Wednesday, 2 May 2018

Bookouture - The Inside Story

JJ Marsh talks to Peta Nightingale, Head of Talent at Bookouture.

Bookouture, as the name suggests, is a bespoke publishing service. Can you elaborate on what that means in practice?

We are proud to put a lot of effort into the relationship with our authors, and work closely with them every step of the way. More than half our authors are un-agented and we feel it's important to offer the support that an agent would, as well as providing a first class publishing model. We see our authors as a family and they are very supportive of each other. We offer a step-by-step journey through the whole publishing process, treating every single title as a potential bestseller.

What are the advantages to the Bookouture route?
Why is it a better choice than a) going with the Big 5 or b) a small press or c) self-publishing?

a) We acquire world all language rights, and publish globally, attracting submissions from authors all over the world. We welcome direct submissions - as well as those from agents.

b) We have a short product cycle, publishing two to three books a year from each author - all with the same quality of editing, packaging and marketing as any traditional publisher.

c) We use dynamic low pricing to maximise a book's ranking and visibility, tracking daily sales data to ensure that we also optimise revenue.

d) We are obsessed with detail and able to make changes throughout a title's life - including to title and packaging - in order to optimise a book's performance. We use iterative data collection to measure performance and make changes to maximise performance and revenue.

e) We treat every title the same, whether from a debut writer or an author who has sold 2 million copies. Every book starts with the same marketing spend, and there are no tiers or 'lead' titles.

f) We pay a high digital royalty rate of 45% of net receipts, and pay royalties quarterly.

g) We publish direct to readers so there are no sales and marketing teams or retailers to convince. We publish across all digital platforms.

Digital publishing is more than ebooks. You offer Print-on-Demand services for those authors who want paperbacks?

We produce a print-on-demand paperback of every title we publish, as well as an audio edition wherever possible.

It seems you began by publishing commercial women's fiction, romance and chicklit, but have now expanded into crime and psychological thrillers. Why is that?
Do you plan to add new genres in the future?

We publish the genres that our readers want to read. Our current ratio of crime and women's fiction is representative of the bestseller lists at the moment, but we are constantly watching the trends and the shifts in reader preference. Our editors are experienced at publishing a number of different genres and we're always on the look-out for great writing, great characters and great stories - whatever the genre. We will be publishing some fantasy romance this year, as well as some up-lit fiction and some more YA.

How do you know if a book/author is a good fit for Bookouture?

Great writing and a willingness and ability to write fast make an author a good fit for Bookouture.

Do they need an established platform?

It is always an advantage if an author has an established, successful platform. But some authors are less comfortable than others at using social media, and we feel that an author's time is best spent writing great books, than struggling with posts and spending too much time on social media. Our two publicity managers, Kim Nash and Noelle Holten, work tirelessly with and for our authors and offer wonderful support to those who have less experience but would still like to have a social media presence.
Is being successfully self-published a red flag or a good sign?

An author who has written and published a bestseller is always a good thing! Successful self-published authors generally understand the way we work as we also use the KDP publishing platform and online marketing. The key to success here is in successfully gathering the available sales and marketing data and using that to drive publishing decisions and promotional tools.

Where do you find your authors?

We have an online submissions platform on which anybody can submit their full-length work of commercial fiction to us. We also have relationships with all the major London agents as well as many others across the world. I and our editorial team also follow the success of self-published authors and approach them directly. We use any means we can to find and attract the best writers out there!

Is Bookouture able to respond quickly to trends in book market?

Our publishing model - speed to market, publishing direct to readers - allows us to be as nimble and flexible as possible. Because we are always looking at and for new trends, we can respond very quickly - including in developing our own IP projects.

For example, the apparent move away from psychological thrillers and towards 'up-lit'?

Indeed, we are publishing some up-lit this year.

What are the rising trends and themes we'll all be reading next year?

Contrary to what many commentators are saying, the appetite for psychological suspense and thrillers seems undimmed with readers. Perhaps it is the traditional publishers who feel a certain ennui?! That's not to say that there isn't also an appetite for fiction that touches the reader in other ways. For us it is always about quality, so provided there are great characters with a tremendous hook, then we'll want to publish it. And of course we are looking at new themes and trends all the time.

Since Bookouture was acquired by Hachette UK, what's changed?

Nothing has changed in terms of our business model. But through print partnership agreements negotiated with Little, Brown Book Group's Sphere imprint in the UK and Grand Central Publishing in the US, we now have the potential to publish a conventional paperback. We have a continuous dialogue with our UK and US colleagues over which titles might go forward into these programmes, but success in ebook (there is no threshold as such) is the first indicator. The Little, Brown rights department now also sell our translation rights, which previously were handled by the Lorella Belli literary agency. We have also recently appointed The Artists Partnership to represent our authors' film, TV and stage rights. We only acquire rights from authors that we can successfully utilise, and we're really pleased to be able to offer this comprehensive package under the Bookouture umbrella.

What's your personal book of the moment?

We are always on the look-out for the sort of emotional storytelling that really tugs at the heartstrings. I recently read Rhiannon Navin's Only Child and can't believe it's a debut novel. Set in the US in the aftermath of a school shooting, it could have been a political and difficult topic. But her telling of the story in the voice of six-year-old Zach whose ten-year-old brother has been killed, together with her handling of his parents' inability to accommodate their own huge emotions with his, has made for an utterly beautiful and hugely accomplished book.

With grateful thanks to Peta and the Bookouture Team


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