One aspect that I have been very eager to learn about during my time on this Publishing MSc has been the area of independent publishers. How do they differ from their larger competitors? And how do they thrive?
In January of this year, I was lucky enough to be taken on as an intern for Muddy Pearl, an Edinburgh-based publisher that print “books that are true to Scripture and to the Spirit.” They produce high-quality titles by key Christian writers who are experts in their fields and write with a genuine insightfulness; navigating the reader through modern life. I have been encouraged to read their backlist titles and have loved seeing the breadth of topics covered.
A lot of my workload consists of helping with marketing, which I have thoroughly enjoyed as I have gained very practical experience in how publishers generate interest and sales from books. Rather than a scatter-gun approach, marketing materials such as AIs and press releases are focused and tailored to individual parties. Invariably, it was here that a positive response was received, and I have learnt the benefit of finding a common ground with the recipient in order to stand out in their inbox!
Also, I have proofread titles with a marketing focus in mind, looking to see where there are opportunities to collaborate with others and find ‘hooks’ with which to catch readers’ interest. I have learnt a lot from this, as even at the initial stages of editing, the publisher is thinking “How can I sell this?” Given the topical nature of Muddy Pearl’s titles, this was not too difficult, but I’ve realised that a good understanding of your customer’s profile is essential.
Consequently, in growing my knowledge of how we market books, Muddy Pearl’s personal and well-researched approach has struck me as a very effective way of bypassing larger companies and aiming their titles towards an engaged audience. My placement at Muddy Pearl has been a brilliant opportunity to learn first-hand how an independent publisher thrives in this environment and it has cemented even more my wish to work in this area!
Without a doubt, one of my favourite aspects of the Edinburgh Napier Publishing MSc has been the exposure to stand-out independent publishing houses across Scotland. Speakers from Floris Books and Barrington Stoke, to name a few, have shone a light on the quality and breadth of content that these publishers produce. Here is a brief summary of why these publishers fall not in the shadow of their larger competitors but illuminate their own unique niches in the market.
- Harbingers of change: Although in significantly more danger if a title’s sales fall short compared to larger publishers, a trademark of many indies is their innovative content that deviates from the expected. Willing to take the risk, indies can inadvertently lead market trends simply by leaning on their staff’s experience and gut instincts. There is also often an active decision to readdress homogenous content by publishing writers whose voices otherwise would not have found a platform.
- Knowing their markets: In contrast to the substantial finances fuelling the marketing campaigns of larger publishers, indies must allocate their funding much more sparingly. Titles must avoid a scatter-gun marketing strategy and have a targeted audience in order to be profitable. Successful indies have used this with great aplomb and use word-of-mouth sales, author visits, and smaller festivals to create a grassroots buzz about their content.
- Carving their own place: In order to distinguish themselves, successful indies focus a lot of their attention on carefully curating their list. Building a reputation for expertise in a particular area allows them to compete at a higher level and attract specialist writers who in turn enhance the publisher’s reputation. This distinct focus can lead to an indie doing remarkably well with an international reach; while other larger publishers are inhibited by multiple drains on their attention.
Ultimately, these independents fight against a bland publishing landscape and are a barrier to a rotation of insular-looking titles. As aspiring publishers, it is in our best interests to support a diverse and consequently creative industry.