Publisher and whitefox CEO John Bond on self-publishing, traditional publishing and everything in between

By   Hannah Bickerton 4 min read

whitefox publishing: helping brands, thought leaders and writers create beautiful bespoke books

This summer I attended two launches in one week at the same London bookshop. One for an author published by a prestigious independent publisher, the other self-published with some help from whitefox. Both good books, both non-fiction. They were well-attended launches, held in part to celebrate with friends and family books a long time in the writing, and in part to seed each publication within their respective author’s networks. For my sins, I think I uttered the phrase, ‘don’t forget, it’s a marathon, not a sprint’ at both events. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the books in question shared many more similarities than differences. They were proofread, copyedited and had covers designed by talented freelancers. They had been printed at one of the two main UK-based black and white printers. Ok, so they had different logos on the spine, one with years of back catalogue and cultural history, but even with some insider knowledge, you can scour the best-selling titles on Amazon and still find it a challenge to tell which imprints have been created by an author, publisher or brand themselves, and which belong to a recently launched list within one of the major publishing conglomerates.

The main difference for these two particular publications was the business model. In one instance, a rights-owning publisher had paid a (small) advance set against future royalty earnings. For that freelance journalist-author, they were the bank, allowing him time to write. In the other case, an IP-owning author had invested in their own book up-front, with a view to seeing a return coming once sales – driven by their own network – started accumulating over the coming months, but also saw their book as a way of marketing themselves and their business.

whitefox started out in 2012. We were living in a world where every publisher was preoccupied with the recent DOJ ruling. Pearson had acquired Author Solutions for $116m. The debates swirling in and around the FutureBook conference of the day were all about ‘Discoverability and Disintermediation’. Would the next 50 Shades or Hunger Games creators be taking their books directly to market via Amazon or even Pottermore? Would writers still need agents and publishers in the traditional sense?

It was going to be an interesting few years to come.

And indeed, they have been. Although not necessarily in ways that anyone imagined.

We always tend to see the choices lying ahead of us as binary, whereas the reality, to use a word favoured by Barack Obama this last week, is more ‘muddy’. J.K. Rowling, James Patterson or Jamie Oliver are happy to continue to do multi-book deals with their publishers. Publishers are not missing those potential bestsellers that data shows them have risen to the surface commercially. Those successful growing outlier brands – take a bow Pinch of Nom and Mrs Hinch – can always eventually be brought in to be amplified by their sales and distribution machines.

So not a huge amount of evidence to suggest anyone is eating anyone else’s lunch, then.

And yet … and yet.

At whitefox, we’ve experienced a growing raft of opportunities for individuals or businesses who want to take their own content to market directly, crucially maintaining control creatively and of their own timeline, format and pricing. Books which might not be essential for all stock-holding high street chains, but which can be selling in e and POD, and physically online forever. Books which are not just about generating revenue, but created for marketing and winning business, for events and specifically-targeted sales opportunities. Books which mainstream publishers just don’t have the capacity for anymore, such as niche fiction and particularly non-fiction – some of which has been born from any manner of existing sources such as blogs, newsletters or archives. As Joanna Penn foresaw at FutureBook in 2012, the future would be about authors as micro-publishers with their own mailing lists.

Of course, some things are still hard to replicate outside of traditional publishing structures. Rights networks to name just one. But in truth, not much. And organisations such as ALLi under Orna Ross continue to lift the lid on the most mysterious elements of the process for budding indie writers.

At whitefox, we think of ourselves as operating in the cracks between publishers, agents, writers and brands. We are not a gatekeeper, but a creative collaborator, a facilitator, leveraging professional publishing expertise and empowering writers with speed and agility. Writers who know so much more about publishing than they once did. Who understand that launching a new book is like launching a small business, that access to worldwide distribution has never been simpler and that going DIY is no signal of a lack of ambition.

The old paradigm of legacy publishers versus self-publishing, of either/or, feels outmoded now. Publishers are really good at many things. But maybe they can’t be good at everything for everybody.

John Bond
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.