Molly is an author and journalist who writes about the impact of technology on publishing, culture and identity. She is Associate Editor for FutureBook and Digital Editor for PHOENIX magazine. Her debut novel, The Charmed Life of Alex Moore – a grown-up adventure set between London’s startup scene and the wilds of Orkney – is out now. We asked her a few questions about being an author in the current publishing climate and what innovations the industry can expect in the next few years.
How did you first get into writing about publishing?
Randomly. I used to have a full-time job in a digital agency, doing marketing and consulting for Silicon Valley firms. I started blogging on the side about how tech impacts on our identities, lives and culture. With all the blasé cheek of an early-twenty-something, I then emailed a bunch of editors at places like The Guardian and The Economist and managed to persuade them to let me write for them, too. Eventually the writing gigs got meatier, I tired of the consulting world, and I transitioned to full-time freelance journalism. In the meantime, I’d given a keynote at one of The Bookseller’s marketing conferences, and started writing the odd piece for them, so I was delighted to be offered the position of editor at FutureBook when it opened up. It was my dream gig, combining my two big passions: innovation and books. It’s been a pretty windy, hustly, typically Generation-Y sort of journey, I suppose. I absolutely love it.
You’ve just had your first novel The Charmed Life of Alex Moore published – how did you find the transition from journalism to writing fiction?
Well, I’ve been writing fiction for far longer than I’ve been writing journalism. I started creating mad stories when I was very small, and I’ve never stopped. I’ve always worked on pieces of fiction alongside my day job, and for a long time I had no intention or expectation of getting published. The Charmed Life of Alex Moore took me seven odd years to finish, so I was working on it the whole time my hack career started to take off. I actually find the two types of writing very complementary. Writing and editing articles, especially for the web, has taught me so much about clarity, precision, structure and mulching research into a story – as well as less noble skills like grabbing readers’ attention, fast. Then fiction gives me the leisure (and challenge) to go deeper, tell my own truths and play with much larger horizons and weirder ideas.
Your role at FutureBook operates in a space that is as relevant to traditional publishers as it is to indie writers. What do you think one can learn from the other?
Traditional publishers really need to find ways to move faster and take more risks – get used to throwing small experiments at the wall and seeing what sticks. They also need to get better at working more closely and collaboratively with both authors and readers, which is something the indies do super-well. In turn, indies can learn from the decades of experience that traditional publishers possess, like how to hone your instincts for an amazing story, how to build long-term loyalty and how to manage complex, large-scale, international projects and teams.
What are the biggest challenges facing authors at the moment?
They’re mostly the same as they’ve always been. How to make money. How to juggle writing books with the day job. How to juggle promotion with creation. How to use fewer adverbs. How not to go mad. I truly believe there are more opportunities than there have ever been to get your stories heard; the hard part is building a long-term, sustainable career out of it. Oh, and if we’re talking global: the growing threats around the world to authors’ freedom of speech.
Finally, looking into your FutureBook crystal ball, what are the big innovations we should be looking out for in publishing in the next year?
‘Voice’, as they call it, is going to be huge. The advent of smart speakers powered by super-smart AI algorithms, combined with the current rise in audiobooks and podcasts, will make for some really interesting developments – both in interactive stories and the way readers discover and consume books. Publishers will continue to strive to find ways to get more reader data, and I suspect that soon, someone will find a way to make elements of a subscription model work (a good book by Tien Tzuo has just come out about this). Also, there will be plenty more, very creative crowdfunded books, with political and social agendas built into the fabric of their creation, production and distribution. There’s been a bit of complacency about the industry in the past couple of years, and I look forward to seeing it shaken up.
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