As the self-publishing debate rumbles on, I’ve got a couple of posts from both sides of the fence.  First up, the case for the defence.

Leila Dewji

Leila Dewji is Editorial Director of Acorn Independent Press, a company helping authors who want to self-publish but don’t know where to start. Leila studied English and worked as a journalist before moving into book publishing and in 2010 she set up Acorn Independent Press with her brother Ali.

What inspired you to set up your own company?

Whilst working at a literary agency in London I was increasingly frustrated by how hard it had become for new authors to get published.

The recession hit the publishing industry hard, and drastic cost-cutting measures were put in place across the board. This meant editors were reducing the number of authors and titles they published and were not in a position to take on very many new authors at all.

At the same time, the self-published books that had been sent to me on the slush pile were generally really slap-dash – awful cover design, poor quality printing, no thought had gone in to the typesetting and in some cases the text hadn’t even been edited, let alone proofread. I wanted to provide a complete wraparound service to help authors take their manuscript from Word document to a paperback and get into the right distribution channels including eBooks available worldwide.

How did you choose the name?

It’s one of those things that was in my mind so strongly, it’s hard to remember the seed that planted it all. I like the idea of the acorn being the starting point for authors who could then grow into fully-fledged oak trees.

Were you put off by factors like the recession and the changing state of the publishing industry (particularly given all the naysayers

Image by Jon Cowling

predicting the death of books!)?

There’s no doubt the recession shook up the publishing industry, but at the same time there were some really serious technological advancements – not only in print-on-demand technology (which allows authors to print a very small number of copies at a comparable quality to anything else in your average bookshop) but also eBooks really started taking off. I don’t think the physical book will ever die, but eBook sales are growing so fast it’s caught a lot of the industry out. EBooks are a great leveller of self-published authors because anyone can have their title available on Amazon and it’s up to the public which titles take off.

What do you see as the pros and cons of self-publishing for authors?

The main pro is that if you believe in yourself and want to be well-published, you can.

You also have creative control – in traditional publishing companies for instance, you wouldn’t be allowed to have any input on your book jacket.

It’s a lot faster than traditional publishing, which would routinely take 12-18months – authors are often keen to get there work out and in the hands of readers as soon as possible.

Authors get to keep all the copyright and most importantly, make more money from the sale of their books.

The main con is that it’s an awful lot of work for someone who lacks the experience or contacts to get it done well. Self-publishing authors can make poor decisions about everything from jacket design to the price of the book due to lack of industry knowledge, and the results can be unprofessional.

Why should authors come to you rather than doing it on their own?

We feel that Acorn offers the most professional self-publishing solution. Our books are comparable to those of trade publishers inside and out. All our team have years of experience in top publishing houses and literary agencies – we really know our market.

We have great relationships in place not only with printers and distributors, but also with the retailers themselves. We work with the merchandising teams of the larger eBook retailers to get our authors in promotions and make our titles more visible. At the moment we have 3 titles in Amazon 100 for under £2.99 promotion and all of these titles have seen a huge increase in sales as a result – one went straight into the top 20 thriller chart. An author going it alone would not be able to get involved in these kinds of promotions.

What do you say to the notion that self-publishing reduces quality control, or ‘books must be rejected for a reason?’

We judge books purely on editorial merit. We are selective for packages where we are carrying out the marketing as we wouldn’t want an author to bear the expense of having their own dedicated publicist if we didn’t think that publicist would actually be able to generate sufficient interest in the media.

Most people don’t realise how the acquisition process works in a large publishing company, but it is not purely a question of editorial merit.

First an author has to get an agent (this is not an easy task, I used to get hundreds of submissions every month, and maybe 1 or 2 authors would be taken on).

Then the agent will pitch the work to an editor.

The editor has to fall in love with a book, then they have to persuade their editorial director that it’s worth pitching to their colleagues in sales, marketing and publicity departments.

The sales team will be concerned with previous sales figures, how these sorts of books have done before; the marketing team will be concerned with the brand of the author – how well known they are, how big their influence is on social media, whether they have won any prizes etc and the publicity team will be looking at where they could get a book like this reviewed.

If all these teams give it the green light, the final decision usually rests with the finance department – who will be analysing the risk of taking on an author and, unfortunately, debut non-celebrity authors represent high risk.

Image by Jon Cowling

What is your favourite of the books you have published?

Although we’ve worked with some truly amazing authors, Now You Know by Christopher Chase Walker is one of those books that just had me at the first line – I’ll treat you to the first two sentences, but a full extract can be found at http://nowchristopher.com/:

His name was M—.

M: it was stamped in scarlet on his cardinal-coloured pullover. It was written in black on his birth certificate – and again, now, you have to think, scribbled on some anonymous slip of a form recording his unlamented death.

It’s about a South London teenager, who whilst marooned by his electronic tag, starts to observe and become obsessed by his next-door-neighbour. His crush becomes all-consuming and he believes his neighbour is a vigilante responsible for rounding up and dehooding the local gang members. It’s one of those stories that stays with you long after you finished reading. Read it.

How important do you think it is for new authors learn how to use social media tools?

Vital. Marketing is the most important part of the entire publishing process and social media is a cornerstone of any marketing campaign. It’s not tricky, but it can be time consuming. It is the easiest way to tell lots of people about your new book in one go.

Do you think the fact you are siblings working together has any particular importance to Acorn’s success?

Yes, starting a creative business in a recession is no mean feat. You have to be totally committed and work harder than you thought possible to get it off the ground. It’s great to have family support through that process. My background has been on the editorial side of publishing, whereas Ali’s was working on advertising campaigns for one of the largest commercial publishing companies in the world. He tends to look from the market towards the book and I tend to look from the book out at the market, so we complement each other well. 

And he usually makes my lunch.

What’s next for Acorn Press?

Well, we’re about to release a new book by Dylan Jones (editor of GQ) called The Biographical Dictionary of Popular Music. He is such a fantastic writer and we’ve worked very closely with Apple to launch the title with a bang.

We’re also starting to do more illustrated eBooks. The market and the technology are changing so quickly and making new things possible all the time. It’s a really exciting time to for authors and publishers alike.

To find out more about Acorn, visit their website or follow them on Twitter @AcornBooks.

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