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What Does Brexit Mean For Indie Authors? Self-Publishing News Podcast With Dan Holloway And Howard Lovy

What Does Brexit Mean for Indie Authors? Self-Publishing News Podcast with Dan Holloway and Howard Lovy

While the United States has been so absorbed with its own problems that Brexit seemed to be something happening in a land far, far away. But, of course, the divorce from the European Union impacts just about everything in the United Kingdom. Fortunately, we have Dan Holloway, who is exploring the labyrinthine implications Brexit has for indie authors.

Also, Publishers Weekly is filling the BookExpo void with its own virtual conference, and Wattpad is so big it's looking good to a possible buyer. These are among the topics discussed on Self-Publishing News with Alli News Editor Dan Holloway and book editor Howard Lovy. Together, they will bring you the latest in indie publishing news.

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On the Self-Publishing News #podcast, ALLi News Editor @agnieszkasshoes and @howard_lovy exploring the labyrinthine implications the Brexit deal has for indie authors. Share on X Find more author advice, tips and tools at our Self-publishing Author Advice Centerhttps://selfpublishingadvice.org, with a huge archive of nearly 2,000 blog posts, and a handy search box to find key info on the topic you need. And, if you haven’t already, we invite you to join our organization and become a self-publishing ally. You can do that at http://allianceindependentauthors.org.

About the Hosts

Dan Holloway is a novelist, poet and spoken word artist. He is the MC of the performance arts show The New Libertines Earlier this year he competed at the National Poetry Slam final at the Royal Albert Hall. His latest collection, The Transparency of Sutures, is available on Kindle. Howard Lovy has been a journalist for more than 30 years, and has spent the last eight years amplifying the voices of independent publishers and authors. He works with authors as a book editor to prepare their work to be published. Howard is also a freelance writer specializing in Jewish issues whose work appears regularly in Publishers Weekly, the Jewish Daily Forward, and Longreads. Find Howard at howardlovy.comLinkedIn and Twitter.

Read the Transcripts: Brexit and More

Howard Lovy: Hello everybody and welcome to the new January 2021 edition of Self-Publishing News.

I'm Howard Lovy, and with me via Skype from the ivy-covered halls of Oxford University is our news editor, Dan Holloway.

Hi, Dan and Happy New Year.

Dan Holloway: Happy new year, Howard.

It's not so much Ivy covered as, sort of, mold covered, I think.

Howard Lovy: Ah, okay, I wasn't sure if it were Ivy or not, someday you'll have to give me a tour.

We're all here and healthy, so that's always good news and I'm optimistic for a better 2021, now that 2020's in the rear-view mirror.

Do you have any new year's resolutions?

Dan Holloway: No, not particularly. I'm not really a new year's resolution kind of person. I usually do goals rather than resolutions.

I think I find resolutions somewhat; they can be a bit of a rod to beat yourself with.

So, you end up, the moment, something goes wrong, that's it. Whereas, doing something more sustained and long-term tends to be slightly easier. You can be easier on yourself, which I think is something we probably all need to be at the moment.

Howard Lovy: Right. Exactly. I have goals and I'm not even sure if I should say them out loud because then I'll jinx myself, so let's talk about the news.

Brexit and Indie Authors

Howard Lovy: Here in the United States, we've been so absorbed with our own problems that Brexit seemed to be something happening in a land far, far away but of course, your divorce from the European Union impacts just about everything in the UK, and fortunately we have you, Dan, who is exploring the labyrinthine implications Brexit has for writers.

I saw a new news column words like logistics and customs declarations, and that just chilled me to the bone. It sounds scary. What information do you have right now, and what should indie authors be aware of when it comes to Brexit?

Dan Holloway: Well, I'm going to be writing at even greater length, so people should keep an eye out for that. But the main thing that it seems to be, yes, you're right logistics seems to be the big issue at the moment. A lot of the news has been taken up with things like lorry parks. So, we see lorry's queued because of paperwork, waiting to cross the channel in either direction between the UK and the continent.

Howard Lovy: And in the United States that means that means trucks in line, lorry's queued. I’m sorry, I'm subtitling this for the American audience.

Dan Holloway: Right, yes, sorry.

Howard Lovy: Lorry's queued, trucks in line. Got it.

Dan Holloway: Lots of vehicles going nowhere. So, that's the long and the short of it and the reason for this is all around increased paperwork. The trade agreement that has been reached is one of those that sounds something different from what it actually is. It's a free trade agreement, so it's frictionless trade, but everything else is full of friction.

So, you can sell the goods freely, but you can't move them freely is one of the things that there seems be. So, for both importers and exporters of goods, there are forms to fill out, customs declarations to make, and so that's obviously going to impact people who are we're physically moving books.

So, if you sell paperbacks, for example, rather than eBooks, then every time you post, if you're like me and you manage your own sales, for example, then every time someone buys a book, you post it out to them. And now, if you're posting either from the UK to the European Union, or in reverse, that means that when you go to the post office to send your book out, you have to fill out a customs declaration. And you have to do this every time you send a book out. So, if you're lucky enough to be selling 10 books a day, and you're selling them either to the UK or to the European Union, not a different part of the European Union, because we're not in it anymore, then you have to fill out a customs declaration for every book. That's quite a lot of work.

Howard Lovy: It sounds like a nightmare.

Dan Holloway: It's not much fun. There will also be tax implications for sales tax. There will be implications increasingly for digital products. So, for example, there will be implications around GDPR. As the two, sort of, regimes diverge, and so the regulations diverge, then GDPR may no longer be the governing legislation around data protection in the UK. Copyright law may change and become different. There are all kinds of things that might affect how Amazon does business, for example, and most favored nation status might change.

So, all the kinds of deals that we're used to being set up are likely to be impacted. Obviously, I'm going to be writing at great length about this in a week or so for ALLi.

Howard Lovy: That was going to be my next question. If you're lost and you're afraid of breaking the law and not even knowing it, where should people go?

Dan Holloway: At the moment there isn't. This is part of the problem. There is the government website, which has guidance for importers and guidance for exporters, most of this points you towards long forms and you can get around the forums by registering yourself. So, you can spend a little bit longer to get yourself set up so that you no longer have to do individual customs declarations for individual products, but you, sort of, do it on mass, but that's a much lengthier and harder process.

So, I will be walking people through that in the next couple of weeks.

Howard Lovy: Well, is there anything positive for writers that comes out of Brexit at all? I don't want to pretend like I know a heck of a lot about British politics, so that's not a positive or negative statement about Brexit, but I'm just saying, what are the benefits or are there?

Dan Holloway: Well, to go to some more disadvantages, one of the things there has been quite a lot of news about on the television and in the papers, is around creative artists and working overseas if you are a creative artist. For those who are slightly more successful poets than me, for example, or for writers who are doing performance tours or speaking tours, there was the intention of having free flow of creative types between the UK and the European Union.

So, that would include orchestras, for example, dance troupes and poets and writers who are performers as well would have been included in that, and that hasn't happened. So, it's going to be increasingly hard for people who aren't salaried or who are salaried at a lower level but need to tour and to perform, to do so without all kinds of problems.

So, there aren't really clear answers on that at the moment. A lot of these things are only going to come out in the wash, I think.

Howard Lovy: Well, I know that you and ALLi director, Orna Ross, are working hard on the official response from ALLi. What is ALLi doing as an organization?

Dan Holloway: One of the main things because, as I say, a lot of it's around logistics, one of the main things we're doing is talking to, I think, to IngramSpark. Most people don't send their books out in the post, most people use IngramSpark to print and then distribute their books.

The hope is that, just as with what happened with Amazon and sales tax a few years ago, that IngramSpark will do a lot of the paperwork for us. So, people who use them won't get embroiled and things, but will have someone who is able to do it as part of the distribution package.

So, I think that's a lot of what's happening at the moment.

Howard Lovy: Right. If there's an organization that can fill out paperwork for you and do it properly, I'm sure most authors will be very happy about that.

Dan Holloway: I would imagine so, yes.

Howard Lovy: I was reading in your column that the Society of Authors has its own response to the deal, and I'm wondering what that is.

Dan Holloway: The Society of Authors, they talk about things like, again, the touring freelance work, for example, and people who do freelance work in Europe and people in the UK who use freelancers from Europe, and how this is going to be made slightly more difficult.

Part of the problem with the response from the Society of Authors is that it's not really anything to do with Indies and the issues that affect us. It's mainly how it will affect people who do things with publishers, and how it will affect publishers. So, a lot of the issues that affect Indies aren't really covered in that.

There is something going around Twitter, I don't think it's an ALLi partner, but there's a self-publishing services provider on Twitter tweeting a lot, very prominently, about sales tax on services and allegedly the abolition of sales tax on services as a result of Brexit. And I would strike a note of caution on that. He seems to be making a big thing of how this is an amazing Brexit benefit, and doesn't actually seem to have read the trade deal. So, before people believe what they see on Twitter, I'm reading all 1,246 pages of it, which is really fascinating stuff, and I will make sure-

Howard Lovy: So, don't believe everything you tweet, shockingly so. Follow ALLi's Twitter and Dan Holloway's Twitter for accurate information.

Dan Holloway: Yeah. It's amazing, isn't it? That you shouldn't believe everything you see on Twitter? Who would have thought?

Howard Lovy: Well, these days, Twitter is cracking down a little bit, but that's a whole other issue.

Book Conferences for Indie Authors

Howard Lovy: So, let's move on. Last month we talked about the end of an era in publishing conferences with the death of Book Expo America, which I said has been an anachronism anyway.

Now, recently Publishers Weekly stepped in to fill the void with a conference of its own, a digital-only one, I think. What can you tell us about what Publishers Weekly is doing?

Dan Holloway: We'll, yes, it's going to be a US book show, which is going to be on the same week as BookExpo would have been, so the last week in May. It will be digital only at the moment. I think that they're in it for the long run and the intention is for it to become hybrid in the long run, or maybe even physical only. I think conferences that become physical only, rather than hybrid conferences will eventually be odd ones out. Conferences who've done digital well this year have done it so well that I think a lot of them are convinced that there is a lot of value to doing it in future.

Howard Lovy: And, of course, ALLi is a pioneer in digital-only conferences.

Dan Holloway: Exactly, we've been doing it for many years with great success. You can do conferences at the working hours of people all around the world, rather than just having to cram everything into eight hours in the middle of the day in one country, which makes it really inaccessible to people in another countries.

So, that's a great thing about that.

The thing which caught my eye about this new conference is that they want to do something for self-publishing writers. We don't know quite what that's going to be yet, whether it's going to be something like Author HQ that we have at London Book Fair, but that's a step up from what BookExpo has been like in recent years. Because, as you know, ALLi quietly withdrew from BookExpo before it folded, and started working instead with Digital Book World, who do much more for indies. Because at BookExpo, you get this wonderful geographic, or not also wonderful, geographic thing at book fairs, where literally you get physically moved to the back of the venue, and this is what was happening at BookExpo, Indies was physically being shunted to the back of the fair and it was very clear where we stood.

Howard Lovy: Well, that didn't work out too well for them either. So, we'll see if Publishers Weekly does any better.

Publishing Stocks and Libraries

Howard Lovy: Now, one more quick topic, and here in the United States we're fond of bragging about the stock market, even while record numbers of people file for unemployment. It seems like there's a reverse problem in the book industry, book sales were great during the pandemic, but share prices of publishing stocks are taking a dive. And I don't know if you're a stock analyst, but is this because everybody's buying books on Amazon?

Dan Holloway: It was a really interesting piece in Publishers Weekly. The problem is with publishers who do a lot of their business at fairs and do a lot of that business in a face-to-face manner, so it's not sales being lost through bookshops, but it's educational sales. So, textbooks and also more educational fiction material, things that they would sell into schools and sell into school libraries, was doing really poorly, obviously because no one's around to buy that.

It's the kind of thing that, like with book fairs, might make publishers change the way they do business. It might even, dare I say it, mean that publishers and libraries start talking to each other.

We started off 2020 with a big argument between publishers and libraries, and publishers trying to make it really hard for libraries to get hold of eBooks. So, maybe the fact that a lot of the physical libraries where publishers sell their books haven't been able to operate in the physical manner, might change the way that publishers see selling eBooks to libraries, that would be a really good thing to come out of this whole mess.

Howard Lovy: You mean finally learn that libraries, no, are not stealing books from publishers. {Inaudible}

Dan Holloway: Yeah.

What's Up With Wattpad?

Howard Lovy: Okay. Well, thank you, Dan. I think that's all we have time for in the main news part of our show.

Here's the part of our show where we let our geek flags fly and talk about technology. Dan and I are both generally technology optimists, so we welcome our new robot overlords.

Today, our topic is Wattpad and we've talked about them on our show before. They're an entire ecosystem of young writers that have a great brain-to-movie-deal pipeline for those lucky and talented enough to get noticed. But now it looks like Wattpad might be for sale.

First, explain to us, what Wattpad is and what role they play, and then who might be buying it?

Dan Holloway: In a way, it's just a repository of little bits of books. It's a platform where anyone can go and upload any length from literally a paragraph to a whole book of written material.

Usually, people do it in small installments. So, the best Wattpad reads are the most viewed Wattpad reads. Short chapter, after short chapter, after short chapter, which are uploaded regularly, and it keeps people reading. So, anyone can upload there, and unlike a lot of sites that have had a similar model, so, a decade or so ago in the UK, there were sites called the New Write On and Authonomy, which is where a lot of the early indies met each other, and those were sites where no one went apart from writers; Wattpad is a site where there are serious amounts of readers.

Howard Lovy: Are these primarily younger readers, I seem to detect a young vibe there?

Dan Holloway: Yeah, I mean, it's young adult, middle grade and science fiction and fantasy, are the overwhelming genres there. So, anyone who writes in that genre is welcome to go there and upload their work, but a lot of really young authors have done incredibly well out of it. So, we tend to think of it-

Howard Lovy: Actually getting some movie deals too. All these streaming services, Amazon, Netflix, HBO, they're all looking for material, and it seems like they're raiding Wattpad.

Dan Holloway: Well, it's not that they're raiding Wattpad. Wattpad actually do have specific deals with studios, almost to the extent that they have a studio wing. So, that's what I mean in the column, when I say that they take it from the idea to the finished movie, which is something that no one else is doing, not even Amazon who, sort of, snaps up indies and puts them in their own author programs.

Wattpad is literally taking you from the moment you put your first sentence on, and then nurturing authors all the way up to the point where they have, not just a book deal, but a series of movie deals, and that's really quite exciting.

One of the things Wattpad has done, because they have such a large dataset, they've set machine learning onto it and they've done what is, I'm sure, going to become really popular in coming years, which is looking the emotional heat map of a novel.

So, they look at when there's an emotional high point, when there's a low point, when there's a fallow point, what kind of emotions have been generated at what bits of the story, which chapters end on a cliffhanger, what the sentence length is, all these sorts of things which tell you about how the story is being carried forward, and they analyze that against successful movies. And as a result, they're using an algorithm to try and decide which of the manuscripts on their site would make the best movies.

Howard Lovy: Which tells you that eventually, there'll be, if there aren't already, algorithms to write that. So, you'll have algorithms writing it and algorithms choosing it.

Dan Holloway: I guess it's no different from the advice that we have already. People who look at the hero's journey and break the hero's journey down into its really detailed constituent parts and then try and write around that. It's pretty much the same principle only a lot more sophisticated.

Howard Lovy: Interesting. Which is good to some extent, but as we know, as indie authors, we sometimes like to break the mold. But something like, if you're writing for an algorithm, breaking the mold isn't necessarily a good idea.

Dan Holloway: No, it's absolutely not if you're writing for an algorithm and certainly not if you want to get your book made into a series or a film from Wattpad. That's definitely not a good idea.

Howard Lovy: So, Wattpad is pretty successful, so successful that they're attractive to a buyer?

Dan Holloway: Well, Mark Williams on New Publishing Standard has suggested that that the Chinese company, Tencent is about to buy them, and Tencent is a massive media company. Size wise, it's in the same ballpark as Alibaba and those really huge companies, and the figure he mentioned is $500 million, which seems, to put that in context, Simon and Schuster sold for 2.2 million, or 2.2 billion.

So, it's a quarter of that, and yet Wattpad's figures show that they have 19 million individual users each month, you spend 23 billion minutes on the platform. It's absolutely extraordinary, their figures.

Howard Lovy: That's just amazing, because when you think about publishing, you don't even think about Wattpad, but they're huge.

Dan Holloway: They are absolutely enormous; they make Amazon look tiny. They really are. That would be an incredible bargain if someone could get it for half a billion, but they've done a lot of deals in Asia with Asian studios. So, in Singapore, for example, so they know that market, they know the Southeast Asian market really, really well.

So, it makes absolute sense that they would be looking to sell to someone like Tencent.

Howard Lovy: I wonder what that would mean creatively, if it becomes a part of somebody else's conglomerate.

Dan Holloway: Yeah, that's always the worry, I think. The emphasis would be, on the one hand, on their AI, data is a huge commodity and a database that has as many stories as Wattpad has, I think the figure I can see here is like half a half a million stories at the moment that are on there, and let's say billions of minutes spent on there every month. So, that's a lot of information about reading habits, and that information is going to be very valuable to someone.

Howard Lovy: Well, this is fascinating and, of course, we're going to keep watching Wattpad and other technological developments as we move forward in 2021.

Well, thank you as always, Dan for putting the news in context.

Dan Holloway: Thank you very much indeed.

Howard Lovy: That's all the time we have for now. Stay safe, stay sane and I'll talk to you in February.

Speak to you then. Thank you.

Author: Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an author, book editor, and journalist. He is also the Content and Communications Manager for the Alliance of Independent Authors, where he hosts and produces podcasts and keeps the blog updated. You can find more of his work at https://howardlovy.com/


This Post Has 3 Comments
  1. I am dismayed that Wattpad would sell to a Chinese media company, an organ of the communist government. aren’t they subject to foreign control regulations?
    As for Brexit, Australia is not in the EU (obviously) but trades goods and services, both Aus and EU orchestras tour etc etc. I’m sure all ‘teething’ problems will subside and UK and EU will soon get used to new forms, which will become routine.

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