For its June event, Byte The Book turned its attention to the dynamic and ever-changing world of crime and thriller publishing. Amid the occasional quip about Brexit and the imminent England match, a panel of industry experts discussed markets, self-publishing and the extraordinary power of data.
Justine with Ruth Sorby from Worldreader, an organisation Byte the Book promoted through this event.
Chair Cathy Rentzenbrink (author and contributing editor at The Bookseller) began by pointing out that, thanks to the enduring popularity of Enid Blyton, crime (or, at least, mystery) novels are often the first books that young readers fall in love with. And these obsessions frequently last into adulthood, if sales figures are anything to go by. Sixteen million crime novels are sold annually in the UK alone, revealed Hachette’s publishing director Alex Clarke, generating nearly a hundred million pounds’ worth of profit, close to a third of the global total. It’s a unique section of the market, too, he added. It has more sub-divisions than any other genre, and its audience is a vibrant mix of male and female, young and old. Tellingly, since the turn of the millennium, crime and thriller publishing has spawned many of the industry’s biggest hits, from Gone Girl and The Da Vinci Code to the mega-selling The Girl On The Train.
Our fabulous judges from left to right:Cathy Rentzenbrink (chair),Oli Munson,Alex Clarke and Mark Dawson.
At this point, literary agent Oli Munson picked up the thread, suggesting that whilst certain elements of The Girl On The Train’s marketing campaign undeniably gave it a leg-up, no one could have predicted it would go stratospheric (nobody ever can, he argued). That said, in a world where information is the new currency, most are now cottoning on to the fact that author fanbases can be steadily built, piece by piece, reader by reader, if careful attention is paid to consumer data. Crime author and self-publishing phenomenon Mark Dawson, who completed the panel, is cast-iron proof of this. After a lukewarm experience with a traditional publisher, Mark turned to self-publishing, writing twenty-one books in five years and building up his income from next-to- nothing to a projected seven-figure revenue in 2016. He’s an outlier, of course (for every Mark Dawson there are endless thousands of self-published writers making virtually nothing), but his story remains an encouraging talisman for the oft-touted “authorpreneur”. If, like Mark, you are prepared to work tirelessly, to produce professional novels that are indistinguishable from their traditionally-published counterparts and to painstakingly nurture your fanbase through the use of reader data, there are audiences out there for the taking. Crime readers are loyal, and they know what they like, and this makes them appealingly simple to market to. Using Facebook ads, for instance, Mark is able to directly target fans of, say, the TV show 24, and since his research tells him that those people will enjoy his books, he is able to glean far more value from this relatively cheap form of advertising than he would from the altogether less-focussed “billboard in a train station” model favoured by mainstream publishers.
A riveted audience in the luxurious studio, The Club at The Cafe Royal
Many in the industry are now growing tired of the age-old “self versus trad” debate, and as Alex stressed, The Big Five have an enormous amount to learn from self-published authors. In fact, the relationship between the two camps is now becoming a form of symbiosis, and soon, it’s very likely most of us will cease entirely to make the distinction. “Whether you’re an author or a publisher,” said Oli, “you ignore self-publishing at your peril.”
And, of course, Byte the Book networking in full swing
And so, while at the start of the discussion Cathy was posing the tongue-in- cheek question “Does crime pay?”, by the time the microphones were turned off, most people were in agreement. In the right circumstances, it indisputably does.
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