KATE LYALL GRANT has worked in mainstream trade publishing for over twenty years. In the past she’s been a senior commissioning editor at Hodder & Stoughton and Simon & Schuster UK, specialising in crime, thrillers and commercial women’s fiction, before joining independent publisher Severn House in 2010. Kate is publisher of Creme de la Crime, a new imprint designed to showcase the best of British crime fiction.
There’s no doubt the advent of e-publishing has shaken things up in the publishing industry. I used an analogy in my interview with Lee Jackson, of conventional publishers being a bit like sail-makers in the age of steam. Playing devil’s advocate, you understand! Of course, people still buy sail boats. But it’s a tiny market and they’re all millionaires or men going through the mid-life crisis. Is this the future for print books? Are conventional publishers worried? Should they be?
This is obviously a time of huge innovation and change within the publishing industry – and I think it’s up to publishers to make the most of the new opportunities available, rather than worry about and shy away from the changed technological landscape. These are certainly exciting and interesting times to be working in publishing: e-books and everything that goes with them have the potential to bring enormous benefits as well as challenges for conventional publishers, who must be ready to adapt, embracing the opportunities to reach new readers while not losing sight of their regular, longstanding customers and core market. There are still a great many people (like me) who prefer to read print books and I think they will be safe for the next generation at least. After that, who knows? Yes, there’s no question that e-books do detract from print sales but, for the next few years at least, it’s a finite market. There is endless discussion within the publishing industry at the moment as to the future of the e-book, but the truth is that no one has the definitive answer at this stage.
I think I’m right in saying that you publish all Severn House books as e-books as well as in hardback and paperback editions. How significant a part of the business are e-book sales?
The Severn House e-book list was launched in June last year, so it’s still very early days for us to ascertain sales patterns etc. As an independent hardcover publisher, our core business remains the libraries and we have no intention of neglecting our key customers who are the wholesalers and library suppliers. Having said that, e-books is where we see our growth area in years to come and we are planning for a future where e-books will eventually make up the majority of our revenue. The great thing is that, for the first time, e-books enable a small publishing company like us to compete on a level playing field with the big publishing houses – and I’m looking forward to doing exactly that!
Should e-books offer extra material that isn’t in the print edition? The i-Pad, for example, gives you the opportunity to put in video clips, snatches of music, an audio clip or two (the message left of the victim’s answerphone, that haunting melody that conjures up the past)… Is this all a distraction? Or do publishers need to become purveyors of multi-media entertainment?
Personally I would find the inclusion of extra material such as video clips, snatches of music etc an irritating distraction, preferring to give my imagination full flow to do the job. To me, it’s infantilising the reader – but I recognise I’m probably something of an old fogey in that respect and in years to come publishers will have adapted to cater for the tastes of new generations of readers who’ve been brought up from the outset to expect this kind of additional material.
Do you own a kindle, or an e-reader of any kind? If so, how do you use it?
I own a Sony e-reader onto which I download all manuscript submissions. In that respect it’s made my job as an editor so much easier and it’s hard now to remember the days when my shoulder used to ache constantly, weighed down with a satchel full of hard-copy manuscripts to and from the office. However, I much prefer to read print books than e-books: during my leisure hours, I really don’t feel like reading words on a e-screen having spent all day in front of a computer. I suppose it’s how I differentiate my ‘pleasure reading’ from my ‘work reading’ (although the two are by no means mutually exclusive of course!).
Many writers are rushing to self-publish. Does this just reduce the slush-pile, or does it mean that a canny editor is now scouring self-published books in the hope of discovering a gem they can take to the next stage? Is everyone looking for the next Amanda Hocking?
There is so much self-published material out there, an over-burdened commissioning editor just doesn’t have the time to wade through the acres of chaff to get to the kernel of wheat. For every Amanda Hocking, there are at least 10,000 also-rans, I suspect. For this reason, mainstream publishers will generally only accept submissions via literary agents. But yes, if a self-published e-book has sold upwards of 30,000 copies and is attracting rave reviews from readers, then it will attract attention from editors and should certainly be worth taking a look at. Does it reduce the slush pile? No, I don’t think so. Every unpublished first-time writer I’ve worked with in my capacity as a freelance editor dreams of being in print – being published online simply doesn’t have the same cachet.
Does online piracy concern you? If so, what can we do about it? How do you persuade people that it’s worth paying for e-books?
Online piracy is a potential problem. I would never send out a PDF file of a manuscript to a potential reviewer or customer, for example, without ensuring that it’s pre-secured, so it can only be downloaded by the recipient themselves. Apart from general vigilance however, it’s hard to know what else we can do at this end apart from doing our bit to drive the lesson home to the reading public at every given opportunity that £5.99 (or whatever) is really not such a huge price to pay for a good book, into which a huge amount of time and effort has been invested by the author and all those who work with them – and that it is ultimately the reader who will lose out if authors find they can no longer afford to write for a living financially, and the quantity and quality of books available will therefore suffer.
Following on from the last question, what is a fair price for an e-book?
What is a fair price for an e-book? Again, a subject of intense debate amongst publishers and retailers at the moment. Personally, I loathe seeing e-books available at 99p or thereabouts: I think it devalues books as a commodity and takes no account of the fact that this is the product of, on average, a year’s work on the part of the author. On the other hand, it’s better to be read than not read, and yes, there is certainly a case for making long out-of-print backlist titles available at a low price. As far as new books are concerned, however, I personally wouldn’t want to see any priced lower than, say, £4.99 – and ideally rather higher than that. But doubtless market forces will dictate.
Is the e-book changing the relationship between the author and the publisher?
Not in my experience, no – and I don’t see any reason why it should. As publishers, our role is to make an author’s work as attractive or enticing as we can, then make it available and bring it to the attention of as many potential readers/customers as possible (budgetary constraints permitting!). E-rights are now an integral part of any mainstream publishing contract, and the e-book is simply another format in which publishers can make an author’s work available.
Who will be the winners and who the losers as e-books develop?
As long as e-books aren’t priced too ridiculously cheaply, as long as there’s healthy competition among online retailers (both of which are big ‘if’s), then I think publishers, authors, retailers and, not least, readers should all benefit from the e-book revolution. The losers unfortunately – unless they can find a way to sell e-books effectively – will be the traditional bookshop chains – although there should still be room for independents, where the customer can benefit from the individual bookseller’s expertise and personal recommendations.