Monday, 10 August 2015

Creative Conversations: Meeting writers and publishers face to face

Dear all,

I am so far behind in my blogging I am afraid I am posting about something that happened a few months ago! Is it really August? This year has disappeared… I know we all say that but it’s true… there is a lot going on at the moment and I hate to admit that I have put blogging down the priority list a bit, as much as I like doing it, but I hope to be getting back to once a week posts very soon.

I would like to tell you about a self-publishing networking and conference event I attended back in May at my local university, The University of Greenwich run by the Department of Creative Professionals & Digital Arts

They have set up a project called ‘Creative Conversations’ that brings together a range of people to discuss and exchange ideas on how the creative arts and business and commerce in creative organisations can interact and develop.

Here is the link to their blog:

I was lucky enough to be informed of this event as it was discussing the future of publishing and more specifically the current and future relation between mainstream publishers and independent publishers (where I learnt a great new word – authorpreneur!) and the growth of new forms of digital storytelling, distribution, customer led content development, reader/author interaction and of course the way writers in the future can make money.

I have attended lots of events like this in the past, but not in the publishing field. I worked in an art and design university for ten years and being part of that type of organization you have the opportunity to meet lots of interesting people and visit and attend a huge variety of creative events, both with an educational, academic aim but also for pure enjoyment. However, this was the first time I have attended an event where I had both a personal interest and a business interest too. Although I am an amateur writer and publisher at the very early stages of development, it is what I want to do for a long time to come and so I went to this event with a very different mindset. In fact, I felt like a nervous student attending his first class…

For one, I took a notebook! That means serious business! This wasn’t just a chance to wander around a gallery and chat with people over a glass or two of wine whilst grabbing handfuls of twiglets and crisps. I really wanted to learn and discover first hand what the industry was up to. Now, before that sounds lazy of me, as if indicating I don’t do that already, meeting people face to face, hearing their stories and listening to questions and answers from the crowd is a much different thing to reading lots of newsletters, emails and articles on the laptop. Yes, of course I keep up to date with industry news online. I try and read and keep an eye on dozens and dozens of industry websites, social media sites and all the rest of it, but there is something special about seeing people in the flesh and also, something quite nerve-wracking.

I have to admit to being more than a little worried about attending. After years of being very comfortable at public events and public speaking I found myself doubting my right to attend and thinking about what I would say about me and my company should I have to introduce myself. It’s a strange thing. I realised I was representing one category of their target audience, and yes, they wanted small independent writers and publishers there but what right had I to put myself in that category? Having an online presence is one thing but putting yourself in front of people is quite another. It all became so real! Had I really self published my work? Had I really published other peoples’ work? Had I really set a company up? I felt very, very small...

Anyway, nerves aside once I arrived and took my seat the evening went well. The speakers and topics were very interesting and it was a good experience. I shouldn’t have been worried really but I guess that just shows you that when something means a lot to you, it doesn’t matter what the situation is, you are going to feel the nerves.

The panel took turns to introduce themselves and then the debate started and before you know it, everyone is eagerly involved.

The panel should you wish to look them up:

Steve Carsey:             Director of Original Programming for Audible.
Katrina Hopewell:     Marketing Consultant.
Kate Pullinger:          Novelist and Academic.
Jeremy Thompson:   Managing Director of Troubadour.
Justine Solomons:     Byte the Book (Chair).

It was great to listen to them talk about their backgrounds and what they do now within the literary world and they were some great questions from the audience. It was also great to hear directly from the audience and find out what people are up to. There were all sorts of interesting projects (a lot of the night was dedicated to discussing new methods of storytelling – where the traditional view of what a book is could go with such amazing advancements in digital technology) and although not wanting to sound negative, it was also comforting to hear that other people suffer from the same doubts, pressures, problems and issues!

As much as we think that self publishing is a relatively new phenomenon, really we know that it has been happening for hundreds of years and what we actually mean is the new modern phenomenon in the rise of electronic self publishing and the reduced costs of printing services. That is where the boom has come from and it was interesting to hear Jeremy explain the huge increase in numbers they have seen since the late 90s when they first started their self publishing arm, Matador. I recognized the issues that authors go through and it was nice to hear that large companies have to deal with the same problems small companies do, there is no secret way to quality. Editing, production, design, marketing, and so on are all important stages of developing a book and regardless of the scale are essential to a successful, revenue generating product. What of course is different, is that with scale comes investment and budgets. After a decade in the business you have made good contacts with printing companies, distribution companies, shops and delivery services. And that is where scale does make a difference with costs. It was an interesting section for me because how do you translate working with thousands of potential books a year from working with maybe a dozen?

To learn more about the largest self publishing company in the UK please visit:

I took a lot of notes that will go a long way to building up my business plan and I don’t want to bore you here with all my little jottings but I’ll highlight just a few of the subjects that came up that I benefitted from hearing of other people’s experiences. This is collectively what I took from all speakers and I’m funneling it into one overall impression, from me as a ‘wannabe’ publisher and writer.
  • Methods on attracting new writers and how to promote current writers.
  • Submission policies.
  • Formal, legal contracts with larger firms.
  • Payments, margins and royalties.
  • Investments and negotiations in advertising and building social media profiles.
  • Marketing campaigns and strategies.
  • Targeting an audience, deciding what that (your) audience is, trying to focus on a market.

Now these aren’t new to me, and if you are involved in self publishing they won't be to you either, but again, their value and importance takes on a new level when you hear directly from the people who are commissioning new works and publishing new works, it doesn't seem theoretical anymore... from people who are responsible for large sums of money and large scale projects... from those who have been there and done it over a number of years and have proved their success. It is actually quite forceful when presented as hard evidence from people who know their stuff. 

And some of the most interesting and inspiring revelations included:
  • New technologies for hybrid digital and media storytelling.
  • New mixed media – combining music, animation and graphics with prose.
  • Advancement of digital e-readers and tablets, what performance they offer.

When you go to events like these it can sometimes be information overload. Those last points are a bit like listening to a TED talk or similar, it can be very inspiring and wonderful to hear about the latest developments out there and some of the amazing projects being undertaken, but you have to identify what is useful to you and be reasonable about what you can feasible implement. The future may seem brilliant but don't forget that you need to do the basics here and now in the present. That is not to say to ignore the rest. It all went down in my notebook but whether or not I will ever get to the position where I can invest in, and expand, my business, I don’t know; but there are extremely interesting avenues to explore should I be able to and hopefully I can share those with you in future blogs. 

The other thing about going to these sort of events is that you can be intimidated (not in an aggressive way! In a self doubting kind of way) by the fierce competiton. That isn’t news in publishing and writing, nor it seems in any profession these days, but when you see so many talented, intelligent and creative people in the flesh it really can be scary. How the hell are you meant to compete with such amazing minds?

The trick is, for me anyway, to always remain focused on what it is you want to do and what you want to achieve. There is no point comparing yourself to others as it’s just a way of making yourself feel useless! Learn from them, yes, use their skills, experiences and knowledge, yes, use them as markers for progression, yes… but don’t judge yourself against them. You must always remember the art you want to make and be content in making yourself proud, by your own works, not how well or not they do against someone else. The sheer amount of work is overwhelming but the opportunities and possibilities that arise from meeting people in person, making those contacts and opening yourself up to judgment is a fantastic way to progress. It is something I have told myself I have to start doing soon and I hope that 2016 is the year I get involved in physical reading, writing and publishing groups more. I need to network and meet people, learn what they are doing and push myself to expand and grow. It is scary when you are at the beginning, at the bottom of the pile, but essential.

To learn more about the writing and publishing membership organization that chaired the event please see: and

Take care all,

R.G Rankine.

Follow me on Social Media:

Google+: (Personal Channel)
Google+: (Company Channel)
Blog 2:   

And Author Profile Pages to keep informed of the latest releases:

Amazon UK:  (Click 'Add to Favourites’ under profile photo)
Amazon US: (Click 'Add to Favourites’ under profile photo)
Apple:             Author page not available yet - search R.G Rankine
Kobo:              Author page not available yet - search R.G Rankine