Behind the scenes

Three years ago, when I set out on this journey, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Emotionally exhausted from the corporate world of office politics, microaggressions and jobs-for-the-boys, I longed for a world where creativity reigned supreme, good vibes were the order of the day and art fed the soul.


We (because this has in no way been a solo journey) have learned so much along the way, and that ranges from the wholesome ‘people are so supportive’ (they really are!) to a crash course in SEO and marketing, as well as connecting with some truly wonderful people, but one thing I have learned is how ‘small’ the publishing world really is.

A tweet by author Eliza Clark ‘a good thing about me is that you can enjoy my book without finding out that I went to Oxbridge and my parents are both famous journalists like six months later and feeling somewhat betrayed’ and the subsequent Guardian article about how she was considered diverse because she was from Newcastle made me laugh because of how true I’ve found this to be since being part of this world so I decided to put together this little ‘Behind the Scenes’ look at the Book World, starting with a look at Who Runs The (Book) World (clue, the answer is not Girls in this case)

Top 10 (WH Smith)

  1. Nothing Ventured- Jeffrey Archer- Pan Books
  2. The Mirror & the Light- Hilary Mantel- Fourth Estate Ltd
  3. A Village Scandal- Dilly Court- HarperCollins
  4. You’ll Never See Me Again- Lesley Pearse- Penguin
  5. Under a Wartime Sky- Liz Trenow- Pan Books
  6. The Inn- James Patterson & Candice Fox- Cornerstone
  7. Hunting Evil- Chris Carter- Simon & Schuster Ltd
  8. One Good Deed- David Baldacci- Pan Macmillan
  9. Celtic Empire- Clive Cussler- Penguin
  10. The Chain- Adrian McKinty- Orion Publishing Group

Top 10 Amazon (Fiction)

  1. The Silence of the Girls- Pat Barker- Penguin
  2. A Place of Execution- Val McDermid- Harper Collins
  3. The Mum Who Got Her Life Back- Fiona Gibson- Avon
  4. In a House of Lies- Ian Rankin- Orion Publishing Group
  5. The Lost Girls of Devon- Barbara O’Neal- Lake Union Publishing
  6. Her Final Words- Brianna Labuskes- Thomas & Mercer
  7. The Last of the Moon Girls- Barbara Davis- Lake Union Publishing
  8. The House Guest- Mark Edwards- Thomas & Mercer
  9. Flat Share- Beth O’Leary- Quercus
  10. The Bookshop on the Shore- Jenny Colgan- Sphere

Avon and Fourth Estate Ltd are part of HarperCollins Publishers in 2000. HarperCollins are owned by NewsCorp who own some of these big names (deep breath and go!):

Pan Books are part of Macmillan Publishers who are owned by Holtzbrinck Publishing Group

Sphere, Cornerstone, Ebury Press and Penguin are part of Penguin Random House

Simon & Schuster Ltd are a subsidiary of Viacom CBS– assets include Paramount Pictures, CBS, Nickolodeon, MTV, Comedy Central, etc.

Quercus (an imprint of Hodder & Stoughton) and Orion Publishing Group are owned by Hatchette who own publishers, partworks and distributors too many to name but include Bookouture, Headline Publishing Group, Enid Blyton Entertainment, Little, Brown Book Group, etc.

Lake Union Publishing and Thomas & Mercer are an imprint of Amazon Publishing owned by Amazon

That’s just a snapshot of two ‘top 10’ charts on one day; one from a major ‘high street’ bookseller and one from the world’s largest online retailer. In short almost every book in a “Top” list is published by an imprint of one of these six publishers. It used to be ‘The Big 5’ but powerhouse Amazon have joined the gang now. Small world isn’t it, especially when you consider that NewsCorp who own HarperCollins own a huge chunk of the world’s media.

Next not-so-secret secret is the effort that goes into promoting a book before it even hits the shelves. Publishers pay subscriptions to review sites like Netgalley and Lovereading to give their books to influential readers (bloggers, bookstagrammers, media,etc) for free and elicit early reviews. I was naively shocked to learn that it costs around £20,000 to get a book considered for the Richard and Judy Book Club. There are arguments both sides of the Atlantic that front spots at big book sellers (think Waterstones) and recommendations with Reese or Oprah will cost publishers thousands, but these remain unverified with no quick google search giving a definitive answer. To make it to the top of a chart though, one thing everyone behind the scenes agrees on is that a shit ton of money is spent just like in any other industry- think Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Nike.  

I’ve connected with Indie and Traditional Authors who have frustrations with the way the industry works. They’ve poured their hearts and souls into their work but feel like they’re fighting to just be seen amongst the millions of books out there, banging away on social media, giving away hundreds of free copies in exchange for reviews and blog features. According to creativindie, the average indie book sells less than 250 books in their lifetime, the average traditionally published sells 10,000 with a major publisher (source-Steve Laube). That’s not enough to make it onto the coveted lists.

Another not-so-secret secret is the way both trad and indie authors utilise Amazon categories to lay claim to a ‘Bestseller’ badge. I don’t know how I feel about including a microscope salesman in one of my books so that I can claim a Number One, even if it is in the Microscopes & Microscopy subcategory, but this is so commonplace that there are blogs and videos dedicated to showing you how.

Promo stacking is another common practice to hit Best Seller lists- running multiple campaigns within a short timeframe to maximise the sales within a bestseller list’s reporting period.

Obscure categories aside, I can see how this could leave some feeling discouraged, however I don’t feel overly disheartened. It’s only now, two years down the line since the publication of Butterflies that we’ve started to invest in Blog Tours, Brand Ambassadors and Advertising. I should be ashamed that I’ve sent four books into the world with no editor and just my own social media platform for publicity. Frankly, looking at all the stats and facts above, it’s a miracle that we’ve sold over 1000 copies of these books in several countries. If anything, it makes me even prouder and even more grateful to the people who have supported me.

Hitting #627 in the Romantic Comedy section and #100 in the Kindle book charts (for one day!) might not sound like an achievement, but when you consider the cold hard facts of the industry, I’ll happily take that as a win.

The bottom line for anyone who’s thinking of writing a book or anyone just interested for that matter is that you could write the best book in the world, but unless you have this connection (through luck, fortune or privilege) you probably won’t make it onto the elite lists. It’s just like the corporate world that I left, connections are advantageous and this is why celebs becoming authors is massive right now.

So, amongst the whirlwind and the necessity of marketing I’ve learned that the industry is much the same as any other industry, and while it may not feel ‘fair’ that you essentially need a marketing budget equivalent to a small country’s GDP to be considered successful, that really shouldn’t be why anybody goes into writing.

We’re in this for the long haul now, and will continue to publish books that we want to read because reading and writing are good for the soul, and at the end of the day none of us are taking our awards and bank balances with us when we shuffle off this mortal coil.

One thing that isn’t fair that I’m not happy to accept as the status quo is that if you’re born into poverty, you’re statistically more likely to earn less, suffer with more health problems and die younger. This matters a whole lot more than a ‘bestseller’ sticker on our books, the overused ‘critically acclaimed’ emblazoned across our product descriptions or a celebrity endorsement. The reason we like being small fish in a big pond is because we can do what we want and  it’s on us to make sure we don’t lose sight of the things that really matter; we want to support arts in our communities and aspiring writers who don’t have privilege and connections.

If you haven’t already, subscribe to our blog as we’ll be (eventually) showing aspiring writers how to do-it-yourself, or if you know any good causes that need a spotlight please send them our way.

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