#sypconf12 – The recap
A note before we start
The following is a recap of my own personal experience of the SYP conference, not a complete overview. I’m sure other attendees, who went to different seminars, will have similar sorts of blogs. The easiest way is to find these is to check the #sypconf12 tag on Twitter.
All Twitter pages for the people I’ve mentioned, where available, will be listed at the end. All the companies I talk about will have links from their name in the text to their site.
#sypconf12 – The Commencement
Saturday 3rd November was the day of The Society of Young Publishers’ Conference 2012, held at the London College of Communication (naturally). Being a seasider, I hopped on my train at ten to nine in the morning, full of toast and optimism.
I arrived at the college after passing through a labyrinth of subway tunnels painted with shadowy figures, including some chaps who appear to be having a whale of a time staging King Lear:
I know how you feel, guys.
On arrival, the first thing I noticed was that all the girls (and there were a great many girls) were almost all dressed identically to me. Smart work dresses, glitzy pashminas, polished flat shoes. Clearly, we’re all serious about publishing, and have a metaphorical dagger between our teeth.
Three lovely polite SYP conference guides kept traffic flowing at registration. I was given a sticker with my three seminars of choice on it, and directed to that ambrosia of book-lovers, coffee.
But before I reached the urns, I was greeted with a gift bag with contents from various organisations:
1. Canvas bag branded with the SYP logo, containing:
2. Guide for the conference, which this year was appropriately titled Beyond the Book
3. Mastery by Robert Greene, and
4. Climate Change: A Beginner’s Guide by Emily Boyd and Emma Topkins.
In keeping with the theme set by World Book Night‘s work of sharing books, both WBN and other publishers gave free copies of various books to each goodie bag, which is amazingly generous of them. My two were from Profile Books and One World Publications respectively. One of the opening speakers, Julia Kingsford, Chief Executive of WBN, urged us not to judge a book by its cover. Unfortunately, I know about climate change and don’t really care for that sort of book; furthermore, since I already had one non-fiction title, it may have been better to pair fiction with non-fiction texts. Obviously, these were given to me without charge, so of course I am grateful and look forward to reading Greene’s tips.
5. Folio Society magazine and Christmas gift guide. More about the Folio Society, later; the magazine (usually costing £6) is a very entertaining read, especially the article about Victoria Sackville-West (mother of Vita) and her vitriolic annotations of Woolf’s Orlando.
6. Information about the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. Appropriate advertising for a primarily female conference group. I don’t qualify (I don’t yet work in publishing), but you might – more information here.
7. Information about Yudu, digital publishing to platforms such as the iPad. Pictures and videos speak louder than words, and I’d suggest watching the videos on the Yudu site, which will tell you more about this innovation.
The opening lecture, Game Changers, was a good way to ease us into the subject at hand. From the importance of paperbacks in boosting literacy across the UK, to the, quite frankly, bloody excellent digitalised work by Somethin’ Else, we went from then to now and back to a middle ground. What’s better, paperbacks or ebooks? Well, clearly, there’s room for both, and both have merit.
Seminar One: Beautiful Books
The virtues of a good sturdy hardback were more than extolled by Johanna Geary of the Folio Society. She explained that Folio, striving to create “definitive versions,” goes beyond the call of duty to produce beautiful books. I’m telling you, the books they produce should be on permanent display in the home:
“The rise in ebooks,” says Johanna, “has seen the fine book come into its own.” Specially-commissioned illustrations, deliberately-selected typeface and formatting (In Cold Blood, for example, is formatted in the same way as The New Yorker; this is because Capote originally published his novel there in serial format) and careful binding all go towards producing books that are not so much carry-on-the-train rush hour reads so much as collectable and gorgeous gifts. If anyone’s wondering, yes I would quite like their leather-bound, gold-blocked edition of Titus Andronicus, so if anyone’s got a spare £245 lying about…
I was keen to go to this seminar because I belong in the middle of a very large Venn diagram. Some people fight the corner of ebooks, and others the traditional book. I do love antiquarian books, especially well-chosen and -designed covers, but I do not see eye-to-eye with those who imbue their books with personality (if you do this for any of your possessions, please either seek help or stop being a pretentious berk). I’m a dog-earer and a spread-out-flat-to-keep-the-pager. Faced with these books, however, I can easily see why you’d be willing to pay out for and treasure them.
Seminar Two: Interactive and Social Reading
The post-lunch seminar was by far, for me, the most interesting point of the day. Jon Ingold of Inkle and Andrew Rhomberg of Jellybooks gave stirring presentations that were like a call to arms for those even remotely curious about adding digital elements for text.
I may be biased because I’d heard of and sometimes used the services of both sites, and the work they do is so exciting. A clearly passionate-about-the-work Andrew was first up, explaining how Jellybooks was
A candy shop where you can go in and sample ebooks for free!
A tempting philosophy indeed. He spoke of the process he and the team went through to arrive at this candy shop idea. The end goal was to get a format that would make it easy for users to discover new books. He spoke of building things up and stripping things away (leaving out and then adding a Buy button, for example) to arrive at the perfect shop front for browsing and exploring.
Unlike the cluttered pages of Amazon, there are no prices, red sale figures or anything else. This might be the only place where you’re encouraged to judge a book by its cover… initially, anyway. Once you get going with your account, Jellybooks will learn your genre preferences and give you selections based on that. Andrew explained that when people enter a bookshop, their behaviour is often to go to the sections they care about, rather than aimless browsing.
There are some cool deals coming up next year, too, where you get the chance to buy ebooks at half price – but only if a certain number of people also want to. To get to that goal, you must share the offer link, and can monitor the progress throughout the day. If it’s successful, your card is charged and you get your ebooks. If it’s not… well, better share those links more next time, says Andrew playfully!
If you’d like to see Andrew’s slides for yourself, and in the spirit of his philosophy of sharing links, paste jbks.co/YxgVs0 into your browser.
Next was Jon, whose passion for what he does is also clear. He prefaces his talk by making us realise that reading is the most demanding of activities – you’ve got “No props, no help.” He also warns us that he hates the word “interactive” (because everything is interactive, “and if not, it’s a rock”), and prefers “responsive”. It goes down well with the group.
Inkle’s Frankenstein interactive novel came barnstorming onto the iPad and iPhone market a few months ago, and if you can, please do download it. Jon says that it’s no coincidence Mary Shelley’s book was Inkle’s first choice:
We quite like metaphors and shit.
Inkle brings books to life. Jon says it’s exciting to know that you can shape the storytelling experience to suit your perceptions. Is Frankenstein a nutter or a genius? You can decide how his character is formed by the selections you make in-novel. There were queries about “crossing a line” with regards to the author’s wishes (my first-year-English-student-detection-senses are tingling!!), but Jon says he wants the theatrical exchange between reader and material to go further, with digital applications “adding value” to the whole experience.
As a side point, Andrew mentioned that the reason there were no women on his team was because all the women he approached turned them down! If either Andrew or Jon want to hire a woman in the future…! *waves hand in the air*
Seminar Three: Beyond the Textbook
I know next to nothing about educational textbooks, but I was interested in how digital literature and learning materials are making their way into classrooms. Andrea Carr, founder of Rising Stars educational publishing, explained that iPad and computer-based learning is becoming more and more integrated into classroom life; then Pedro Moura spoke about how English Language Teaching (ELT) moved towards being digital-only, but explained that cost and accessibility could prevent this. There is always a place, he demonstrated, for the good old textbook.
However, because my interests don’t lie with educational publishing particularly, I didn’t get a whole lot out of the seminar. This is completely my fault and not Andrea’s and Pedro’s – they are both clearly excellent at what they do, and intelligently adaptive to boot. A piece of advice from Andrea to young publishers everywhere, though:
Get in places, do everything you can – make yourself indispensable.
Then I had to leave early, so I didn’t get to attend the closing lecture. Overall, the conference was well-organised, smoothly run, and most importantly full of choice with regards to learning about different sorts of publishing. Do have a look at the companies and people mentioned – they’re right at the core of publishing here and now, and they’re all leading their charges with aplomb.
People to follow
Trevor Klein (of Somethin’ Else)