Monday, 28 November 2011

(publishing) Christmas Presents Ideas

I'm browsing on-line for Christmas presents, I need to buy gifts for a lot of people, since my family is quite big and ever-growing, but thanks goodness (!?) I don't have too many close friends!
I'm always looking for quirky presents, I hate the usual ones (perfumes, t-shirts...), unless they have a nice, creative twist on them. Some presents like books and scents are in my opinion too personal and I usually stir away from them.
Anyhow, found a few lovely publishing-related gifts I'd like to share with all my geek pals out there!
They're cute things that I think would be great for Office Secret Santa (the cheaper ones, of course), and also for other random occasions!
I'd just like to point out that I haven't been paid to show this stuff, they're just gift ideas I've found around!

First of all, a lot of Mugs!!
Library Mug - £10

For the co-worker who's always too busy to make tea!

For the Penguin Classic fans

For hardcore fans of cute sticky notes (I'm one!) Here are the cutest!

Pure Genius!

<3 I want these!

Lovely Bookplates from Etsy

Absolutely love this, a cook book stand, that looks more like a witch's spells book holder! 
My mum would love this!

For the colleague who always forgets things!!

For my girly, nerdy friend...

Love this book, have a copy myself!

We all need this at work!

For your Apple-addict and literary friend

SO cute, especially because I love Moleskine!

Ahem, I really need one of these!

Thursday, 27 October 2011

My Career so Far - helping graduates in Publishing to cope.

Today I'd like to write a little about my job and my career in publishing so far. Boooring. No, I promise, I think it would be useful to explain a little bit where I come from and shed some light on a field of publishing which is often overlooked or totally ignored. Also, I want to give some hope to the young graduates out there, who are sending millions of CV everyday - and getting no answer back.

Being part of the Society of Young Publishers I know what graduates and people who'd like to start their career in publishing are looking for, which is exactly what I was also looking for before ending up where I am today.
When asked about possible fields of interest for an internship/first job you'll receive these, in the following order: editorial, marketing/publicity, rights, graphics, production. Ahem, forgotten anything? Yes. SALES.
I know that when you think about sales you're just imagining an open-plan office, full of men (men and sales seem to get along well, as women do with mid-term shopping sales), shouting on their phones in order to get a deal.
WRONG. It can be much more glamorous
This is the story of how I ended up in export sales.
After my MA in publishing (in Ireland, so entirely in English) I decided I wanted to be a proof-reader. I loved the exercises we had to do for the course and the power of a red marker! I even ended up been one of the best in my class (gotta brag about it!).
It's obviously kind of weird for an Italian person to proof-read English texts, but I think that my study of the English grammar and that of other languages (French, Latin, German, Italian and Spanish) helped me a great deal and gave me quite an eye for mistakes (now please stop scanning my blog, I hate proof-reading on a screen!).
When I finally realised that nobody would eventually give me a job in that field, mainly because of my nationality, I turned to translations. I ended up doing yet another Editorial Translation course in Bologna (Italy) which was useful of course, but just showed me how difficult translating actually is, and what a long, exhausting and perilous job! A bad translation could cost the author and the publisher everything! Hmmm...too much pressure there.
Since I couldn't find a job in Italy - I'm not afraid to say that it's hard to find a job in publishing in Italy unless you have very good connections, you've shagged Berlusconi and/or one of his friends, or you have a degree in Economics (love the money!) - I decided to go abroad once again. I ended up in Switzerland, since my fiancĂ© was working near Zurich, and spent the last of my money doing a course in order to refresh my German and eventually find a bilingual/trilingual job there.
Waste of time and money. Did an interview with a pharmaceutical company in Basel for their internal magazine, but didn't get the job because I have no science major/degree - people, you should specify this on the vacancy section, you know!!!
I decided to give it a go and come to the UK, and after I cheekily lied about my residence on the CV - YES, OF COURSE I LIVE IN LONDON! - I finally landed a 3-month internship with a small, independent publishing house in Hertfordshire.
Being their first intern I got do dip my foot into everything, from loyalties to social media marketing, publicity and editorial stuff.
My biggest achievement during this time was to contact the famous Italian horror director Dario Argento for an interview with one of our authors. During the phone call I even acted as interpreter/translator, and had the time of my life. You can see the author's article on HIS BLOG. There's also a recording somewhere, but anyway, this made me really proud and made me think about a possible path in marketing and publicity. I basically went out there, somehow managed to get in touch with a festival organizer, who put me in contact with the director's PA, who then helped me organising the interview. I mean, I rock! ;)
Anyway, those months during the unpaid internship were great and I really had a lot of fun. The people were lovely, and it was a very relaxed work place that really gave me the chance to see how small publishing houses work!
So there you go, I now had 3 possibilities: rights (because of the various languages I've studied and kind-of speak fluently), marketing and publicity, and finally graphics (I love computers and InDesign, although I don't have a certificate or anything to prove it...working on it!).
I then decided to apply for as many internships I could, in order to get work experience in every possible publishing field and eventually see which one would suit me best. Eventually found myself near Brighton, working for yet another small publishing house, this time more focused on design/artistic/visual books. I ended up doing some marketing research and picture research for an entire month.
Picture research is hard work, I promise you! You need to stay in budget, and carefully choose pictures for a book. You need to contact agencies, museums, privates and keep the boss in the loop. This is quite terrifying when you're the first intern ever, working for a fierce, amazing, independent woman! Loved the office and the co-workers (all women!), and was really sad to be there for a month only, but hey, finally I had an internship in Penguin rights dept lined up that I couldn't possibly miss. But I did.
You see, I had to work nights in order to pay the rent and food - lost almost 10 kilos in 4 months! I hate waitressing, I really, really do. And I really wanted a job that would allow me to do what I like and would pay the bills as well. After working my way through college and the MA - having often to skip parties, hangovers and happy times because I had to open the cafe early in the morning - I really had enough of working for free 8 hrs a day and then spend another 4-5 doing what I hated the most.
So I eventually decided to give up my month at Penguin and another internship in order to find a proper, (kind-of) paid job.
Subsequently, after my time down South, I decided to take a job as a marketing and office admin. This is basically what I'm doing now, in London.
I know it doesn't sound exciting, but you really need to work hard in order to do what you like and love. Working for this publishing agency for the past year and half taught me so much and made me grow as a -working- person.
I must say that at the end of the day I'm doing much more than what it's written on the contract.
I'm a PA, office admin, marketing enthusiast and publicity freak. A sales minion, customer pleaser (only with words, goes without saying!), fairs-organiser, table booker, all-doer, book-launches-attendant-magnifique.
I think that covers it. It's not my dream job, but this can open a million doors - possible future bosses out there, take a number (errrr...)!

The important thing at the end of the day is that we're young and as long as we're willing to work hard, however stressful and boring a job could seem - and be -, in time, we can achieve anything. We have to show that we can do whatever is asked of us, and really, nothing is impossible. 
Case in point: I hate phone calls. I don't even like receiving phone calls, in Italian, from friends and family. Now I have to contact people all the time, in Asia, Africa, India, people sometimes I can barely understand. There you go, excellent training you might need in your next job, be grateful.
I've also discovered a side of publishing which is also never quite spoken of. I'm loving international sales - even if I'm working in it indirectly - and I really hope one day to be one of the export rep who travels around the world selling books! A dream!!!
So far I'm liking what I'm doing and I'm open to new adventures in the fantastic world of publishing (somebody ought to write that book!), and I'm so glad I got to experience so many different things in the past 2 years in the UK.
I really hope graduates won't lose hope when yet another of their CV has been rejected. Keep trying, keep your chin and hopes up, work hard and keep up-to-date, and you'll definitely find something. It might not be what you've always dreamed of, but in the end you'll discover you can do things you've never thought you'd be capable of
Oh yes, you also need some luck, but since I'm one of the most unlucky people on earth, there's really hope for everybody else!!! ;)

Friday, 2 September 2011

Music, sound effects and all that Jazz in Books

This morning I was watching BBC and they introduced the concept of Booktrack, a soundtrack to your ebook. I was at first astonished, then disgusted, then numbed, and then resigned.
Ok, Ok, Iet me tell you something. I'm a very musical person. I've been singing before I could speak and even though I'm no Annie Lennox I think I know how to pull a note straight. Unfortunately I have no other musical abilities, I know the basics of guitar and bass guitar, but that's about it. This is quite frustrating, since sometimes my head comes out with such amazing songs and riffs, that if I could able to put them into real music, I'd be the best musician on the planet...and I'm being honest.
All this to say that when I read I think about people voices and faces. I think about how they dress and they move, and yes, I think about sounds and music too.
I don't know if this happens because I'm so into music, or if also other people do the same. The point is that, as I've previously mentioned, when I'm reading I zoom out of reality. It doesn't matter if I'm in a bus full of people or at home with people watching TV, if the book is good I just don't notice anything or anybody. Why, then, would I want something that distracts me? I know it's meant to follow exactly how you read and go with the story, but I think it's too much, I got movies for that.

So let's talk about Booktrack for a minute. 
Booktrack represents a new chapter in the evolution of storytelling, and an industry "first" in publishing, by creating synchronized soundtracks for e-books that dramatically boost the reader's imagination and engagement. The company's proprietary technology combines music, sound effects and ambient sound, automatically paced to an individual's reading speed. Funded by investors including, Peter Thiel, co-founder and former CEO of PayPal, and member of Facebook's board of directors -- and in partnership with the largest publishing houses, best-selling authors, and award-winning composers and musicians -- Booktrack is already well on its way to creating a new genre of entertainment.
Ok, now let me just  share some thoughts on all this:

  • The synchronized soundtrack sounds amazing, but that's not bound to be perfect and accurate at all times. Basically, for what I understood, you'll need to read a sample and the computer will register your average reading speed. So far so good. What about when you receive a text and you stop reading to check it? Will the music and effects go on? How does the computer know when to stop? Probably you have to push a button or something, which is pretty annoying. But even more annoying is when you're not really focused on the book, or the text makes you think about other things, about landscapes, poems you had forgotten, memories...and you're so lost into it you need to re-read the same line 100 times (it happens to me, a lot!)! How does the computer know what you're doing in your mind!? How does the computer know how slow or how fast you'll read a certain book? Because my speed depends on the author, on the story, on the literary style. 
  • 'Dramatic boost to the reader's imagination': I appreciate how some sea noises could be impressive during the reading of Moby Dick, but if you can't imagine those sounds in your mind without the help of a reading device, then you're sad. Really sad.
  • When somebody on BBC Breakfast claimed that sometimes the noises and sounds were too literal (i.e. while reading Marching Powder aka cocaine, the noise of marching feet came up), and therefore not 100% reliable, the company said that they work closely with authors so that the soundtrack for each book will be just right. How many books do you think will then be developed in this way? It would take a massive amount of time, money and resources in order to 'translate' each book, or even a year's worth of books into booktracks. So I don't think it'll be very reliable, and that sounds will be add automatically by some computer.
I appreciate the fact that this has been thought for commuters, who already listen to their music while reading in order to isolate themselves from the crowd. I personally couldn't, I would get so distracted by the music that I would start singing and lose the plot. Music is the only thing that distracts me! But I see how this idea could work for them. 
I also think it would be great if the sounds and noises were added to a normal audio book, so you'd get to listen to the reader's soothing voice, wherever you are, and immerse yourself into the story, literally. I think that would be great and would definitely work with kids...but then again, that's not really a book, is it?

Thursday, 1 September 2011

Celebs Publicity Pt.2

Another example of very good publicity!
Gosh I love find these things around. Kim Kardashian tweeted to her 9,485,192 followers about the book 'Embraced By The Light' by Bettie Eadie. 

No better publicity, right?

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

Competitive Reading, Marketing appeal and Intrusive Publicity.

I'd like to apologise for my long absence. In my defence, I've been quite busy, but also I don't like to write useless posts, just for the sake of it! I like to be interested in what I write and at least -hopefully- contribute to the hottest debates.
So, I was attending a few very interesting sales meetings by some of the publishers we represent with the agency. I must admit I'm a sucker for conferences, I love them. I could spend my life taking notes and eating at buffets. But, yes, there's more to it than food and free tea and coffee (weirdly enough)!
What happens at these conferences is that the editors present their products and the ideas behind them. The marketing team will then explain the campaign that will be in place in order to sell, sell, sell. Hopefully. I must say that apart from a couple of big, fat marketing campaigns for big titles, the rest was pretty much confined to 'social media marketing'.
Is social media marketing still the big thing? I don't know if you could simply rely on it, fact is that you need your title to go VIRAL. This means that the more the title is out there - through a transmedia campaign -, and people talk about it, the more that title should be well-known and ultimately sell more.
Anyhow, a publisher, speaking of targeting sales, came out with a name I had read around the net a few times, but never really bothered to check out: KOBO.
You might have heard of it for its readers and apps, and the fact that it allows you to buy ebooks on any given device. But Kobo is so much more than this. For what I understood, it allows readers to check-in their books, earn badges, and keep track of their reading stats — and share all of these activities to their Facebook profiles etc. It's a proper Social Reading Device!
There are many social media communities focused on books out there. For instance I've been registered with Anobii for ages and, even though I'm not really using it anymore, I thought it was a great idea! A way to share your passion for books (physical ones at the beginning!) with other readers. Exchanging reviews and rates, and the thrill that comes with seeing your huge virtual library right in front of you, for the world to see (and for you to brag about!).
I love how it's possible to search the books you have in real life and add them to your virtual shelf. I have a lot of fun writing reviews and rating titles, discovering books I had forgotten and comics I wish I had known already.
So let's see, would you like an app on your reader, or even just an option on your Anobii profile to suggest you what to read next?
Sure, they already tell you, Amazon-style, what other people who have already gone through the book you're reading just now, moved to next - but is that enough? What do you think if they actually tracked you down, compared notes (FB, MSN, four squares, G+) and made their own profile of you and send you personalized suggestions? And what if they sent it to you via email, in your own personal space, when you're a few pages away from the end of your beloved book?
If you're like me you probably have another 50 books lined up for the next read, and you'd be terribly disturbed by the invasion of technology, but I bet a lot of people would actually pay attention to it. Maybe people who are pretty straightforward in their literary choices and preferences.
I'm definitely not that easy to read or to study, my dear tech device. I have trouble finding something I like in a book shop. I'm so bad I get desperate before going on holiday because I don't know which books I should bring with me, and consequently end up with random stuff. An example? My latest holiday in Greece randomly featured a thriller by Rick Mofina, the autobiography of a lesbian-feminist-republican writer, a fantasy tale by Neil Gaiman, and a fictional story of violence and incestuous relationships in London. (I can give you the titles if interested!).
I mean, not very common, straightforward stuff!!
But in a world where everywhere you go and wherever you buy (especially online) things get suggested to you non-stop, would book suggestions make any difference?
I probably wouldn't like it. Reading is some sort of past time for me, something I do to unwind and relax, something I do in the privacy of my bedroom or in a solitary corner, and I don't want any intruders. That's why maybe I wouldn't register to a website that tracks your reading progress. This is not a competition! I can be a terribly slow reader (it depends on the book and on how tired I am), or a tremendously fast one, but I don't need to push my limits in order to impress my peers online or in real life. Because we all know how it works. You start befriending your co-workers, your friends, and then people you don't really know but who are working in the industry and you're following on Twitter.
That's probably why I'll never have a reader. It'll happen, you'll see. You buy and download your ebooks, and they'll send you first chapters of this and that. Sure, you might discover some amazing new books you would otherwise never hear of, but it's more likely something big publishers have paid big money to publicize.
It'll be like fake suggestions in bookshops - well, in chains like Waterstone's and WhSmith - where the publishers pay quite a lot for their books to be in the front shelf, or in the suggested list.
I don't want that. I want to get lost in a book shop and being attracted by a cover, a title, a format.

Am I just an old, grumpy elitist?

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Books or Videogames? Gamebooks!

While I was twittering along last week, I came across the tweet-up of the Book Hackday which took place in London on the 14th May.
I was quite taken aback by some of the topics and ideas expressed there, even though I had anticipated them in my head a while ago.
The main idea that really has made me think, for a while now and even before finding this tweet-up, is that of a customised book.
During the Book Hackday one of the mentioned projects was the House of Stories, an app that transforms the book into an interactive and gaming experience for the reader. For what I understood the stories are commissioned and customised for the reader.
@DigitalDanHouse (at the conference) then tweeted about a book that would re-arrange itself in order to follow the twists and turns of the reader's mind. Basically the book that reads the reader's while this one reads. Easy-peasy right? I think this is quite scary in a way, but that it would also be amazing if well put together!
One thing came to my mind straight away, a recollection from my childhood: a Gamebook or CYOA (choose your own adventure books). This was very famous in the 80s and I remember having a few of them, mostly D&D themed (I was a geek at the time as well!). 
They're books which allow the reader to participate in the story by making choices that affect the course of the narrative, which branches down various paths through the use of numbered paragraphs or pages. Easier done than written, trust me. You're simply facing a choice - like at the labyrinth you go left or right - and from then you just go to a different page and something happens.
I never really liked that sort of books because I thought that it was awful to leave so many unread pages behind, therefore I would go back and read also the other option consequently getting confused a million and losing the plot. I'm like that, I need to know.
It really is like role-playing, but you have to play by yourself - for what I know - and obviously you can't have infinite choices. So books have been trying in a way to imitate videogames since the late 70s (and then kind of quitted), so what would the result be with digital books? I think if we had a graphically enhanced book, then, yes, it would probably be the same thing as a videogame and the book would lose its literary connotation, preferring the more interactive visual elements.
But if the ebook content was 'merely' written and you could just decide to skip to different chapters, then it would be more similar to a Gamebook. The format would then allow the author to write more twists and different plots, and the reader could re-read the book again and, depending on his mood, make different decisions whilst read a totally different work of literature.
Would this format suit any literary genre or only thriller/horror and adventure? I don't know if women would ever buy a Mills&Boon book where they decide how the Sultan cheats on his belly-dancer...actually, probably they would!
Do you think it's possible for a gamebook to ever win a Booker Prize? And if not, wouldn't that be literary racism?
There's also another practical issue that concern me. How many ISBN would you need for one book if, at the end of the day, it's more than one depending on who reads it? Things get even more complicated if the author gets to update and add plots once the e-book is online and you can download updates (or upgrades like in videogames!).
I don't think we'll ever reach the point where the e-reader reads the reader and changes the story accordingly. That would be extremely creepy, but also extremely fascinating because the stories would differ from reader to reader, depending on their levels of fantasy and imagination. 
If this could actually happen, then, what would the role of the author be? Would we need an author if we could read our own fantasies?

Think people, think!!!

Friday, 6 May 2011

A Night at...Kim Scott Walwyn Prize

Yesterday night I had the honour to join my fellow SYP committee pals at the award night for the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize.
Kim Scott Walwyn

The prize was set up in 2003 in memory of the late OUP publishing director Walwyn, and it recognises not only the professional achievements of women in publishing, but also a promise of their future success. 
This year the price of £1000 was offered by the Society of Young Publishers, along with a one-day course of her choice, courtesy of the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) in Wandsworth. 
SYP Chair Ella Khan introduced the guests and candidates with a lovely speech, and then introduced Helen Fraser, former Penguin UK m.d. Ms Fraser delivered an amazing and touchy speech, which I think touched all of us deeply. She stressed how important it is to be strong and courageous in publishing, especially when you're a woman. She said that women tend not to show off their talent and get enough credit for their achievements, whereas men tend to be more out there and 'in your face', let's say. I loved how she compared men to the little boys in the classroom, waving their hands at the teacher asking for their attention once they've done something - in their eyes - spectacular. I think this is quite true, it's a men's world, but publishing is prominently a female one and we need to grow a set and totally go for it!
I'll try my best to follow this advice, be warned! :)
Anyway, after Helen Fraser's moving speech it came the time for Kate Jury, the Committee Chair, to present the lovely candidates:

  • Lucy Cuthew, Commissioning Editor, Meadowside Children’s Books
  • Jessica Leeke, Fiction Editor, Simon & Schuster UK
  • Sarah Norman, Senior Editor, Atlantic Books
  • Kay Peddle, Assistant Editor, The Bodley Head; Vintage Publishing; Random House
The award went to Kay Peddle, who generously decided to offer her check to a woman entering the publishing world, and could not afford to work as an intern. Because we all know that internship=enslavement!  Well, she was very excited, obviously, and emotional. Loved her genuine surprise when she was called on stage. Kudos to her!
It was a really nice evening, got to chat to some interesting new people, and to the 'old' SYP people. I also got the chance to work behind the 'bar' - I was filling glasses with wine, A LOT of wine. Gosh, gotta love the ever drunk publishing heads!

Pics from the amazing, and always useful Booktrust website

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

Advertising in Books - How to kill the fun, smash the dream and ultimately distract the reader?

When I started typing this post I was going to go for an anger-filled article, almost a proper rant.
I wanted to scream and condemn unwanted advertising. However, I decided to grow up, admit my mistakes and publicly change my mind. Maybe.

It's a tough life for books lovers who work in sales, marketing and publicity.
You need to reach your targets, sometimes knowing that what you do would terribly annoy you as a customer and/or a reader. Now, in an ideal world you'd be able to do things in a subtle, subdued way, and sneak in a trigger in everything you say or write, which will then make people buy your product.
In the real world, things are not quite going that direction. Things are blatantly in your face - love this sentence, even though I don't think it's semantically correct. Meh.
When I read about the new, cheaper, ad-supported Kindle - the Kindle with Special Offers -, my heart sank. I know, I know, this shouldn't have come as a surprise. We're so used to ads everywhere, from Facebook, to websites and apps; I know this is the price to pay for the abundance of brands on the market and also for the cheap or free apps you download on your phone. Someone has got to pay for the product, I get it. And unfortunately when I want to complain about how unfair is modern life, my first, pathetic, argument would simply be, this is a book. Books shouldn't contain ads!
But what about those examples from the past? When Dickens' stories were serialised, they were surrounded by publicity for related and unrelated products:
They were usually bound in green paper, and - after the first two monthly instalments of THE PICKWICK PAPERS - always included precisely 32 pages of text, two engraved illustrations, and, usually, 16 pages of advertisements.(source)
16 Pages of ads, it's a lot! But that's what pays the bill, and what allowed common and the poorer people to access the finest literature of the timeIf you think about it in this way, advertisements in books and Kindles don't sound all that bad, right? But then again, is the Kindle cheap enough for most people? In my opinion, it isn't. 

I think that if they really want to annoy us with ads, like they already do on the TV, in cinemas, on the phone, in magazines, and on the radio, they should at least give it away for a killer price. It seems like the UK won't see this version of the Kindle for a while, and it'll be sold in the USA, starting May 3rd. For what I read on a couple of English blogs, people don't really seem to be against this idea. So I'll give it a go, I'll try to look at it from a logical (my) point of view.
It's worth pointing out just how annoying these ads really are. For what I understood they would only pop-up when your Kindle goes into screensaver mode, or as banners at the bottom of the reading list. Fair enough, they allegedly aren't that intrusive, but to me this changes the whole conception of book and of the reading experience.
Could it just be that even though I love gadgets, and futuristic useless stuff I can't live without, I still cannot accept the fact that books are going - well, are already - digital?
I can't really admit I'm pro-ereader; I take what technology brings me day by day, but it doesn't necessarily mean that I love, or even like, the idea of it all.
I know that if I had a thing popping up or just appearing on the screen whilst I'm reading, it would just immensely piss me off - excuse my French! Also, if the ad is appealing enough, I would almost certainly look at it, browse around a bit, and lose the concentration I personally require in order to dive in the story in front of me.
The solution seems quite simple, really: buy the normal Kindle.
But then again what if people who cannot afford the normal Kindle can't also stand ads popping up on the screen? The answer is simple: buy a REAL book.
I could spend the whole day talking smack about ads in books and in the end it wouldn't do any good whatsoever. The only thing I'm sure of is that I love regular printed books, where the only advertisements you see are the other titles written by the same author or published by the same publisher. I can accept that, it's relevant useful information.
What I can't accept is external futile information on other products such as moisturisers, credit cards and cars. I'm not trying to condemn all kinds of publicity here though, I just want to put this problem in perspective. I love reading glossy magazines, filled up with amazing pictures and outstanding fashion ads. But that's a specific market. Take for example Vogue; you know what to expect when you buy it. A few articles on beauty and fashion trends, maybe some 'deeper', well-worded thoughts about the latest hot topic, and then pages over pages of pictorials and ads. It markets a specific audience, who buys -or in my case would love to buy but can't afford - up-market products. The ad, in this case, is basically the main content, it's almost a form of art.

What I'm really worried about is the cheapening of ads and of products which will most likely occur in time on ebooks. Right now Amazon is saying that their ads will 'look attractive and engaging, and will be going for screensaver images like landscapes, scenery, architecture, travel images, photography and illustrations' (source). Fair enough, but like everything else, they'll try and make as much money out of it as they can, selling ads space to anyone who wants to pay. How lovely it'll be to have a flashing penis promoting Viagra pills while you're reading Catullus' erotic poems! I don't think I'm exaggerating here, because sure enough they'll justify the amount of new, less posh ads, by saying that the products promoted are relevant to the genre or topic treated of the book.

Give it time and they'll send exasperated readers back to normal books, and I'll be in my corner laughing maniacally! OK, enough ranting.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Excellent -expensive- publicity idea.

Recently I've noticed a relatively new trend. I'm well aware that product placement is anything but new, the latest, obvious example was Britney Spears' video for Hold it Against Me, where she made $500k for randomly showing various products, while badly pretending to lip-sync.
Anyway I've noticed that more and more celebrities are getting pap'd showing off a book.
I think the way Kate Bosworth is holding the book is quite pretentious, almost like she wanted to show the product off..or just let us know that she's oh! so smart!
Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master & Margarita

Another example is lovely Sandra Bullock, pictured whilst holding her sister, Gesine Bullock-Prado, new cooking book Sugar Baby (what a coincidence!)
Here some other examples:
Kim Cattrall with The Secret by Rhonda Byrne

 ...and you can see many other examples HERE

I think that if you manage to get a celebrity pap'd with your book, you're OK with your annual sales targets!

Monday, 18 April 2011

LBF Rights Workshop: an introduction to rights selling.

The London Book Fair has come and gone so quickly, that I barely noticed the 3 days of madness and meetings that it's carried with it. The new faces I've seen, the million of hands shaken and the thousands of names caught, are now some kind of blur in my mind. I'm still exhausted!

Thanks to the Society of Young Publishers I had the chance to attend the pre-LBF rights workshop on Sunday 12th April. The workshop was a theoretical and practical introduction to the world of rights, one of the main activities at the LBF, really. 
I've always been fascinated by the world of rights and law-related topics in publishing; I had the chance to approach the topic in college, during my MA, and I thought it'd be interesting to get to know better the people who have been working in this field for a while, and hear directly from them the kind of challenges they have to face everyday at work.
Because selling and buying rights is not as straightforward as one might think! Reality sometimes is way more complicated than theory and cases you study on books, and there still definitely are many grey areas.
The copyright legislation differs from country to country and even though there are specific conventions, like for example the Berne Convention of 1886, there still are some issues which cannot easily been solved, and which require a different ruling every time, depending on the situation and the parties involved.

Anyhow, the panel consisted of the following brilliant people and experts:
Hugh Jones, copyright counsel at the Publishers Association
Oliver Munson, literary agent at Blake Friedmann 
Lynette Owen, copyright director at Pearson Education Ltd
Diane Spivey, rights and contracts director at Little Brown Book Group
Dominika Minarovic, rights assistant at Hachette UK.

I thought that the variety of experience and the different kind of markets represented was what made this particular panel very appealing. We heard the opinions of people who have been into the industry for a few decades, but also of a younger professional who has been working in rights for a couple of years only. So I really think this helped to give a broad and exhaustive perspective on the topic.

The workshop began with an introduction by Lynette Owen on the importance of rights, and the reason why it's important to buy/sell them. Obviously the main reason has to do with money. Rights are a source of revenue for the author, or the person/publisher who owns those rights. The fragmentation of the 'rights package', that comes with the original artistic work, will give the owner of the copyright the chance to expand their brand and audience, reach markets which would otherwise be hard to enter (translations in specific languages, remainders/cheap products for developing countries), exploit different kinds of media (TV, radio, movies...) and formats (digital, large print...). Of course the situation varies when it comes to educational publishers, as Ms Owen stressed a few times; a school book created in the UK is more likely to appeal to the UK market only, because the content would be focusing on that specific curriculum, therefore the publisher wouldn't rely much on the selling of translation rights et similia

Among the topics covered during the rest of the workshop, the head contract has been the most discussed issue by the panel. A head contract is the mutual undertaking of legal responsibilities between the author and the publisher. It's the main contract which -in theory- specifies who owns what, in terms of rights and licenses. Hugh Jones gave a brilliant overview of the main kind of rights, as for example, publishing, moral and privacy rights, specifying what the copyright actually is and why it's so important that Conventions such as Berne are in place to prevent the breach of contracts and the misuse of content. Mr Jones went on specifying the length of copyright in Europe and making comparisons with the USA/Canada cases which seem to slightly differ in almost all fields concerning rights selling and contracts. This was a very useful comparison and helped putting things in perspective. If you're like me you might have found yourself reading breaking news of new contracts and rights selling on international websites and you're scratching your head not knowing what's actually going on. No more! Almost.
Diane Spivey spent the last hour of the workshop giving a detailed, and indeed very useful, list of things that a good head contract should include. (Please let me know if you're interested in this and I can provide all my notes!). She also made a brief comparison between the rights that used to be the most important a few years ago, and those which are now, with the introduction of e-readers and such, the essential and most profitable ones.
It's interesting to know that serial rights, which were incredibly sought after during the past decades have now lost importance, mainly for the move of many newspapers to the digital format and also for the size of the newspapers themselves, which is now smaller compared to the past one. However, even though serialisation has lost importance, it's still a -small- source of revenue and of publicity.

English/Translation rights seem to be the most profitable. Markets are expanding, despite the general crisis of the last 2 years, and smaller, developing countries are entering the market.
Audio and radio rights have unsurprisingly lost importance for many reasons: first of all the cassette market has already gone out of business, and now the CD market seems to be facing the same crisis, since people are relying more and more on mp3 and digital files. However, even though radio rights aren't very profitable, they're steady and have a niche audience to which specialised programs and channels are dedicated - for example Radio 4.
What I found very interesting was the point Ms Spivey made about large print rights, and how they're becoming obsolete, if you think that you can change the size of your font on your reader without buying a specific large print edition of the book you want.
Other rights that were covered in this discussion were digest and condensation rights (for subscribers), digital rights (on which she didn't spend much time on, as she said that they usually mimicked the normal rights), and reactive rights (photocopies/anthologies), which interestingly are one of the most profitable areas for academic publishers, as underlined by Ms Owen.

A funny and interesting debate took place between literary agent Oliver Munson and rights assistant for Hachette UK, Dominika Minarovic. They tried to explain in turn why it would be better for the author to sell rights through a literary agency or a publishing house rights department. One thing seems to be the common idea of both sides, acquire broadly and license narrowly. Publishing houses usually have a rights department which sells directly in various territories and doesn't rely on middle-men/sub-agents like it often happens via a literary agency. Also, the rights department, being within the publishing house, works closely with the marketing, editorial and production departments, therefore it has an easier access to the promotional and other material which might be needed in order to efficiently close a deal. Whereas it's more complicated to access material when you're a literary agency, since you need to request everything from the publisher and very often this isn't very time-effective. 
On the other hand if an author decides to give their rights to a literary agency they 'd be sure that the he/she gets to keep more of the advances and royalties when they deal directly with oversea publishers. Plus, I personally think that the connection between an agent and a writer is a little more personal and close than between an author and a whole publishing house.

Finally, lovely Dominika gave an example of a typical day in her office life. I thought her take on rights selling was very refreshing, since she's a young woman who's been in the field only for a few years. She stressed how important it is to be organised and on top of everything when it comes to contracts and authors. She was able to answer the question that many of us in the audience wanted to ask: what exactly do you actually do in a rights department? She gave a few examples and tips on how to optimise your time in the office and avoid going crazy during book fairs!
All in all this workshop was very interesting, and educative. Some things were very theoretical and I would have appreciated more practical examples, maybe an examination of some well-known rights issues with important authors. I personally think that copyright law is easily understandable when you have a real case examined in front of you, but I guess this wasn't the right place, being an introduction to the topic.
The panel was excellent and talkative, which is always good. There were quite a few questions from the public, which means they were involved and interested in what the experts had to say.