This recap has come a little later than I would have liked, but better late than never!
On May 20th, Penguin Random House hosted their first-ever National Book Bloggers’ Forum at Random House HQ in North Sydney (as part of the Sydney Writers’ Festival). Here’s what you missed:
Random House staff, fellow book bloggers, writers and website owners filled a sun-lit room just off from the office kitchen. There’s no other word but ‘buzzing’ that could be used to describe the atmosphere. Cups of tea in hand and shouldering a generous goodie bag each, about forty of us were ushered into the ‘Nobel’ room (all the meeting rooms were named after literary prizes), to take our seats where Brett Osmond, Marketing and Publicity Director and Head of Digital, welcomed us.
When you connect books with readers – magical things can happen. Lives can change.”
He went on to explore the changes in the book market due to the introduction of ebooks, telling us that these are now well over 20% of Random House’s business compared to three years ago, when Australia hadn’t sold a single ebook. Mr. Osmond’s intro was refreshing, emphasizing that it doesn’t matter what form a book comes in – be it digital, paperback or hardback… What matters is the enjoyment and education that words fuel.
Mr. Osmond left us in the capable hands of the Random House Digital Team. We swapped advice on using Google analytics for our websites, and what social media schedules and strategies work best. We discussed everything from the upcoming changes to Facebook pages, reading your bounce rate and what calls-to-action work best…
Next up was guest author Sneh Roy, winner of the 2013 Best Australian Blogs Competition (for her blog Cook Republic) and Random House author of ‘Tasty Express’. Ms. Roy spoke about how she grew her website, and what the journey from blog to book was like. She discussed the need for bloggers to support each other by commenting on each others’ posts and sharing good social media karma, as well as delved into the challenges of working online…
If you switch off for a moment, you’re left behind.”
With this, she discouraged bloggers from writing for trends, instead emphasizing that the quality of the content itself was paramount:”Content takes precedence over everything else,” she said. Despite the challenges of writing, and working remotely, Ms. Roy narrowed it down for us: “When you write, all you want is for people to read it, for it to matter to someone.”
Morning tea saw the morning’s earlier hum of chatter return at a seemingly record-breaking volume while we nibbled on baked treats made by Sneh Roy herself. It flew by and soon we were back in the meeting room to hear about the upcoming new releases for Random House. These included David Malouf’s The Writing Life, My Story – Julia Gillard’s autobiography, A Fatal Tide by newcomer Steve Sailah and Hooked: The Secrets of A Sydney Call Girl by Samantha X. Also coming up later this year: Seven Letters from Paris by Samantha Verant, He Who Must be Obeid by Kate McClymont and Linton Besser and Australia’s Hardest Prison: Inside Long Bay by James Phelps. For the lovers of YA fiction, there was plenty to look forward to as well, with the upcoming release of the following titles: Are You Seeing Me?, Skyfire and Afterworlds (to name a few).
We also had the pleasure of listening to both Judy Nunn (author of Elianne) and Bruce McCabe (debut author of Skinjob). Some gems of wisdom from these talented authors included:
“Every book (I write) is a hugely passionate journey for me… I don’t read fiction when I’m writing fiction – you can only live in so many worlds at once.” – Judy Nunn
“Every time I pick up a book – I learn – I drink it up…” – Bruce McCabe
“Funnily enough, the message was spread by the printed books – not the e-version… It’s that social connection of physically handing a copy on…” – Bruce McCabe (who originally self-published Skinjob through Amazon’s CreateSpace).
What goes into creating and publishing a book is no doubt something we’re all interested in here at Writer’s Edit, and so I have to say that I got quite a kick out Managing Editor (Random House Australia) Brandon VanOver’s talk on how to get published. He spoke of how a writer needs confidence in their story and their own abilities before they go anywhere in the industry. While his words remained realistic and grounded: “Publishing is like match-making or dating…” and “You need to do your apprenticeship”, he didn’t fail to inspire either:
A truly great idea will have a life beyond itself, and will find an audience… You’re writing in a golden age.”
Despite the challenges often associated with publishing and writing in the digital age, Mr. VanOver managed to put a positive spin on living the #WritersLife. He left us with this simple piece of advice: “Write your ass off. Read your ass off.”
With a glass of wine in hand, and a number of business cards in my back pocket, the first National Book Bloggers’ Forum began to wrap up. Editors, publicists, bloggers and writers shared a few laughs and did what they do best: talked books. We stayed until the office itself was emptying, all feeling a little fuller and happier, each with a bundle of new books to add to our shelves and our TBR lists.
On behalf of Writer’s Edit, I would just like to say a big, heartfelt thank you to Penguin Random House and Random House Publicist Kirsty Noffke, who organised and coordinated the entire event. Thank you to all the editors and authors for their valuable time and insights into the industry, and last but not least, thank you to my fellow writers and book bloggers who shared their journeys, websites and passion.