Tidbits and takeaways for authors and publishers from the Small Press Network Conference
UPDATED NOVEMBER 25 & 26
The Small Press Networks’ (SPN) Independent Publishing Conference 2022 held in Melbourne, Australia 24-26 November, included a research day, industry day and workshop day. It’s a great conference to get statistics on the Australian book industry and lots of insider publishing tips.
Here are some of the discussions that struck me in some way and may be of use to you as a writer, author, publisher or if you are self-publishing. Hope you find something of interest!
NB: Can recommend SPN as a good organisation to join for Australian small and micro publishers – SPN offers everything from publishing discounts to great educational resources such as this conference!
Also, here is the Readings list of key books from the SPN Conference. Books included on the list are those by conference presenters and the shortlist for the 2022 Book of the Year Awards.
Topics mentioned below include:
- NielsenIQ : State of the Market Report (stats about the Australian book industry)
- Nielsen BookScan’s Top 10 Australian Independent Publishers (ie: not the Big 5) by book sales value in 2022
- The financial difficulties faced by Australian writers and authors and a policy proposal to fix this
- Australian Librarians & Book Sellers Give Tips on How they Select Books
- Diversity in Publishing/Authors of Colour
- Australian book authors and publishing futures: a national snapshot in 2022
- Sustainability in the Australian publishing and bookstore industry
- Australian Authors and Publishers and #BookTok
- The Future of Bookish Objects: culture, copyright and commerce
- Publishing Timelines & Deadlines: Demystifying what authors need to do – and when – to bring a book successfully to market
- Literary Rights/Audiobook Rights/Movie & Film Rights & Global Trends
- Australian Writers Festivals
- Social Media for Authors
- Book of the Year Award Shortlist
- Non-bookshop Sales
- Miscellaneous but interesting info
Statistics from Nielsen BookData, Update: State of the Market 2022 as presented by Claire West (Nielsen IQ/Nielsen BookData) at Small Press Network’s Independent Publishing Conference Nov 25, 2022
Some key takeaways for Australian authors and publishers
- The number of Australian published book titles launched in Australia 2022 YTD = 11,559 (peak months for launch were Feb/March, June and October). In 2021 there were 12,653 launched and in 2019 there were 14,454 titles launched.
- 46 million print books (int’l and Au titles) have been sold in the Australian market YTD. This is an increase of 11% over 2021.
- Nielsen tracked sales of approximately 926,000 unique ISBNs in Australia in 2021 (ie: 926,000 books sold at least one copy in 2021 in Australia)
- YTD book market sales in Australia worth approximately $928 million, a rise of about 10% on 2021.
- New books ie: front list titles hold about 26% of the market, while backlist titles are responsible for 74% of sales.
- TikTok is having a huge effect on sales for certain authors, especially in fiction categories. It is also help lift sales of backlist titles.
- Winning literary awards has a huge effect on book sales for the winning book.
- There is substantial short and long term growth in the Australian graphic novels category.
- Of independent publishers, Affirm Press had the top-selling title and also the highest sales value in the market.
- Art Gallery of NSW topped the 2022 Nielsen Heatseeker list for short and long term growth in 2022. The National Art Gallery of Australia also had a top-selling title by value during the year.
- Year to date (YTD) 2022, there is only one Australian book in the Top 10 in Australia, The Happiest Man on Earth. NB: Last year there were 8 Australian books in the top 10.
- This year only 1 children’s book made the Australian top 10.
- Last year NZ had 3 food titles in the Top 10, but this year none.
- It’s important for publishers to send your new title information to Nielsen via com. Completing your metadata is important so booksellers and librarians around the world can find your information.
- Nielsen has some brief research/stats on audiobook usage here
- Nielsen also has much more extensive information for customers around this report. Get in touch with them for the data as well as to learn about how their research tools can help your understanding of book sales in Australia.
Nielsen BookScan’s Top 10 Australian Independent Publishers (ie: not the Big 5) by book sales value in 2022
- Affirm Press
- Pascal Press
- Text Publishing
- Schwartz Publishing
- Scribe Publications
- NewSouth Books
- University of Queensland Press
- Five Mile
- Pantera Press
- Magabala Books
The financial difficulties faced by Australian writers and authors and a policy proposal to fix this – KEYNOTE by Dr Ben Elton.
A rousing and sobering keynote from cultural policy expert Dr Ben Eltham regarding the state of the literary sector in Australia and the difficulty Australian writers have trying to earn a living wage.
- The reasons he stated for this include “the small size of the literary market in Australia, the structure of cultural industries, the dominance of the Big 5 publishers, the difficulties of writers trying to reach their audience, the general decay of the industry and the very, very low level of funding for literature from the government.”
- “We have had a federal government for many years that was loathe to see the value of the Arts, but no trouble at all criticizing it,” said Eltham.
- Ben Eltham (paraphrased) went on to say: “There is a strong argument for the new government to get back in the business, using legislative and policy levers to create a better deal for artists, workers in the sector and publishers and organisations. And most importantly, a better deal for citizens. Australia has an incredibly rich reading community, 80% of Australians read for pleasure, that’s a level of engagement other industries can dream about. Writers and artists are the catalysts for the debates that underpin our democracy. It’s not too much to ask that people involved in the sector can have a roof over their head and pay basic expenses.”
- “The structure of the way our economy works means artists’ work is precarious and income insecure. It’s very difficult for these people to plan for the future. To save for the deposit for a rental property, let alone a house. There is a cost of living crisis and this disproportionately affects writers and artists who are amongst the poorest paid in the country.”
- Eltham heavily referenced Anwen Crawford’s zine, Decorum Serves the Rich, which is about the economics of authorship for Australian writers. It is linked to here. (FYI: If you read/download it, please support Anwen’s work by sending her money via the PayPal link).
- One of the many (many!) things that stood out for me in Anwen Crawford’s work was the statement: You will have noticed the catch here already: writing a book is work, a lot of work. If you have to work on top of that work, which most writers do, you’re gonna end up overworked. You ever wonder why some promising writer whose first one or two books you loved vanishes, never to be heard from again? It’s unlikely to be because that writer ran out of ideas. It’s because they burnt out…I want people to know that there are material reasons why this happens.
- In summary, Dr Ben Eltham proposes the Australia Council fund 300 Australian creative fellowships that would pay writers the average wage while they create work. He noted that a single orchestra in Australia (Melbourne Symphony) received more funding than the entire literature sector. The MSO used the money to pay principal musicians a living wage. That is what he wants for authors too.
Australian Librarians & Book Sellers Give Tips on How they Select Books
- Some of the key ways librarians hear about books include: hearing directly from publishers/distributors, requests from customers, by keeping across awards lists/news and social media.
- Librarians and booksellers have to wade through information on thousands of book a month, so the information on yours needs to be distinct.
- Sometimes self-publishers fill niches no one else does, but don’t just roll up and start talking about your book to librarians and booksellers – they are way too busy! Tip: email a PDF AIS/sell sheet.
- Spiral bound books shred the spines of other books around them so they don’t want them in their collection.
- Decorative ‘cut out’ book covers (as often seen in picture books) aren’t really welcome on shelves either as they can catch on other books.
- Don’t just get the library or bookstores email address off the website and sign us up to your mailing list without permission.
- Michael Earp: “We’re constantly approached by self-published authors saying ‘Here’s my lockdown project’, or ‘I had a baby and now I’ve written a children’s book’. Authors need to think critically: does the book I’m producing stand up in quality to books already on the shelves? There are too many books being published.’
- Cover design often lets down books. Regardless of the legitimacy of the contents, we all judge books by its cover.
- Out of interest, Boondarah Libraries has an annual book buying budget of just under one million dollars, buying approximately 50,000 books a year into its collection of 400,000 books. Michael Earp though also noted he had worked in a smaller library that had a $75,000 book buying budget and a school library which had a $14,000 book budget.
- NB: There’s a whole section in Look – It’s Your Book! about how authors can get books into libraries, including an interview with a head librarian about what not to do and what works really well.
Diversity in Publishing/Authors of Colour
Presented by Richard Jean So, associate professor of English and data science at McGill University in Montreal, Canada and author of Redlining Culture: A Data History of Racial Inequality and Post War Fiction.
- “Just 5% of fiction published since 1950 was written by people of colour.”
- “Racial inequality in the arts is unusually sticky and that there is an accumulated force of whiteness in the publishing industry.”
- “Publishing institutions need to hire more POC editors…The problem is that cognitively we focus so much on individual authors successes (such as Toni Morrison and Maxine Hong Kingston) …but the success of a few doesn’t mean a broader success.”
- There has been an increased representation of POC in universities such as in being read as authors and as teaching staff but just because things are going well in universities, it doesn’t mean they are in the real world…for example, the rate of racial minority authors getting published at the Big 5 publishers to 2010 has been very flat (compared to books on race theory etc) and even into 2020, it was still flat.”
- “Academics serve society…I’m trying to do research that creates better conditions for POC writers to do their work.”
Australian book authors and publishing futures: a national snapshot in 2022
Presented by Dr Jan Zwar, Faculty Research Manager in the Macquarie Business School. Her current research with Prof Throsby and Dr Crosby is a 2022 survey of Australian book authors, funded by the Australia Council for the Arts and the Copyright Agency.
- “The full report is being released next week, it includes 1152 usable responses from authors (20% of respondents were indie authors).
- “1 in 5 Australian authors said the pandemic had a very negative effect on their writing career.”
- “1 in 20 Australian authors said the pandemic had a very positive effect on their writing career.”
- “55.2% Australian authors said there were a reduction in promotion opportunities for next book.”
- “34.8% of Australian authors experienced a large reduction in income opportunities from events.”
- “31.5% of Australian authors experienced a large or modest increase in levels of financial stress.”
Sustainability in the Australian publishing and bookstore industry
Presented by Angela Meyer, an award-winning Australian writer, editor, and lecturer in the Master of Writing and Publishing at RMIT, as well as Lauren Connell, Ellen Forget and Hollen Singleton.
Great discussions around the book industry’s sustainability issues from the use of enormous resources for paper, inks, plus the shipping of books (and returns), plus servers (for ebooks) leading to more emissions. Plus laminate covers and the sheer numbers of books being produced, and too much marketing material.
- Being more mindful about what types of books are actually published.
- Standard sizing of books.
- Use of recycled post-consumer waste.
- Formatting efficiency eg: less white space.
- POD printing may also be part of the solution as can print on demand rather than overprinting/wastage.
- A mention was also made of sustainable Melbourne bookshop The Chestnut Tree Bookshop and Cafe which plants one native tree in bushfire affected areas for every book sold…they’re already at 20,518 trees and counting!
Also on sustainability in the books and publishing industry:
- Marlene Lage (Pegasus/SOS Print+Media): “Reducing inventory is very important for sustainability. It creates an opportunity for books to be printed at the right quantity and this removes the need to pulp. Also, printing books without cello and embellishments helps. Really trying to create less need for pulping which is such a large aspect of the industry (through returns).”
- Xuan Teo (Amplify Bookstore/Hardie Grant): “Sitting on less inventory means more space for good books and less emissions.
- Australian Publishers Association (ASA) has published the Greener Publishing Guide
- US paper and freight/shipping account for about 95% of the publishing industry’s emissions.
- In Australia, close to two-thirds of emissions related to publishing are related to transport and a quarter of overall emissions are related to paper and printing.
- Regarding the environmental and economic cost of bookstores sending books back to publishers when they don’t sell or are damaged, Tim Coronel of SPN said “Return rates of books from bookstores back to publishers in Australia are much lower than other countries at less than 15%. In the USA it is up to 30%.”
Presented by Mirren Strahan an early career researcher who has spent much of 2022 pursuing independent research in the realms of publishing studies, digital humanities and literary sociology.
- The ‘Booktok’ hashtag emerged in the pandemic era and has been used 87 billion times up to this presentation.
- Social media marketing has become a crucial bookselling tool.
- There are comparatively few Australian independent publishers operating on TikTok compared to international publishers.
- Booktok can help reach a younger audience and is strong in areas such as fantasy and romance fiction.
- Booktok can give new life to backlist titles but local Australian books can also be sidelined by the network effect of foreign bestsellers and trendy books getting most of the
- It’s really obvious when a publisher is spruiking rather than engaging the community.
- In relation to layman reviewers vs ‘highbrow’ reviewers: “It’s good to acknowledge there are a wide range of readership modes and cultures.”
The Future of Bookish Objects: culture, copyright and commerce
Presented by Emily Baulch, a PhD candidate in contemporary book culture at the University of Queensland, this was a fascinating presentation about copyright law and how it applies to fan-based and commercial creations derived from book characters, quotes, important symbols and the worlds authors create.
- Some of the first bookish objects seem to have been those of author Beatrix Potter.
- An example of fan-created bookish objects on Etsy include oak leaf pendants based on the pendants worn by the Araluen rangers in the Ranger’s Apprentice.
- There have been copyright cases brought against online store Redbubble. Such as Pokemon took Redbubble to court for copyright infringement but were only awarded $1 in damage as they were unable to establish financial loss. And this raises the question of whether it is worth it for small publishers and authors to pursue.
- Publishers and authors don’t want to be seen as taking their fans to court all the time, even if copyright is being infringed.
- Australian Copyright law is not built for the current marketplace. Some solutions to this may include changing the law for digital platforms to make infringements easier to pursue; giving more agency to bookish object creators; and for publishers, authors and creators of bookish objects could try to cooperate and work together more via legal partnerships. This would create goodwill.
Publishing Timelines & Deadlines: Demystifying what authors need to do – and when – to bring a book successfully to market
This is the workshop I’m presenting at SPN’s conference on Saturday. It covers what authors need to do in the areas of writing, design, publishing, marketing, distribution and leveraging in specific periods prior to and after book launch.
The presentation won’t be recorded for future viewing by attendees as though the workshop is 1hr 30 minutes long, I’m not able to cover every step comprehensively in this timeframe. If however, you were in the audience and want a copy of the presentation, what I can offer is early and heavily discounted access to the full course I am launching at Bold Authors. The course will include videos, downloads and checklists to help keep you and your book project on track. If you’d like to know when this is available, please subscribe to my newsletter now. (FYI: I promise to very rarely send this newsletter out, and only when I have lots of good useful bookish info to share. Pinkie swear.).
Literary Rights/Audiobook rights/Movie & Film Rights & Global Trends
Resources related to literary rights include:
- The book Selling Rights by Lynette Owen
- The website monthly subscription for com
- The Australian Publishers Association (APA) introduction courses to rights
- Clark’s Publishing Agreements by Lynette Owen
- In general: It’s a time of transition. A lot has changed in publishing since COVID and in some ways the industry is contacting. More people in publishing are working from home rather than in the big office towers in NY. The US publishing industry is running on much longer lead times due to paper supply issues. Editors are more and more focused in a particular area.
- Terri-Ann White: Australia has a very small population therefore a small market, so the extra reach of being able to send a book you’ve done a lot of work on out into new fields and markets and readers is why foreign rights/translations is important.
- Nerrilee Weir: The general split of income from rights in Australia and New Zealand is normally about 90% (publisher) to 10% (author) for the original manuscript. But then for additional rights (such as for foreign sales/audio /TV etc), it tends to flip so it’s 75% to the author and 25% to the publisher. But it all comes down to the original contract authors sign! (Another good reason to have your contracts assessed by the ASA). Out of interest, sub-rights in the US normally favour the publisher a little more, eg: 60/40 or 50/50.
- Nerrilee: Germany remains a great market for Australian fiction (rural romance has dropped off though). China is another great market especially for serious non-fiction.
- Nerrilee: Rights agents differ from literary agents in that though we do many of the same things, we’re not repping the author directly, we work with the primary agent or publisher.
- Nerrilee: Film and TV rights are exploding. Producers are hungry for books. It doesn’t have to be the bestseller, it’s often a small book that went un-noticed in the mainstream but the producer read it and loved it.
- Nerrilee: Selling rights is a lot about rejection. We can do 3000 submissions a year to get 300 signed.
- Terri-Ann White: The key first step for anyone who hasn’t been in the rights space before is to start doing a huge amount of research. Look at website until your eyes bleed. Work out the publishers, small and independent ones that are likeminded. Do a complete sweep if independent publishers. Read the London Review of Books and NY Review of Books and a range of literary journals to see the books being reviewed and advertised. Find the people you want to work with and that who you have an affinity with.
- Terri-Ann White: It’s not about following trends – it’s about following your passion. You need to be utterly passionate and enthusiastic about everything you do…even metadata.
Social Media for Authors
Journalist and communications consultant Kylie Miller presented this session. She has now published three children’s picture books and says that use of social media has played a constant and vital role in getting her books commissioned and in marketing them after the fact. Her tips include:
- Join interesting and relevant groups/communities on social media (at least a year before your book launch) but don’t go straight in with a hard sell on your book. Be authentic.
- Limit the number of groups you join. Engagement can take up a lot of your time so be selective.
- Don’t break the rules in the social media group as it can be bad for your brand and you can get kicked out.
- Great photos do matter on social media. Investigate having professional photos taken.
- Storytelling is your superpower, use storytelling to build your audience.
- You will need great images, invest in professional photos as needed.
- Find and use relevant hashtags.
- Think creatively about who else you can collaborate with based on your subject matter. Tag people in.
- Avoid controversy/strong messages (unless it’s your brand).
- Tim Coronel of SPN shared this website (Social Media News). This can be useful for authors for up-to-date info on social media statistics for Australia.
Australian Writers Festivals
Chaired by Esther Anatolitis , this panel brought together Australian writers’ festival directors: Sonia Orchard (Mountain Writers Festival), Emily Westmoreland (Willy Lit Fest) and Rosemary Sorenson (Bendigo Writers Festival). Here are some of the things discussed (paraphrased):
- There’s a vibrant writers festival scene in Australia.
- Festival directors/curators/program directors have a lot on, so the best way for publishers to pitch a book/author is to send information that pulls out specific things the author can speak to or be on a panel about plus a picture of the author and a short video of the author speaking/presenting.
- Emily: A book is only ever going to be a sliver of an author’s background. Though their book might be about Iceland, the author may also have spent a lot of time working as a psychologist. We need to know that. Publicists need to lift that kind of information out for program directors and make it easy for us to see where the author/book might fit into the program.
- Certain festivals have a specific focus, such as Mountain Writers Festival which concentrates on books with environmental themes, nature writing, indigenous perspective, poetry about place and nature.
- Festivals need to find a balance between well-known authors who can draw a crowd as well as emerging authors. For example, putting three unknown authors in a room that fills 230 people will be an awful experience for the audience and the writers. Every session needs to put bums on seats. So sometimes they mix big names with emerging writers.
- Sonia: There’s a trick to combining guests as people were coming along to see the big names, but the biggest book sales ended up being for the newer authors. It was a great joy.
- Smaller publishers (ie: not the Big 5), seemed to have very personable publicists who were more responsive (especially if a big name has to cancel at the last minute and the festival director needs to find a replacement) and are a ‘dream to work with’.
- Festivals don’t happen without volunteers.
Thanks to author Amra Pajalic for attending this session and taking these notes!
From publishing to marketing, what do authors and indie publishers need to know about bibliographic data? ABIA Rising Star nominee Sam van der Plank from Monash University Publishing and marketing consultant Rachael McDiarmid share their tips and tricks on how it works, how to get it right, and what to do when it goes wrong.
- Metadata makes your book more discoverable. “Don’t think of it as data, think of it as marketing.”
- Metadata is the information that sits behind your book in selling systems around the world. It is linked to your ISBN.
- Dive deep with your keywords and categories. E.g.: Penguin Random House reclassified 300 books. Instead of it saying history, they delved further and tagged it Georgian history and they had an uplift in sales. It was measurable.
- Keep your data in a spreadsheet so you can ensure it matches across the different sites.
- Be sure your title and sub-title on your book cover matches your metadata exactly.
- NB: There is more information about metadata in Look – It’s Your Book!, plus IngramSpark has a download on metadata also.
Book of the Year Award Announcement
Non-Book Shop Sales
Bookshops aren’t the only places to sell books. Indeed, for some books, selling them anywhere but a traditional bookshop might be the best option. Panellists Morgana Best (self-published author and publishing consultant) and Michael Hanrahan (Publish Central) were hosted by Terri-Ann White of Upswell Publishing. Here are some (paraphrased) highights:
- Morgana writes genre fiction (cosy mysteries) and notes that Australian bookstores mainly support literary fiction rather than cosy and romance etc. For for more than a decade she’s been building her own audience using online tools. She believes selling books direct from her own website enables a connection with readers (whereas when sold via Amazon, you don’t get this kind of knowledge/relationship with your reader).
- Morgana acknowledges online retailers are still a source of traffic and bring new readers to her series, but she concentrates on selling direct through Shopify (she also consults to other authors wanting to sell this way). She sells audiobooks, ebooks, as well as dyslexic-friendly and large print editions for which there is a huge market internationally.
- She’s made a living as an author from 2010 onwards, including multiple six-figure years. “I’m about bank over rank” she says, preferring to make money direct online rather than be famous/known as a bestselling author in bookstores.
- “A lot of authors run Amazon Ads, but you’re paying to send people to Amazon and paying that acquisition cost of the customer for Amazon. Whereas you could be advertising and sending people to your own store.
- Audiobooks: Morgana engages and pays her own narrators direct. She has a pen name in America for the American audience. Some audio rights she sells to traditional publishers and for others she distributes through Findaway Voices. She delivers ebooks and audiobooks to customers from her website using Book Funnel.
- Michael Hanrahan: PublishCentral has a self-publishing model and produce about 30-40 books a year for business authors. “Authors need to think about what is the goal of their book, and often this means it doesn’t need to be in bookstores…There is no secret sauce when it comes to marketing except to ‘be active’. Just be out there trying things and find what works. It may be events, it may be ads, it’s about being active.”
Miscellaneous but interesting info
- Malcolm Neil (Findaway/Bibliotheca): “Market factors (price of paper, freight etc) will likely lead to a 10% increase in book costs in the year ahead. This is in a market where the selling price for Australian books has consistently dropped over the last 10 years.”
- Of relevance to this is that according to Nielsen, the average selling price for Australian books is approximately $19.12 (a drop of $0.78 compared to last year). This takes into account an average 21% discount off RRP. There is more discounting seen in children’s titles, with the average discount sitting at 29%.
- “Discoverability is the game and metadata is the way you do it,” Malcolm Neil, (Findaway/Bibliotheca).
- Readings bookstores have created a highlights booklist for Small Press Network book list including books by conference presenters and the shortlisted authors for 2022 Book of the Year.
I’ll be updating this blog with highlights from Day 2 & 3 of SPN’s 2022 Independent Publishing Conference as they occur. Unfortunately, there are lots of double sessions so not able to cover everything. Hope it’s of interest and help to you!