Lindsey Mooney and Keshini Naidoo are launching a female-fronted digital-first publisher ‘Hera’ with support from Canelo, The Bookseller can reveal.
Naidoo left her role as associate publisher at Bookouture in July, while Mooney departed as UK content lead for Kobo in May to launch the company focused on commercial fiction “particularly by under-represented voices”.
The pair are launching Hera Books today (Thursday 23rd August), with production, distribution and launch support from fellow digital-first publisher Canelo. Naidoo is taking up the role of publishing director while Mooney has taken on the mantle of m.d., around 15 years after the pair first met at Book Club Associates, the now defunct mail order and online bookseller. The duo also hope that having two women lead the company might serve to encourage more management roles for women in the trade.
Named after the queen of the Greek gods, Hera is open to submissions from agented and non-agented writers of commercial fiction and aims to publish books “as enthralling and addictive as your Netflix series”.
"If you are going to go for a God then you might as well go for the queen of the gods," Naidoo (pictured above) told The Bookseller. "Hera also means ‘diamond’ in Hindi and I am passonate about finding diamonds in the rough [editorially]."
Naidoo and Mooney are self-funding the venture from their personal savings, working remotely full-time to publish two books each month starting from this autumn. They intend to gradually grow the list while maintaining it as a “bespoke” business. Its authors will not be paid advances but will receive 50% of the net receipts for royalties, a rate which Mooney described as a “very standard for most digital publishers”. Most traditional publishers offer authors a 25% royalty rate for e-books.
“Major publishers do not offer royalties that high for e-books… we’re able to give them a bigger cut.” she told The Bookseller, whilst also confirming that authors would not have to pay for Hera Books' services.
The company has not inked any deals yet, but Naidoo said they are in discussions with a number of prospective writers. It will provide “hands-on editorial advice – every single book will undergo a rigorous and understanding editorial process, from in-house and external editorial staff” according to its founders, as well as “working with the best cover designers in the business” and offering “a carefully curated publicity and marketing campaign for every book".
When asked by The Bookseller about whether she agreed e-book sales were in decline as reflected in the Publishers Association's annual Yearbook statistics last month, Mooney said: “I disagree… they do well if they get the mix right in terms of positioning and price. A lot of the biggest commercial authors have had strong digital sales even with print editions so clearly there is scope but it needs to be the right book.”
She believes that smaller, digital-first companies such as Canelo and Bookouture are winning e-book sales from the larger publishers. “The market is shifting to a different place,” she said. “Smaller publishers have more focus on smaller lists. Bigger publishers have to consider things like getting into stores and retail positioning... The most important lesson I’ve learned from my time in e-books is having to be flexible and ready for change. It is different to print in that you can change things like the cover and the copy and the metadata (quite quickly). You trust the metrics.”
Pricing is very important to an e-book’s success, Mooney (pictured right) said, as well as metadata and analytics. “Being nimble makes a difference," she said. "I think there are publishers who are pricing e-books too high. I don’t buy e-books for £8 – often they are priced at this, then are the £4 the next week, then £2.99. You have to know the customer and where their price point is.”
Mooney described the ideal price point for e-books as between 99p and £1.99 but said it would depend on looking at “the detail and what works".
Naidoo added: “I don’t believe that ‘commercial’ is a dirty word – I believe that books have to stand alongside other forms of entertainment in our time-poor modern society. You should be as enthralled by a novel as the latest Netflix boxset or as addicted as scrolling through your Twitter timeline.”
She said the duo hoped to champion works from under-represented groups, who she will be reaching out to through writers’ groups and social media. “We have democratised this world with social media and I have lots of people who I chat to and would happy to talk with about submissions. I do a lot of editorial hand holding so I am happy for people to send submissions, even if it needs some work, I can help with that,” she said.
Naidoo revealed she was influenced by her time working in Waterstones in Leeds and seeing customers who felt intimidated by the literary world. “My mottos is, ‘Would they buy it in Wigan?’ I am not publishing for the chattering classes in Kensington…It seems like such a cloistered world and I think it is really important to reach out and contact those people directly.”
The pair hope Hera's emphasis on flexible and remote working will mean that when they take on staff - with plans to hire an editorial assistant a year down the line - they could recruit from outside London, providing “a less London-centric” perspective. They also hope that the female-fronted nature of Hera will pave the way for more women to take on managerial positions in the trade.
“We wanted to do something exciting and came from incredible companies but got somewhere where we couldn’t take a step up,” Mooney said. She referenced the gender pay gap revelations in the trade from last spring which showed that men still dominated senior positions.
“I can’t see why that is the case in publishing in senior roles…. It seems men are better at self-promotion. I think men go for jobs they are not as qualified for and women are a bit less confident to do that.”
Iain Millar, m.d. of Canelo which launched in 2015, said: “Keshini and Lindsey are two of the most outstandingly talented people in publishing. At Canelo we couldn't be more excited to help them in building Hera, a publisher with a bold and clear editorial vision, deep commercial nous and, like us, big ambitions, both for themselves and for publishing more widely. We can't wait to get started in this transformative partnership.”