Publishing Director Matthew Smith, interviewed by Tech Specialists, Ribbonfish

The Ribbonfish team is extremely familiar with the publishing industry, having delivered successful enterprise tech projects for major publishers in the UK and the USA. In this series of articles, we’ll we interviewing some superb publishing industry players about their thoughts on the sector, current trends, and their own business.

In this first edition, we talk to Matthew Smith, publishing director of independent publishers, Urbane Publications.

Hello Matthew, thanks for taking the time to chat to us! So, in a nutshell, what would you say sets Urbane apart from the rest?

In a word, collaboration. And that doesn’t mean authors paying for a service – collaboration means working with the author to create a positive publishing partnership on each and every project, but also developing a collaborative relationship with readers so we can create a growing community of engaged advocates for Urbane titles.

And your community of authors is extremely important to your success?

Yes, we’re very much focused on bringing the author back to the heart of the publishing process – they’re not just producers of content, but a key creative and commercial force in the success of their work.

How does your emphasis on collaboration with authors work in a practical sense?

Daft as it sounds, it begins with honesty and developing a partnership that is open, proactive and equal, from discussing the initial proposal to following up after publication with new ideas for promotion. The idea is simple – both publisher and author want the book to be a success, and they work together to ensure the right components are in place, and continue being put in place, to give each book the chance to succeed and reach the goals the publisher and author have agreed for it. It doesn’t mean we work for each other, it means we work together for a shared goal.

It’s clear that you’re welcoming authors into the publication process, but how do you go about finding the best authors to work with?

To be honest we’re now in the very fortunate position that authors, very good authors, are coming to us. And agents are sending submissions as well. This is purely through positive word of mouth. Rather than receiving nothing but unsolicited proposals, we often receive an email that starts with “the author… Was talking about their project with you and how much they are engaged and enjoying it and I’d like to be part of that”. That’s incredibly encouraging as it suggests not only that the message is getting through, but that the Urbane approach is working. And of course we do proactively search for the right projects as well – 25 years of commissioning means you never lose that desire to find the next great book!

Publishing is a tough industry, with competitors large and small. How do you market yourselves with such strong competition?

On relationships. Our relationship with the author, with our sales and distribution partners, and ultimately with the readers. Every single part of our publishing process and strategy is built upon and driven by those relationships, with building a connection with everyone who works on, with and enjoys a book. It takes time, effort and a lot of hard work, but the best way to be discovered, to have people not only find an Urbane author but spend hard earned money on buying that author’s book, is to have others lead them there.
We mentioned word of mouth earlier, and it might sound rather flighty and a little old fashioned, but that’s what really sells books. I don’t care whether you’ve run an effective social media campaign, advertised on the side of Trump Tower or tried to sell copies in the pub, the greatest decision driver is always another reader saying ‘you MUST read this’ – and that comes from an ongoing, consistent and proactive process of building relationships and spreading the word.

And finally, what advice would you have for a publishing startup in today’s world?

Make sure you like coffee because you are going to drink pints of the stuff. Beyond that I think it’s very much about not trying to achieve everything at once, but concentrating on getting the basics in place first. Rather than be sidetracked by your Twitter feed (and we ALL are), focus on ensuring you have the right partners and the right platforms in place because they will form the basis of future success.

Everything is driven by data which terrifies many. But challenging as it sounds you need to get your systems right and work at them continually – we all bang on about discoverability, but there’s no point in spending thousands advertising a book if you haven’t uploaded it correctly to Nielsen. Focus on the basics, don’t get distracted by the shiny stuff.

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