Three months, standing start to high street

Three months, standing start to high street

"The dispiriting feeling that...the entire industry is stacked against the author." Douglas Wight isn't the first to respond by creating an imprint of his own, of course. Indie bestseller Barbara Freethy self-publishes as Fog City Publishing, which has a trade imprint for bookstores, Hyde Street Press. Hugh Howey's Broad Reach Publishing, Bella Andre's Bayside Books—fit-to-purpose entities familiar to fans. Wight and co-author Jennifer Wiley have created their edition of this model, 22Five Publishing for their biography of vocalist Rita Ora: "to attract retailers and get a self-published book into stores for print as well as digital distribution." The "Hot Right Now" element of their new title suggests that Wight and Wiley may see more work for 22Five ahead, doesn't it? As Wight writes, '"To see the finished book, with not just our names, but our company logo on the cover, was a tremendous feeling."—Porter Anderson

'We couldn’t escape the feeling that we were selling ourselves short'

On Thursday, an unusual book will take its place on bookshelves amid other celebrity titles.It's a biography of X Factor judge and chart-topping singer Rita Ora, written by two former tabloid journalists, myself and Jennifer Wiley. 

Not so unusual, it might seem. But as recently as the end of July, only one chapter was written, the publishing company didn’t exist, and the idea that you could crash a celebrity title into a crowded market at the busiest time of the year seemed ridiculous.

Even at the start of October, as the big players in the publishing industry geared up for Super Thursday, 22Five Publishing, the new company we set up to publish the book, didn’t have a finished cover, the manuscript was being typeset, and there was a real fear that a deadline to get everything to the printers would be missed.

Make it we did, however, meaning that we fulfilled a request from WHSmith to receive the stock in good time to hit the shelves by Thursday, 29th October.

The path from a standing start to publishing a book fit for high street shops in less than three months was a bumpy one, but a fascinating learning curve and one that might offer a specialised take on the concept of self-publishing.

'Potential for a book'

The idea for a book on Ora came from Jennifer Wiley, my friend and former colleague at the News of the World, where she was TV Editor when I was Books Editor.

I’d already researched Ora’s backstory for a book on the DJ Calvin Harris for Black and White Publishing, so when Jennifer mentioned Ora I realised there was potential for a book.

It was a no-brainer. Ora has enjoyed astonishing success since bursting onto the scene in 2012. Four No. 1 singles, a No. 1 album, an acclaimed stint on The Voice, performing at the Oscars and for the Obamas—she was everywhere. With 5.14 million Twitter followers and, perhaps more crucially, 6.3 million Instagram followers—suggesting a younger, keener audience—it seemed the perfect time. By the time Ora was confirmed as a judge in the new X Factor lineup we had already begun our research.

Ordinarily I draft proposals and secure a commission before writing. On this occasion, however, we didn’t have that luxury. We knew that to have any chance of getting a book out before Christmas we had to start writing straightaway. Our initial plan was to unearth enough new material to land a national newspaper serialisation. Then we might either be able to attract a publisher with a readymade book and publicity plan in place. Or we could self-publish an ebook and Amazon CreateSpace print-on-demand (POD) paperback.

Thanks to Jennifer’s tenacious digging, we achieved our first goal. With nearly a dozen new interviews from friends and colleagues, we began to piece together parts of Ora’s extraordinary refugee-to-riches story that had never been told.

But when we unearthed interviews from Ora herself that had never been published—and secured exclusive new photos—we realised that we had a hot property on our hands.

'To attract retailers and get a self-published book into stores'

Once we had the newspaper serial we wanted in The Sun, we offered the book to several publishers. There was interest and a concrete offer, but for a variety of reasons the traditional route didn’t appeal to us on this occasion. As an author and ghostwriter, I’m used to the dispiriting feeling that comes every six months with the issuing of royalty statements. Often it feels like the entire industry is stacked against the author.

We prepared to self-publish and we had a killer front cover designed, but we couldn’t escape the feeling that we were selling ourselves short.

If only there was a way to attract retailers and get a self-published book into stores.

I knew John Bond from his time at HarperCollins, and had met him shortly after he launched Whitefox, a publishing-services company. I floated the idea to him. Immediately he got it. There was a chance to do something different, he said.This was August. It seemed crazy to think that a new book could be devised, printed and make enough impact in a crowded celebrity market.

However, in a month we finished the book, set up a publishing company, sourced, licensed, and commissioned our own photographs, had the text edited and "legalled," and—with huge thanks to Whitefox and their relationship with former Simon and Schuster executive director Kerr MacRae—we had a sizable order from WHSmith, whose support has been crucial. In addition, we registered the title and copyright and sorted a barcode.

'Now comes the hard part'

It wasn’t an easy decision. At first the huge costs involved seemed prohibitive. But when we had an order from a high street chain it seemed too good an opportunity to turn down. To see the finished book, with not just our names, but our company logo on the cover, was a tremendous feeling.

It’s been a crash course in publishing. Many of the peculiarities of the industry and of how books are sold have left us wondering if we were mad to embark on such a venture. Certainly, I have a lot more sympathy for publishers!

But now comes the hard part. A national serialisation is a fantastic launch pad but we believe it will be new media that dictates how well the book sells. As the live finals begin on X Factor we hope interest in Rita Ora continues to rise. 

We might not have reinvented the wheel but what we may have shown is a model for self-publishing—and that there's an incredible amount of talent out there, away from the big publishers, that can bring books to the marketplace.

Whitefox is a sponsor of our inaugural Author Day event, a conference about the industry and its writers. Author Day opens FutureBook Week on 30th November at 30 Euston Square. Early Bird pricing (save £30) continues to 30th October. Alliance of Independent Authors (ALLi) and Society of Authors members receive special additional discounts. #AuthorDay programme details are here. Find out more about our excellent Author Day speakers is here.

Main image from the cover of Hot Right Now: The Definitive Biography of Rita Ora