All posts by Jantien Abma

Q&A with Shazam’s Jeremy LoCurto

By | Digital, Insight, Interview, Network | No Comments

JeremyJeremy is based in Silicon Valley and leads key business development initiatives at Shazam. Prior to working in the tech industry, he spent several years at HarperCollins Publishers in London after graduating from Trinity College, Dublin, with a Master’s degree in Comparative Literature. You can connect with him here: https://www.linkedin.com/in/jeremylocurto/

Tell us a bit about your job.

I work on Shazam’s business development team and lead partnerships focused on user growth and new revenue opportunities. I’m also a commercial advisor for a digital marketing and analytics startup called Amplespot. 

How ( if at all ) did the skills and experience you acquired working for a traditional book publisher help you in subsequent roles at Samsung and Shazam?

The lessons I learned from publishing were influenced by a few historically unique events that took place while I was working in the industry. In particular: the financial crisis and its aftermath, the birth of the app economy, and Amazon’s rise as the western world’s dominant bookseller. These events taught me that no assumption or status quo is sacrosanct and that you must always be ready to move fast so that you can take advantage of disruption when it comes. 

On the flip side — spending my formative years immersed in an industry with famously long production cycles forced me to develop a long-term perspective on product and commercial strategy that’s been a useful counterweight to the faster-paced environments I’ve worked in since. It requires a different kind of thinking to anticipate trends and make big bets on the next zeitgeist. And books take a long time to make! You have to plan for unforeseen complications that may come up ten months down the line when you have twenty thousand books chugging across the ocean on a cargo ship. I learned a lot watching talented publishers mingle gut-decisions with foresight. 

How might digital innovation continue to disrupt traditional content owning brands?

I think there are two angles to look at here: 1) structural shifts in the way content is financed and distributed; 2) and a longer-term evolution in content creation. 

A big finance story in the music space last week was the move by Royalty Exchange to offer investors the chance to buy shares in a music rights portfolio that includes Eminem’s catalogue. It’s not hard to imagine content ownership increasingly decoupled from content production. What changes in a world where royalty rights are owned by pension funds and day traders rather than authors or publishers? Does anything change? And when it comes to distribution, consider that Netflix spent $6bn on original content productions last year. Together with Amazon and Hulu, they are starting to outspend legacy studios on content destined for exclusive distribution on their platforms. Some streaming music platforms, like Saavn, have launched their own labels. Another music streaming service was recently called out for publishing original generic content in their popular playlists. Maybe this points to a greater trend towards vertical integration within the content industry. 

From a content creation standpoint, I think that data and machine learning will continue to upend traditional processes. Today, book publishers have unprecedented access to user data at scale that simply wasn’t feasible in the world of bricks and mortar distribution. User info like gender / age / income / timestamp(s) / location(s) / device type has clear value for sales and marketing activities and is probably starting to influence commissioning decisions. Beyond enhanced demographic data, advances in machine learning could make the kind of corpus analyses that dictionaries have been doing for decades relevant to commercial publishers. Could you train an algorithm to find the next big author by teaching it what bestsellers look like and then unleashing it on Wattpad? Could you feed an AI enough cold war spy novels so that you could train it to output something that’s enough like John Le Carre to sell commercially? I’m sure some publishers are already experimenting with things like this.

Tell us the next big thing in tech.

I’d wager that the biggest tech stories in the next five years will be autonomous vehicles and augmented reality. I think both have the potential to be interesting for book publishers.

When Level 5 autonomy (i.e. fully self-driving cars) arrives, people who used to drive will have lots of leisure time during their commutes. Maybe they’ll fill it by reading. 

Mass-market augmented reality will create huge opportunities to layer content onto users’ surroundings in real time. I get really excited imagining the awesome experiences that people will build for AR using content that is in book format today. 

What books have influenced you the most?

A Moveable Feast by Hemingway and The Peloponnesian War by Thucydides.

Q&A with Scorn author, Paul Hoffman

By | Author, Insight, Interview, Writing | No Comments

scornLast week, author Paul Hoffman spoke to acrimereadersblog about his controversial and compelling new novel, Scorn, about a depressed physicist, Aaron Gall, who was raised at a violent Catholic boarding school. After an experiment at the Large Hadron Collider goes wrong, Gall goes through a transformation and sets out to take revenge on the priests who traumatised him… and eat them. Scorn is out now and available to buy from Amazon, Waterstones or Blackwell’s.

 

What was the inspiration behind Scorn?

A few years ago I was watching a news item on the BBC where its Vatican correspondent concluded by saying that the Catholic Church must deal with the issue of child sexual abuse in order to regain its moral authority. The response to this, it seems to me, is to ask: what moral authority? Answering this question is where the book begins, with two rather unusual policemen (when they were soldiers together in Iraq they were known as The Butchers of Basra) investigating the hideous murder of several priests. I wanted to write about my Catholic upbringing in boarding school but do so in an entirely different way – not as a litany of horrors visited on children (though some of that is inevitable) but to celebrate our resistance to the faith that tried any means possible to control our every thought, word, and deed. We mocked them (not in their hearing, of course), made up sermons in which appalling eternal tortures were visited on small boys for ridiculous dietary infractions (eating bats was one I particularly loved) and so on. I’ve always loved a good police procedural and I wanted to use the pleasures they give to go into territory not usually associated with crime novels.

Have you always been a writer?

My writing draws heavily on my past and the more than twenty-five jobs I’ve had as an adult – ranging from boardman in a betting shop, lift attendant, frozen food packer at 10 below zero to teacher in one of the worst and one of the best state schools in England, businessman and screenwriter. The most interesting of these was the ten years I spent as a film censor at the BBFC. It was there that I started writing fiction, but not until I was already in my mid-thirties. Simultaneously, I was writing a screenplay based on part of the novel I was writing. This was made into a cop-thriller starring Jude Law, as the very peculiar but charming murderer, and Timothy Spall as the sly cop caught between his liking for the man he’s investigating and his determination to get to the bottom of the deaths for which he could be responsible. Sadly a great cast was squandered by terrible direction. It was the second worst experience of my life.

Can you tell us what a typical working day looks like for you?

Amazingly dull. I write for a couple of hours a day usually. I always stop as soon as I feel I’m having to make an effort to go on. Writing is rooted fundamentally in playing. No child, or golfer, or reader for that matter goes on playing or reading when they’ve had enough of playing or reading. They just stop. And that’s what I do. I write with the intention at all times of giving pleasure by taking pleasure in what I do. Despite this, I find writing very tiring, as if I’ve been using up huge amounts of energy. I’m ashamed to say that I spend the rest of the time sleeping or generally lazing about and thinking.

How would you spend a perfect afternoon away from work?

Generally lazing about and thinking. I find enormous pleasure in just wandering about in my head. This was a habit I picked up in boarding school because as well as being violent, it was also very boring. I constructed enormously long novels in my head in which I was, of course, the central character and therefore brave, noble and heroic, and kept them going for months at a time.

Are you an avid reader yourself? If so, which authors do you find yourself returning to time and again?

I used to be a voracious reader but not so much now because I find – it’s not true for a great many authors – that writing fiction drains the energy for reading it. It’s a pity, but there it is. The priests used to describe me as wicked and lazy and they may have had a point. Now I tend to dip into my reading habits of the past when I want to look at how someone I admire pulled off some tricky piece of storytelling. In the past month I’ve gone to Ecclesiastes, Catch 22, The Secret Agent, a scene in Julius Caesar where Brutus and Cassius row and then make up, and a scene in one of George Macdonald Fraser’s Flashman books where he has a conversation with Abe Lincoln. But I’ll steal from anywhere: one of my books has a line I took from a shampoo advert.

Finally, can you tell us a little bit about what you’re working on next?

I’m just about to finish the fourth part of The Left Hand of God trilogy, called The White Devil. The first three books deal with the violent life of precociously cunning but psychologically damaged fifteen-year-old Thomas Cale as he slips back and forth over the line between good and evil and the thousand shades of grey in between. The fourth book sees him twenty years later, having been blackmailed into assassinating John of Boston, a character who is part JFK and part Abe Lincoln.

 

*This Q&A was originally posted on acrimereadersblog, 7th September 2017.*

Q&A with Lisa Horton

By | Design, Freelance | No Comments

Freelance designer and illustrator Lisa Horton originally studied to be a fashion illustrator before finding herself in the world of YA and kids’ book design, via a stint in adult fiction and a return to college to study Graphic Design. Among many others, she has designed a series of covers for author Lisa Heathfield, including Paper Butterflies, which was shortlisted for the Waterstones Children’s Book Prize 2017.

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Q&A with Hannah Sheppard

By | Editing | No Comments

Hannah Sheppard is a Branford Boase Award-nominated editor who has worked in trade publishing for fifteen years. She started her career at Macmillan Children’s books before moving to Headline Publishing Group to run the YA and crossover list, where she published Tanya Byrne’s Heart-Shaped Bruise, Jennifer E. Smith’s The Statistical Probability of Love at First Sight and Julianna Baggott’s Pure trilogy. She is now a literary agent with the D H H Literary Agency, representing authors such as Abi Elphinstone and Keris Stainton.

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Q&A with Cecelia Ahern

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Cecelia Ahern was born and grew up in Dublin. She is now published in nearly fifty countries, and has sold over twenty-five million copies of her novels worldwide. Two of her books have been adapted as films and she has created several TV series. She and her books have won numerous awards, including the Irish Book Award for Popular Fiction for The Year I Met You. She lives in Dublin with her family.

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Q&A with Julie Scheina

By | Editing, Freelance | No Comments

Julie Scheina is a freelance editor of children’s and young adult fiction. As Senior Editor at Little, Brown Books for Young Readers, she worked with talented authors and artists on books for ages 0–18+. Since founding Julie Scheina Editorial Services, she has collaborated with debut and bestselling authors, as well as publishers, packagers, and agents. During her career, she has edited numerous acclaimed and bestselling books for children and teens, including #1 New York Times bestsellers, a Lamda Literary Award finalist, a William C. Morris Young Adult Debut Award finalist, and an Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy nominee.

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Q&A with Karen Ball

By | Editing, Publishing & Consultancy | No Comments

Karen Ball has over 25 years’ experience of the publishing industry. Her career includes periods as Head of Editorial at Working Partners and Publisher at Little, Brown Books For Young Readers. In September 2016 she launched Speckled Pen, a creative consultancy aimed at helping content generators develop publisher-facing projects. Together with three industry friends, she organises the Book Bound writers’ retreat, aimed at children’s authors.

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Q&A with Mike English

By | Design, Freelance | No Comments

Mike English is a freelance food and lifestyle photographer based in London. Shooting for various top magazines and publications, as well as ad agencies and food manufacturers, Mike traces his passion for food back to when, aged 5, he was taught how to cook by his Grandmother. Not long after, it was his fashion photographer uncle who first inspired him to pick to up a camera. Having previously owned a studio, he now operates from his home, which has a large shooting space.

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Q&A with Laura Nickoll

By | Editing, Freelance | No Comments

Laura Nickoll a freelance project manager and editor, specialising in non-fiction food, cookery and lifestyle illustrated titles and TV tie-ins. A member of the Guild of Food Writers, her recent contributions include restaurant reviews and chef biographies for the Where Chefs Eat series and Where to Eat Pizza (Phaidon Press). She has over 15 years’ experience in the publishing business and has worked with numerous high-profile authors and production companies, including Rachel Allen, Mary Berry, Annabel Karmel, the BBC, Neal Street Productions, and Masterchef. She launched her publishing services business in 2011, and clients include Hardie Grant, Ebury, HarperCollins, Bluebird (Macmillan), Phaidon Press, Simon & Schuster, and Orion.

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Q&A with Holly Cochrane

By | Freelance | No Comments

Holly Cochrane is a food stylist and recipe writer based in London. Originally working in the camera department of the film and TV industry, Holly later turned her love of food and cooking into a career. She now splits freelance life between working as a food stylist for print and cookery shows, and as a focus puller and camera operator on commercials, films and dramas.

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