Publishing Careers

Publishing in Ireland – The way it is

Eoin Purcell

It’s a compliment really
That so many of the large publishers have Irish office here. Penguin run a neat little operation that has launched some great Fiction and Non-Fiction, as does Hodder. MacMillan has Gill&MacMillan an arrangement that gives Gill the best of both worlds, an independent publishing strategy with multi-national back up.

It is understandable from their perspective. Ireland is an extension of the UK book market in many ways. Hundreds of UK titles are sold here and we speak English after all.

If rumours (based on job adverts) are true then Random House is set to join their fellow giants in publishing a separate list into the Irish market.

Personally I welcome them.

Issues do arise
As you might imagine though, the presence of these companies has some negative side affects for Irish publishers. The first and most obvious is to increase the level of competition, the second advances and the third marketing prowess.

Not only do we compete with books exported from the British market which sell well here too, but we are forced to compete with their native Irish titles as well.

The size of the advances that the larger groups can pay is huge compared to most Irish publishers and so in commissioning too they have a distinct advantage. Talented authors know that they are likely to get a bigger advance and access to larger sales and marketing teams than if they stay with an independent house.

Personally what I find the most impressive is the ability of these large groups to pull off marketing and trade promotion coups. If you had witnessed the huge displays for this book in Dublin in the last few weeks you would be impressed too (to boot it has sold about 9,000 copies in 3 weeks according to Bookscan which is very impressive in this market).

It is a symptom of the problem that the book in question was the sixth book by an author who was nurtured by an Irish publisher before being poached by Penguin. When all is said and done though I am sure the increased sales of the first four books with no marketing spend is something of a consolation.

How do we cope
All this has the effect of pushing local companies into a tight spot. Without the resources of the larger companies we are forced to rely on clever commissioning, smarter marketing and on building market share in areas where these larger companies do not publish.

Of course in the long term that is not a winning strategy. In the long term we need to be competitive with the larger players. It requires us to adapt to their presence and to challenge them with innovative books and products. It requires us to find and publish new and distinctive talent that sells in Ireland and beyond the borders of our island. There are great examples out there to copy, we just need to look.

Most of all it challenges us to be better everyday, to be more creative in our thinking, more effective in our execution and to every day push the boat out. I’m not there yet but at least I know where I am going and I think I know how to get there.

Come along for the ride?


Are you Pushing the boat out?

Eoin Purcell

That’s what friends are for
One of my good friends is a person I have huge admiration for. I doubt he realises how much, as he spends a good deal of time looking outward and comparing himself to others, rather than taking stock of how much he has actually done in his life.

One of the reasons I admire him is that he has overcome adversities the like of which I cannot even begin to understand. Another is that he regularly refreshes my viewpoint by throwing a curve-ball into a conversation.

Just such an occasion occurred this weekend and jolted me out of a certain reverie. He asked me if I was pushing the boat out. He didn’t mean was I ‘having a cracking party’ or ‘celebrating’, he meant was I working as hard as I could.

He reminded me of the harshest lesson I have ever learned (the details are best left unexplored for now), that complacency destroys achievement. And by reminding me of that he made me ask the questions that help me avoid that lesson being repeated.

The complacent among us
Complacency is one of my major weaknesses (development areas in PC Speak). It is a truly funny weakness. I strive for a goal so hard and so long that when I achieve it I think I am sorted. I take a break and then get back to work thinking that I am working at the same level that got me to where I am but in fact I am taking my foot off the gas a little and becoming lazy. I am not pushing the boat out.

Its remedy
This has bitten me in the ass a few times in the past but now I have a few tester questions that try and jolt my sense of complacency:

⁃ Are you working as hard as you can?
⁃ Are your rivals working harder than you?
⁃ Is someone beating you at something you consider a strength?
⁃ Are you achieving you goals? (Key question)
⁃ Are you heading the right direction?

You want the answers to be Yes, No, No, Yes, Yes. To my mind anything else is trouble.

Why you might ask is this relevant to publishing?
Because it is an industry where smart, energetic and driven people work. There will always be hard workers, smart workers and often brilliant workers at companies that publish into your and other markets.

If you don’t match or exceed their efforts then you will fail. Maybe it won’t be spectacular, maybe it won’t be a hugely noticeable thing at first but five years down the line when your list is anemic and their list is kicking yours, you’ll know all about it.

This is especially true for the Irish market for reasons I’ll talk about tomorrow. So if I am ever fearful that complacency is creeping up on me, I asked myself those tough questions, act on the answers and redouble my efforts.

Enjoying this new found blog enthusiasm

PS Check this site out.

I Am Moving On

Eoin Purcell

Times They Are A Changin’
Following some thinking, a great deal of planning, not to mention a small amount of stress and second guessing, I have decided to move on from Nonsuch Ireland. I have very much enjoyed my time there and the work has been exciting and challenging not to mention fun!

With team changes, departures and new arrivals I have worked directly with six* talented and capable individuals in the Irish office, all of whom have an enormous amount to offer publishing or any trade they choose to pursue. What is more, as a team, they have really built Nonsuch Ireland into an impressive and growing history publisher. There is still considerable growth ahead for Nonsuch and I wish everyone at Nonsuch the very best of luck. I know they will do great.

So where to?
Well its actually a pretty big shift for me. I am moving to the Real Capital of Ireland, Cork [wikipedia] AKA “The People Republic of Cork”. I will be joining Mercier Press in April as Commissioning Editor.

Mercier was established in 1944 so I am moving from one of Ireland’s youngest Publishers to one of her oldest and most established publishers.

It will mean a shift in a lot of factors, from lifestyle and personal to professional and perspective. Overall it is just about the most amazing move for me as you will see if you look over the company’s rich and varied list (here). I am excited by the prospect and the opportunity not just to work for such a great company but to grow with the job and to drive such a diverse list.

But first some downtime
I have been smart this time though and set aside some time for decompression. It will allow me to build my energy, catch up with my reading, find a new place to live and perhaps even get that trip to Westport to this place if I have my way.

Felling Pretty Good

*[Not forgetting the four excellent support staff from Irish Corporate Outsourcing who have worked with Nonsuch providing external services since 2004 or the people at our sister companies in the UK and elsewhere.]

Winners & Losers

Eoin Purcell

The far too late reading of blog posts brought to mind the adage that the world is a funny place. On one blog [Galleycat, who picked the news up here] I read of the end of ReganBooks at HarperCollins:

This afternoon, HarperCollins announced that effective immediately, the ReganBooks name and logo will no longer be used and the imprint’s LA office will close on March 1. An interim logo, HC, will appear on Regan books through this summer, after which the list will be reassigned to existing Harper imprints.

It is not so much a surprise as it is a little blunt. It was an almost inevitable move following Regan’s departure. It is that departure that is so unsettling, the fall from grace as it were is a timely remind that no matter how far you go it can always come to ruin (speaking of which this post by Michael Hyatt is revealling).

Reading POD-dy mouth today the case of a truly successful POD writer came up:

Based on Lulu’s own Book Cost Calculator, the cost to produce the book is $9.98–which leaves $38 in profit (if purchased from Lulu–I realize the profit drops when purchased through Amazon and the like, not to mention that Lulu takes a small piece of the pie as well–something like 20% of the royalty.)

But let’s play it conservatively and say the author gets $27 per unit. If he sells only 2,000 copies (he will, if he hasn’t already), he’s made $54,000–far more than the average midlist author published by a major house.

Now who would be displeased with that turn of events. The book itself is terrible (yes I read a few pages) but my lord it is a seller! Sucess and failure in one day! And at such extremes.

It is cold here today

. . . . But so will Search

And you say “Doh!”
It may seem obvious that search will drive change because Search seems to be changing everything. Well firstly that is not true, Search is changing quite a lot of things but not everything. After all, as the first part of this series argued, a book is a book etc. Search will not make a novel a non-fiction book nor will it make a non-fiction book a children’s’ picture book. The books themselves will remain essentially the same though their occurrence in different media, be that paper, audio CD, MP3 file, e-book or serialised on a webpage, will surely become more frequent.

What will change is that these books will need to be open to Search and that means that the digitised versions will become valuable marketing tools. Publishers know this. That is probably why they are resisting Google Book Search so strenuously. Marketing will become more and more about how well your book places in terms of native (non-paid for) search results (Sponsored links and contextual ads will be important here too). And that placement will influence sales.

It’s about marketing
I have discussed before, one of the key issues self-publishers face, marketing. Well in the digital, Author driven, Search driven future world of publishing, there will be no difference. Great opportunities to go it alone will offer themselves and authors will think that simply putting a book online will result in huge sales and no problems.

But many books will die on the web, a lonely, unread, unnoticed death.

Why? Because in the same way that real world selling and marketing takes more than just producing a good product, online marketing takes hard work, graft, contacts, networking and a degree of luck.

Having pleased every author yesterday with my post on their ability to drive change I have to now throw them back down to earth. Unless you learn to harness the web you will be faced with two options, obscurity and disappointment or falling into the arms of the revived publishing firms, or the new ones who emerge from the wreckage of the current industry. You may laugh at that but read on.

Amusingly Search may well rescue publishers
Search and books are made to go together. They are friends, publishers just have not admitted it yet or rather they have admitted it they just wish they owned the game when in fact it is quite clear that right now Google, Yahoo and MSN own the search game and everyone else has to just accept a minor role for the time being. That could change with new innovation but for now it’s a solid rule.

Consider the discussion yesterday on the role of publishers. They act as aggregators of authorial content, risking capital on many projects to gain traction with the rare few. Well they have advanced marketing skills and they also have great tools at their disposal, brand names.

The traditional strengths of the publisher are eroding. Editing can be purchased in online auctions for a few hundred dollars, design and typesetting for only a little more, manufacture for next to nothing if you sacrifice some quality and for the not too comfortable a full print run of a tiles is not an unimaginable cost. There will be little profit in offering these services to authors in twenty years time.

Publishers can survive the onslaught of digitisation not by screwing the author, not by owning the whole process but by moving up field and becoming even more intimately involved in the one field of their business that is not rapidly commoditising, marketing. Slicing off their non-productive cores and outsourcing is the way forward. It is harsh but otherwise publishing will not have the capital to invest in new tools to build book profile online, to promote author blogs and seed the web with viral videos promoting their newest title. They need to shrink.

And when they do, armed with new skills and new weapons, they will once again insert themselves on the value chain and place themselves between the pot of gold (Small as it is) and the author. And what is more authors who fall into their hands will, like authors now faced with little option see it as just the way it is.

And that’s the fault of Search?
Well not quite, it’s more that Search will be the catalyst and driver than the actual cause. Technology in general is the cause. Change can be a terrible thing. How is it that Chinese quote is supposed to go: “May you live in interesting times?” it is safe to say that we do!

Packed and ready,

Yesterday . . . Authors will drive change . . .
Tuesday . . . A book is a book is a book

Authors will drive change . . .

The big idea (or at least my idea)
The current publishing industry is stacked against authors. Not in any sense deliberately, all sides have had a role in reaching the current point, but equally not all sides have benefited as equally as the others. Indeed publishers who were once the primary winners are now behind retailers in the results.

Think of it this way
They are many, publishing slots are (despite the numbers of publications) relatively few in number and what is more really good slots are exceptionally rare. What I mean when I say really good slots are books that publishers take and go with in a big way, books that publishers push with large marketing campaigns and big ad spends. These kinds of slots are so fantastically rare as to be the dream of every author who ever took pen to paper, pencil to copybook or fingers to keyboard.

Publishers are pressed financially and so authors get pressed too, squeezed by the power of retailers, the challenge of competition and the sheer abundance of titles on the market. An author however does not have the fortunate position of a publisher who is a crude aggregator (of a pre-digital variety)*. That is to say that a publisher spreads their capital thin and soaks up large amounts of books from various types of authors.

From every one hundred, seventy may do poorly to okay and break even to show some small profit. Twenty-five may do okay to well and display a better return than average opening up the possibility of future blockbusters and the offer of second books. Three may do very well and become stable authors blessed with publishers vying for their books. Another may do exceptionally well and show the hallmarks of genius that suggest lifelong talent and commercial success but after a disappointing second and third book prove to be an overall fair bet and last may prove the hit that produces an absolute mountain of the revenue for the company in a given year/period (think JK Rowling and Bloomsbury).

It looks like the long tail and maybe it is but I think that term is so annoyingly applicable to everything as to be in many way meaningless. Of course these figures are wildly inaccurate and unscientific but they demonstrate the way publishing works. It’s the way it currently goes and that is what authors know or at least learn as they write and publish.

But technology is suggesting changes
Welcome to the web. Not so long ago you would have been hard pressed to read an article like this by a commenter as obscure as me. Indeed you would have had to hope some editor of a trade magazine liked my random thoughts and chose to publish them on their valuable print pages. They would have weighed thoughts like advertisement revenue, market, audience, readership and competition. Well today I think about nothing except what I write (on the odd occasion I think a little too little about that too). All it costs me is my free time and the odd lunch break without a sandwich. I can post my thoughts for free on a hosted, free website.

Some people take it further and host their own blogs and run adverts turning themselves into one man magazines. Jason Calacanis posted a really good exploration of this point here.

Oh there is a hierarchy here too just as Jason says:

You have three stages of media companies, and these two guys are now in the third phase, and that is where it gets very interesting. Phases one anyone can do. Phase two is also pretty easy–half the people can do it. Only 1% of people make it to phase three and only 10% of those scale to a $10M a year business. Rafat and Om are the one out of a hundred, and it’s gonna be amazing to see if they can be the 1 out of 1,000.

But the reason it is such an amazing change is because now most authors do not need the aggregator to publish. Even small time authors who might have made up the end of that seventy out of one hundred we discussed earlier can take some of the value that publishers traditional sucked up by aggregating.

Where is the value?
Well it’s in sales. As I said before, the aggregators of sales by hundreds of authors benefited where the single author did not. But we now operate in a world where sales do not have to be of the traditional type (bricks and mortar stores). Authors can sell books themselves on Amazon or EBay or or in fact their own website if they like. They can use POD and self publishing just like Skint Writer is and capture the best part of the value that traditionally went to a publisher. Or you can post it to a blog and build audience like Lee on Mortal Ghost is here.

What’s more you can package your content in any variety of ways. Make a podcast or your poetry and push it on iTunes. Act out your play and upload it to YouTube or your preferred location. It is easy to do it all now and to do it well. Maybe the cost of a decent designer or video editor will take a summer to save for or a winter of being cold avoiding buying new jumpers but the costs are so achievable it is exceptional.

The point is that publishing is no longer just about books and even more it is no longer about waiting for a publisher to decide your work is good enough for print. Options abound and as more and more writers realise that they will take advantage of it.

E-books will push this change even more. There is no reason why authors’ royalties should be the same on e-books as they are for paper books and in many ways there is no reason why the authors cannot sell e-books themselves rather than through a publisher. Why should you sell a paper publisher your digital rights when there is no need?

So where are we now?
Well for a start we are at the end of the second part in this impromptu series. I say impromptu because it largely came about by accident. A process of some loose thoughts banging into each other sometime over Monday. But more accurately we have looked at why authors have a key role in driving the changes that publishing is facing.

Don’t get me wrong. I am no digital evangelist or mindless zombie of the new web but the advantages that the internet offers are simply hard to resist for many and that is a good thing. There are downsides however and tomorrow I will look at how search and marketing will play a role too.

Contemplating the gym

Yesterday . . . A book is a book is a book
Tomorrow . . . But so will search
* Edited and corrected thanks to the Lovely Mike Cane!

Sunday shake down

A new feature
Every Sunday from now on i will collect together the posts I liked or people liked and post them in a list for easy access. It means that I have a record visually over time and you can just access the shake down arcive to see popular and possibly decent posts as they build.

For the week ending 23rd July 2006:

Saturday 22nd July 2006: Blogburst: Good or Bad
Thursday 20th July 2006: And the charm continues . . .
Thursday 20th July 2006: The obviousness of Pew/internets results
Wednesday 19th July 2006: The heat and thinking
Monday 17th July 2006: Round Up

Hoping Monday’s good