An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘society of young publishers’

Introducing Nathan Connolly, Publishing Director at Dead Ink Publishing

I was very happy to bag an interview with Dead Ink books, a publisher I’ve been following for a few years, since I met publisher Wes Brown at a Society of Young Publishers event, when they were an innovative new digital publisher. Here his partner at Dead Ink, Nathan Connolly, gives us an overview of the publishing house and how they went about building a community around their company…

Nathan Connolly Headshot

Please introduce yourself and give a brief overview of your career.

I’m Nathan Connolly and I’m the Publishing Director of Dead Ink. I started in Publishing when I began The Night Light, an online literary magazine, after graduating from University. I’ve worked with The Big Issue in the North, Crécy Publishing and The Society of Young Publishers.

Tell us about Dead Ink Books – how did the company come about? What’s its premise?

Dead Ink started towards the end of 2010 and it was set up with funding from Arts Council England as a digital-only press. This was around the time that ebooks were really just starting to blow up and there was a lot of both panic and optimism in the industry. With Dead Ink we were experimenting with what a book could be – at a time when that really did seem to be a valid question.

As the industry started to come to terms with digital, Dead Ink released its first print titles. When Dead Ink began, it was the medium that we thought was revolutionary. As we developed it became clear that the biggest opportunity presented by digital technology wasn’t in restricting ourselves to solely digital books but in connecting readers to them.

Our focus now is based on two strands. The first is to develop the careers of new literary authors and the second is to do that through experimentation with digital technology in publishing.

What challenges did you face setting up Dead Ink Books?

The challenge of setting up a small press today is that the industry is becoming increasingly concentrated and homogenous in terms of both publishing and retail. We’re fortunate in that we are represented by Inpress books who fight our corner, but overall I think the industry is becoming harder and harder to survive in. I wouldn’t be surprised to see further concentrations taking place in terms of partnerships and mergers.

I think this challenge is also an opportunity, though: publishing needs challenging small presses and I think readers enjoy them too. Hopefully the tide will begin to turn in the next few years and the independents will win back some influence and breathing space. Maybe it’s already begun?

What kind of literature do you publish?

We’re interested mainly in literary fiction. Specifically, we want fiction that is challenging, brave and confident. I try not to define the specifics of what I’m looking for too much. I worry that I will put someone off who would otherwise have been great. I think all the books that I have published so far have surprised me. I wasn’t looking for them and I didn’t expect them.

What achievement to date are you particularly proud of?

We work almost exclusively with debut authors and I think that is something that I’m particularly proud of. We take a huge risk on every author that we publish and put all of our resources into making their book, and their career, a success. Receiving a manuscript and taking it through the long road to publication isn’t an easy process and there is a lot that can go wrong. When we finally receive those books from the printer and we get to give them to a writer who has spent years of their life trying to reach that point then it becomes obvious that all the sweat and tears were worth it. Each time we reach that point we’re reminded of why we started Dead Ink in the first place. Despite our commitment to author development and technological innovation we’ve always been motivated to take a risk on people that nobody else will. That’s what I’m proud of.

How have you managed to build a community around Dead Ink Books?

This is a huge question and one we still don’t have the complete answer to. In fact, this is one of the major questions that we have to ask ourselves every single day in order to make the press work.

I think that we’ve been lucky in that readers seem to get what we’re doing and completely engage with it. There are a lot of safe decisions being made in the industry and I suspect that they find it refreshing to see a small press based entirely on the concept of taking a risk. Authors frequently commit years of their life to working on a book which may never see the light of day. They’re innately risk-takers and when they see a press with that same conviction I think it is refreshing.

On the other hand we commit a great deal of resources to building that community. We get out there into the world and interact with writers at readings and events. We also try to treat our readers as a community not just customers. They’re the reason that we’ve got this far and every time they do buy a book they are having an impact. I think people appreciate that connection. We’re very much not faceless.

Why is it important to have a range of both digital and print books?

This question plagued us when we were digital-only and we always wondered if we were doing the right thing by focusing on a single medium. Eventually we decided that we weren’t. What is important about digital technology isn’t the end product. People want the option to choose whatever they individually prefer. The important part is how we connect. When we were creating just digital books we were holding ourselves back.

The success of that time was the community we had built. When we transitioned to paper books that became apparent and we’ve been growing steadily since. Readers want options and they want to feel involved.

What lessons have you learned about marketing books – what works and what doesn’t?

I still don’t know the answer to what makes a book sell. I only know how we have made it work for us. We don’t have unlimited reach or resources. There’s very little that we can do to actually market the books in a traditional sense.
What has worked for us is to build a community and reward everyone involved for the contribution that they make. I think early on we realised that we couldn’t just treat someone like a customer and forget about them. We really owe everything to the people who buy our books, so it didn’t seem right or fair to just market to them. If someone buys a Dead Ink book then they are taking a risk – just as we are in publishing it – and I think that sort of commitment deserves recognition and reward. That’s what I’ve tried to achieve with the community aspect of Dead Ink and I think that is what keeps us going.

What are you looking forward to for 2016?

2016 is going to be a big year for us with a lot happening. We’re already looking for next year’s authors and hopefully it will be our largest list yet. There are a few authors that we’re already interested in.

There are also going to be further developments in terms of our organisation and technology. I’m still thinking about the relationship between all of the elements of Dead Ink, and in 2016 that should not only grow but also develop to include something completely new.

Readers should expect more books as always, but also a new way to engage with a new type of literature. That’s all you’re getting for now though. We have to maintain an air of mystery.

You can follow Dead Ink on Twitter @DeadInkBooks

Find out more about them at http://deadinkbooks.com/

Introducing Digital Marketer and ex-Editorial Assistant Lucy Houlden

Today’s interview is with Lucy Houlden, who used to work as an Editorial Assistant at my workplace Emerald Group Publishing. Funnily enough, we’ve never actually met in person, despite having formed a friendship online and knowing and working with many of the same people. She left Emerald a mere couple of weeks before I started. She noticed my new job role on LinkedIn and connected that way. Since meeting through Twitter, we’ve come to realise how similar our backgrounds and aspirations are. She’s an inspiration for me and further proof that coming from the North does not have to restrict your achievements in the publishing industry.

Lucy Houlden

Please introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your background and your career so far.

Hello, I’m Lucy. I live way up north in lovely Durham, which is a great place for anyone who enjoys the essentials in life (tea and cake!). I come from Lincolnshire, but I moved up to Newcastle to study English Language and Literature, with a plan to pursue a career in publishing. Since then, I’ve picked up lots of different experience, including proof reading for a student newspaper, doing an internship with a literary magazine, starting up a company newsletter, doing work experience at Dorling Kindersley, and working in academic and business publishing. It’s been a very busy few years! However, everything is about to change once again, as I’m soon going to be moving into a new role in digital marketing.

What made you so interested in the publishing industry?

As a child, I nearly always had my nose in a book, so the idea of working behind the scenes to make books happen really sparked my interest. Spelling and grammar always clicked well with me too, so it made sense to pursue a career which involved writing and editing. Since working in the industry, however, I’ve realised that it’s about far more than just editing, and it’s opened my eyes to other skills such as marketing.

I also found it really rewarding to work closely with authors and editors.

Tell me a little bit about how you got into the industry.

I first started gathering experience at sixth form, by becoming the Editor of my school’s magazine. Then, when I went off to university, I became a proof reader for the university’s student newspaper. After I graduated, I did a 3 month voluntary internship with a literary magazine called Mslexia, which is based in Newcastle. I was struggling to find a paid role, as there are so few creative jobs up in Newcastle, but I didn’t want to leave as I’d fallen in love with the north and I’d met my boyfriend up here!

Eventually, I heard about an open day at Penguin Books called Getting Into Publishing. You had to apply for a place at the event, and I was lucky enough to get one. It was a brilliant day, with presentations by members of staff from Penguin, Puffin and Dorling Kindersley (DK). There was an opportunity to network with the members of staff, so I did my best to meet as many Editors as I could, and got hold of lots of their e-mail addresses. The next day, I got in touch with everyone I was interested in working with. I was also given a leaflet about a competition DK was running, where you could win work experience by promoting a DK product using social media. I actually ended up winning the competition, but was also offered work experience by one of the contacts I emailed, so I got two work experience placements!

The first one was a three-week placement with the DK Editorial department, and the next one was a few months later and was a one-week placement with the DK Marketing and PR team. I had some really fantastic experiences with DK, including helping out with a photo shoot, going to an editorial meeting for Puffin children’s books, meeting the late Sue Townsend and getting her autograph, and going to a talk by the Editor of Vogue. I had a fantastic time, and getting the valuable experience under my belt meant that a few months later, I got my first paid role, as an Assistant Publisher for an academic publishing house called Emerald Group Publishing in Yorkshire. It was a long journey, and I had to be very persistent, but I got there eventually! After that, I went on to have a role with a business publisher in Gateshead, and moved up to Durham where I am now.

What has been the most rewarding part of your career in publishing?

I found it really rewarding when I ran campaigns at Emerald to promote the journals, and got some really good results from that. It makes you feel like what you’ve done is worthwhile when you can see the usage of the articles has increased. That’s what made me interested in pursuing the marketing route! I also found it really rewarding to work closely with authors and editors and solve any problems they had. When they gave me positive feedback, it made me feel really good that I was able to help them.

You might need to be flexible and make some compromises.

Tell me a little bit about Publishing In The North, your blog. What motivated you to start this up?

I started this blog quite soon after I started working at Emerald. As I mentioned earlier, it had taken me quite a while to break into a paid role in publishing whilst living in the north of England. I suppose I wanted to share some of my findings, and to show that it is possible to pursue a publishing career up here, although it’s very tough and there certainly aren’t enough jobs for everyone. I also wanted to try to create a central place for any news about publishing in the north to be advertised, such as events run by the Society of Young Publishers and job vacancies. Unfortunately, I have been extremely lax at keeping it going though, so it is woefully neglected!

I was partly inspired by a publishing blog called Diary of a Publishing Intern (now renamed Diary of a Publishing Professional, available at http://diaryofapublishingintern.blogspot.co.uk). It’s a really good blog as it lists opportunities such as work experience and jobs, but they’re mostly in London. I wanted to try to provide something similar for the north, although of course there is less going on!

What advice do you have for those who live in the North who would like to pursue a career in publishing?

Be persistent, as it’s not going to be easy if you want to stay up north! Do whatever you can to get some experience under your belt. For example, you could start writing book reviews, proof read your university newspaper or ask local media organisations if they could give you work experience. You might need to be flexible and make some compromises. For instance, you might always have dreamt of editing fiction, but if you want to stay in the north then you’ll have better job prospects if you consider a much broader variety of publications. You’ll also probably need to consider quite a wide search area. I worked in Yorkshire and travelled back to see my boyfriend in Durham at weekends for a couple of years, which was a compromise but it was worth it in the end.

Getting some work experience in London can also be very valuable in the long run. I know it might seem too expensive to go down there, but it is possible if you really want it. I did my work experience whilst on annual leave from my paid job in Newcastle (with their permission), and whilst I was in London I slept in youth hostels so that I could afford it! I would advise people to check out the Getting Into Publishing event at Penguin books as well, if it’s still running this year. It’s usually held in around October/November.

What’s next for you in your career? How has your time in publishing helped equip you for this next exciting step?

I’m soon going to be starting work at a digital marketing agency. I’ll be working in the Search team, so I’ll be helping clients to ensure their websites are performing well in search engine results, for example by making sure that their online content is top notch. There’s going to be lots to learn! Working in publishing has definitely helped me to reach this point, as I probably wouldn’t have realised marketing was a route I was interested in if I hadn’t experienced it as an Editorial Assistant at Emerald. There are also lots of transferrable skills between publishing and marketing, such as written and oral communications skills, problem solving, analysing data and working with external stakeholders. Working as an Editorial Assistant was extremely demanding and varied, and I think it’s prepared me for just about anything!

You can find me on Twitter at @LucyHoulden.

My (much abandoned) blog is at www.publishinginthenorth.wordpress.com

Do you have any further questions for Lucy? Input them into the comments box below and I will get them answered for you! Any other comments are also welcomed and encouraged.

Introducing Freelance Editor Helen Stevens

My relationship with today’s interviewee proves the power of networking – I met her at a Society of Young Publishers event in Leeds after befriending her on Facebook in a Proofreaders and Editors group. Helen supported me a lot through my job hunt (and trust me, I never let anybody on Facebook forget that I was job hunting!) and told me about the two Editorial Assistant vacancies at Emerald Group Publishing near where she lives (I was successful in applying for the second one!) Not only this, but as my interview was at 8 am after a gruelling 4-hour coach and train journey, she picked me up from the train station and drove me to the Emerald offices. She sat with me and gave me advice and support until I plucked up the courage to go in there, and then picked me up and took me for tea and toast (ALWAYS a winner if you want something from me!) before I headed back to Hull. I owe a lot to this woman, and I admire her a lot. I only hope to be as good an Editor as her one day!

Never underestimate the power of networking, folks! Not only do you get to make lasting friendships, but you never know just how valuable those friendships can be in helping each other advance in their careers. Hopefully, I’ll get the chance to repay the favour for her one day.

Helen Stevens, Freelance Editor.

Helen Stevens, Freelance Editor.

Tell me a little bit about your background.

After graduating I worked for 8 years in the NHS in Lancaster as an admin officer and then a personnel officer.

How did you get into editing and proofreading?

While on maternity leave from my NHS job I decided I’d like a change of direction. I took a distance learning course in proofreading and then started sending my CV to publishers. I took on my first proofreading job at the end of 1995.

Did you find the transition to self employment to be a challenge? Did you feel excited or scared?

It was a challenge in some ways, although I’d already left the ‘9 to 5’ world of work, so that side of things wasn’t as much of a shock. I was excited, as I loved the work and enjoyed the flexibility and variety.

How long have you had an interest in editing and publishing?

Since I decided on my change of career. It wasn’t something I’d thought about before that.

What three things would you say are essential for a freelance editor to have?

Perseverance, flexibility, and a good supply of Yorkshire Tea.

…it’s a good idea to be on the look-out for new sources of work all the time.

Do you focus on a particular type or genre of writing?

I’ve always worked on non-fiction, although the type of work I do has varied over the years. In the beginning I proofread a lot of self-help/instructional books. Now I mainly edit material for non-native-English authors, including reports for an EU agency and journal articles for academics.

What are the biggest challenges and advantages you face as a freelancer?

The biggest challenges are, I suppose, the isolation and the lack of security. You don’t have the support of colleagues, as you would in an office environment, for example, and that can be an issue both professionally and socially. In terms of security, I’ve learnt over the years that it’s no good putting all your eggs in one basket, client-wise. I had one regular client who stopped using freelancers almost overnight, but luckily I had other sources of work to fall back on. As well as having a range of clients to keep you busy, it’s a good idea to be on the look-out for new sources of work all the time.

With more and more publishers outsourcing editorial work to freelancers, what must you do to keep yourself ahead of the competition?

Demonstrating your skills in the form of qualifications or professional status is important (I’m an advanced member of the SfEP). As much as anything, though, it’s about making sure clients can find you, and making sure you do a good job for those clients so that they come back for more (and recommend you to others!).

How do you keep yourself actively involved in the publishing industry while working at home?

Being a member of the SfEP is a great way of keeping yourself involved, whether that’s through the members’ forum, the magazine or the annual conference. But social media is also useful for finding out what’s going on, both in the UK and around the globe.

What do you like to read in your spare time?

I usually read fiction, although I’ve just finished Alan Johnson’s This Boy (the first volume of his autobiography), which I’m reading for my book group. Another memoir I enjoyed recently was Catherine Gildiner’s After the Falls, the follow-up to one of my favourite books of all time, Too Close to the Falls.

As a fellow Northerner in the publishing industry, what are your views on the clear North/south divide in publishing? Do people in the North have enough of a say or enough opportunity to have their voices heard in the industry?

Since my clients aren’t ‘traditional’ publishers, I don’t particularly feel this North/South divide. In fact, most of my clients are based overseas, so the North/South divide doesn’t affect me as much as it would other people working in the publishing industry.

I guess the only thing I notice is that a lot of the interesting publishing-related events tend to be in London, which is a shame.

Your favourite writers and books?

I don’t have a favourite author as such. I’ve enjoyed the novels of John Irving, Magnus Mills, Donna Tartt, Patrick Gale, Anne Tyler, Robertson Davies, Ian McEwan… (in no particular order).

You can find out more about Helen and her proofreading, editing and copywriting services here.

Follow her on Twitter @HelenSaltedit

Find out more about the SfEP here.

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