FINDING NEW VOICES
DEFINING NEW GENRES
THE MOST IMPORTANT COLLABORATOR?
Crikey, the new year has got off to a flying start, with barely time to grab a cake with my coffee, let alone keep up with all the hyper-positive publishing ‘trends’ that seem to do the rounds at the start of every year. While it’s always gratifying to hear about the very latest platform that will ‘transform’ the publishing industry, usually by reproducing exactly the same content in a slightly different digital format than previously (cynical? Moi), I am always baffled by the fact that the most valuable and vital cog in the wheel of publishing success is never mentioned. I mean it’s all very well wittering on about how ‘print is making a comeback’ (seriously, who comes up with this nonsense?), but whether it’s print, digital or hand-carved slate none of it matters a fig without one vital ingredient – the reader. I barely ever hear or read about readers. It’s like they’re a given, that as an industry we can just keep focusing on how wonderful it is to see print back (you can tell that’s ticked me off can’t you?) because there will always be plenty of those strange, baffling but constant readers floating around to buy it and make everything okay.
And here’s the thing. When things are tough we (and I include myself in that very royal we) are very quick to blame Amazon, bookshops, discounts, DRM, piracy, planetary misalignments, poor runes and intergalactic death rays, but do we ever stop to consider what readers genuinely want, and whether we’re producing it? We assume, a lot, and admittedly we use our experience to make those assumptions, but I’m definitely concerned about the making an ‘ass’ out of ‘u’ and ‘me’ by assuming far too much about readers.
I’ve spent the first thrilling ten months (ten months!!! Holy chuffing monkeys, where did the time go!!!!) of Urbane’s gentle rise to publishing greatness banging on about collaboration. As you know, I think it’s key to publishing success and it drives everything I do and Urbane does as an organisation. And I’d like to think the authors (up to a staggering 40 of them now fact fans!) would agree that the process of developing their ideas and work is a genuinely collaborative one. But have I collaborated with readers, those people who will ultimately make or break Urbane no matter how many innovations I come up with (like bringing back print, I think it’s the future)? Frankly not half as much as I should, which is pretty damn daft. The first rule of any business is to know your customer – and not just know that people read books, but to engage, discuss…collaborate…with them to truly deliver the books they want to read, and are willing to pay to read. It’s all very well ‘developing platforms with multi-functionality and multi-deliverables in a sympathetically designed integrative user interface’ but it’s pretty damn pointless if you haven’t asked readers whether that’s how they choose to engage with content, or if it’s the content they actually want.
What does this mean? First and foremost remembering that at heart we are all readers, and applying that to every part of the book development process. It’s not a case of doing a few market surveys and hoping a bit of research leads to book sales. It is remembering that when publisher and author collaborate they don’t do it in isolation, creating something unique and beautiful, but only for themselves. We constantly have to consider, if I were the reader how would I react, respond, engage with these words and this content? And it does mean slowly and surely building a genuine community of readers who feel they are part of an exciting publishing process, that they are collaborating in a book’s success – and more importantly want to help in the development of more. The aim? To help Urbane develop titles produced in collaboration with readers, not just for readers.
This will be my key ‘trend’ for 2015, taking the time and making the effort to not simply assume readers will make Urbane a success, but collaborate with them as an integral part of that success. So be ready to engage readers, I’m afraid there’s no getting away, I know how important you are. I just hope you like these new-fangled print books.