By Katie Gough, Sabrina Matica-Hickey, Molly Anna Chell and Carmel Jordan
SYP Pledges to Improve Accessibility in Publishing
In our previous issue, we brought to you an Editor’s note detailing the importance of the research that Cat Mitchell, a lecturer at University of Derby, had carried out into disability in publishing. Following in the same vein, the SYP (Society of Young Publishers) have declared that they too are going to be doing their bit for the diversity and inclusivity of the industry.
As the new chair of the committee, Tanuja Shelar, and the vice-chair, Amalia Mihailescu, settle into their new roles, the announcement on 9 March has made “widening access” their top priority for 2021. Being both an academic marketing assistant at Yale University Press and a student success adviser at UCL, respectively, the pair’s first steps to increasing accessibility will be online. This will include creating a new website and investing in captioning software for zoom events. They have also reached out to lesser-known regions in publishing and expanded their famous mentorship scheme.
On moving the SYP completely online, Mihailescu said: “There is a lot of unexplored territory in the digital world, which will remain relevant to the industry for years to come. I am thrilled to be working with such an amazing team to discover new opportunities for our members.”
Shelar also commented on the initiative saying: “Looking at the Publisher Association’s 2020 diversity survey, our work is far from over and we will be looking for more ways to support our members in their careers this year. Our committees will be working more closely than ever to increase communications, promote cross-committee events and collaborate to provide a wide variety of speakers and discussions.”
The SYP continues to be active on social media, sharing any job posts and events that are useful to those in the first ten years of their career. Just this year alone, they have hosted a plethora of events commenting on the pressing issues affecting our industry. The first of such events was their Annual General Meeting at the end of January 2021. During this meeting, Shelar and Mihailescu took over their new positions, alongside their regional SYP chairs, and diversity and inclusivity were key topics of discussion.
Since this meeting, SYP Scotland have hosted the ‘Libraries as Publishers’ event and SYP Oxford have launched the #WorkingFromHome #WFHPublishingSurvey, ascertaining the industry’s attitudes towards flexible working. Hot on their heels, SYP London have instigated a Twitter Q&A, and the SYP joined the International Publishing Forum for their ‘How to Action Change in the Publishing Industry’ panel. Finally, SYP North hosted their online event entitled ‘Northern Powerhouse: Behind the Scenes of Indie Publishing’ earlier this month, while SYP London saw the return of their Book Club as a Working From Home chat - a transition that SYP Ireland has also made with their own book club.
With discussions on diversity and inclusivity becoming more prevalent, having an organisation pushing for the change will hopefully be a step in the right direction.
Amazon to Stop Selling Books that Frame LGBTQ+ Identities as Mental Illnesses
In a landmark move, retail giant Amazon announced this week that they will no longer be selling books that frame LGBTQ+ identities as mental illnesses. The company made the announcement in a public letter addressed to Republican senators, following questions over its decision to stop selling When Harry Became Sally: Responding to the Transgender Movement from its online stores, ebook and audio platforms last month. The book is written by the conservative academic Ryan Anderson, known for his opposition to same-sex marriage.
In the letter obtained by The Wall Street Journal, Amazon stipulated their right to choose what they sell on their platform:
We reserve the right not to sell certain content […] As to your specific question about When Harry Became Sally, we have chosen not to sell books that frame LGBTQ+ identity as a mental illness
The company’s letter comes following criticism from right-wing senators like Marco Rubio, Mike Lee, Mike Bryan and Josh Hawley. They decried the book removal as a “…signal to conservative Americans that their views are not welcome on its platform.”
“Everyone agrees that gender dysmorphia is a serious condition that causes great suffering,” Encounter Books, Anderson’s publishing company, claim. They further add that “Amazon is using its massive power to distort the marketplace of ideas and is deceiving its own customers in the process.”
A spokesperson for the LGBTQ+ support organisation GLAAD said that Amazon’s decision was a ‘positive step’ in tackling entrenched and shameful historical narratives that align LGBTQ+ identities with mental illnesses. They further add:
This book is dangerous and harmful to trans kids, and those who are looking for information about trans identity should not look to resources written by someone who has made their livelihood by publishing screeds against the trans community.
Amazon’s move will undoubtedly have a seismic impact on books that frame LGBTQ+ identities as mental illnesses. A recent report from the book audience research firm Codex Group suggests that the company accounts for 53% of all US book sales and a staggering 80% of all ebooks.
Society of Authors Investigates Vanity Publishing
Once upon a time, publishing houses gatekept the kind of books that reached the reading public. From crowd funding for their book to the increasingly popular self-publishing path that can have many advantages over the traditional route, today’s author has a wide range of publication options. One of the lesser known is vanity publishing, an arrangement that often offers less protection for authors. Vanity publishing refers to when an author will pay a company to produce their book for them, covering editorial, design and production costs. SoA recently announced that they would be conducting an investigation into vanity publishing.
The investigation was launched following a significant rise in the number of registered member complaints, with authors citing concerns over manipulative sales tactics, poor service and fees. Many authors have been paying thousands of pounds without being delivered what they were promised, never to recoup these costs in sales. Given the many obstacles presented by traditional publishing, it is understandable that more writers are going down the vanity publishing route. A similar dynamic is unfolding in the academic sector: a rising number of predatory journals are taking advantage of academics’ need to increase their number of publications for career progression.
To address this issue, a SoA survey assessing authors’ experiences with vanity publishers has been launched and will run until 25 April. This will be followed by a report including a summary of the responses and further advice on what precautions to take when signing any publication deal. While SoA advises that authors ensure they do their own research on a company before signing, they society’s members are welcome to send in their contracts for vetting.
SoA’s chief executive Nicola Solomon said:
"We have been concerned about the practices of certain publishers for a long time. But in recent years, with huge marketing budgets and opportunities for targeted online advertising, they have become ubiquitous. Today, they are often the publishing opportunities that authors see first when they look for a home for their work. They call themselves publishers, but in truth they are service providers – and what we are hearing is that the services they provide do not live up to the four-figure fees they charge. Given their prominence, we need to get an accurate picture of this growing area of book production, so we can better protect the authors who use it. We are very pleased to be working alongside the WGGB on this essential project.”
These concerns shouldn’t put authors off vanity publishing. Many companies offer a valuable service, enabling authors to enjoy the benefits of professional production whilst retaining a level of control that deals often relinquish to big publishing house. It is likely that Amazon’s print-on-demand service will continue to be the most attractive option for authors who cannot afford to pay for publication.
While vanity publishing does not seem to feature heavily in the industry’s conversations, it is likely that this survey and the aftermath will kickstart an in-depth discussion on how to ensure authors are well served by this form of publishing.
Live-streaming App OOOOO Launches Books Channel Book.TV
Over the past year, the pandemic has taught us to adapt to becoming digital more than ever and, of course, the publishing industry is no exception. This year has been particularly hard on bookshops and authors, who have had to rely on online platforms for a big portion of their sales.
A Unique Approach
There have been numerous innovative ways that bookshops and bookselling have survived, but most recently live-streaming video platform and app OOOOO made headlines with their unique approach to bookselling.
OOOOO works by allowing its consumers to access real people reviewing products in live shows, which they can buy in a couple of clicks from the OOOOO app.
On 8 March OOOOO launched a new channel completely dedicated to books called Book.TV. The channel was launched by author Melanie Blake to mark International Women’s Day and to discuss her latest thriller Ruthless Women.
Book.TV will provide a new way for authors to promote and directly sell their books to their fans through a series of live shows with readings by authors. With book festivals postponed and authors unable to go to signings, Book.TV hopes to offer the same kind of intimate interactions between an author and their fans, albeit virtually.
Content on the channel will also be tailored to capture different audiences, with shows dedicated to commercial fiction, crime thrillers, YA romance, literary titles, children’s books and more.
In an interview with The Bookseller, OOOOO co-founder Sam Jones said:
“Our view is that the retail industry will never truly recover from this year. Instead, people will form new habits and seek new ways to earn a living. We want to be part of this inevitable shift, with Book.TV playing a key role in bolstering the publishing industry.”
A Permanent Shift?
If the pandemic has shown us anything about books, it’s that our buying habits are consistently shifting – but will that really detract us from the appeal of brick and mortar bookshops?
In spite of this, Book.TV are demonstrating how two-way interactions between authors and their fans is incredibly crucial. Additionally, this type of bookselling will undeniably give authors more agency in selling their own books.
Ultimately Book.TV describe themselves as:
“a channel devoted to celebrating talented authors, independent bookshops and bookworms, delivering a lucrative platform and much-needed boost for the UK’s publishing industry impacted by the pandemic.”
If you would like to check out Book.TV for yourself, you can download OOOOO from your app store.