When Acquiring Debut Authors, Ask If They Can Compete

In Guest Contributors by Guest Contributor

Lauren Parsons of Legend Press says that when acquiring a debut author for a UK list, one needs to believe the book can compete with the established brands.

Compiled by Tom Chalmers, Managing Director at IPR License

This month we take a look at a UK publishing landscape that after a very challenging few years appears to be embarking upon a period of relative stability. With increased stability comes renewed optimism, and with renewed optimism comes innovation and even growth within key areas. It’s good to see that the UK market has moved away from the long-standing electronic versus print debate and this has led to more pertinent questions being posed about how to best maximize the value attached to both forms of content. The UK’s digital marketplace continues to grow as does export sales, especially to the Middle East/North Africa and East and Southeast Asia. However, the type and quality of content being produced continues to generate discussion.

Lauren Parsons, Commissioning Editor at Legend Press and Paperbooks questions the formulaic fiction output from the UK book market and the continued struggle for debut novelists

Lauren Parsons of Legend Press

Lauren Parsons of Legend Press

The word “debut” can be the ultimate taboo in the UK market. Debuts propose risk, the unknown, and if a reader has never heard of the author before, how on earth are we going to sell them the book? It’s probably best to stick to a winning formula. Keep churning out formulaic fiction, a lot of similar looking books and similar, predictable plot lines.

There is, of course, a need to make money, but we shouldn’t shy away from a challenge. Major publishers pride themselves on having at least one fiction debut each year and they are proud of it. One. Maybe two. Out of hundreds of titles published that year.

Imagine if the same marketing and publicity budget that was allocated to a bestselling author’s fifteenth novel were applied to an unknown name. A nobody with a big talent.

Legend Press thrives on discovering new and exciting debuts, ensuring that first-time authors make up at least half of each year’s list. That way, we can continue our dedication to existing authors, establishing their brand and building upon their readership, and still leave room for fresh, new voices to break through. And we’ve found that when we go against the grain, and start providing readers with what they crave rather than a generic rework of something they have already read, we find books that people like. We discover a thirst for something new, something different, something that breaks the mould.

There have been numerous stand out debuts that prove if you take a chance, it could be worth it. Look at The Miniaturist by Jessie Burton (Picador) or The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins (Doubleday), now being made into a major motion picture. There should be more of it.

As I’m sure any editor and reader would say, I’m looking for a book that stays with me long after I’ve finished reading. I want to find something that connects with me in some way, whether that’s a character trait, a worst fear, a compelling crime case, a psychological slant that makes me think or something that is unlike anything I’ve ever read before. I want authenticity more than anything. Something original that compels me to read on, that grabs me by the hand and pulls me in. Whether that’s from a debut writer or not, it shouldn’t make me question the acquisition.

When it comes to acquiring, and I see that an author (published or not) is staying loyal to their genre, and writing numerous books, it does help showcase their dedication and passion. This is, of course, beneficial to see. Publishers are looking to invest in authors in the long-term, consistently providing material that readers will know, love and come back to. But the only way we are going to establish these long running relationships is by recognizing the talent in the first place. Buying into the unknown, taking a chance on an author that has something new to say, and creating a brand out of that.

Frankfurt and London Book Fairs continue to be excellent places to meet with people from all areas of the publishing industry. It’s a chance for me to speak with agents and editors, and have a greater understanding of the books I’m looking to acquire. And when buying from foreign territories I’m considering it all: If the author has written a series, are the books original? Do they improve and develop with each title? Will our lists benefit from featuring an established brand and what can we do to benefit them in turn? If the author is a debut, what has the reaction been like? Can this book hold its own and compete with those established brands? Can we create that brand from the debut?

The ultimate question though, is whether the UK is missing out on reading these books. And if the answer is yes, and something deserves to be published, then it should be.

About the Author

Guest Contributor

Guest contributors to Publishing Perspectives have diverse backgrounds in publishing, media and technology. They live across the globe and bring unique, first-hand experience to their writing.