That we are experiencing turbulent times in the book world, is common knowledge to us all. The financial crisis, digitisation of our titles, foreign companies entering our markets and the growing trend of self-publishing, makes that the world as we knew it, will never be the same again. But besides all these external elements, there is a far more important one you seriously have to think about in these times. Because if you want to survive, you will have to be of value. Added value.
So, today I would like to tell you a story. A story that has never been told before: the story of a publishing house. What does a publishing house do? What are the things that take place between an author turning up with an idea and a book arriving on the shelf? And how do you turn it into a bestseller? In other words: what is the added value of a publishing house in these times? This is the story of one of the largest publishing houses in the Netherlands. This is the story of what goes on inside a publishing house with a passion for stories.
It begins with an idea
A book can come into existence in many different ways, from an author who turns up on the doorstep with an idea, to a manuscript in the slush pile, an auction for an international title, the publisher who approaches someone with an interesting (life)story, or a writer who is recommended by others. It can begin in any way.
Our publishers and editors have an extended international network of agents , editors from other countries and renowned scouts . By remaining in continual discussion within the publishing business and actively searching outside of it, our publishing house quickly identifies the most interesting authors and follows all international developments.
And then the real work begins. While an author might have a very good idea for a book, it will always be improved if they share it with another who criticises it, adds to it and holds up a mirror. This is precisely what a publisher is good at: making stories better. Whether in the storylines or characters in thrillers or literary books, or the adjustments which help an author to claim a particular area, a publisher has years of experience in knowing what to do and what not to do.
The editorial department is highly skilled in sifting through the enormous piles of manuscripts which are sent in each week. These come from all quarters: via email, from foreign scouts or as printed copies in the post. But mostly it begins with the germ of an idea. An idea that slowly becomes a book, through the author’s and the publisher’s exertions.
Once the publisher or editor is completely happy with the idea (or manuscript) and bursting with enthusiasm, he or she puts it to the whole editorial department. This is the first test of whether an idea is really viable. If the idea withstands this ballot, there are no more obstacles to it growing into a real book.
An idea becomes a good story
A manuscript isn’t just suddenly there. It usually contains months and even years of work. And not just by the author who has written it, but also by the editor or publisher managing the project. It is different for every book and every author. One might want to write everything in a single go and submit it, another might begin with a structural plan, a first chapter or section and want feedback before continuing. It doesn’t make any difference to us. The best method is the one which does the most justice to the book and the author feels the most comfortable with. Only then do you get the best result.
The publisher or editor guides the author from the start to the finish and is closely involved in the content and planning of the book in the first instance (during the writing process). But the work is not done when the manuscript is completed. On the contrary, now the baton is passed on. Now the copyediting department gets to work on improving the language and checking facts and references. Once that has been done, the copyeditor uses external proofreaders to dot the i’s and cross the t’s as it were. Good correctors, the ones we like to work with, look further than that, they can also iron out any other small irregularities.
Pleasing the eye
Once the texts (and illustrations, if required) have been finalised, the text design begins: the actual physical book. In many cases, particularly in fiction (thrillers, novels, literature), the layout is fairly standard. But there are books, particularly in the non-fiction genre (business, marketing, psychology) in which the lay-outs differ greatly from one another. They are made to measure, so to speak. For this we work with the best designers, which are selected per book for their particular expertise by editor or publisher. The best possible story is then packaged in the best possible way.
The perfection of good production
Producing a book involves much more than saving a file and having it printed. Not only do we search for the best partners for every production (the printers are not all the same), but this is also the moment that everything comes together to complete the final product. The jacket design and text lay-outs come together, whereby sometimes small technical details might need to be adjusted to get the perfect print, and are combined with the choice of jacket paper, text paper and possible extras like a ribbon, jacket flaps, bookmarks or whatever else you might think of. Perfection is the keyword here too, and time pressure and cost awareness are important factors which the production team as no other need to work with in order to print the books at the right moment and have them delivered to the right destinations.
These days it goes further than that. With the entry of digital books, a division has taken place which can best be described as a T-junction. On one fork the book goes to the printer, on the other fork, at the same time, often from the same files, a digital book is produced: the e-book. If the text design is standard this is almost fully automated. If the layout is unusual, an e-book can be made to measure, or it will become a fixed layout e-book .
Readers have their say
The marketing of our books and authors doesn’t begin the moment that the book is printed. No, it begins the moment we decide to publish a book, when the idea can grow into a real book. At this time, the marketeers meet the author, the initial contacts with the media are made and the concept is fine-tuned for what publishing professionals call the catalogue. The catalogue is a brochure containing the new books for the spring, summer or autumn period and these days is primarily digital. Filled with all the information we have prepared about the book, the author, marketing and promotion. The catalogue is continually used for conversations with bookshop chains and smaller bookshops. They decide in advance how many copies they will order for their customers.
This is also the moment that the first jacket designs are ready, because the book(idea) needs to be presented to the outside world in the best possible way. You don’t get a second chance at a first impression.
Modern times require a modern approach, also in terms of marketing. Where the publishing house used to be the only expert in generating interest in its books and authors, now authors and publishers work together in a hybrid approach. This means that the authors are involved in promoting their books right from the start. Many authors have their own large network, media contacts or can do business through their own company (or a partner company), things which otherwise wouldn’t have been possible. This line of approach allows us to attain synergy and tailor campaigns to specific titles. Made to measure marketing.
Not only is the collaboration with the author a change which deserves attention, but also the way products are marketed and promoted, the changes in the product forms (and the marketing that goes with them) ensure that this area of expertise is changing rapidly. It is no longer possible to buy the consumer’s attention (through print advertisements, radio ads, banners), you now have to earn it. You cannot be an irritating intrusion, you have to be a part of the dialogue with the (potential) reader. With digital products this is taken a step further, the rules for digital are different from those for print. This requires specific knowledge, knowledge which we devote ourselves to assiduously; it is an area where we discover and implement new possibilities every day.
From bricks to clicks
You can say ‘sales’ in the same breath as ‘marketing’. While the only sales channel used to be the bookshops, this is no longer the case. Not only are there a variety of web shops selling books, publishing houses can now sell books through their own website and with the arrival of e-books and apps, many more channels have sprung up. This diversity of channels means that the business of selling books has changed and has been partially displaced towards marketing and internet sales (particularly for digital products).
The bulk of our books are still sold through bookshops. It is still important to have a good relationship with them to ensure that our books are well-represented in the stores . From new hardbacks and trade paperbacks, to cheaper mid-price and pocket editions . Through appointments with the large chains, but also by sending reps out to visit every bookshop in the country to drum up new orders.
To support the publication of new titles, we offer our customers a broad array of sales material at an early stage. From catalogues to jackets, posters, banners, bound proofs , dummies , samples, reading copies and digital material. Where necessary this is tailored to their specific requirements, individually produced and delivered wherever the customer indicates.
But the bookshops (physical, online or e-book) are not the only channel we serve, there are two other channels through which a substantial quantity of books are sold: retail outlets outside of the bookselling network (shops that aren’t bookshops) and special sales. Our rich archive is composed of more than 25,000 titles and gives us innumerable possibilities to inject new life into a title (the special). In this we don’t just serve the growing need for sales outside of the bookshops, but it is an increasingly important way for bookshops to stand out from the crowd. This might involve an exclusive publication by a bestselling author or, on the contrary, a rising star, as leader for a sales campaign which includes older backlist titles, with accompanying marketing. A special offer can also be part of the introduction of a new series. Each book can be custom-made, a book from the past, or a very recent one. They can be re-jacketed, given a company logo or a special foreword, and used as promotional gifts, or specially produced for museums, camping shots, petrol stations, amusement parks, newspapers or other media.
The largest and most important trend in the publishing world is the move towards digital. This is why we are investing hugely in the marketing and sales of this variant of the book. This too is a specialist field and requires attention, dedication and professional expertise. Not only does this bring new (online) sales channels, it also offers new possibilities in terms of sales and promotions.
Experimentation and learning
For decades publishers could follow the same method, not much changed in the art of book printing, but this is no longer possible. While a few years ago we had to decide whether or not to publish e-books (which we believed in and so immediately decided to do), now there are many more issues we have to address on a daily basis: from enhanced e-books and book apps , to new business models and joint ventures with other parties.
This is not the right time to wait and see which direction things take, this is the time to experiment, to learn and to guide. Think in chances and opportunities, not in threats and fears. Not always visible to people outside of the publishing house, it doesn’t mean that we aren’t working hard on new developments, product forms, campaigns and business models.
The reader is central
In everything we do, from the creative process at the start, through to production, sales and marketing, the reader, customer orientation and quality are guiding principles. They have always been central and will remain so. One thing is certain: the power of a good story. We want to continue to publish the best and the most beautiful stories for the reader. Whether in paper book form, or as e-books, enhanced e-books, apps or anything else we can think of, it makes no difference. For us the reader remains central.