which does not seem to have been affected too much by technology. The exception seems to be the use of Twitter, which is a positive enhancement as it brings people together who would not necessary have otherwise.

Dan Simpson – entertainingly rounded off the night by performing some of his crowd-sourced poems; beginning with a very amusing one about ‘Love… No, not love… Mathematics’. Some people think of poetry as boring, challenging to read and academic to a fault, but Dan Simpson brings poetry off the page by taking lines from the public and then compiling them together in a complex and impressive way to create an original piece. This is possible because of the ease of communication that the digital age has brought about; through Twitter Dan Simpson sought some lines from the audience and participants of the Literary Salon and created a thought provoking piece to summarise the state of the digital publishing era: ‘Ceasing to exist is a reason to survive’.

It would be impossible to cover all of the topics discussed at the Literary Salon, so this is just an outline of some key points. It is clear that technology is changing the way people interact but the extent to which this will affect the publishing industry is still unknown. One thing is clear; Digital Survival is making the publishing industry even more vibrant than ever before.

Publishing E-books

One of the most interesting topics to arise during the #digitalsurvival Literary Salon was the question of whether authors deserve higher royalty rates on e-book publications.

‘What’s the deal?’ was the question from a member of the audience that got the literary salon buzzing and started an in-depth discussion. On face value, the question was simple: how much does an author get paid per e-book sold, in comparison to print books? But this one question leads to a myriad of technical, ethical and traditional complications.

As a literary agent, author, and digital publisher, Allan Guthrie has a perfect perspective of the publishing industry in order to answer this question. Guthrie claimed that the set rate of most publishers is 25% and this is a non-negotiable figure, his personal opinion is that this is ‘daylight robbery’ – an opinion shared by many.

The main issue surrounding this subject is whether publishers can justify taking such a large cut of the profits. In the past, publishers were the investors, with capital at stake in order to pay the risky costs of editing, designing, printing and marketing a book. However, some of these costs, particularly printing ones, are eradicated with digital publishing. Publishers lose less capital from producing an unsuccessful e-book than a printed one and the main bonus is that they have no stock left to shift that has not sold on a ‘sale or return’ basis, because stock in the e-book world is virtual.

The digital age has allowed fast-moving entrepreneurs to successfully publish in a digital environment, such as two of the Loughborough Literary Salon’s speakers, Allan Guthrie and Ben Galley. Guthrie was early to pick up on the rise of the e-market and set up ‘Blasted Heath’, Scotland’s very first digital-only publishing house. Ben Galley used the digital platform to take a leap into sci-fi writing and self-publishing, with hard graft he has become a very successful author and self-publisher.

There are many benefits of self-publishing, the main one being that the author keeps all of the hard-earned profits. Another good reason for self-publishing is the autonomy it provides; complete control over those precious words. Also, it is reassuring that many individuals have managed it, proving that it is most certainly a viable way for an author to get their work out to readers.

Of course, there are also many benefits of being associated with a publishing house; their reputation, satisfaction of being recognised by the publisher, likely success if the publisher is well known, high quality of the finished product and the list goes on…

Ben Galley was asked whether he would consider a publishing deal in the position he is currently in, with two books from his Emaneska trilogy already hugely successful. Galley’s answer was that he would consider it, but would not take back what he has accomplished through self-publishing. This highlights the fact that a contract with a publishing house is still a much coveted achievement, but it is not the only way to exist in the world of books.

Everyone with an interest in publishing is broadly aware of the fact that e-book sales are rising dramatically; only time will tell where the role of the publisher will fit in in this relatively new digital age of e-reading and whether they will keep a hold on the power they developed during the long printed-book era.

Dan Simpson’s Digital Survival poem


Mashing it up with a desire to win

Tiptapping up a storm

It’s Digital David versus Gutenberg Goliath!

It may be new but it’s a classic competition

an awesome meeting:

Survival of the fittest on the boards of publishing.


But we embrace the middleman

Find poetic interpretations of paper and digital files

Kindle thoughts and discussion –

Fire reinventing itself:

Somehow traditional and actively changing.


So seize on literary roots

like a semi-precious stone cut from the digital environment

hang on for dear life

Hand them to the world as food for reproducing.


Take a risk and inadvertently volunteer yourself

To be part of refreshing the book for the people

hope to answer questions in collaboration:

It becomes easier in a crowd.


Say goodbye to the day, writers and creators

Push your head above the street networks

And paperback parapets

into the Cloud’s thick mist.


Watch for the limits of this land of Newfangle

your independent domain

band together to take on the Random Penguin Queen

and King of the Profession.


Do nothing at all and look forward to losing:

Ceasing to exist is a reason to survive.

Simon Groth: The role of Geography in publishing

If you missed our literary salon on Friday then you must watch this excellent and insightful talk by Simon Groth from if:books Australia, recorded especially for the salon. There seems to be lots of correlations between the Brisbane and East Midlands publishing industries!

Thought for the day

Another laudable thought for the day from the awesome Life in Publishing blog

When I remind myself 

Why I love this industry

Review: Zadie Smith, N-W

Being a student I don’t generally buy ‘expensive’ hardcopies of any books. However, I attempted to wait for the release of Zadie Smith’s newest novel, N-W, in paperback and failed miserably. I managed a meagre two weeks before giving in and forking out £14.99 for the hardback from WHSmiths. I probably (almost definitely) could have gotten it cheaper offline, but I just didn’t want to wait for the delivery.

I must admit, I was a little bit let down by the cover of the book, which is nothing special. Perhaps my judgement is harsh because of the fantastic covers of Zadie Smith’s other books, particularly ‘The Book of Other People’, which is a short story collection that Zadie Smith was the editor of.

So, ignoring my lack of passion for the cover, I delved into the novel expecting one of Zadie Smith’s usual gripping introductions, but I found myself struggling to concentrate on the narrative. This was entirely because the dialogue was formed without quotation marks and instead used dashes to mark a new speaker. As a result, it sometimes required the rereading of sections to work out which of the characters said what. I’d like to think that invoking a struggle for the reader was entirely intentional, to reflect the problems in the characters’ lives, but even if not, it is difficult to fault Zadie Smith for experimenting with this quirky style as she has tried different things with her other novels which have worked wonderfully, such as the string of emails in ‘On Beauty’.

Regardless, I persevered with the novel, thinking that perhaps my expectations had been raised too high by Zadie Smith’s previous work. Eventually my patience was rewarded; in the second section the focus shifted and the annoying dashes had been ditched and speech marks returned (never again will I take speech marks for granted). I followed the story of Felix with curiosity, wondering where it was leading to and this question stuck with me throughout the novel, until all of the loose strings were tied up quite nicely at the very end of the book.

All in all, N-W gives the reader a lot to think about, much more than it explicitly states. There are constant suggestions about the state of society and about the members of a community struggling to cope in their urban surroundings. I cannot say it was my favourite of Zadie Smith’s novels, but N-W does back up the fact that she is an undeniably fine writer tackling the details and difficulties of modern culture.

Magical Times for Book Publishing

Andrew Rhomberg from Jellybooks very kindly passed on his presentation from the SYP 2012 conference Beyond the Book for all those who couldn’t make it.

Beyond the Book – SYP Conference 2012

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The 3rd November saw me boarding a train to London to attend the SYP’s annual conference – Beyond the Book. There was a choice of several seminars lined up all of which were so interesting it had been hard to decide which I wanted to attend when I registered.

The opening debate was led by Julia Kingsford, Sarah Taylor, Laura Austin and Trevor Klein and was titled ‘Game Changers’. What a start to the day! There was so much going on that I will touch on some of the most memorable parts of the day for me.

First to speak and one of the most memorable was Julia Kingsford, World Book Night’s Chief Executive. She started to speak about how it was part of her job to try to get more people to read stating that stories are universal and timeless; we’ve been telling them since we were sat around campfires, so why are so many people excluded in our modern world? One in three homes in the country do not own a book, which is a shocking statistic. Approximately one quarter of the population do not have adequate access to the internet or digital equipment and so to encourage more people to read they hand out books in their physical form. Having acknowledged that the physical book is still an essential part of our culture the debate moved on to the next three speakers Laura Austin, Sarah Taylor and Trevor Klein who discussed apps, interactive eBooks and self publishing.

My first seminar was ‘Interactive and Social Reading’ and was taken by Andrew Rhomberg , founder and managing director of Jellybooks, and Jon Ingold, who is the creative director of Inkle. First to take the stage was Andrew Rhomberg who started the presentation with an adapted quote of Churchill: ‘This is not the end, not even the beginning of the end but then end of the beginning of the digital revolution’. This, I thought, was a lovely and positive outlook on the digital changes and adaptations in publishing. Rhomberg continued to discuss how the one of the biggest problems that publishers face is discoverability and proceeded to state he thought that Amazon’s search was not up to scratch. Therefore, he created Jellybooks; a simple, easy, responsive design that gives the user an effortless browsing experience. It has infinite scrolling – the page will never end – that gives it the feel of browsing shelves in a bookstore. He feels that now more than ever the cover design is of utmost importance if a book is going to succeed. He warned of the old saying ‘never judge a book by its cover’ but still stressed that images stimulate the mind; one picture can say a thousand words.  The cover will draw the reader, enticing them to sample the book and perhaps buy later. There are only four buttons: sample: share: buy: deal. There’s no fuss. Rhomberg’s idea of deals and social reading was interesting. The idea of structuring them around the commute lets the user browse and sample the books that they want but if they want to participate in that day’s deal then they have to share it. If Jellybooks receives enough interest on a particular title then those who selected it will get the deal of a half price book for the commute home. If there is not enough interest shown then Jellybooks do not say sorry but that the consumer should share the book more next time. A clever concept – the consumer markets your book for you.

Co-founder of Inkle, Jon Ingold, is a games designer and mathematician. He sounds like an unlikely person to be interested in the world of book publishing but by the end of his talk he’d changed our minds, as Alastair Horne tweeted ‘very few developers, in my experience, really ‘get’ the actual nature of reading; Ingold clearly does’. Inkle specialises in building interactive and narrative driven apps for web and mobile platforms, such as the hugely successful Frankenstein app. One point that Ingold stressed was his belief that reading is not a passive activity, as is so widely believed, and it is through this belief that he has come to successfully understand the expectations of the next generation of digital reading. When you read it is your mind that creates the characters, the scene and the atmosphere but digital is now enabling that to be brought into a visual reality. Personally, I can’t help but wonder if this is a good thing. What about imagination? There’s nothing more disappointing than finding a different version to what you experienced. The way we read is certainly going to be changing. I’m yet to be completely persuaded from what I grew up with but if these books get more people away from the TV and into stories then I have no complaints!

I attended two other seminars, ‘Beautiful Books’ and ‘Beyond the Textbook’, which were both equally interesting but it was really the ‘Social and Interactive Reading seminar that stood out for me – leading the way forward. The day ended with drinks in a nearby bar, which would have been a perfect opportunity for networking but I unfortunately had to board my train home. There is so much to learn and so many lovely people to meet that it was sad to leave. If anybody were to ask me if I recommend it my answer would undoubtedly be yes! Thank-you so much to all those at SYP!

Literary Salon poster

Here is our lovely poster.