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Which Contracts Ring Alarm Bells? AskALLi Members’ Q&A And Self-Publishing News, February 2019

Which Contracts Ring Alarm Bells? AskALLi Members’ Q&A and Self-Publishing News, February 2019

Welcome to AskALLi, the Self-Publishing Advice Podcast from the Alliance of Independent Authors. This week it’s our monthly Member Q&A where ALLi Members’ have their most pressing self-publishing questions analyzed and answered. Join your regular hosts for the Member Q&A: Michael La Ronn and Orna Ross.

The AskALLi podcasts are sponsored by Damonza: Books Made Awesome.

Questions this month include:

  • How can I vet a contract? What raises alarm bells? Is there any advantage in going 50/50 with a publisher?
  • How do I sell publishing rights? How do I negotiate?
  • What steps do I take to publish in KDP?
  • How can ALLi help me market my book?
  • Can I publish a biography when the family objects?

Also, News Editor Dan Holloway and Howard Lovy bring you the latest self-publishing news. They talk about the new Selfie Awards and Wattpad’s new publishing venture.

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.

Now, go write and publish!

Listen to the AskALLi Members’ Q&A

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About the Hosts

Michael La Ronn is the author of over 30 books of science fiction & fantasy and authors self-help books. His books include the Galaxy Mavericks series and Modern Necromancy series. You can now find his new writing course on Teachable.

Orna Ross launched the Alliance of Independent Authors at the London Book Fair in 2012. Her work for ALLi has seen her named as one of The Bookseller’s “100 top people in publishing”. She also publishes poetry, fiction and nonfiction, and is greatly excited by the democratising, empowering potential of author-publishing. For more information about Orna, visit her website: http://www.ornaross.com

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.

Read the Transcripts

Orna: Hello, everyone and here we are, you may notice a slight difference on our ALLi Q and A today because I’m not Dan Blank. But he is Michael La Ronn. Hello Michael.

Michael: Hi Orna. Good to see you.

Orna: Great to have you here as always to answer our member questions and for those of you who are wondering and who haven’t caught up with the news on the blog, Dan and I are going to be hosting a whole new segment on writing, creative writing. And so I’ve stepped into the chair to help Michael out with the Q and A monthly member, our members Q and A for those who may be tuning in who haven’t joined us before.

This is where we take our ALLi members questions and we answer them. And if we can’t answer ourselves, which happens rarely, we go off and we find out the answers for you and come back with it. And, if you have questions yourself, you can put them into the comments and if we have time, we will address them here. And if you’re wondering what on earth is ALLi, that is the Alliance of Independent Authors.

So these are questions from people who are self publishing a book and who want to know more about how to make a great book, had to sell better, how to reach more readers and how to run a great author business. And we accept questions on any of that across the full range of the publishing process. So Michael is the man with the question list. So who’ve we got first?

Michael: Alright, so our first question is from Bernadette and she asks, Sanbun publishers of New Delhi have proposed to publish an Indian print book edition of two of my police procedural set in Fiji. The proposal’s for 50-50 cost and profit share. They’ll send full details and contract after I send them the manuscript. They say that I don’t need a rights agent. I’m tempted but skeptical. What should I do? Should I steer clear? Should I approach in an international rights agent or take a risk?

Orna: Well, we would say you should join the Alliance of Independent Authors because we have a contract vetting service. And so we will be able to take a look at that contract very quickly for you and say to you whether it’s good contract or not. And of course the whole thing depends on what are they bringing for that 50%. So my immediate response, I do know about you, Michael, you can share in a moment but my immediate response would be slight alarm bells going off here.

Now that may be because you haven’t shared with us what they have shared with you, Bernadette, about what they are actually going to be bringing along here and the point I’m trying to make is there is no advantage to you in going 50 50 with a publisher (in inverted commas) if you’re taking, you know, they say half the risk, but they’re not counting when they say half the risk, they’re not counting the time it took you to make the book and all the artistic endeavor that you bring and put into the book that won’t be counted I’m sure in their 50-50. so what is it 50 50 of?

And what are they bringing for their 50? They are the kind of salient details that you need to get a hold of. But as I said, we’ll look at the contract and we’d be able to help you with that as that as a member only service. What are your thoughts, Michael?

Michael: Yeah, my thoughts are kind of similar to yours, Orna. I would also be curious to see what other books they’ve published, just as a publisher because there are publishers out there that, you know, they, and I can’t speak for all of them, but sometimes they just don’t give your book the love and the care that that it needs.

Or they won’t put the right metadata on your, you know, your book. They won’t use the right keywords, they won’t use all the different promotional tools that Amazon and Kobo and Barnes and Noble have to offer. And so I would really look at the other people that are being published through this publisher and just look at the quality of their books. You know, if it’s not the quality of something that you would be happy with, then it’s probably worth walking away.

But if the quality is good, you know, if it is good quality, then you just may want to consider what we have to offer at ALLi and just always tread carefully and just really make sure you’re paying attention to the rights that you’re licensing with the contract. Because what you don’t want to do is make a decision in haste and then sign away your rights.

Orna: Absolutely. And to that end, we have a guide book called How Authors Sell Publishing Rights and it’s available for members who are listening freely available to download in Members Zone, while it’s freely available for anyone to buy on Amazon. So you can hop over to Amazon if you like and that will give you a good outline on, you know, how the whole rights business works. The fundamental underpinnings of copyright, what you own, you know, what you are going to license and what you don’t license when you get into an agreement with a publisher.

I will also give you tips on how to negotiate because very often writers kind of, when they get an offer like this, look, we sit alone in a darkened room with our imaginary friends from one end of the year to the other. And so when we get somebody writing to us and saying, you know, “I like what you’re doing, I’d like to kind of help you and at least walk along beside you,” we’re flattered.

We may feel validated in a way that, you know, if we’re having a bad day and we’re wondering why we ever do this thing, you know, all of that is going on at the emotional level. But for these people who are coming to talk to you, it’s a business thing, which does not by definition mean it’s a bad thing. But it does mean that they are approaching it from a business perspective and they will expect you to do that too. They’ll expect you to take your author hat off, put your publisher hat on and negotiate.

So if they have terms and conditions, they would be open to you coming back and saying, “Well, no, I do like that. I don’t like that. Blah, blah blah.” There are, however, in every publishing contract, certain terms and conditions which are not negotiable. So that’s one of the things that authors don’t tend to know about it, that we can help you with at ALLi and knowing which ones you do negotiate and which ones you don’t and also the parameters what is an acceptable negotiation and what doesn’t kind of make you look like a, you know, that you’re an amateur at this, which there is no shame in being amateur at this because authors haven’t traditionally done this at all. So it takes a bit of time and a bit of practice, like every aspect of our job. It takes a bit of time and a bit of practice to get good at it.

So take a look at the book and have a think, as Michael wisely says, have a look at the other books they’ve published in terms of quality. Maybe you have a look on Amazon KDP and see where those other books are selling. If they’re not on Amazon, why not? And what benefit would a publisher be bringing to you and so on. And do remember in all of this, there’s a huge amount of, there is nothing in this business that you can’t do for yourself. You are limited only by the amount of time and money you can or are willing to invest in this. So you know, if you are taking somebody in, remember you’re giving away a lot, so don’t give it away for nothing.

Michael: Exactly. All right, well we’ve got some comments live here. So Dennis Spender says, “Hello, I am near publishing my first novel and would like to know the steps I should take to publish in KDP.”

Orna: Okay, well that is a great question because everybody starts there. But actually the best place I think we can direct you to for that is KDP’s own excellent, what do you call it, instructions.

Michael: Yes, frequently asked questions.

Orna: They have a fantastic frequently asked questions section, which will tell you everything you need to know about the basics. There’s also a post on the Amazon or sorry, on the ALLi blogs, there’s a number of posts about Amazon. So if you go into our blog at selfpublishingadvice.org/alliblog, there you’ll get the blog.

And then if you go down into the search box and you just key in Amazon KDP, you will get up to 50 different posts about things to look out for, you know where things are now because at Amazon, things change very rapidly, but their own help desk is always bang up to date, you know, so everything that they have written in their terms, conditions and their frequently asked questions in their steps is up to date.

And the other thing I would say is it’s a learning by doing. So kind of start the process. You can’t go wrong, you know, you don’t actually publish until you press that big publish bottom and there are lots and lots of steps along the way and you’ll save your book as a draft in the publishing desk. You can go away, have a think, come back.

So it becomes very much more meaningful when you’re actually engaged in the process of doing it as opposed to kind of reading all about it. So I would say, you know, if you’ve got something, as soon as you have a publishable manuscript and you’ve had it beta read by some other people and you’ve had it professionally edited and you’ve got a cover, preferably from a professional designer, then hop in and give it a go.

Michael:Absolutely. Alright, we have another live question here and this is from Matted Beard. He says, “I’ve written several novels and published them on KDP and at present I’ve started to narrate them into audio books. I am totally clueless in promoting my books. Even worse. I’m terrible at marketing or at networking. I write under the name Kenneth Jay Matthews, is there any assistance from ALLi for people like me?” So this is kind of the evolution of the last question, right? So, you’ve published your book and now you’re ready to get it out there and start getting it in front of people. What tips do you have, Orna?

Orna: Yeah, well, I have lots and I’m sure you have to but I will start by saying, just kind of laying out how it happens in the publishing business. And that’s what we’re talking about here very often, almost always with our Member Q and A, we’re talking about publishing, not writing, so once you begin to publish, then there are seven stages and steps to that process.

So there is the editing, which the beta reader and professional editor that I referred to when talking to our previous questioner there, we have the, then once you’ve got that, the designs, so editing, design, then it’s about production and distribution, getting it up wherever it is you’re going to put it out. So you’ve gone through, if you like, the first two and a bit stages by putting the book up there and making it available in, it seems like, one outlet. There are many possible outlets that you could be using, but you’re using KDP. The next part of the publishing process is marketing and promotion, which is something different.

Again, marketing is like generally letting your readers know your book exists and you exist as an author and what you stand for. So that will be all about getting consistently around your online presence so that when people come to your website, your Facebook page, your Twitter page, they get a very clear picture of “This is an author, this is his name, these are his books.”

And I see something immediately that jumps out to me is that you are known on Facebook as Matted Beard, but you write under the name Kenneth Jay Matthews. So first thing, if you don’t already have a Facebook page as distinct from your profile, you should set up a Facebook page under Kenneth Jay Matthews and then wherever, whenever you go out on Facebook as an author as opposed to as Matted Beard, the cool guy that you talk to your friends and family.

But when you go out as an author, you go out as Kenneth Jay Matthews so that people get used to seeing that name and knowing what that name does. So these are the marketing things you can do. The same with Twitter. It’s also about maybe having business cards, perhaps bookmarks or something that if somebody says to you “What you do?” And you say, “I’m a writer,” and then they always say “What do you write?” And then you can whip out something that actually they can take away with them and read afterwards, click into your website or whatever. All of that is marketing.

It’s about your general presence, being available and being known and having a plan for each book as you come to launch and promote it. Promotion then, which often gets mixed up in marketing and it’s very useful to separate them. Promotion is a specific drive of time or money behind a particular book or behind you as an author so it will be a project, a campaign, something with a beginning and an end.

It could be a book launch, that’s the most common form of promotion and what you do on a book launch is very different as an indie than the traditional trade publishing launch or it could be something quite different. It could be a Bookbub promotion. Bookbub is a fantastic promotional websites for authors who are reasonably established. It could be a price promotion or it could be a talk in your local library.

There are a hundred thousand million things you can do on under the label of promotion and after promotion we have rights sales which is what our first questioner was talking about and we have the whole thing of running an indie author business. So the thing I would say to more than anything, and I am going to let Michael come in with his very good tips now in a moment, but the thing I would say to you more than anything, Kenneth, may I call you Kenneth because author to author and the thing I would say to you more than anything is stop saying that you are clueless about promoting your books and start thinking about “How am I going to promote my books? I’m getting good at this. I am a publisher, I’m going to be a good publisher. Here’s how a good publisher would promote this particular book.”

And finally, just to say it’s a process of exploration. You know, you kind of, you explore around it, you try something. You can’t be sure in advance whether something works or not. So the most, the quickest thing to do is actually to do it, give it a go, see does it work? If it doesn’t, stop doing it. If it does work, keep doing it and then do the next thing. Well, a lot of the time writers, we ruminate a lot about it, we think a lot about it. We imagine what might happen. We spend so much time doing that we’re not actually doing the thing itself, which is the only way to know whether it does work or not. Michael.

Michael:That’s great. And I think Orna hit on the people part of marketing perfectly. I can’t add anything to that other than remember that there’s also the product part of marketing, right? So what is the genre of your book? And it’s amazing how many people you talk to where the authors don’t know the genres of their book. What is the subgenre of your book? What is the sub sub genre of your book? Right?

And if you spend a lot of time investing in that and really understanding that, then that’s going to help you figure out, “Okay, so I just heard everything Orna said about working with people and the networking piece. Who are the people that I need to actually be going after? Right? So what are the similar, what are the books that are similar to mine? What are the books that, you know, I should not attach my book to because readers of that book will hate this book.”

You know, there’s all sorts of things you want to think about, and just the target audience piece is critical because if you don’t get that right, if you don’t understand the product and where, thinking about your book as a product is very important, right? Cause you’ve just labored all of this time and energy and love into the book and you finished it, which is fantastic. But now you’ve got to take that author hat off and put that business hat on and remember that your book is a product. And so product has, a product goes on a shelf, a product goes in a marketplace. And so where do you fit? You know, where are your people?

And investing a lot of time in figuring that out, I found, makes the promotion and the reaching out to people a lot easier when you’re ready to do it because you can say, “Hey, author x, author Z, you know, my book, this is my book. It’s a lot like yours because it has x, this type of character. Your book has this type of character. It has this type of setting. Your book has this type of setting.”

And so you can draw comparisons to other writers to help them really understand, “Hey, yeah, this is a person I want to work with. This is a book that it’s absolutely similar to mine” and it makes, I’ve just found it makes that barrier much easier when you want to reach out to people because you can actually show them what you have in common and what you can bring to the table.

Orna: Oh, absolutely. Brilliant advice. And that’s why marketing goes before promotion. Don’t put any time or effort into trying to promote until you’ve got all the marketing ducks in a row and the most effective form of marketing and promotion where they do kind of overlap is email marketing for an author. So on your website and you know, at ALLi we encourage every author to have a website, not just an author website but a live dynamic functioning website that kind of keeps readers and other people appraised of what they’re doing and what they’re up to with a blog, even if it’s not kept up all the time.

But that whenever something significant happens to you that you do blog about it so that if somebody goes on they know what you’re doing and also we are encouraging people more and more to make their books available for sale on their website because we’re finding that more and more readers are actually understanding that it’s great for an indie author if you can buy from them directly and they like to do that. And some readers are now actually seeking out writers so that they can buy directly on their website rather than buying through Amazon or somewhere else. Well that’s a bit of an aside.

The main thing is that you have a website which ideally is www.yourauthorname.something.com is the most common, but it doesn’t have to be .com but the main thing is that it is your author name. And I’m speaking particularly to those of you who are caught still in your first book and very often authors setup a website for their book, don’t set up a website for you as an author because that will be your business going forward and you’re going to write lots of books. Yeah, so marketing and get all the marketing bits in a row, get all of that together, get your email, then sign up on your website, on your Facebook page, promoted on Twitter or wherever else you are online, be online.

Orna: That’s the most important thing. Be out there having chats and so on. And the idea is that when you draw somebody into your website, you’re going to give them something nice from your writing, something that’s very representative of what you do as a bit of a gift. If they sign up for your communications with them and you will find that it is those people you will communicate with directly through email in that way, using a service like MailChimp or ConvertKit or one of those not, you know, not each individual email answered one by one, or sent off from your Google mail. That’s not how it works.

Michael: No, don’t be there.

Orna: No, don’t do that.

Michael: That’s a very bad idea.

Orna: Using one of the great email tools you will find that those people that you write to directly, they will become the core of your readership. They’re the people who will buy from you again and again and go on to tell other people about what you do and really become the core of your marketing.

And it’s one of the beautiful things now, but being an author today is that we can draw our readers in so close. I’m old enough to remember when you could only sell your books through bookstores. And the only correspondence you ever had was when somebody sat down and wrote to an actual letter and that went from them to your agent and your agent got it to your publisher and your publisher got it to you. And it was all so distant and far apart. I

t’s, you know, it always felt as a writer that you were kind of writing into this vacuum, whereas now your readers are close and that’s a wonderful thing. So yeah. And start there, think about your reader, what you have to offer and then just work through the steps and you’ll find that you will become good at marketing and promotion.

Michael: Yup. One book at a time.

Orna: One book at a time.

Michael: Alright, so Stewart Land asked another question here, or asked a question. He says, “I’ve written a biography that I’ve copyrighted with the man who has since died. His dependent or heir now doesn’t want me to publish it, but I own half the copyright so I can. Do I have to give them half the profits regardless of me writing the book and, or can I take out the time it took me to write the book. So essentially can I publish a book that is copyrighted and there’s a dispute?

Orna: Very, very interesting question. So, as ever in these cases, it comes back to the contract.
So first of all, Stewart, do you have a signed contract? It is by no means certain, by the way, that you can actually publish. It may well be part of the agreement that you can’t, you know, in the event of either party not being able to, for whatever reason, the book goes out of.

So, this is a complex case and I definitely won’t be able to address it without seeing what agreement was in place. If there was no agreement in place, then you’re bound by copyright law anyway. So, so you said no, I’m taking that means there’s no agreement in place. Okay. So you are bound by copyright law. So the other party, their heirs have as much power here as your co author. So, copyright law grants the copyright to the descendants for 70 years after the death of the writer.

So it looks to me like with this project you would be well advised not to pursue this in the sense that it’s going to take a lot of your creative energy to, if they are very adamant that they don’t want to publish. You can take a lot of your creative energy trying to make that happen. And I’m not at all sure that you would be successful at the end of that. Can you afford to even pursue it?

Copyright is a passive law. It only comes into effect when it is being pursued. In other words, when one party decides to sue the author. So to be clear, you will be breaking the law to just go ahead and publish it yourself if the heirs clearly do not want you to do it. And what about taking the content that was in there and you know, creating another book standalone with you as a single author, might that work for you. That would be our advice anyway. Anything to add?

Michael: Yeah, that’s a tough, it’s a tough topic because copyright law’s so complex, because there’s also an element of you know, what, what the gentleman that passed away, what he left his family and you know, were there any stipulations on the copyright in the will? It just gets complicated really quickly and so what I would tell you is if there’s no way for you to reach an agreement with the family, then I would just tread very carefully. Yeah. So, alright.

So we have another question here from Maureen Slaven. I haven’t finished my book yet but was interested to hear you both, hear what you both had to say about the process of publishing. I’m taking all the nuggets of wisdom you’re sharing. You convince me that I should be a member of ALLi. Maureen, that’s great. We’re glad to have you.

Orna: So, no, not a question. And no question, you should be a member of ALLi.

Michael: Exactly. You absolutely should be a member and thank you to all of you who are commenting and also for those of you who are giving reactions as well. So we’ve got a like, and that’s all good stuff. So alright.

Orna: Yeah. So we’re coming to the end of the show for this month and just to let you know that this goes out, we do it live here on a Saturday because that’s the only time that Michael and I, two very busy people, can get together. But the show will go out as part of the ALLi podcast, which goes out every Saturday. Now today’s, the one that’s being broadcast in today’s podcast is last week’s show, which was with Tim Lewis. That’s our Beginners Self Publishing Salon.

This show will go out on podcast and audio and can be downloaded on iTunes and all your favorite audio places as this would go up next Saturday on our blog. So you can sign off on the blog to get reminders of our live and you know, our live shows or our podcasts, whichever way you prefer to consume the content as they say. And we have some more questions that are coming in. We’re going to save those questions and we will answer them on our next show, which will be in a month time. So the equivalent Saturday, the second Saturday of the month, next month at 1:00 PM here in London. And what time where you are Michael?

Michael: It is 7:00 AM here in Des Moines, Iowa.

Orna: My, that man is pretty dedicated to you people. We may have to move out a little bit later. Okay. So, but yeah, we’ll be here Saturday But if you sign up for membership, obviously you’d be kept apprised. But also on our blog, which is selfpublishingadvice.org/alli-blog. So that’s it for us from London. It is goodbye from me.

Michael: Alright, goodbye everybody. Have a great month.

Howard: And now with self publishing news, here’s our news editor, Dan Holloway. Hi Dan. Good to talk to you again and tell us what’s new.

Dan: Hi, it’s lovely to talk to you again, Howard, I think this is the first time we’ve spoken in 2019 so happy new year.

Howard: Happy New Year to you.

Dan: And what’s new here? Well, I’ve just been part of a fabulous new project in Oxford, u that we found out a couple of weeks ago we’ve got funding for called the future thinking network.

Howard: Wow, that sounds ominous, but I know that you’re a technology optimist, so I’m sure this is an optimistic-

Dan: I am an optimist, I’m the voice of optimism in an otherwise pessimistic network. And we’re going to be looking at a lot of things looking at artificial intelligence and what it might hold for the world, but also a lot about how the future is represented in fiction. So that’s obviously a major area of overlap and I’m hoping that it’s going to be a really good way to get some of ALLi’s speculative fiction authors involved in what I do here in Oxford. So, the various areas of my life start to come together.

Howard: So let’s move onto the news. Last week I talked to Susan Grossey, a U =K author who is just shortlisted for a new award called the Selfies. And I’m not sure how I feel about this name itself, but I’m happy that self published books are being recognized. Tell us about the selfies and who’s been nominated and then what it means.

Dan: Well, the selfies is a joint collaboration between, Book Brunch, which is a sort of a fairly well established network within the military community and the London Book Fair. So it’s quite high profile and that’s always good and the winner is going to be named at Author HQ at London Book Fair this time next month. So that’s also good. There’s an actual money prize, it’s a reasonable amount. So that, again, is a really good thing.

The criteria are interesting, I say interesting rather than necessarily something to be 100% positive about because I guess rather like the Oscars, what they’re looking at is not just the prose within the book, but the whole thing of how the book’s been published. So it’s less like a writer’s award and more like a book award where they will go to the whole publishing team. So they’re looking at things like cover design, layout and marketing plan.

Although what I can see from the short list, and it’s an exceptionally shortlist, is that they have put really high quality writing front and center. I say that not only because one of the books on the list, has Jane Davis Smash All the Windows is one that I edited so that means it must be good.

Howard: Oh, wonderful. I’m sure it’s wonderful.

Dan: Kathleen Gerrit is on there who made the news last year in a very big way when she was the first self published author to win a really major book prize in the UK. So she was up for a Betty Trask award, which is one of the Society of Authors, bit bigger awards. So it’s a really high quality shortlist and that has to be a good thing because a lot of the time we see with these Indie awards that everything is about the sales, and this time actually a lot of it is about the quality of the writing and ALLi is really well represented on the shortlist, which is fabulous to see.

Howard: So do you think it’s appropriate also that they’re looking at things like packaging and art, editing and marketing, things like that? Or is that a little bit almost condescending? You know, it almost seems like, well, you’re self published, so we have to make sure that everything about it is professional.

Dan: I feel really ambiguous about it. I think seeing it as a publishing award makes me feel a lot more comfortable with it. Because a lot of mainstream literary publishing awards, you do look at everything. So the bookseller awards every year, there are awards for the best marketing campaign, awards for the best cover design. And so on.

For seeing it within that context, I’m a lot happier. But like you say, I don’t necessarily like the idea that you’ve got one set of criteria for judging traditionally published books and we have to jump through a whole load more hoops and it’s not just about the writing. I think there is space for indie prizes that are just about the writing.

Howard: Well, I guess that goes into my next question is why are we still separating them out and when will there be real integration between self published books and, and mass market or traditionally published books? Is there a prejudice against self publish authors or against Amazon, are those prejudices still too strong for true integration?

Dan: There’s certainly an Amazon prejudice in France because we saw two major writers, ironically not a prejudice amongst prize organizers who seem to be quite happy to shortlist Amazon published books and self published Create Space, I think one of the last titles was shortlisted for a big prize, but amongst booksellers, because obviously booksellers really don’t like Amazon, especially now they’re moving into the book shop market.

So when I talk to prize organizers, what they don’t like is the thought that they will be inundated. This comes up again and again, if we open up the prize to self published authors will suddenly have to go from reading a hundred books to reading 10,000 books. I don’t think that, from people who organize in the publishing world, I don’t think that would happen.

Howard: Right, right. Well, right in their mind, you know, the unwashed masses are out there, they’re afraid of being inundated, but you know, there’s no need to fear us. You mentioned in your column, and I don’t know if this was just wishful thinking, but you know, now that the Booker Award has lost their previous sponsor, maybe it’s time for indies to step in.

Dan: It’s certainly an opportunity for them that they were with the Mann group for a long, long time and that was very much a Mann Booker Field, the award, and now that they’ve lost that sponsor, there’s a chance for them to rethink what they want the award to look like and to enter the 21st century.

Howard: Right, right.

Dan: So there is the opportunity-

Howard: Well, stranger things have happened, you know, a few years ago, they opened it up to Americans and that caused a scandal for maybe one second and now people are used to that.

Dan: It’s still causing a scandal because two Americans won in a row. And that was apparently the end of the world. The fact that they were two amazing books seem to go completely missed.

Howard: So let’s talk a little bit about Wattpad and we’ve talked about them before and how they’ve kind of created their own ecosystem of writers and it sounds like they’re breaking free from that closed world now by launching their own publishing company, led by somebody I’ve interviewed on our podcast before, Ashley Gardner. So tell me the significance of Wattpad’s move.

Dan: Wattpaders are incredible and do all sorts of innovative things and it seems on the surface as thought it’s not an innovative thing. It seems almost like Amazon and what they’ve done with their white glove program and Thomas and Mercer and other Amazon imprints is “Oh, we’ve got lots of really interesting self-published authors, let’s cream off the best and publish them. And that’s essentially what Wattpad is doing. But what’s really exciting is the fact that whilst humans are going to play a part in it, they’re going to be assisted by artificial intelligence in selecting the books that they publish, there’s not just blindly look at sales.

They’re going to, they use very sophisticated artificial intelligence to break down the structure of the stories on their site and use that structure to predict what’s going to be a bestseller. Obviously this is hugely controversial. It also seems to be hugely successful and to give readers, and viewers, if they use this to help them with their film productions and so on, something that they clearly really love and it’s going to be very interesting to see how this played out with publishing. And whether the output looks like what we would expect if it was only humans involved.

Howard: Well, there’s sometimes a difference, not all the time, but sometimes the difference between the elements that go into a best selling book and elements that go into a critically acclaimed book. I’m wondering if there’s a balance between the two in this ghost in the machine there.

Dan: Not with Wattpad, no. I mean that in a positive way, but they are focusing on commercial success.

Howard: It’s interesting, you know, it seems like they’ve been their own closed system for a little while and maybe I’m just too old to have really experienced Wattpad. But now it sounds like this is, this is the way they’re really going to sort of explode outward.

Dan: It’s really interesting that most of the indie world talks about Wattpad like that. And yet they are so huge that there’s an order of magnitude bigger than the whole of the rest of the Indie world put together, including Amazon, including every everything when it comes to the number of reads that’s in the billions and billions of reads every month on the website and tens of millions of unique users who use it almost on a daily basis. It’s the following is huge and it’s devoted. But it is for a very particular kind of literature in general with, for highly plot-driven, incredibly imaginative, young adult fiction by and large. And it’s fascinating that we still think of it as niched, despite the fact it’s such a big success story.

Howard: Well, I think it’s time we pay attention to the kids, right?

Dan: Exactly.

Howard: What they’re reading and what they’re doing. Well, I think this is all we have time for for now, I’m going to try to plug into your new futures thinking network at Oxford and please keep us updated on what’s happening with that. It sounds fascinating and I, for one, welcome our new AI overlords.

Dan: Super. Thank you very much indeed.

Howard: Alright, thank you, Dan.

Howard Lovy

Howard Lovy is an editor and writer with more than 30 years of experience in journalism, from newspapers to magazines specializing in business, science, and technology. He has spent the past few years guiding coverage of independent publishing, amplifying voices of the marginalized. Howard is also a book doctor who enjoys working with authors to get their work ready for publication.

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