Welcome to the whitefox blog, featuring musings on the future of publishing and interviews with authors, publishers, agents, designers and more.

Out from the Shadows

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If our theory at whitefox is correct that in 10 years time successful general trade publishers will primarily differentiate themselves by having the right roster of high profile magnets for creative talent at the heart of their organisational structure, then maybe it is time for those actual editorial curators to come out even further from the shadows.

Last year we saw Boyd Tonkin in the Independent write in praise of the curators and gate-keepers in light of the self-publishing tsunami and celebrate the selection of a handful of indie publisher’s books on the Booker long list. And at the Digital Minds Conference in London this weekend, Sophie Rochester of The Literary Platform reminded the audience in a session discussing the rise of self-publishing of a popular Follow The Editor post featured on her site.

As gratifying as it will be for any publisher whose books are chosen for a literary prize, these decisions are made at a moment in time by a few selected individuals on a one-off basis. There are editors who have been working in publishing houses who have been making choices for decades based on instinct, experience and knowledge of what works and what doesn’t. They are trusted by those around them to win more bets than they lose. They’ve lived through the rise of the sales and marketing machine and they are now being told that responding to consumer insight is the only way they will survive in the long run. Maybe.

Without wishing to advocate an unhealthy cult of the publishing personality, perhaps it is time for the UK buyers of, say literary fiction, to know how Simon Prosser, Nicholas Pearson, Alexandra Pringle, Francis Bickmore, Clara Farmer, Dan Franklin, Ravi Mirchandani et al thought they should spend their company’s money and why. At the moment, all we get is that end of year newspaper article looking back at the books that didn’t work that acquiring editors believe should have (very British that isn’t it, when you think about it).

Of course more insight and informed decisions are needed. But I bet a lot of pickers and successful taste-makers still believe the beauty of publishing is how gloriously unscientific it can sometimes be.

The Age of the Specialist

By | Brand Publishing, Freelance, Insight, Network, Publishing & Consultancy, Self publishing, Uncategorized | No Comments

whitefox CEO John Bond describes the age of the specialist, where there is real value in exact knowledge and skill. In a world obsessed with peer review and a marketplace driven by innovation, the big winners will be those who aspire to be better than the rest. This article first appeared in the Publishers Weekly London Show Daily on April 16th 2013.

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A Tale of Two Strategies

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The late great Ian Norrie, famed Bookseller of Old Hampstead, used to write a regular column in the long departed Publishing News trade magazine. Ian kept going with the column long after he stopped bookselling and in the end his regular tirades against, for example, his local Post Office began to show he’d finally lost touch with the very reason his opinions had originally held relevance for the readership. And so it is with some trepidation that I continue to talk of corporates and their respective cultures many months after having shuffled off into start-up land. But while I can make an observation, it is this.

There seem to me to be emerging two distinct strategic styles amongst the bigger players.

There are those who run a steady ship. If we all keep looking straight ahead guys, and keep doing what we know we are good at, it’ll all be fine. Every now and then a business-altering supernova will explode and we’ll exploit the rights as we have legions of acquirers spilt across a myriad of imprints or channels. We will outlive smaller, medium sized and even some large opposition because we do not deviate from our chosen path. We grow by acquisition. If we are ever enveloped in publishing’s equivalent of a nuclear winter, we will survive alongside the cockroaches and WH Smith.

And then there are those who see that the world we are operating in will never be the same again. The genie is out of the bottle. So you need to make steps simultaneously in all sorts of direction that will lead you through an evolutionary process. You believe in the purity of single brands and their capacity to represent the generic. You de-risk some of your IP gambles by working with external brands, by thinking about content and publishing in a totally different way. You don’t just collaborate but you make collaboration easy.

For too long collaboration has been a polite way of saying we want to understand what you do and then fuck you over. But the indies have taught the bigger leviathans a thing or two about collaboration. There is profit in fleet-footed alliance. There is competitive advantage in making it attractive for two parties to play ball. Stand up Stephen Page for stretching the ever-elastic Faber brand.

Let battle commence. I’m off to the Post Office…

An Interview with Alex Gerlis

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Alex Gerlis was a BBC journalist for over 25 years. He left in 2011 and is now a freelance writer, journalist, and media consultant. His first novel, The Best Of Our Spies, is an espionage thriller based around real events in the Second World War. It was published in 2012 by CB Creative Books with the help of whitefox.

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An Interview with Jonny Geller

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[intro] Jonny Geller has been a literary agent for more than 15 years, and is the joint CEO and Managing Director of the books division at Curtis Brown. He has represented numerous best-selling and prize-winning authors, journalists and writers, including John le Carré and David Mitchell. Last year he was named one of the most influential people in publishing by the Evening Standard and literary agent of the year at the Bookseller Industry awards.[/intro]
Tell us in 140 characters what your work involves on a day-to-day basis.

Every day is different. Something could land on my desk now that would change the day. But one thing is constant – it’s about authors. Their work, their publications, their development and sometimes their wellbeing.

How is the changing shape of the publishing industry affecting the role of literary agents?

We have morphed into the role of a manager now more than an agent. We often control publicity and some marketing as well as editorial on many major authors. The services we offer – whether it is through spreading the word on social media, improved and interactive agency websites, blogging – are very different to the ones we were offering, say, five years ago. The job is still the same – discovering, launching and guiding the careers of authors – but we have opened a creative writing school, launched an online submissions site, helped some authors to self publish, produced movies and television.

Your own book was published in 2006. What did the experience teach you about being an author as opposed to an agent?

That all the rules of agenting fly out of the window when it is yourself. I didn’t question anything, trusted that my three publishers knew best and became diffident and uncharacteristically reserved. I realised you need somebody to shout for you because otherwise it is simply too embarrassing. You are giving something precious to people who you hope will care about it as much as you do but can’t possibly, and you give yourself up to the erroneous thinking that if it is good, it will find its audience. THIS IS NOT TRUE. Everything needs strategy, a driving force to make things happen and an iron will. I learned a lot and had fun and am glad I did it. I think it helped my agenting hugely.

Do you feel that the current changes in the industry are allowing authors to assert more control over the publishing process?

To some extent. I have believed for some years that the industry need to stop looking in on itself – publishers viewing customers as retailers and not readers; agents looking to publishers to solve all their problems – and for everyone in the industry to concentrate their energies back onto the author. Without their work we don’t have jobs. So, my belief is that if we empower the authors, bring them into the centre of the publishing experience, the books will be better marketed, jacketed and ultimately will sell better!

And finally, what is the best part of the job?

There is nothing like the buzz of reading something extraordinary and seeing it in manuscript form, knowing you are one of its first readers. The knowledge that how you react to it will, in some ways, influence the path of this material to thousands if not millions of readers after you.

Smartphones and Daydreams

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So, more statistics to confirm what we suspected all along. With each passing year more tablets, smartphones and dedicated device time. Like many other businesses, whitefox is enjoying being involved in creating digital content strategies to entertain or educate the next generation of readers.

But as a writer friend said to me the other day, what will happen to the content creators of tomorrow if there’s no such thing as day dreaming anymore? When you no longer look into the distance in a library or living room, but you look at your phone or tablet, check your emails, play a game. No statistical analysis can pick that up and assess any future implications.

All Aboard!

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There was, so I am told, a time when a set of leather elbow patches and a love of yellowing paperbacks was enough for a successful career in publishing. In those halcyon days, things worked as it was deemed they should, with the extent of your local independent bookstore’s customer base matched only by the length of the lunches enjoyed in this most genteel of industries.

Nowadays things are different and someone with even the most casual of interests in the world of books will tell you that the industry faces a set of unprecedented challenges. As such, your average Contemporary American Literature graduate can now expect to see a look somewhere between disbelief and panic on their parents’ faces when they tell them they intend to climb aboard what most consider to be sinking ship.

But an industry in flux is not an industry in decline; there is another way of seeing things. These changes constitute an unprecedented opportunity for those wanting to get into publishing. An opportunity for innovation and dynamism. Some of the startups exploiting this current liminal state were featured in the showcase at the recent TOC conference, and I got a similar impression talking to people at Bookmachine unplugged. So our apocryphal graduate need not worry. With no preconceptions about how things should be done, he is climbing aboard exactly the right ship.