All posts by Tim Inman

An interview with Joanna Penn

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[intro]Joanna Penn is a bestselling author, professional speaker and entrepreneur, voted as one of The Guardian Top 100 Creative Professionals 2013. Joanna writes thrillers, crime and horror as J.F.Penn, and practical non-fiction as Joanna Penn, including the #1 bestseller, How To Market A Book. Joanna’s site, has been voted one of the Top 10 Blogs For Writers three years running and offers articles, audio and video on writing and creative entrepreneurship. Connect with Joanna on twitter @thecreativepenn[/intro]

Joanna Penn

How do you balance your work as an author with the demands of your blog, speaking appointments etc?

I have a sign on my wall, “Have you made art today?” so that is always my focus. I’m a morning person so I tend to create early on and then do other things later in the day. I schedule months out in a Filofax and also keep a timesheet on OfficeTime (app for the iPhone) which helps me track the hours I spend on various tasks.
My #1 priority is always to focus on the next book, but I juggle that with promoting existing work, professional speaking and ongoing tasks like interviews, blogging, my podcast and social media. Luckily, I enjoy everything I do, including the marketing, so all of this is my kind of fun!

In your experience, what are the top concerns for self-published authors?

* Building a trustworthy team in order to deliver a high quality product. This includes editors, cover designers, formatters and potentially marketing partners. Self-publishing is a misnomer as it’s all about teamwork, which is why I prefer the term indie (independent) author. I have a great team in place now, but it’s taken a while to get it right.

* Discoverability and being found. Even traditional publishers struggle with this, and professional indie authors are always on the lookout for something new to try. I am always open to new marketing ideas, and I love learning from others. It’s best to have an entrepreneurial attitude of bootstrapping, trying things out and not worrying if something fails.

Self-publishing is a misnomer as it’s all about teamwork, which is why I prefer the term indie (independent) author. I have a great team in place now, but it’s taken a while to get it right.

If you were a writer starting from scratch, how would you build your platform and brand as an indie author?

I don’t think it matters how you’re publishing, as traditionally published authors still need to build a readership too. If starting again, I would focus on writing several books first, so customers have more than one product to purchase and I have time to discover what my own brand might be. I would set up a website with images and information that my readers will enjoy, and I’d have an email list for them to subscribe to so I could communicate about new books and competitions. Then I’d choose one method of ‘discoverability’ and focus on that with lots of energy. That could be podcasting, or YouTube, or Twitter or Pinterest, or whatever. I’d pick one and focus there, meeting readers, connecting with others in the author community and building an audience slowly.

Joanna Penn

If authors are going to enlist the help of writer service providers, what should be their priorities?

Going back to the top concerns for indies, you need a team and this is a business. I invest primarily in professional editors of different kinds, professional cover design and interior design, as well as tech support for my websites when needed and email list management. I will also invest in specific marketing opportunities if there is evidence that it will deliver sales, for example, reader email services like which have proven sales capability.

What, for you, are the greatest benefits of self-publishing?

Creative freedom, control and speed are important to me, along with my entrepreneurial love of wanting to make an impact on the world.
I also find the financial possibilities of being an indie author attractive. A book is the ultimate scalable product, and fiction, in particular, can earn income for an author for their entire lifetime. My books now sell in 30 countries, and although many of those countries are only a trickle of sales right now, I foresee a huge boom in the digital market globally in the next five years. As an indie, I can move fast and take advantage of those opportunities, although I would always consider partnering with an entrepreneurial publisher for some projects. It’s certainly an amazing time to be an author!

An interview with Ben Hatch

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[intro]Ben Hatch is a writer, family man and self-proclaimed ‘lover of cheese’ with both fiction and travel books to his name. He has built an extensive Twitter following, which has helped catapult his book ‘Are We Nearly There Yet’ to the top of the Kindle non-fiction charts, and even made John Cleese laugh.[/intro]
Ben Hatch
Self-promotion was vital to the success of Are We Nearly There Yet?; can you tell us a little about how you used social media to make the book such a hit?

It all started when I joined twitter (a medium which, I am embarrassed to say, I had been previously been hugely skeptical of). I’d had some great advanced quotes from the likes of Terry Wogan, Danny Wallace, John Cleese, David Jason, Sophie Kinsella, Lisa Jewell, Mike Gayle, Jenny Colgan and others, but the book wasn’t in any shops and was getting almost zero publicity, so there was no way of telling anyone about all those kind words. The book was bombing; a serialization in the Express was canned when the London riots broke out and I was desperate. So I started tweeting the quotes, with friends very kindly retweeting to get some momentum going. Crucially I also stopped feeling helpless; it was no use complaining the book was being overlooked, that the publicity people at my publisher had moved on to other titles (though naturally I did complain about this!). Nobody else cared as much as I did, so it now felt up to me to get the word out.

I also contacted local radio stations, telling them a little about the book, along with funny stories from it that had happened in their towns. In all, I probably did 40 or so radio interviews. I then tweeted about these interviews, which earned me more and more retweets. Terry Wogan mentioned the book on his radio show and John Cleese tweeted about the book. But oddly it wasn’t so much the actual fact that I was mentioned/tweeted about as it was my own telling people that led to more sales and reaction!

After this the book got picked up for review – unusual, given that it had been out for some time at this point. One of my favourite authors John Harding gave me a lovely review in the Daily Mail. I appeared on Radio 4’s Excess Baggage. The Guardian gave it a little write up. Fran Kellett at the Daily Telegraph travel online also featured ten extracts. And many kindly book bloggers ran pieces as well. All the time I would retweet these reviews, expanding the audience that saw them.

I managed to get the book up to the Number One spot in Non-fiction, and it stayed in the top 100 for almost half a year. I was almost as proud of that fact as I was at having written the book in the first place. It felt like I had taken on the entire book world and won. My book from a tiny publisher that I’d been paid £2,400 to write was outselling all these well-known authors and celebs. I had written two novels before Are We Nearly There Yet? and not done a thing for either of them in terms of self-promotion. It had not seemed the kind of thing a published author did. Now I’d say it’s crucial.

 It felt like I had taken on the entire book world and won. My book from a tiny publisher that I’d been paid £2,400 to write was outselling all these well-known authors and celebs.

You might feel uncomfortable blowing your own trumpet but nobody else is going to do that for you (and they probably won’t even, at the best publishing houses). If you want to stay a writer in these very difficult days for authors when the shelves are swamped with celeb and misery memoirs, you’d better bite the bullet and start. You’ll get people complaining about it, telling you that’s not what twitter is for. But at the end of the day it’s your passion and your livelihood and if you’re talking about something you’re proud of, well, then that’s fair enough in my book. So be thick skinned.


How do you see the writer’s role within publishing changing/expanding as new digital and self-publishing models evolve?

I think the writer is absolutely central now in a way that they never used to be. Unless we’re talking about those at the very top of the cash tree, it’s now the writer who defines how they’re seen in the wider world of readers through their websites, twitter and facebook. Publishing houses remain important for editing and covers can be critical, but in terms of promotion and finding an audience, that’s down to the author. In fact I believe that will become even more apparent over time if things continue the way they are. As mainstream publishers begin to ignore middle list writers in favour of fishing more and more in the sales-safe waters of celebrity, and not being prepared to nurture talent in the long term if there’s not going to be an immediate return on their investment, then self-publishing will become more and more important. I can see if things continue the way they are going that publishing houses will evolve into simple add-on marketing departments for Saturday night TV stars, musicians and actors who want to tell their story in a few more words than a weekend supplement allows. That said there are exceptions such as my own publisher, Headline. Can you tell I’m pitching them a new book right now?

Road to Rouen

How do you set an idea for a new book in motion?

I used to just sit down, write and make it up as I went along, but since I’ve had kids and enjoy less work time, I have to plan more to speed things up. I do a rough chapter breakdown and use that very loosely to stop me straying too far off course but ultimately the final book never really looks much like the original idea. You’ll always hope to find a spark of honesty halfway through that carries the book off in an unexpected direction that also gives it its true heart. I wish I could, but I can never envisage what this is at the start. It does make writing book proposals tough. My proposal for Are We Nearly There Yet? never included the storyline about my dad, which turned out to be it’s central element. My proposal for Road to Rouen included nothing about the the marriage situation between my wife and I; again it’s point.


Finally, what are your top visibility tips for new authors?

Twitter has to be the main one. Get yourself on twitter. There is a great community of authors out there and wonderful discerning readers. Try and link up with them. They’re lovely. You can find me there: @BenHatch


Leading The Way

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[intro]We’ve been thinking about Leadership a lot at whitefox this week. This was prompted partly by a discussion with senior people in two different business sectors about the training services being offered by graduates of the Sandhurst military machine, now that the country has a “boutique” army (their phrase, not mine).[/intro]

Publishing has traditionally attracted leaders who are largely well-meaning, well-read and well-bred men and women. I’m not sure how many I’d classify as strong leaders. What exactly does that mean anyway? I once worked in a publishing company many years ago where the Chief Executive’s idea of motivation during tough times was to walk the floors on a Friday afternoon telling anyone who’d listen just how badly all our competitors were doing too. Oh, well that’s ok then…

I once worked in a publishing company where the Chief Executive’s idea of motivation during tough times was to walk the floors on a Friday afternoon telling anyone who’d listen just how badly all our competitors were doing too.

I’m sure in these days of Executive coaches and what’s left of the training budget that publishing chiefs are expected to hone their leadership skills on an on-going basis. They’ll be fewer assumptions that a sense of entitlement instilled in a minor public school is enough. And anyway, publishers have long supported the idea of developing talent from within their own ranks. I went on a Pearson sponsored leadership course many years ago where middle management were whisked overseas and put through their paces to try and assess who were the future candidates for the Main Board. Sadly, my abiding memory is a rather stilted meet and greet with Lord Dennis Stevenson, who may have wished he’d actually attended some of the sessions after the HBOS debacle.

So our industry’s traditional liberal tendencies and healthy mistrust of hierarchy would probably mean we’d likely sneer at the idea of our leaders learning anything from the graduates of Sandhurst. But maybe we’re wrong. We’ll see anyway soon enough. Charlie Redmayne, ex Lieutenant in the Irish Guards may show us how it is done.

When you say influential…

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Even though I was recently voted only the fourth most influential person in my own house, I’m intrigued by The Bookseller’s annual list of the 100 leading individuals across the business. It seems somewhat…safe. Or as if it seeks not to offend. If you have one CEO, you have to have them all. Do you become inherently more influential when a successful repeating author happens to deliver their book? I guess I am saying, really, that you need to define ‘influence’.

I know this list is about the book trade overall, but by any reckoning there are at least another 100 names out there who really matter because they actually make a material difference to the success or failure of a publishing house. John Hamilton, Penguin’s Art Director and someone acknowledged in every Jamie Oliver book as integral to each project. Robert Lacey, editor extraordinaire to a myriad of successful writers. There are others.

Who do you think should join the list?

On publishing mistakes and errors

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I’m not sure which part of the report that Sir Alex Ferguson’s book is riddled with factual errors strikes me as the most pertinent in these times: that no one has had the courage or time to check and challenge the ruddy faced, gum-chewing managerial genius’s rather impressionistic recollections; or that none of this has stopped the book selling like a freight train on the route to publisher bonus-land. (*Shameless advertising alert* Footballing loving proof readers are available at whitefox for the paperback.)

This year has also seen 40 pages of the autobiography from national treasure and falling through a bar expert David Jason finding their way into the latest bridget Jones. But then those of us who only just survived Franzen-gate and the pulping of the first print-run of the so-called ‘book-of-the-century’ (FREEDOM, where the printer used the files from the uncorrected proof), will remember that we lost count of the number of fellow publishers who made contact to commiserate and say, in effect, “there but for the grace of god…” Inside a large trade publishing house, you can see how it happens. From the outside, it looks less forgivable and more potentially damaging to what would be perceived as the traditional value-add of a publishing process.

Interesting, therefore, to observe David Young back at the helm of a UK publisher talking again about the value of editing and illustrating how a published book needs to differentiate that it has gone through a professional editing process.

We could hardly have put it better ourselves.

The h.Club 100

By | Startup | No Comments

So we won an award. Or at least we have been pronounced amongst the 10 most innovative bods in publishing. Hurrah. And congratulations to all the nominees and winners in the h.Club 100 across all the different categories.

For those of us in attendance at the Hospital Club in Covent Garden last night, it was a ceremony that will live long in the memory, although not necessarily for the right reasons. I love British cynicism as much as the next shortlisted candidate, but the indomitable Laura Dockrill was right to make her point so dramatically during the pronouncements.

Of course David Bowie and Helen Mirren or even Charlie Redmayne were nowhere to be seen. So what? For the individuals or small companies and start-ups who did show it means a lot. A little recognition goes along way.

Of snake oil and self-publishing: a response

By | Self publishing | No Comments

The agent Piers Blofeld has weighed in on the cost of self-publishing and how easy it is for writers to be seduced into parting with cash.

At whitefox, we wouldn’t argue with the central theme that it is possible to spend money taking your book to market yet potentially see very little return on your hard earned investment. It still strikes us, though, that implicit in his argument is the premise that added services simply cannot make a difference. That they are of little or no value.

That isn’t our experience (nor, must it be said, that of many self published authors). A good, cost-effective edit and proofread. A striking, appropriate cover design. SEO and metadata. We had a call this morning from a writer asking for our services to help them create a synopsis of their own book. Because some people are bloody good at it. And if they are that good and can make a difference, then they are worth paying accordingly. I know agents don’t like breaking the model that ultimately sees someone paying to invest in content. But all those services which have traditionally been buried beneath a publisher’s desire to seem fundamentally a successful shining sales and marketing machine do matter to writers. And they matter to us.

whitefox mentorship

By | Grads, Students | No Comments

Back in August we wrote an article for Publishing Perspectives, noting the incredibly difficult situation that most graduates find themselves in when simply trying to gain a toe-hold in the publishing industry:

The dilemma is a simple one. Without having prior experience you cannot find a job. Yet without finding a job you cannot gain experience. Without which, of course, you cannot find a job. Which is in a way impressive; I don’t think many envisage graduating university only to be blocked from further progression by logical paradox.

Since then, we’ve been working on a way of helping the next generation of writers and publishing specialists who will produce the great books of tomorrow. We realize that for many, traditional models can seem dauntingly impenetrable and an unpaid work placement in London is not an option. That’s why we have now launched our mentorship programme, aimed specifically at those who are unable to apply for work experience in the capital.

At the heart of the programme is the opportunity to work remotely with the Publisher of Profile Books (Daniel Crewe). The mentorship will run for a month, during which time the successful applicant will have the chance to gain insights into the early stages of publishing and to develop a range of editorial skills, including:

  • reader’s reports and responses to submissions
  • editorial reports on manuscripts
  • researching possible authors and ideas for new titles
  • copywriting

We will be looking for candidates with a demonstrable interest in editing and relevant experience. Interested applicants should send a CV to whitefox, with a covering letter outlining why they are interested in the programme and what they will bring to it, in terms of skills, ideas and experience.

Shortlisted applicants will be asked to perform a brief copyediting test before a final selection is made.

We will also be offering the opportunity of remote work experience with whitefox as an editorial reader. Here, you’ll have the chance to take a first look at manuscripts that come to us, often from literary agents. Before they are sent to edit, we’ll ask you to read through and provide a brief editorial report on the book as well as, in some instances, a full or partial line edit. After the book has been professionally edited, we will feedback on your work and share the final edit.

Finally, we do offer traditional work experience, for those who are able to spend a week or two in London. Please get in touch via email at with a CV and a covering letter telling us which opportunity you are interested in, and why.

The deadline for applications is November the 15th. Good luck!

Human Recommendation Engines

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[intro]Amongst whitefox publisher clients, we’re lucky to number Gallic; the clever, fleet-of-foot indie publisher of French books in translation. And Gallic are lucky enough to be based in a thriving bookshop in South West London. Here they host events, meet book buyers, and launch their own titles alongside those of other publishers.[/intro]

But besides all that, they’ve grown to become something of my trusted human recommendation engines. Every time we have a meeting to discuss plans for forthcoming publications I ask them what I should be reading in the implicit understanding they already know enough about me to be informed in their choices. After many months, they have yet to make a bad choice (currently Walter Tevis’s haunting classic The Queen’s Gambit). They even have a dog that has started to tweet recommendations (a dog recommendation engine?). Smart pooch.

Many years ago, I used to work with a very brilliant copyeditor who had a similar ability. Everyone in his proximity knew to pay attention to his pronouncements once he’d finished working on a book due to his uncanny knack of knowing which of a publisher’s stable of titles stood a chance of making it in any one season. He was a sales departments secret oracle.

Some people are gifted like that.

Now, I’m not comparing them more favourably than algorithms that tell me titles I may also like after I’ve finished a book on my e-reader. But there is something rather joyous seeing the spark in the eyes of a bookseller or a colleague or friend who wants you to share the pleasure of disappearing into a writer’s world.

The whitefox editorial workshop

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[intro]Last night whitefox held the first of our workshops for students and grads looking to get into publishing, with attendees enjoying some frank, engaging and (most importantly) useful discussion on all things editorial from our speakers.[/intro]

From the considerations that come into play when deciding whether a book should get published on a list to the things that build a good author-editor relationship, we covered a lot of ground on the role of editors in modern publishing houses. There were  some surprises: we heard how unscientific the whole process can be; how little time editors actually spend editing; and how spreadsheets and even the Tesco’s website can be indispensable allies. Most importantly we received some great advice on how to get a foothold into the industry. Tips included reading voraciously, making yourself indispensable, doing your research, being tech savvy, emailing extensively, and, err, staying out late.

A massive thanks to all our speakers and helpers on the night, and most of all to those who attended, whose enthusiasm and interest ensured the night was a success. And for all those that couldn’t make it along, we are happy to say that we will be releasing a video of the event in the next week (barring technical difficulties), and also have an introduction to editing pack which is available for you to peruse here.

[intro]About the speakers[/intro]

Robin Harvie is senior commissioning editor and digital publisher at independent publisher Aurum Press. Previously, he was non-fiction commissioning editor and digital editor at 4th Estate. He is also the author of Why We Run.

Mark Richards started as an editorial assistant at 4th Estate in 2007, where he stayed until two months ago. He is now an editorial director at John Murray, commissioning literary fiction and non-fiction.

Hannah Westland is the publisher at Serpent’s Tail, now an imprint of independent publisher Profile Books. Renowned for publishing voices neglected by the mainstream, Serpent’s Tail has a reputation for publishing the best of all kinds of writing, from literary novels to crime fiction, from work in translation to books on music and politics. Before joining Serpent’s Tail in 2012, Hannah was an agent at Rogers, Coleridge & White, where she represented a diverse range of writers of fiction and non-fiction.

Tom Williams is an author and literary agent. His biography of Raymond Chandler, A Mysterious Something in the Light, was published by Aurum Press. He also runs the Williams Agency, representing authors of fiction and non-fiction, and is actively involved in a range of digital projects for his clients.

Ione Walder is an editor at independent publisher Quercus, where she commissions and project-manages illustrated non-fiction, including cookbooks, TV tie-ins and celebrity memoirs. She previously spent four years at HarperCollins and two years as a freelance cookery editor, and has worked with some of the top names in cookery publishing, from Gordon Ramsay, James Martin and Lorraine Pascale, to Rachel Allen, Allegra McEvedy and the Hummingbird Bakery. Other high-profile authors and projects include inspirational burns survivor Katie Piper, style guru Gok Wan, two illustrated biographies from band JLS, and the tie-in to the BBC’s groundbreaking Africa series presented by Sir David Attenborough.

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