The Authors’ Compass event

On Saturday, I had the chance to attend the Author’s Compass event, organised by the Society of Authors, held at the International Anthony Burgess Foundation in Manchester. The event was largely a discussion about how the publishing landscape was changing and how the changes were moving choice and power back into the hands of content creators (be they authors of fiction, non fiction or poetry).

2016-04-23 10.32.08
John Rice doing the welcome speech

The keynote speech was given by the fabulous Kate Harrison – who talked about the joys of being a hybrid author, where you got the best of both worlds. She also made that point that it was totally okay to find it all very scary.

2016-04-23 10.39.45
Kate Harrison kicks the event off with a fantastically inspiring talk 

A few keys points from Kate’s talk that stood out for me were:

Self publishing:

  • is fast – allows you to seize the zeitgeist (or at least meet is half way!)
  • allows you to monitor sales and see the effect of any promotion in almost real time
  • gives you control  – over timings, cover design etc as well as allowing you to choose the team you work with
  • allows you to keep more of the profits (70%, rather than the more traditional 7.5 – 15%)
  • can be overwhelming at times

Traditional publishing:

  • has good distribution systems already in place (really, it’s very hard to get your print book into a bookshop any other way)
  • gives you ready access to expertise
  • is still the dream for a lot of people

Kate made the point that this is not war between traditional and indie publishing models and that the two can co-exist comfortably side by side.

She didn’t say this, but I felt that having an agent is really helpful, whichever model you go with!

2016-04-23 11.32.50

Next, Kate Pool and Sarah Baxter, from the legal team at the Soc of Authors talked about various things to look out for in contracts. A lot of time was spent discussing the ‘use it or lose it’ clause (it would be excellent if it became mandatory!) and digital first publishers. The general gist was that you could do pretty much everything a digital first publisher does yourself. (I don’t agree, but I’m published by a digital first publisher!).

Interesting points I noted were:

  • 25% was the standard royalty rate for ebooks
  • Amazon accounted about 80% of ebooks sold
  • Amazon promoted its own Kindle exclusive content well above other content (is this true? Anyone know for sure?)
  • Neilsen bookscan does not include books without ISBNs (a lot of self published ebooks only have an ASIN number), so ebook sales are often under reported. Also, a lot of print book sales this year are due to the current fashion for colouring books.


The take home message was – get your contracts vetted by the Society of Authors. You can become a member by dint of being offered a contract (you don’t have to sign it!), which immediately gives you access to Kate, Sarah and the team.

After this was lunch. My phone died soon after, so I have no photos. Since I’m a member of the Author’s North committee, I chaired the first session after lunch (I know! Get me!), where we had a successful self published poet (Kevin McCann), a professional editor (Richard Sheehan), a book designer (Kate Roden) and a PR (Helen Lewis) talk us through the self publishing process. It was completely fascinating.

The last session was about alternative models/publishing routes. Chaired by Kate Pool, it featured talks from Dan Keiran from Unbound, Micheal Schmidt of Carcanet Press and Kristen Harrison who talked about the Visual Verse project.

I thought the Unbound model was fascinating in that it was, essentially, a crowd funding platform. What differentiated it from something like Kickstarter or Idiegogo was that it specialised in books (so the community was already looking for books to be involved in) and that, if you successfully raised the (admittedly daunting) amount necessary for a print book, Unbound could then plug you into the PRH distribution system.

The event ended with a Books are my Bard party with Blackwells. I finally got a new bag to replace my poor old Books are My Bag bag which was left under some wet boots and went mouldy.

All in all, it was a tremendously informative and enjoyable day. It was really nice to see so many RNA friends too.




3 thoughts on “The Authors’ Compass event

  1. Fascinating post – thanks, Rhoda. I wouldn’t agree with them about 25% being the average royalties on e-books, unless they mean by the big traditional publishers as it’s usually higher than this with digital-first publishers!


    1. I think a lot of their data is from the big publishers. I know a lot of the smaller digital first publishers offer higher royalties. There was also some discussion of ‘if ebook sales fall below paperback sales’ – to which I pointed out that there was a difference between genres. Genre fiction sells better in ebook format than paperback (well, mine does anyway).

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on Helena Fairfax and commented:
    This weekend I was at a Society of Authors’ event in Manchester. It was an inspiring day with lots of info on the way the world of publishing is changing. It was great to meet fellow RNA members there, including Rhoda Baxter. I’m reblogging Rhoda’s post on the day here. (Thanks, Rhoda!)

    Liked by 1 person

Tell me what you think

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s