Our final First Friday Club guest speaker for the year was Lou Johnson, co-founder of The Author People and former Managing Director of Simon & Schuster Australia.
With an extensive 25-year career in the national and international publishing industry, Lou has witnessed and played a role in its shifting landscape. Lou moved through various sales and marketing roles for the likes of Harper Collins and ABC and, by the age of 25, she was the National Sales Manager of Random House. Lou then went on to become the Sales Director of Allen Unwin for several years before moving on to Simon & Schuster. Most recently, Lou has been appointed the Publishing Director of Murdoch Books. She has also served as Vice President of the Australian Publishers Association and is currently on the board of the Stella Prize.
The morning was spent discussing the various changes the industry has experienced, with a focus on the shift towards online platforms and what this means for authors.
‘Publishing is a really interesting business in that it’s the intersection between art and commerce’, Lou says, and she’s right. Navigating it successfully can certainly seem like a work of art, and so our Membership Intern Reilly was there to capture all the highlights of the discussion.
‘Its such a time of change’ Lou says, with digital disruption being one of the biggest challenges authors and publishers face today. This ever-increasing digital and online world has seen the demise of businesses such as Angus and Robertson and Borders, and in their place we’ve seen the rise of websites like Book Depository, a company that actively targeted Australia as a primary market. According to Lou, Australia has always been outward looking when it comes to the culture and art they consume and now geographical borders no longer limit consumers. The industry has to ensure that it stays relevant as people are increasingly gravitating towards these online platforms. ‘In sales you can make or break books’ Lou says. As works are becoming increasingly commodified, it’s more challenging to be commercially viable.
The Author People:
This climate is partly why Lou set up The Author People. She could see that publishers were increasingly out of touch with how audiences were behaving and what authors were seeking to do. So what is it that’s so different about The Author People? Lou says it’s largely to do with attitude. It’s about being immensely respectful of the relationship between creator and audience. This means having an understanding that the relationship can extend beyond an individual book and might even transcend books entirely. It means being totally open and agnostic about the way that relationship might develop.
Lou has been quite selective in the authors she has taken on. She prioritised authors who already had a strong relationship with their audience but were perhaps constrained or unhappy with a traditional model offered by publishers
Self-publishing and other tips for authors:
What was once an unpopular and expensive option for authors, self-publishing is becoming increasingly viable . ‘You can do it pretty inexpensively’, Lou says, ‘but it’s not always easy to do it well’. Lou advised members to invest in editing and strong cover art. It is also highly beneficial to have a thorough understanding of content and digital marketing. Lou also believes that a strong social media presence is important, if not essential.
However, utilising social media doesn’t necessarily mean using Facebook and Twitter. Alongside websites like The Author People, Lou spoke enthusiastically about the potential of websites such as Goodreads and how they can become an effective tool for cultivating a wider audience. Goodreads has become a popular way for readers to share their reading tastes with friends, but it also allows them to write reviews and promote an author’s work. The website also has the Goodreads Author Program which helps authors to promote and share their own work as well as make new connections with a wider audience. This can be hugely beneficial for those who choose to self-publish.
When asked if writers should be aware of the shifting trends in book sales and genres, Lou reminded members that everything goes in and out of fashion but essentially all genres are ‘evergreen’. Playing into what is topical or in vogue can mean running the risk of losing your voice as a writer.
One of the certainties to come out of such dramatic shifts in the publishing industry is that there are now more ways than ever for authors to publish and promote their work. ‘People are consuming content like never before’, Lou says, ‘and its no longer about being precious of the form the content is in. It should be about finding the right form for the occasion’.
First Friday Club will be back early next year, be sure to keep an eye on our website in the new year for more details.
Keep up to date with Lou and The Author People via their Twitter accounts.