The publishing industry has undergone many changes over the last few years, many of which can be attributed to the disruptions brought about by digital technologies. Alongside the rise of self-/ indie- publishing we are also seeing new types of publisher emerge, publishers who are turning traditional models and methods on their head and finding new ways of doing things. In our ‘New Publisher’ series we interview some of them about their approaches and what they hope to achieve by doing things differently.
We speak to Scott Pack of The Friday Project:
1. Can you tell us a little about The Friday Project and how your work differs from more traditional publishing models?
We are an experimental imprint of HarperCollins. We look at all aspects of the publishing model and see if we can adapt/evolve/subvert them for the benefit of authors, readers and our good selves. We offer profit share instead of the normal royalty/advance deals. We have been at the forefront of ebook pricing strategy. We were one of the first publishers to offer free content. Lots of stuff.
2. What does TFP offer writers and readers that traditional publishing doesn’t?
More risk?! Ha, not really. I believe we offer most of the benefits of traditional publishing but without being tied to the old school way of doing things. We don’t have to convince a room full of people from different departments that we should acquire a certain book – when you are not paying an advance it gives you a bit more freedom in that regard. We can work with retailers and their need to have books presented in a certain way several months ahead but we can also bypass that and bring books to market in a very short timeframe. Our bestselling book, Confessions of a GP by Dr Benjamin Daniels, had zero review coverage, no publicity and very little retail support and yet we are knocking on the door of half a million sales in print and digital. I suspect that if we were stuck in the traditional model then we would never have achieved that level of success. We also believe publishers have to evolve as the market evolves. Publishing used to be all about the first few weeks after publication date but now a book can become a success months, even years after it is published. That creates all sorts of issues but also loads of opportunities.
3. Publishers have traditionally acted as cultural mediators. Self-publishing has challenged that role. What do you think is the main purpose of publishers now? And do you think that there is still a need for cultural mediators?
I do think the mediator thing is shifting somewhat. Readers are an intelligent bunch—they must be, they are reading books after all—and they know that publishers do a great job filtering out books that aren’t good enough or aren’t ready to meet an audience but they also know that many great books don’t make it through those filters. Many of them are reading a mix of traditionally published and self-published books now and enjoying both.
Also, many of our presumed cultural mediators—critics, book review pages, arts media—focus on a fairly small pool of books, authors and genres (not their fault, they don’t have much space or time to do anything else) whereas the readers they service tend to find their books from a larger pool of recommendation so are turning to bloggers, twitter and elsewhere. So that is changing too.
The main thing publishers can offer authors now is just what the name suggests: publishing. Writers who self-publish also need to be project managers, they need to organise and approve copy edits, cover design, proof reading, metadata etc. as well as turning their hands to PR, marketing, accounting and the like. Publishers have experts in all of these areas, writers are by and large not great at all these things. Publishers give writers time and space to write and then help them create the biggest possible platform for their work. Some writers will not need that, and it is great that they now have an option, a viable option, to publish their work themselves but I suspect most writers will still want the support that a traditional publisher brings.
4. What do you see as the main opportunities and challenges for writers today?
The big opportunity is that you can get published even if no publisher is interested in your work. How exciting is that?
The big challenge is actually the same thing. It is a lot of work to publish your own book and as so many people are doing it it is harder to get your work discovered.
5. What advice would you offer to writers weighing up their publishing options?
Research and read. I still get submissions from writers and agents who clearly have no idea about the sort of things we publish. Do your homework. Target the agents and/or publishers who are the best fit for your work. The best way to do that is to read lots of books and the ones that resonate with you are the ones to investigate – who published it? who was the editor? who was the agent?
Also, apart from a very few old school editors most publishers are happy to consider authors and work that has been self-published as an ebook. If your attempts to go down the traditional route do not meet with success then do go online and prove them all wrong, then they might just pay attention.
6. What’s next for your company? Are there any exciting developments that you can share with us?
Blimey, we have a great line-up in the next 18 months or so. Biographies of Super Furry Animals and THE THE, remarkable new novels from Niven Govinden and Janina Matthewson, some really interesting digital projects and we are moving from Hammersmith to a posh new building next to the Shard. It is all going on.
Other interviews in our ‘New Publisher Series’: