Rachel Lawson, Associate Publisher, Gecko Press was the recipient of the 2018 W.E and M.L Scholarship to the Yale Book Publishing Course. Rachel attended the week-long intensive course which ran from 29 July to 3 August at the Yale School of Management in New Haven Connecticut and reports on her experience.

Yale School of Business Building photo

Yale School of Business building (glass walls represent transparency of good business practice)

The Yale Publishing Course was energising, absorbing, great fun. Forty percent of the participants were international, and I enjoyed being part of the antipodean contingent alongside five Australians. We discovered there was no need to get the giant semi-trailer-like black bus to lectures each morning but could stomp 15 minutes along the road and pick up a decent espresso on the way. And the stomping was important considering the quantity of (good!) food on offer at every break. Mornings were sessions from the charismatic staff from the business school, with heaps of useful material about how to make strong teams and good decisions, the culture of organisations. Afternoons were visitors from the publishing industry. In the spirit of the dozens of powerpoints we were shown, here are some of my bullet points.

Publishers catching the bus photo

Publishers catching the bus

Areas for putting energy mentioned by a number of different speakers

  • Audio books are growing exponentially, and it’s a new market – audio listeners are not print readers
  • ‘Facebook is dead’, not worth our energy (only 2% ‘pass-through rate’ to followers)
  • We need to constantly feedback customers’ words into our message about the book (revise blurbs, media, metadata, ads)
  • Every book needs visual content built for social media – ‘quote cards’, original photography and banners
  • Special sales are just sales – they’re not special any more
  • Multinationals are combining their marketing and publicity departments with little distinction now between the roles/tasks

Stats I found interesting

  • Amazon has 46% of US print sales but books are around 4–5% of their business
  • Audiobook sales have doubled in the past two years
  • Online retail has led to a big shift to backlist: 59% of books sold online are over two years old

Useful tidbits

  • The digital director of PRH told us they only deliver one ebook format (epub3) even to Amazon: ‘it’s not entirely easy but you too can do this!’
  • Craig Mod says, ‘Amazon won’ so the only way to compete is to add value where they can’t, through voice and intimacy. He reckons this is through newsletters and email lists: they are all about voice and playfulness and have direct engagement – ‘the intimacy of the inbox’ (fantastic speaker and probably a great newsletter: craigmod.com)
  • The PRH marketing and publicity department ran through the process of marketing a ‘make book’ and showed us everything we’re up against: five staff members; one year of work; media coaching, tour, website and social media platforms built for the author; three separate advance proofs (the third with a run of 5000 copies) and a total marketing spend of $200K… That’s how you get a book on the New York Times bestseller list.

Favourite quotes

  • Blog posts aren’t dead, they just became emails.
  • Boring retail is dead but exciting retail is alive.
  • Publishing is a terrible business to be in – most books fail!

Applications for the 2019 scholarship will open in October.  Details can be found here