PRH-Ebury's chief on 'What Publishers Tell Us'
Smart, managing director with Penguin Random House's Ebury Publishing division, is the former publisher of Osprey, and a longtime favorite of Bookseller conference events, not least because she's a straight shooter: Smart knows what she's seeing and is unafraid to say so.
When PRH's Tom Weldon announced her appointment in March 2014, he characterised her position among industry commentators well:
Rebecca is one of the publishing industry's leading thinkers. She is both highly entrepreneurial and strategic, and these skills will be of enormous value not only to Ebury but to the whole of Penguin Random House.
As far back as the first FutureBook conference, The Bookseller was picking out her quotes as top-of-the-list: That year, she cinched the alarm of so many publishing people as the first waves of the digital dynamic broke hard over them:
Publishing at the moment feels like a permanent crisis. We have to run two companies at the same time, an established one and a digital startup. We need to fail quicker, cheaper, and better than everyone else.
The winner of the FutureBook "Most Inspiring Digital Person" Award in 2011, Smart went on to set the FutureBook Conference on its ear in 2013's "Big Ideas" session, telling Europe's largest publishing industry conference that it's "too bloody slow" to market, stuck in a tight, unyielding pipeline of traditional commercial process:
We have staff thinking about books 18 months in the future, never mind the backlist. We are publishing books into a market that will be significantly different from today. I don't think there are any physical barriers that make it slow, I think the reasons are cultural and historical.
And for a glimpse at why I've invited her to speak on "What Publishers Tell Us" at 11 a.m. on the 30th, look no further than one of her several pivotal essays—this one titled Harder, better, faster, stronger. The piece makes it clear that while Smart's perspective takes in the higher view of industry-wide tensions, the specific pressures weighing on authors are always profoundly close to her observations on the industry. Just excerpting from that article alone:
The subject of how publisher investment in today’s high profile authors is taking money away from tomorrow’s high profile authors. The rich are getting richer, so to speak, and the ‘laboratory’ of the mid-list author is vanishing...
Some books need time to develop, to build slowly. Others need to be out there and promoted as quickly as possible, or even to be written and evolved by authors in collaboration with their readers. Let’s allow books to find their readers in a time frame that is most appropriate for the author, the book and the readers, not our sales process and teams...
We need increased flexibility in deals between publishers and authors...Publishing should be more of a partnership, and this requires change from both publishers and agents. Agents and authors feel that advances are dropping but royalty rates are not rising, publishers feel that advances are still too high and are therefore inflexible on royalty rates. Publishers also need to prove to agents and authors that the ‘sausage factory’ mentality created by the current pipeline will change...
If an author’s idea should not be a book, don’t make it be a book. In the world of chain bookselling there have been many ideas that have been extended to fill 200 pages in order to give them a spine and a place on a shelf. This no longer needs to happen. Let the idea influence its expression, and let the expression inspire its presentation. There are an increasing number of ways to realize the value of ideas, let’s take advantage of that.
Smart's place in the Author Day lineup is significant, too.
We will have heard both from Nicola Solomon of the Society of Authors and from Orna Ross of the Alliance of Independent Authors on "The State of the Author," with spotlighted commentary from authors Kamila Shamsie and Jane Steen.
And then, we'll turn to Smart to begin a kind of litany of insights, starting with her "What Publishers Tell Us" remarks and continuing with:
- "What 'Authors Anonymous' Tells Us (Dan Kieran and John-Paul Flintoff)
- "What Surveyed Authors Tell Us" (Harry Bingham)
- "What the Curriculum Tells Us" (Ian Ellard)
- "What the Tools of the Trade Tell Us" (Emma Barnes), and
- "What Literary Agents and Authors Tell Us" (Piers Blofeld, Sheila Crowley, Andrew Lownie, Dave Morris, Kate Pullinger, Douglas Wight).
From there, we then move to the afternoon's "What We Can Do" focus, working to build understanding, message, response in what is a gathering not only of authors but also of publishing industry leaders. The mix of players is important and Smart's key position in the industry reflects that amalgam of opinion we're looking to achieve. Smart says she's "thrilled to be part of the inaugural Author Day as part of FutureBook Week 2015," and the feeling is entirely mutual—we're delighted that she's able to be with us.
Journalist-author Douglas Wight joins panel
We also have another addition to the programme to flag for you: Douglas Wight, whose account of self-publishing-as-a-company with the assistance of Whitefox is here, in Three months, standing start to high street. He joins digital author Kate Pullinger and game-designer and author Dave Morris (currently creating a new science-fiction drama for BBC) on that "What Literary Agents and Authors Tell Us" panel.
Please note that, again by design, the Author Day setting at 30 Euston Square is quite intimate and our last seats are moving very quickly. We recommend quick action if you'd like to become one of our delegates for the day.
For more on the Author Day event:
- Here is the programme
- Here are our speakers
- Here is information about our venue at 30 Euston Square
- Here is an FAQ for delegates to Author Day
- And here is an article that lays out the rationale for the approach we're taking (PDF)
Drop a line to porter.anderson@TheBookseller.com with any questions.