Audio is a real “growing force” but the formulaic nature of publishing is “crippling” for the industry, the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) Conference has heard.
David Shelley, c.e.o of Little, Brown and Orion gave the keynote speech at the annual SYP Conference at the London College of Communication on Saturday (26th November) on the theme of “How to Make a Bestseller”.
During his address Shelley [pictured below] said that “audio is a real growing force” in the industry, giving the example of The Verdict by Nick Stone which went to number one in the audio charts and sold around 15,000 audio book copies. He also picked up on Robert Galbraith’s The Cuckoo’s Calling, which reached number one on the audio book chart and was a “major bestseller on Audible” before anyone revealed who the author was.
He said: “Audio is something we don’t talk enough about in our industry, even though it is really important.” Publishers should not ignore audio book sales, he warned. “Even when a book in print doesn’t sell that many copies if you have an audio bestseller, that’s really exciting and special,” he said.
Shelley also told attendees that the perception of a book’s success shouldn’t all revolve around the Sunday Times bestseller list, which does not measure sales of e-books, audio books or in export markets.
He advised the young publishers to think broadly when publishing. “Consider all avenues, think about e-books, audio books, about export markets and long term sales,” he said. “Don’t ever just chase a bestseller for its own sake.”
Shelley's speech was “cheerleading” for some of the books he worked on which never made it onto the Sunday Times bestseller list, but which he deemed “truly exciting”. Amongst the other titles he mentioned was Panic by Jeff Abbott, which missed the list but sold almost half a million copies.
The SYP conference also heard from Guinness World Records editor-in-chief Craig Glenday, who argued that publishing is currently very formulaic which is “crippling” for the industry. He was speaking on a panel debate looking ahead to the future, with Catherine Burke, publisher and executive director of Little, Brown and Jonny Geller, literary agent and c.e.o. of Curtis Brown [pictured below].
Geller agreed with Glenday about the formulaic nature of publishing. “Publishing is a continuous guerrilla war,” he said, in which “publishers need to be agile.”
All three panel members agreed that passion is central to publishing. “Bestsellers can be made, and paid for, but that’s not the business I’m in,” Burke said. “When someone decides to talk about a book and share, that’s what creates a bestseller. It’s our job to spread that passion.”
Glenday also advised young publishers to think holistically about their role and look for opportunities in every part of the business. “Always think of every part of the business, try and think of the whole picture," he said. “The best staff we have, they work across everything...Yes, I’m an editor, but I also look at marketing and I go to sales meetings.”
Speaking to The Bookseller after the conference, Shelley said the event had been “very professional, very vibrant” and added that he was particularly struck by attendees’ commitment to book publishing. Shelley said he was pleased “the SYP is thriving now as it is something that is needed in the industry.”
Sam Missingham, head of audience development at HarperCollins, also said the conference had given her optimism for the future of the industry. “It is incredibly energising to see so many young people attend a conference at the weekend,” she said. “It gives me a lot of hope for the future to see an incredibly diverse and interesting group of people push to the next phase in publishing.”
SYP chair Zara Markland and vice-chair Emily Finn were enthusiastic about the 170 strong turn-out to the event which was a mix of people already working in the industry and students. “The conference is the one event of the year we get all the branches of the SYP together and today there is a very positive atmosphere,” they said.
Pictures: © Nicole Kavanaugh