The Seven Towers Agency is a different type of publisher – a not for profit company with their focus firmly on their authors. All profits are recycled back into producing their great books and launching and furthering the careers of writers and artists. Here Sarah Lundberg, one of the founding directors of The Seven Towers, tells writing.ie how Seven Towers keep selling books….
It is no secret that times are tough at the moment, but at Seven Towers we are passionate about the books we publish, and we look to involve authors in promotion as much as possible. There are two ways of selling books, which I’ll call here, for the sake of convenience, direct selling and indirect selling.
Indirect selling is the selling which occurs through a distributor, though bookstores, through Amazon.com and other online bookshops that pick up your books through ISBN designation.
An individual, a co-op, writers group and individual publishing house has limited control over this type of sale, as many places buy books following requests from customers, and many on-line stores list them on virtual shelves through a type of virtual osmosis, drawing the information from other sites, and through on-line purchase hit data.
In the cases where direct input is possible – talking to bookshops, working with representatives, small publishers be able to compete, but this is time consuming and expensive and consequently not always feasible for small publishers.
In Seven Towers, to help ensure a level of publicity for our books so that people are familiar with them, and to increase hit levels so books may move to the feature pages of websites, we ensure there are quality reviews of books.
This may seem obvious, but not everyone strives for reviews. And we don’t send out hundreds of copies in the hope someone will review them. Although this will happen for trade publishers, and multinationals, it is too costly and too much of a burden for small publishers. What we do instead, is to focus our marketing plan as follows:
- We send a book to Books Ireland , they will most likely include it in their valuable ‘First Flush’ pages;
- We contact local radio and newspapers. These report local news and are interested in what is happening in the local community. They review books by local authors and local publishing houses. People who listen and read these have chosen to listen and read because they too are interested in local goings on.
- We contact other journals and magazines that deal with the topic of the work and that have reviewed similar works to see if they would be interested in carrying a review.
- We contact websites that review books to see if they would be interested in carrying a review.
- We ask people to write reviews for on-line sites/bookstores, giving their opinion of our books (honest reviews, not blurb). Again, dedicated people who are genuinely interested will read these.
As well as focussing our plan locally, the internet age provides many ways of publicising books internationally that need to be invested in. We have a website, www.seventowers.ie, Facebook pages, including www.facebook.com/seventowersagency and put our books on www.librarything.com.
Returns from indirect sales, for publishing houses and authors can be limited, particularly in the case of small publishers and small runs. There are trade discounts, publisher costs, and price competition to be taken into account. And, in some cases, there can be a time lag between sale and receipt of money. This is why we believe that for publishers like ourselves, direct sales are the most important.
Direct sales can be made through our website, though we find that more frequently on-line sales are made through a company the purchaser is more familiar with, rather than a small publisher’s website. Our focus for direct sales, as I cover below, is on events and promotions.
The Seven Towers Agency runs a number of events and promotions to ensure direct sales.
With our reading events we are committed to making literature available in public places free of charge, and all of our writers are committed to reading their work as part of their writing process.
We also love doing these and people enjoy attending and listening. Such events add to the overall cultural tapestry of any community. We are also committed to launching new writers, as part of our overall vision, and as part of that and our commitment to mutuality and co-operation in the market, we welcome writers not published or represented by Seven Towers to read at our events also. This brings each house/writer to a wider audience and results in progress for both.
We get to meet many wonderful writers at each of our events, so over time, they have also become a personal indulgence. But we are still a business and we and our writers are entitled to a return for our work. We consider this return to be a win-win situation – we get paid for the books we produce and you get to own what we believe to be really good and well produced books. We carry out extensive publicity prior to these readings and books are available for sale at the events – by Seven Towers if they are Seven Towers books and directly by the author or another publishing house if not. In bookstore events, all books are sold through the store.
Formal Readings: These are an important part of both direct and indirect sales as they provide publicity and introduce work to a wider audience.
We run formal readings called Chapters and Verse, which is a registered business name. We have regular Chapters and Verse readings – on the First Wednesday of each month at lunchtime in The Twisted Pepper (www.bodytonicmusic.com, www.facebook.com/thetwistedpepper) where between two and four readers from Seven Towers and other publishing houses read from their work; and on the second Thursday of each month we run the Chapters and Verse Themed Reading in Chapters Bookstore where between 5 and 8 writers read from their work around a specific theme. We also run Chapters and Verse readings in other venues through the year – for instance public libraries around the country.
Open Mics: We run three monthly open mic events and one new quarterly one is being launched. On the last Wednesday of each month we run the Last Wednesday Series (also a registered business name) a reading and open mic session in the Twisted Pepper in Dublin and in Rocky Sullivan’s in Brooklyn in New York.
We run a third open mic on the last Sunday of each month – Chapters and Verse goes to London in the Hammersmith Ram in London, and we have just started a quarterly Chapters and Verse Under 18s Open Mic which will run quarterly on Saturday afternoons in our market (more below).
These provide opportunities for people to try out their work, for new writers to have their work heard, for writers of all levels to discuss writing with each other, as well as sales opportunities for books, for Seven Towers and others who wish to bring their books with them.
Market: We run a weekly literary event and book market Where It’s At in the Twisted Pepper, every Saturday 1-6pm. This combines the sale of Seven Towers and other independently published books, journals, pamphlets and comics with meet the author opportunities and literary events such as readings and open mics.
This event circumvents two problems for Irish/indie/small publishers. The first is the cost of having books in mainstream bookshops, and the second, the difficulty of having books, stocked in small numbers, noticed in mainstream bookshops. It also addressing the problems of locals and tourists in actually locating Irish/indie books in mainstream bookshops.
Promotions: alongside all of these events, we are running two promotions: The 1000 Book Challenge and So here’s the thing . Both these events have in common that they quantify and indentify the role each individual purchase can play for small publishers.
The 1000 Book Challenge: This is an ongoing promotion. The premise behind it is that, for every 1000 books we sell, we, as a non-profit company staffed by volunteers, can afford to publish a further 2 – 3 titles, so buyers know that their individual purchase can make a huge difference in the literary world and really, really matters.
In 2010 Huncke by Rick Mullin, And Suddenly the Sun Again by Eamonn Lynskey and Prism by Alma Brayden were 1000 Book Challenge publications.
For this year, when we reach our target, we have lined up Pretending to be Dead and Other Entertainments by Ross Hattaway, Obscure Classics of English Progressive Rock by Quincy R Lehr and an as yet untitled collection by Greagoir Ó Dúill.
So here’s the thing . . . : The thing is that the recession has been hard on publishers of poetry and literary fiction. People look on these works as luxury items and have been reluctant to spend. Realistically, people do not have the spending power that they once had. So, in Seven Towers, we have decided to introduce a promotion to take account of people’s lack of current spending power and to highlight and make up for any losses we have experienced since the ‘great crash’.
Under this promotion, for a limited time, we are selling our books at a special reduced price in ‘recession packs’ – three Seven Towers publications (but also including Shiprocked, Life on the Waves with Radio Caroline by Seven Towers’ author, Steve Conway, published by Liberties Press) at €20 or currency equivalent.
In order to move on to our next phase of publishing, promoting and working with new writers, we need to sell 500 of these packs. And they can be bought from anywhere in the world – we will post for minimal charges or deliver where possible.
As an aside, the changes in publishing have seen a growth once again of writers’ co-ops, of self publishing and of writers’ groups publishing works in anthology, all in small runs.
This is something that has abounded in publishing houses through the ages – from Shakespeare, through Voltaire, Proust, to the Dublin Writers Co-op, to name a few through the years. And with it looking likely that more book sales will be made online – hard copy via the internet as well as eBooks – this is a way to go.
As long as you have an ISBN number registered, your book will go on catalogues and will be purchasable all over the world. As a small publishing house, operating within a small market, much of what we do to sell our books directly is applicable to self publications and co-operative publications, both of which we also try to support through our events, and both of which reflect a way forward for independent publishing all over the world, not just in Ireland.
A word must, of course, be said about ebooks. We believe that small run publishers will experience the availability of ebooks not as a problem but as an opportunity. In addition to being able to sell books directly to people at the events listed above, books can be made available through websites as ebooks to those who are curious and who wish an immediate look at books, rather than having to order and wait. This makes books available through direct or indirect sales to a wider audience with fewer overheads, while still having special limited edition runs for direct purchase for book lovers.
And in the end . . .
When Seven Towers was originally established, I got into conversation with a prominent Irish publisher at the London Book Fair. After listening to me, he said ‘Ah, you’re an idealist’ and then shook his head sadly before walking away it a sadly dismissive manner.
I understand what he was saying and also see where idealism can cause a business to run aground. However, I also believe you need a healthy dose of idealism to run a small publishing house anywhere. You need to have a real grá for the business, for literature in general and in particular for the literature that you publish.
You need to believe.
Because if you do not, you will not persevere and you will not survive.
It is very hard work to sell books and you need to keep pushing, and in order to keep pushing. In an environment where people are reluctant to associate literature and art with commerce and you may feel embarrassed about the hard sell among people you know or get to know, you have to love your literature and believe that your product should be paid for and that you and your authors are entitled to a financial reward for the work you have produced together, no matter how difficult it may be to convince people. This is the belief and commitment of Seven Towers, and it is why you will continue to hear from us!
So, a final word – hard sell, and happy selling.