A much younger Alex on first meeting a Kindle.
Last Friday I spoke on a panel at the Australian Digital Alliance copyright forum at the National Library of Australia. The brief was to talk about how Editia came to be to provide a snapshot of a publishing organisation working in these rapidly changing times for the industry. Here’s the full text of the speech.
Hello, copyright users and innovators.
I’m here to tell you a little bit about my digital first book publishing business, Editia, so named after the Latin editio, the publishing of a book or announcement.
I’m a sole trader operating at and supported by the Gorman Arts Centre in Braddon, and assisted by a corporate advisory board consisting of a number of digital publishing gurus from within and outside the mainstream book industry.
I launched the business in late 2012, a month after my first son, Seb, turned three, and eight weeks before the second, Alex, was born. Now two, Alex (pictured) recently bought his first ebook on my Kindle without asking my permission, but that’s another story.
I’d spent much of late 2009, 2010 and 2011 glued to Twitter, tracking the digital revolution that transformed the book industry then blogging about it for my ebookish blog.
I wrote some news stories and features about it for Fairfax, my former employer, but was itching to escape and start a business of my own to tap into all this change. As a former literary editor, magazine editor, tech writer and web producer, I had the passion for books and gadgets, the journalistic and editing experience and the coding skills to be able to do just that.
The fact that everything could be done online meant I could run a global publishing business from Canberra, something that would not have been possible five years ago.
I’d always been frustrated by the word limits newspapers and magazines by their nature imposed on feature writers. I’d often had to cut 5000 or 6000 word features in half just to fit arbitrary spaces, and felt frustrated about what was lost.
I’d also read plenty of non-fiction books that seemed to me to have been padded out to fit the conventional length of a trade book. The rise of the Kindle and iPad, of ebook retailers like Kobo, and of digital printing technologies allowing for affordable short print runs and print on demand meant it was now possible to publish longer works of journalism at their natural length, whether that be 5000, 10,000 or 40,000 words.
I decided I’d build a company around this style of writing and commissioned my first book, Crowdfund it!.
The author, digital publishing expert Anna Maguire, planned to write about 15,000 words. The first edition was 25,000. The third, which we published late last year, came it at around 37,000. As an editor with 20 years of experience in the 400 to 2000-word space, that was quite an adjustment.
Next, we published Business and baby on board, a 25,000-word ebook guide to being a mumpreneur for which we signed only digital rights after discovering the project on Pozible, where author Johanna Baker-Dowdell was raising funds to self-publish the print edition.
Scott Bridges forced me to rethink everything (which you have to be prepared to do in this industry at this time) when he pitched his book 18 days: Al Jazeera English and the Egyptian Revolution to me at the Walkley Awards two weeks after Alex was born. The work was as much as ten times longer than the books I’d been expecting to publish, weighing in at a whopping 90,000 words. But in fact, Scott had done exactly what I was talking about earlier: he’d written the book to its natural length. It was a work of longform journalism, and a brilliantly written one at that, so we signed a contract, published the ebook the following year and the print edition a few months later.
I’m so glad Scott chose Editia, because he’s a delight to work with and 18 days went on to gain national and international media attention. Scott was flown to the Berlin Documentary Forum to discuss the book in the middle of last year, and recently took out the Non-Fiction prize in the 2014 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards.
18 days is also the only one of the five shortlisted titles for the ACT Book of the Year to be produced by a Canberra publisher.
We hope it’s a contender for the People’s Choice Award too (you can help it along by voting on the ArtsACT website).
Scott later turned out to be one half of the Twitter sensation of 2014 which led to another Editia title, Kevern write a book: The best of @Rudd2000, and I’ll leave him to talk about that except to say that it has been our most successful book in terms of sales and publicity and helped us to score a print distribution deal with the highly respected NewSouth Books.
I sent their CEO, Kathy Bail, an email a couple of days after the launch with links to the media coverage and they offered me a three-year contract for all titles past and present that very day. I signed it immediately before they could change their minds. They now stock all our books and ordered another print run of Kevern only last week.
I’ve just received my first cheque from them, which would’ve been worthy of celebration in its own right, but arriving as it did on the same day as TWO cheques from Amazon, led to me waving them up and down the corridors of Gorman House and all over Editia’s social media accounts in triumph.
Editia published two books in between 18 days and Kevern. David Dufty’s How to build an android came to Editia via then literary agent Mary Cunnane. It had been published to critical acclaim in the US and UK (yes, reviewed in The Guardian and the New York Times no less) but needed a new Australian publisher. Dufty’s narrative non-fiction work is a cracker story about the roboticists who created an android in the likeness of science fiction author Philip K Dick, toured the US with it, then left its head in an overhead locker on a plane, never to be seen again. We published the ebook edition the day Radio National aired a documentary about robots including an extensive interview with David.
The other title is a joint venture with those innovators and copyright pioneers at if:book Australia, the Institute for the Future of the Book. The essays for The N00bz: New adventures in literature were originally published on the if:book website and examine experiments in writing and publishing. Contributors include Benjamin Law, Sophie Masson, James Bradley and Romy Ash. Each was challenged to try new tools and experiences and observe the effect on their craft. I was like a pig in muck editing this one, and even contributed an essay myself.
Speaking of editing, I have in fact commissioned freelance book editor Sarah Fletcher to edit most of our projects and would ask her to do them all if budgets permitted. When you’re a one-woman show paying for each new book with the profits from the last, publishing can become very DIY.
I tend to be it at all stages of the process: commissioning and acquiring titles; assessing submissions; negotiating contracts and rights deals; managing ISBNs, barcodes and cataloguing in publication applications; briefing a designer (typically the talented Wendy Dawes) for the cover, web banner and any other marketing material; writing cover blurbs, press releases, blog posts, enewsletters and social media posts; creating and implementing marketing and publicity plans; sourcing images; editing the copy; laying out the pages; proofreading; creating the three types of ebook files; distributing those files to retail partners; negotiating contracts with retail and distribution partners; organising and speaking at launch events; negotiating with printers; paying royalties and issuing royalty statements; bookkeeping; tech support; office management; business development; managing the website including its ecommerce functionality and finally order fulfillment (which means being on first name terms with everyone at my local post office).
It’s exhausting and almost enough to make you want to go back to working for someone else. Almost.
So anyway, the greatest challenge has been keeping on top of it all while juggling two small children with limited help from their dad who works long hours in one of those crazy jobs at Parliament House.
The second greatest challenge is that the industry isn’t really ready for organisations like Editia that want to publish books within weeks of commissioning them, when they’re ready to go, rather than several months later to fit in with the media and retail ordering cycles.
This ties in with the reason I shifted my focus to print copies: literary editors are not ebook-ready. They require proof copies of books or at the very least a PDF. If you’re going to the trouble of creating a print-ready PDF, you may as well do a short print run.
Then there’s the battle to get your book noticed among the hordes that are published each day. It’s tough, but I’ve been heartened by the success we’ve had with direct sales from the Editia website. If people want to buy a book, they’ll find it.
I might finish with a quick word about the book I should be working on right now instead of standing here talking to you. Some months ago, the man who must surely be the father of the year ordered two copies of Scott’s Al Jazeera book from our website. I did something I rarely do, and picked up a pen and some writing paper and wrote a personal letter to include with his books.
That man was Juris Greste, and he and the rest of the Greste family, particularly Kylie Greste, have been regular email correspondents ever since. Yesterday, I received my first email from Peter himself, and nearly burst into tears on the street in Manuka.
I’ve been working with the Grestes for some months on a book of messages sent to Peter while he was in prison. It was to be called Free Peter Greste, and all profits were to go to the campaign to bring Peter home.
Now that he’s back in Australia, Peter will be contributing the introduction to the project himself and we’ll be able to add a final chapter of the emails he and the family have received celebrating his newfound freedom. At Peter and Andrew Greste’s suggestion, profits over the book’s first year will go to the Foreign Prisoners Support Service. This Australian-based organization was a great help to the Grestes during Peter’s imprisonment.
I can announce here today that the new title, penned by Peter himself, will be Prison post: Letters of support for Peter Greste. It will be published next month and you can pre-order your copy from the Editia website now.
I am so glad that this somewhat grim project has become a much happier one, though its messages about press freedom remain as important as ever, particularly as Peter’s two colleagues are still caught up in the retrial of their case. We wish them well.
On a less serious note, someone commented to me last week that publishing a book of emails so soon after a book of tweets could lead to Editia becoming the go-to publisher of repurposed digital material. Well, why not?
So, if you’re a food blogger who’s made hipsterfoodies.com’s top ten paleo Instagram accounts listing, or you’re writing a real life romantic comedy based on your Snapchat and Tinder experiences, drop me a line.