Q&A with Sam Missingham, The Empowered Author

By   Hannah Bickerton 6 min read

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You just relaunched your author marketing service as The Empowered Author. Could you tell us a little about this initiative and specifically, why you chose the company name The Empowered Author?

I named it The Empowered Author for a couple of reasons. One being that it is a lot clearer what the service offers. My aim is to empower authors to manage more of their writing careers, navigate publishing and market and sell more books. It also reflects a new wave of authors who are taking more and more control – I see this as a direct result of the transformation of the book business over the last ten years. Empowered authors are now publishing their own books, engaging with their readers, doing their own marketing and publicity, creating their own commercial opportunities and launching side hustles. In my mind, it is essential for authors to do this and be less reliant on their publishers and in very simple terms if they switch publishers or are dropped they are in as strong a position as possible.

You have extensive experience in book marketing and events, having worked at HarperCollins and The Bookseller. What was your experience of going freelance and launching Lounge Marketing and Books?

I learned a huge amount whilst at The Bookseller and HarperCollins and worked on some amazing projects. I am still very proud of my work at The Bookseller on FutureBook and it makes me very happy to see it go from strength to strength.

Working at HarperCollins made me realise that I knew almost nothing about the publishing industry and so many things were completely bonkers and didn’t reflect any other business I’d ever worked in. There are an awful lot of processes and activities that I’d describe as taking the well-trodden path, where nobody has stopped and questioned why they are done that way. So, my time at HarperCollins was certainly a sharp learning curve. I enjoyed working with many brilliant people across the business and LOVED coming up with creative marketing campaigns for their amazing books and authors.

Being freelance and running your own business is obviously entirely different and certainly has its good and bad points. In the main, I love being in control and being able to implement ideas very quickly without layers of management to suck the life out of them. I also LOVE working directly with authors, especially when you see their successes along the way. I have learned a huge amount from authors mostly from the questions they ask. These confirm my views that the publishing industry is insanely hard to navigate and authors have to hunt around for answers and explanation.

Your Twitter presence is legendary, and you use your platform to bring awareness to and speak openly about topics such as mental health. Have you got any advice for young people beginning their career in publishing who may feel overwhelmed or underprepared? 

I probably have far too much advice for young people beginning their career in publishing, so here’s a little. I am not a fan of many of the schemes run by the big publishers, especially those asking applicants to video themselves and jump through hoops. In my mind, these will always benefit overly confident middle-class applicants with parents who can guide and support them. (All good if you happen to fall into that category). But for the rest of us, I’d encourage them to think of alternative routes into the industry. I call this the hustle. So, make contacts across publishing on social media, attend networking events (the Society of Young Publishers, Borough Book Bash, BookMachine, among other), ask people for advice, offer your services remotely, run your own blog, approach people you’d like to work for directly, send your CV on spec, run a local book club, join forces with other job seekers, don’t wait for jobs to be advertised, attend local author events and talk to the publishing folk who attend, set something up locally, virtually etc etc

There is a huge amount that can be done (with no money) that can show that you are passionate about getting into publishing. And I’d say to anyone starting out, especially anyone who may not think they fit the publishing mould, we need you.

What would you like to see change in the publishing industry in the future? 

I say this as someone who adores the industry as a whole and feels very privileged to work in it. But, where to start with this question! The industry could do with a massive rocket up its ass and in no particular order here are a few things that come to mind – appalling stats on diversity across the board (in terms of staff, management and representation in books), equal pay (in publishing!!! Come on now), Waterstones booksellers’ pay (if you’re not supporting booksellers, who are you supporting?), snobbery (it’s everywhere), innovation (there is none), complacency (no, your business models aren’t secure – plan for more change and think bigger), big publishers should find a way of supporting indie publishers without just stealing their authors, wake up and learn from self-published authors – they’re eating your lunch – is that enough to be getting on with?

What are your plans for The Empowered Author in the next few months? 

The thing I’m enjoying most about The Empowered Author are the Q&As with authors, marketing experts, influencers and agents. I think this is because I find the industry endlessly fascinating and I’m very nosey!

My next few author Q&As are with Mark Edwards, Adam Croft, Tracy Buchanan and LJ Ross, not only are they all very successful, but they are what I would describe as very much in control of their writing careers – empowered authors, if you will. They have all taken different publishing routes and there is a huge amount for all aspiring authors to learn from them.

In your opinion, how has the publishing industry changed since the increase in self-publishing and the developments in technology? 

My time at FutureBook was incredibly exciting because it charted the period between 2009 and 2014 when the industry went through a massive transformation. In very simple terms, this was because of Amazon successfully launching the Kindle and creating an effective ebook ecosystem, then opening up its platform for all authors to publish their books and the growth of social media. Big publishing responded by panicking, throwing money at ‘innovation’ and in general playing to Amazon’s tune.

The reason why the book industry didn’t transform in quite such a catastrophic way as other entertainment industries, is because of the enduring appeal of the print book. Bookshops have also played a major part in this, although I would argue they are still pretty vulnerable (along with most of retail). If a larger percentage of books purchased had transitioned to e-formats, we could easily be in a very different position. I know Amazon are the industry’s bogey men, but it is impossible to not stand in awe at how they have innovated our industry. Any publisher who sits complacently thinking the transformation is over really isn’t watching closely enough. This is why I regularly talk about publishers thinking bigger, complacency is suicide, especially when you have Amazon to contend with.

Finally, what are you reading at the moment? 

I’m reading Truth to Power by Jess Phillips and listening to My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite  (which I highly recommend).

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.