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Sarah Taylor is Marketing Manager at Troubador  and editor of the Self Publishing Magazine. I caught up with her earlier in the week to ask about the forthcoming Self Publishing Conference on 30th March, and to catch her thoughts on the phenomenal rise of self-publishing…

The Conference last year was a sell-out and a great success. What treats have you got lined up for us this year?

Plenty! Delegates have over 20 sessions to choose from this year, we have Alysoun Owen (editor of the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook) as a Keynote Speaker, and Kobo, who are running an e-book publishing session on the day, are giving away a brand new Aura eReader! They’ll be running a workshop in session three – ‘E-book publishing with Kobo’.

What are you most looking forward to about the Conference?

Meeting the great mix of delegates that attend. Last year we met such a huge number of people (despite heavy snowfall leading up to the event!) who are all self-publishing for different reasons and have different goals in mind – we like talking to people and giving them advice on how they should go about their self-publishing project to get the result they are looking for.

It takes a lot of organising to pull off a successful event like this. How long have you and the team at Troubador been working on it?

It certainly does take a long time – the first Conference was nearly a year in the making, and this takes a similar amount of time, too – from getting everything organised to doing all of the marketing work involved.

How did you get into the self-publishing world, and how do you think it differs from traditional publishing?

The self-publishing imprint of Troubador Publishing Ltd, Matador, was launched in 2000 as a reaction to authors who were approaching us, looking for advice on how to publish books that were never going to be picked up by mainstream publishers because they were too niche – like local history books and biographies. Since we launched the imprint it’s expanded massively and we now publish over 300 books per year for authors who have a range of self-publishing goals – from those authors writing a book about their local community to authors looking to print 1,000 copies of their crime thriller novel and are seeking wide distribution.

No matter how an author is choosing to self-publish they should find ‘Choosing a self-publishing services provider’ in session one with Jeremy Thompson of Troubador and Alysoun Owen useful!

You’re particularly involved with marketing. What advice on marketing would you give someone who was setting out to self-publish for the first time?

Think about it in advance – authors often don’t think about it until the book is printed, which is a mistake. Booksellers make their buying decisions ahead of publication, so authors should undertake trade marketing ahead of the book being available to result in the best possible chance of their book being stocked by bookshops.

I’ll be touching on this in my workshop on how to ‘Work successfully with bookshops and libraries to sell your book’ along with Maggie Boyd of Leicestershire Library Services and Debbie James from The Kibworth Bookshop.

Another tip is to angle your marketing, rather than take a scattergun approach – all of our marketing here is bespoke and targeted to each individual book. Draw up a list of targeted publications that review/feature books like yours and contact them to see if they would be interested in running a review or feature.

At this year’s Conference, our marketing sessions are the most heavily subscribed – including Ben Cameron’s workshop ‘Creating the best media pitch’ and Helen McCusker’s two sessions – ‘Writing a successful press release’ and ‘Preparing for your first media interview’. Ben and Helen will be able to give delegates lots of handy tips!

Is there anything you would like to tell aspiring self publishers NOT to do?!

The things authors most neglect are editing and professional cover design. So a big no-no is ignoring the importance of these two elements. Another don’t is – don’t respond badly to negative posts or reviews. Nothing creates infamy in writers’ circles like lashing out at criticism!

My bugbear with self-publishing is that the covers sometimes don’t live up to the content! What’s the secret of a good front cover?

It’s one of our bugbears too, and one of the hurdles authors most commonly fall at. Our advice is to work with a professional to help you design a cover that is aesthetically appealing – whether you are using a self-publishing services provider or a graphic designer. You also need to bear in mind what your book is about – your cover needs to reflect the tone of your book, and the target market. A thriller novel, for example, shouldn’t have a pink cover and swirly font!

Matador’s Head of Production Terry Compton will be talking about ‘The importance of cover design’ with Aimee Bell of Author Design Studio at the event.

Who is your biggest “find” in the self-publishing world?

One of our most successful authors is Polly Courtney. Polly published a fictional City expose, Golden Handcuffs, in 2010 with us which attracted a huge amount of media interest. She then published Poles Apart, and was subsequently signed by HarperCollins to a three-book deal with Avon. Polly thought she’d found the holy grail, but actually she missed having control over what her books were about, what they looked like and how they ended up, and she didn’t like that HarperCollins tried to label her books as chick-lit. She notoriously left HarperCollins at the launch of her last book with them and has since returned to self-publishing. She’ll be sharing her experiences in her Conference session ‘From self-publishing to mainstream and back again’.

Do you think that self-publishing is starting to be taken more seriously by the literary establishment, or is there still prejudice against books that have been published via this route?

Absolutely; barely a day goes by without a self-publishing success story of one kind or another. The stigma around self-publishing is starting to be eradicated and, at the end of the day, it’s all about the finished product and the readers. As long as they are getting a quality book that looks good and reads well, I don’t think they mind who has published it. We focus on producing professionally-designed books and are often told that our books are indistinguishable from those published by traditional publishing houses.

There’s also been a massive turnaround in attitudes towards self-publishing from authors – nowadays being an ‘indie author’ is associated with a real sense of pride and independence; authors are increasingly choosing self-publishing as their first option, rather than as a fallback after being turned down by mainstream publishers.

A stigma still exists to some degree in some publishing circles, but as Eoin Purcell claimed recently, it shouldn’t be about publishing and self-publishing – it’s either good publishing or bad publishing (and we always strive for the former!)

You’re also the editor of the Self Publishing Magazine, which is a great resource for writers. How has the magazine developed and where is it heading?

The magazine certainly has grown hugely in the last few years, I’ve only been the Editor for the last few issues but I’m trying to maintain the great balance of articles we’ve always offered while constantly seeking out new contributors and experts to continue giving the best advice possible to our readers. One of the ways that the magazine has developed is the improvement in the quality of self-published books that we get sent for review – cover and content has certainly come a long way in the last few years, for which we’re glad. In the future we’re looking to offer an e-book review section, as so many authors solely publish their book digitally nowadays!

Publishing is undergoing huge changes – not only self-publishing, but e-books too, are changing the landscape. What’s your vision of publishing in five years’ time?

We always hear that the print market is declining, but the number of authors still choosing to self-publish with us in physical formats contradicts this theory. We’ve seen a huge increase in the authors who come to us just to publish their e-book, and a massive increase in those who choose to produce their book both digitally and physically. I think the shift will continue to grow towards digital content, not just limited to e-books – including apps and audiobooks. At this year’s Conference we’ll have Rachel Gregory and Rosie Grindrod from Matador, who will discuss e-book creation and marketing respectively.  Kobo will also be running a session on ‘E-book publishing with Kobo’ on the day.

Self-publishing children’s books also seems to be a growth area, which is why we have a dedicated children’s book strand this year. One of these sessions is run by Louise Jordan from The Writers’ Advice Centre for Children, who will be advising delegates on ‘Structuring a children’s book’.

Finally, why should any writers considering self-publishing come to the Conference on 30th March?

Because it offers such a vast range of advice to authors involved in any degree of self-publishing – how they’re going about it, if they’re using a services provider to do the work for them, in what formats they are choosing to publish their book. One of the most worrying things we find about companies offering self-publishing services or advice is that they often only advise on one path of self-publishing, or one method of doing it – whereas we are aware that self-publishing isn’t one-size-fits-all; it depends on the book and the author’s goal for their self-publishing project. What works for one book won’t work for another. The Conference is also an ideal place for anyone thinking of, or already involved in, self-publishing, because it offers advice on all aspects of the process – and delegates can pick and choose the sessions they want which means they can tailor the day to their project.

Thank you Sarah and see you on the 30th!

Find out more at: www.selfpublishingconference.org.uk