On Saturday 21 November I had the opportunity to be a volunteer at the annual SYP Conference which was held in Oxford at Oxford Brookes University this year. On the coldest morning I have yet to experience since coming to the UK we all arrived in our navy SYP volunteer shirts ready for our first real Publishing Conference. The SYP committee had done a wonderful job of making sure everything was ready as everyone arrived and we were tasked with welcoming the guests, helping them sign in and handing out programs.
The day started with a keynote address by Juliet Mabey from Onewold Publications, the publisher of Booker Prize winning Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings. Mabey was the perfect choice to open a day focussed on inspiring publishers, both young and old as she recounted Onewold Publication’s journey from Oxford to London. “We like books that have something interesting or important to tell and we want our authors to tell those stories well” was Maybe’s explanation of what OneWold publishes. She also spoke of the challenges facing smaller publishers concerning discoverability and creating a profile in the industry. According to Mabey it is about showing what you can do as a publishers to everyone from your distributors to the readers, but that a bit of luck is always needed in publishing.
The crowd left the John Henry Brookes Lecture Hall inspired by Mabey, lovely goodie bags in hand and wondering how they could split themselves in five to be able to attend all of the wonderful talks set to fill the day. The talks for the rest of the day were divided into five topics running at the same time; Best Career Foot Forward, Let’s Get Topical, The Innovative Publisher, New Frontiers and What Next For Our Modern Business?. With 3 talks under each topic it really was hard to decided which ones to attend. I was personally slightly disappointed that talks overlapped and would have maybe preferred to have less topics and less talks, even if that ment a smaller selection of speakers, but being able to hear more. The wide variety did however provide a very diverse range and the times and venues were scheduled very well so as to ensure you would not miss a talk for time reasons.
With my love for digital and all things innovation the first talk I attended was the Apps and Innovations: Stay Foolish talk by Kate Wilson from Nosy Crow. Wilson described Nosy Crow’s app development process and inspired the audience with a wonderful visual depiction of what coding is. Wilson’s belief in innovation, no matter the format, and opportunities that are still out there for children’s books was evident. The love of Nosy Crow’s readers has definitely been a product of this belief in always trying to do more and to give the reader the best possible experience.
After lunch two more talk followed. On my agenda was Marketing and Social Media: What’s Next with John Bond from Whitefox and Alistair Horne (@pressfuturist on Twitter, follow him, really do it!) from Cambridge University Press. Bond started Whitefox out of the need he saw that was rising in the publishing industry where many of the tasks traditionally provided from within the publishing houses themselves, were being outsourced. However many really good freelancers needed that first form of entry to publishers and authors and Whitefox was the answer. “Authors today are mini entrepreneurs with their books as their business” was how Bond described the publishing industry today. For that reason, both authors and publishers need to understand how to use social media to their advantage as much as possible today and this is where Alistair Horne picked up. Horne had an abundance of knowledge to share and as I have my own little love affair with social media, it was definitely the most interesting talk of the day for me. One important thing I took from Horne’s talk was how increasingly important it is becoming for publishers to stop simply pushing content to followers on social media and to rather pull them towards the platforms which the publisher has more control over, such as blogs. For Horne social media is becoming less about marketing and more about informing and creating relationships with readers. The single most important reason for a publisher to use social media is to provide you with more customer intelligence, that is where you learn how to address their shortcomings and needs was Horne’s motto. The talk truly inspired me to reevaluate how I use social media as well.
Next up was Crowdfunding & Subscription Models: New Frontiers led by Nichola Smalley from And Other Stories and Xander Cansell from publishing crowdfunding success story Unbound. Both speakers provided the audience with a lot of insight about why it is important in the current age of publishing to provide authors with a new type of publishing platform, especially when they have unique, non-traditional publishing projects. Both And Other Stories and Unbound provide their subscribers and pledges respectively with the opportunity to have their names in the back of the books they help bring to life as contributors. Everyone loves being recognised for their contribution to a project and in a very classy way these crowdfunding sites are providing a platform for both authors and readers to be recognised for their love of books.
A long day of talks was ended off by a panel discussion between Amnesty International, Pen UK and Pluto Press, all talking on the importance of freedom of expression in publishing. Chilling stories were told of authors being killed for writing about important subjects in their home countries under censorship and the challenges freedom of press still faces today under UK law. However, it was very clear that all three of these organisations believed in publishing books that needed to be read by the world and would not stop anytime soon.
Other talks that created a lot of Twitter buzz and which I am sad I missed was Emma Barnes from Snowbooks and Biblicloud on how important it is for publishers to learn coding in the digital revolution we are currently blessed with, Finding Your Niche in a Changing Publishing Environment by Nicholas Jones from Strathmore Publishing, Living a Blogger’s Paradise by book bloggers Eric Karl Anderson from Lonesome Reader and Cinzia DuBois from The Petite Britette and finally the talk that seemed to inspire everyone (I was even inspired by the Tweets I was reading) The Future is Bright for Independent Publishers by Carly Salvensen-Ford from the Independent Publishers Guild and Anne Beech from Pluto Press.
Despite the cold many braved on for the afterparty at The Jam Factory for the publisher’s other favorite past time, networking. I myself was exhausted from a day filled from nook to cranny with bookishness. With a head brimming with ideas, inspiration and joy for the future of publishing, and a bag full of lovely books I set off home to enjoy my red velvet hot chocolate and reminisce on the spoils of the day. Building up new contacts, meeting people who I have been friends with on social media for a long time finally in person and learning truly was a highlight for me. We are truly privileged to be part of an industry with so many people who absolutely love what they do, no matter the monetary value of business, but simply because they believe in the wonder of books. I am happy to say that publishing, though sometimes a bit late to the party, is on the cusp of a revolution and I am excited to be part of it.