My day at the FutureBook Conference 2015

I was lucky enough to be at FutureBook 2015 and help out The Bookseller with their biggest conference of the year and the largest digital publishing conference in Europe. I want to start off by saying how grateful I am for the opportunity; I got to work with a great team who all took the time to remember my name and get to know me. In the midst of a conference so hectic and busy, with so many important people, it can be easy to get lost in the crowd but the team at The Bookseller did not let that happen.

I went down to the office on Thursday to help with some preliminary work for the conference, and spent a few hours organising name badges – and name spotting people I was excited to see and hear speak from the industry– and packing up the last few bits into the FutureBook tote bags. As we all know, everyone in publishing loves a tote bag filled with free stuff.

Friday was an early start at the venue, The Mermaid in Blackfriars, where I arrived at 7.30am to help with set up of organising the name badges that I had lovingly alphabetised and putting the tote bags out on display. When all the other volunteers arrived, I felt a bit like a fish out of water – everyone else seemed to be an MA Publishing student, whereas I’m still an undergraduate. But they were all so friendly and willing to have a chat. It was great to hear that there were so many different areas of publishing that people were interested in, including rights, sales, academic and education, and from such different routes to getting to where they are today.

We also had various discussions throughout the day about what we’d heard in the talks or read on Twitter. A particular point of note was our discussion on e-books, following the statistic that 63% of 16-24 year olds have never bought an e-book. I find this shocking in a technological age where we live on our mobile devices. I certainly know that I find my Kindle a life-saver when travelling. However, when I thought about it more, it is true that I much prefer a print book for studying and academic material. Perhaps the discussion is not that pure statistic but considering exactly why 16-24 year olds don’t buy e-books – does purpose (i.e pleasure or education) make a difference?

The early part of my day was taken up with handing out lanyards to the delegates and being a general assistant to The Bookseller team as they were all rushed off their feet. Luckily, I was able to sit in two amazing sessions before lunch: Face out: strategies that work and why, and, Writing the future: author-centric publishing.

This was especially important for me because of my interest in publicity and marketing, which really revolves around successful strategies and keeping the author in the picture. I was tweeting furiously throughout the sessions, trying to note down as much as I could.

For me the two highlights of the sessions were Asi Sharabi from LostMy.Name and Judith Curr, president and publisher of Simon and Schuster’s Atria imprint.

LostMy.Name is a fantastic concept of the personalised book, that takes tech and imagination and creates magic. I know I certainly had a personalised book as a child but not to this scale and genius: one that uses algorithms and other clever ways to really specialise each individual book, to the point where they can even use satellites to pinpoint an image of the child in question’s house and include it in the book.

I know I wasn’t the only one in awe of LostMy.Name; there were plenty of people buzzing on Twitter about it, especially as Christmas present ideas!

Judith Curr spoke about author-centric publishing and highlighted the three types of author and three types of reader: Traditional, Indie and Digital. A Traditional author/reader is one who really connects with each other in a more ‘traditional’ way through print books and dedicated readership. Indie or Hybrid authors build a readership through social media and online engagement, driving sales through word of mouth and an existing fan base. Their readers are largely Gen-Y, who invest not only in the author but deeply in the characters and often purchase books based on their love for the character – which spurned the highly entertaining term ‘book boyfriend’.

Now, you may scoff at such an idea, but just think how popular characters like Augustus Waters and Edward Cullen are, irrespective of their authors.

The final type is Digital Influencers: those who already have a large following through digital media like YouTube or Vine. Their readers are mainly Millenials who read fiction, memoirs and humour, finding books via social media on their mobile devices.

What was really interesting though was Judith’s introduction of the Crave app, which was just released the other day. Crave is a subscription service app that sends books in bite-sized pieces to your phone or device every 24 hours, with other exclusive content such as messages from authors and characters, making reading even more engaging.

Judith was concise and precise, making her talk (for me) one of the most successful of the day.

After Writing the future: author-centric publishing, we broke for an incredible lunch overlooking the Thames, with a great view of the South Bank. Lunch also gave me an opportunity to catch up with people in the industry that I know from previous experience, like Steph, Poppy and Julia from Penguin General, with whom I did work experience in summer.

The last talk of the day that I attended was The social room: using Twitter and audio for books, with Abi Fenton from HarperCollins and Georgina Moore from Headline, chaired by Jo Ellis. Maria asked me to handle the timings, and it was great to be given that kind of responsibility, even if she did end up handling most of it herself! I especially enjoyed her little sigh as Georgina spoke about have two Twitter handles, which we all know from her personal OnceUponTheBook and the ever-wonderful, JobsInBooks.

It also meant I got to sit on the front row for the session; I loved hearing Georgina speak, especially as I had been so keen to hear her at Hachette’s Insight into Publishing day, which I unfortunately didn’t get onto (though speaking to other students, it seemed like lots of us didn’t!)

Georgina spoke about the importance of having a strong Twitter presence and connect with influencers on Twitter, which can power sales through word of mouth. She also spoke about balancing personal Twitter activity with corporate professionalism, or creating a persona on Twitter. Most importantly, however, it’s necessary to make your visual recognisable including using a smart handle, a recognisable photograph and a great biography. It was such a fantastic, detailed and useful talk, that I felt so privileged to hear because I think that as a publicist (or someone who wants to be a publicist) it’s important to have a social media presence that you feel proud of and that can really drive sales.

She also put up this helpful pic of all the important personal Twitter handles you need to know!

It was also incredible to go up to her at the end and have her say to me ‘Are you Chloë?’ – proof having a Twitter presence (and constantly live-tweeting) is a valuable way to communicate and brand yourself, making your name known.

Abi’s talk on Audiobooks was also fascinating, illustrating that audio can go places text simply can’t and using the author’s voice can bridge a gap between the reader and the author.

I also loved this idea on Instagram of creating audio clips with images that make up the book cover for Lindsey Kelk’s What a Girl Wants!

Overall, the conference was not only an incredible experience for giving me, a student, a glimpse into the wonderful, creative, ever-progressing world of publishing, but it was a chance for people in this world to share their ideas and take inspiration from the amazing speakers we were privileged to hear. The publishing world is constantly moving forward and finding new ways to breathe life into books and the reading experience. I look forward to seeing how these ideas develop and hope that one day soon I might be able to attend FutureBook as a delegate.

Chloë Rose is an undergraduate from Birmingham university.