Tuesday, 31 March 2015

The Industry View - Alison Baverstock

Associate Professor Alison Baverstock, interviewed by JJ Marsh

What do you see as the three key changes in publishing since 2010?

The first must be the rise on rise of digital, which has both revolutionised the speed and reach with which content can be made available.

The second is the rise on rise of self-publishing, which far from being a mark of shame is now a badge of proactivity.

The third is the breaking down of publishing structures and the launch of so many new ones – new companies, new services and new formats. It fascinates me to see how many different ways in which content can be shared, supported and commented upon.

And what are the impacts of those?

For publishers, agents and readers, the impact of self-publishing is a vast increase in the amount of content available. The reader is having to make more effort to decide how to spend their time, and we are seeing a real shift in how people access material they want to read.

While the speed with which material can be made available is mind boggling, the same principles for sharing apply – don’t press publish until you are ready to be judged by what you have written. You really can only make a first impression once.

Words with JAM is all about writers, but I imagine the shifting landscape has affected many other areas of the industry.

Yes absolutely. For example, I have just done a large piece of research on how self-publishing is affecting the lives of freelance editors. It’s fascinating. It seems the traditional assumption that the difference between a published and self-published book was the involvement of an editor, is regularly not true. Rather, self-publishers are now becoming a regular source of income to freelance editors. The impact of self-publishing on independent editors is a wider market for their work, a broader acknowledgement of their role - and possibly increased rates of pay.

As an author who’s had a great deal of success via traditional publishing, you seem to have a positive view of self-published authors. Why so?

I decided to investigate the growing significance of self-publishing and researched and wrote a book for Bloomsbury called The Naked Author. I was really surprised to find such a contented group of people – all really pleased to have finalised content that mattered to them. I also like the atmosphere between self-publishing authors. They tend to be mutually affirming and encouraging - and very good at sharing access to suppliers they have found it good to work with.

You offer much wise marketing advice for writers, who often find that the least enjoyable part of publication. How do you, as a writer, engage with readers?

I enjoy connecting with writers on Twitter (@alisonbav) and often find myself picking up recommendations of what to read next there. I have a website although I confess I don’t update it very often www.alisonbaverstock.com My favourite method of engaging with writers is giving talks at literary festivals – I love the question and answer sessions. I also like being asked to write blogs and responses to questions online – so thank you for this invitation, which followed our meeting at a conference organised by Bloomsbury. Sometimes pieces I have written get rediscovered and that’s lovely – for example an article on creative careers several years ago now keeps popping up on Twitter. http://ccskills.org.uk/careers/advice/article/10-tips-for-a-creative-career

Can we talk about the Kingston University MA in Publishing – what do students learn? And what do they go on to do?

I co-founded the MA Publishing at Kingston nearly ten years ago now – and still teach on it. In fact I’m proud to announce (for the first time here!) that in the next academic year we will be launching a module on self-publishing within the degree. I think this shows how far the industry has come. We offer our students a blend of academic thinking and professional practice, and they are now embedded throughout the publishing industry and beyond (there are lots of organisations that need to know how to present information effectively). It really pleases me that our alumni stay in touch with the course and are really supportive of their successors, regularly offering to come and speak or assist by hosting placements.

What makes the UK publishing scene different?

I think our long tradition of publishing is something really special. I have a colleague at Kingston, Judith Watts, who has a passion for Publishing history – and I love listening to her stories of how previous generations of publishers solved problems. Nothing is new.

The digital surge seems to have encouraged a print comeback. Which format do you prefer?

Personally I love a well-produced hardback (with a good reading light, an open fire and a glass of wine). But I am very nerdy about the condition of my books, so always take off the dust jacket while reading. I am ashamed to say I never lend my books, although I regularly buy additional copies for people who ask if they can borrow something.

Would you ever consider writing fiction?

I have had a go, but it did not get published. I have written a memoir, which I will think about whether to publish sometime in the future – for now I am just glad it exists – and children’s fiction, based on my eldest son’s love of dinosaurs. I will maybe dust that down and think about revising it when I eventually have some grandchildren. So no rush…

Will you leave us with a top tip? Best book of last year?

I just loved Stoner. I can’t think how I had missed knowing about it for so long, but having got around to reading it, I found it completely engrossing – and very relevant given that I now work in a university. I also reread Paddington, having seen the film. The book and film were quite different but I enjoyed both. Paddington is the first fiction I can remember owning – my father bought me a boxed set of four Paddington titles with a book token he had received for his birthday, and I vividly remember him reading it to me. I can also remember questioning the books as objects as well as thinking about the stories – and wondering why none of the covers had any red in them. I was clearly a would-be publisher at an early age!

Alison Baverstock and Gill Hines, co-authors of Later!

Special offer from Alison

The fifth edition of How to market books is just out. Words with JAM readers are welcome to benefit from a special offer! Look on the Routledge website http://www.routledge.com/books/details/9780415727587/ and gain the discount by inserting the code SRK92 at checkout. You also get free postage and packing.

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