Guest Post on Strictly Writing – answering some questions on Byte the Book and publishing in general

Posted by Justine Solomons on 10 September 2012, in News

I guested on Strictly Writing this week, I thoroughly recommend the site for writers everywhere... here's the article

Tell us a little about Byte the Book…

Byte the Book is a writing and publishing collective with authors at its core. We champion quality writing and embrace opportunities to connect writers with readers in the digital age. Our website seeks to raise the profile of new and established writers and illustrators, while connecting with readers through reviews and discussion forums. Offline, we run networking events for publishers, writers, agents and developers, and book clubs for readers.

The Byte the Book community also encompasses a wide range of complementary services to support its members, including consultancy, PR & marketing, sales partnerships, courses, and editing.

What’s your own background and how did you get started with BTB?

I have always had a passion for books; both writing and reading and, more recently, I developed an interest in publishing. I spent nine years working in business development for an IT company, during which time I indulged my passion by writing, enrolling in various writing courses and groups, and co-founding a company set-up to publish shorter fiction,

In writing groups I was often impressed by the quality of my classmates’ work, yet unimpressed by the lack of opportunities for them to make money. I felt that there must be a way for the writer to profit directly, rather than through existing routes, and thought that I could use my understanding of how technology has disrupted other industries’ business models to help make that happen. So I came up with the concept of a collective for writers who support each other, both online and offline, to publish their writing. I quickly realised that I also needed to bring in readers to balance this ecosystem.

In 2011 I quit my job, registered Byte the Book as a company and started building the website. I also took various consultancy roles in the publishing industry to help build my knowledge of the business. I launched the website, networking events and book clubs in April 2012, and it’s grown from there.

Who do you envision as your target audience?

Essentially Byte the Book consists of two overlapping audiences: readers and creators.

The latter forms the nucleus of the Byte the Book membership - those that come to the networking events and take an active part in the community. This is mainly made up of aspiring and established writers, publishing professionals, agents, editors, developers, illustrators, entrepreneurs and investors who want to understand more about new digital opportunities.

The website reaches both audiences. There are book reviews and impartial recommendations for readers as well as information on how to find or set up one of our book clubs. The site is also a place for writers and illustrators to showcase their work and for agents to discover new talent.

Our book clubs are free and open to anyone who wants to chat about books. I’m also working on creating a more specialised book club for writers.

How do people get involved?

Byte the Book is an active community that welcomes new members. Anyone who is interested can book to come to a networking event or book club here.

Writers can send in a short story or excerpt and we’ll consider it for the writers’ showcase. Writers interested in reviewing books should also get in touch.

We’re looking to add editors, illustrators and other publishing freelancers to our network, so they should get in touch and, ideally, attend a networking event.

What has the reaction been so far – has anything surprised you?

Overwhelmingly positive. I’ve been amazed how quickly our name has spread in the industry and how well-attended our events are. Writers have found agents, people have found work, and the attendees have been very positive about the calibre of speakers, topics and networking opportunities. We’ve had over 3,000 unique visitors to the website since it went live and we are now starting to generate revenue through membership subscriptions, sponsorship and tickets for the networking events. My biggest surprise is how quickly it has all grown.

Have there been any learning curves on the way – anything you’d do differently?

It has all been a very steep learning curve but it also feels as though I’m incorporating all my past experience. Sometimes I wish I’d started BtB earlier, but then I realise that I probably wouldn’t have been ready to do it then.

Many people think mainstream publishing is in crisis – do you think it will survive the digital revolution?

It’s in flux, not crisis. An evolution more than a revolution: not unlike the Guttenberg press automating production, which meant monks were no longer required to handwrite manuscripts; and not unlike Allen Lane taking books to the common man with the first Penguin paperbacks. New technology and social media allow more access to more content and connect readers more closely with writers. These advances broaden the publishing landscape and present huge opportunities for writers to earn more from their work. As Joanna Penn said at a Future Human event recently,  ‘The readers, not the publishers, are now the gatekeepers’.

At the moment there is still a stigma to digital-only publishing; do you think that will change?

Yes, I do. I think it is a mistake for people to separate “Digital” from “Traditional”. Technology adds new and alternative routes to market and any successful author or publisher should be embracing the most relevant combination of routes for them. Personally, I prefer to read digitally, but it’s the ideas in books that are important to me, not the format of those books, and I’m keen for those ideas to be delivered efficiently to as wide an audience as possible.

How do you see Byte the Book progressing?

I’d like it to become a one-stop-shop for writers to realise their writing ambitions: the place to get support and professional advice on their work, to learn how to embrace new technologies, to find an agent or publisher, or advice on self publishing. And we envisage both readers and writers coming to Byte the Book to find out about new books and to connect with like-minded readers.

It would be great if, in years to come, people view Byte the Book as a company that has broken down barriers in publishing and contributed to the democratisation of the book in the digital age.


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