Sara Hunt of Saraband gave an invigorating guest appearance at the Stirling Publishing course, the day after their Edinburgh launch of Lesley McDowell‘s Unfashioned Creatures. Saraband is a renowed independent publisher, known for its engaging, well-written non-fiction and attractive illustrated books, and also becoming renowned as an innovator in digital publishing, as well as the winner of Saltire Society Scottish Publisher of the Year Award.
Sara started off with emphassing the hanges that are happening in publishing. With the introduction of all imaginative, exciting cross-platforms and available transmedia, it is all the plurality and diversity of opportunities they provide that makes this the most exciting times for publishing. Theoretically, Sara says, those (read: us) entering the publishing business now are better off as we are by nature and education more media, digital developments and social platforms savvy than the generation of publishers before us. Almost anyone can start a business now, and there is a sense of optimism in the air. Publishing business is healthy in the overall revenue, though under the bonnets of individual publishing houses there are unseen challenges yet to be conquered.
Sara notes, with a tinge of despondency, how the value of the book has drastically eroded in recent years, for reasons that are as varied as books published. The consumer confidence is lacking and with the plurality of choices available make planning within publishing very challenging – to make the choice of what project to take on and back all the way is not always as obvious as it had been before. Another challenge faced by publishers – the conglomerates as well as independent – is how is the consumer going to find the new title you put out in the huge sea of published titles? People do not use the bookshops to browse, they use the internet and the web is never-ending source of all the information anyone could ever want, and investing in any one project above others is always a gamble. Though, Sara states, publishing decisions are always an informed gamble. Especially in the expanding culture of self-publishing it is the publisher whom is needed for discoverability. They have the know-how, the venues and the connections to bring out a title in the best possible way.
Speaking of discoverability and the changing market – apps. Sara is keen on the opportunities for marketing and visibility that an app brings to any title (though not all titles are app-able; if is to be made into an app, it has to have an element of interactivity). An app has to be more than a book converted into a phone compatible format. If this is done right, an app becomes that monetising part of the titles success. Yet, why apps? They are time consuming and expensive to produce, and monetising an app is even harder; the digital age generations has come to expect for everything online to be available for free or (thanks, Amazon) very, very cheaply. Sara explains how the answer is simply that there are more smart phone users out there now than there are readers.
Sara explains how digital marketing is in its prime now – social media, video trailers, audio clips, D2D and the mere scale of ebooks are the thriving force in modern marketing. Although, it is fallacy to think any of this would be easy; it is time consuming and expensive, and as all of it changes nearly over night, any campaign taken on becomes obsolete faster than you can type obsolete. Also, if there is a successful campaign of any sort, it will soon be adopted by others, making it a norm rather than an unique strategy – the window of opportunity here is minimal and the margin for error is massive. One definitely good way to get notices is to make sure you are not just following another trend, but to attempt to top the hot topics with something matchless. Saraband, for example, has just published A Capital Union by Victoria Hendry – and the review in the National Collective agrees taps into that “political atmosphere in Scotland today raising the stakes for any political work of art“. Scotland voting for independence in 2014, what better time would there be to bring out those titles that will discuss the impending referendum whether, like A Capital Union, from the historical point of view or then taking part in the current discussions. Knowledge is power – that is the gist of things; to think outside the box, and to think globally.
Sara ends her visit with a handful of helpful tips for the publishing wanna-/gonnabe’s, with the most important tip being to extend your skills. Learn more, read more and become an expert in something. Have something to show for those abilities you have obtained, be it InDesign or copy-editing, a keen sense of marketing or editorial knowledge. Show commitment and set yourself apart. Scavenge the vast amount of available information and use it to your advantage, and most importantly – find an outlet for your skills and opinions.