Today I’m delighted to welcome Charlotte Ledger, Editorial Director of Harper Collins UK’s digital first division, One More Chapter.
Hello, Charlotte and it’s so nice to speak with you again. We last met at the RNA Conference 2019, when you spoke about the current publishing scene for romance.
Hi Sue, thank you so much for having me and it’s lovely to chat about all things books. It’s certainly been a funny year since we met at the conference and I hope everyone at the RNA and all its members have been keeping safe and well. I feel very lucky that I have a job that I can do at home and also one that means I get to escape into a different world and forget about the difficulties we’re all facing at the moment.
Thank you for finding time talk with us at such a challenging time. Can I begin by asking what led to the creation of One More Chapter?
Having seen our digital-first imprints, HarperImpulse, Killer Reads and Avon Maze, grow hugely, we launched One More Chapter last year because HarperCollins wanted a division in its own right – not just an imprint or a list – to focus on our digital publishing. Using the word digital might be a bit misleading as a lot of writers think that means digital only – when in fact we also publish in print and, now, audio.
It’s coming up to the first anniversary of ‘One More Chapter’. What are the highlights of that first year?
Having a dedicated team of digital experts for our books has meant we’re the perfect division to reach our readers online and we’ve also been able to keep publishing without interruption as we don’t need to rely so heavily on physical sales – though we’ve still had a book in Asda, RJ Parker’s The Dinner Party, and it’s been selling brilliantly!
There have been some exciting moments for One More Chapter during the lockdown – including a top 5 Kindle bestseller, thanks to Jackie Kabler’s incredible thriller, The Perfect Couple and the launch of our brilliant live book clubs, which has seen our engagement increase over the lockdown, despite the added competition on social media at the moment.
How different is it to working in traditional publishing?
One difference is how an author is paid. They don’t get an advance, but instead receive a higher eBook royalty – this is because there is such a huge e-readership, who discover new books online, so we expect the majority of sales to come from the digital market.
As an e-publisher, we can take more risks. We can build up sales in eBook first and then go to the retailers with a success story. We can publish a book quickly and react to a market trend, whereas on a traditional list, sometimes books take up to a year to get published. We can also be flexible. Each book is different and will have different needs and ways of reaching the readers – we can publish fast or we can take a bit longer if the book needs a more word-of-mouth approach. We’ll have different strategies for the US market or publish trade paperbacks in Canada, we can do rights deals for European countries, we have both debuts and long-standing authors. There really are so many opportunities and routes to market we can explore.
I notice from the ‘One More Chapter’ website that customers can sign up to a weekly newsletter. Can you tell us how this works? Does it include feedback or dialogue with customers?
At the moment, it’s a weekly deals email where we highlight 2-3 books we have on offer but we do have plans for further newsletters and we always love hearing from our readers so watch this space…
In your presentation at the conference you talked a little about trends in what is selling and how different market places vary. How do you judge the commercial viability of that manuscript that lands on your desk/screen?
For me, first and foremost, the author voice has to be compelling – whether it makes me laugh, cry or feel like nothing I’ve ever read before. But it is then so important to look at the story and focus on who the reader will be. It’s not about me – or the author really – it’s about who is going to buy the book? What do they like and dislike? Where do they live? What do they do for a living? Where do they shop and what other things do they like – everything from magazines to books, TV and film. Will they like this book? Will they relate to the characters, the plot, the setting? The book has to tick those boxes. A publisher buys a book not to sell only a few copies, but to appeal to the widest possible audience. You can also look at what is popular at the moment and get an idea of what readers are buying and enjoying.
It is quite common for authors to focus on a particular genre that they become known for, such as those ever popular regency romances. From the publisher’s point of view, I imagine there’s a balance between publishing safe ‘sure bets’ and going for something new and different. How do you steer a course?
It’s about knowing who the reader is when you buy a book and creating a publishing plan that will appeal and reach those readers. I think though it’s quite hard to say when something is a safe ‘sure bet’ – ultimately there will always be elements outside of your control that could mean a book doesn’t do as well as you hope – especially these days when there are so many books being published and so many publishers doing the same thing. In the same way, if you read a book you absolutely love, then it’s very hard to ignore that – even if there isn’t a clear vision for how you would publish. But it’s your job as an editor to find that vision and route to market.
What type of submissions are you personally looking for at the moment?
Really funny romantic comedies with a focus very much on the will they/won’t they, and also I adore historical fiction. But I also have a lot of ideas too of what I feel would be a brilliant book so I’m also looking for authors who are happy collaborating on ideas and have a strong voice.
We often ask agents and publishers what they consider to be the next ‘big thing’. What do you hope to see more of in 2020/21?
More romance. And for the publishing industry to give it the recognition it deserves.
That’s music to RNA members’ ears. Is there anything you or your publishing house wouldn’t accept right now?
We’re a very commercial division so anything more literary is difficult in terms of our platform and what our readers want. Some genres are very hard to sell – like right now, historical is a big seller but it only seems to be fiction set during the World Wars. Other time periods struggle. Paranormal has been a challenge in the past but with a new Stephanie Meyer book, who knows what will happen next?
Do you look for anything else in an author apart from a brilliant book? (such as social media presence)
Yes, a willingness to work together and potentially make changes if needed to appeal to a wider readership. It shouldn’t be publisher v author, we should be working as a team and there should be that trust that your editor is suggesting something because it’s for the good of the book. But that should really come before the deal has been done — it’s so important for an author to look at the editor making an offer on their book and decide if the editor’s vision matches their own or is something they agree with.
Social media isn’t essential but learning to use it can be such an asset – it’s how you connect to your reader these days. They are more like to buy your book if they feel like they know you a little bit.
Diversity and inclusion are high on the agenda for the RNA, as for many other organisations. I wonder how One More Chapter’s selection of books and authors reflects these principles?
As it is with the whole of publishing. One More Chapter needs to and is doing more to publish books by and for areas that are underrepresented. In the past it has been dependent on what comes in from agents or, from unagented authors, via our submissions inbox. As a team we’re implementing new ways to reach writers from all backgrounds. We’ve already overhauled our submission process and done a number of callouts but really we are in a bit of bubble on social media so our focus is on how to break out of that bubble to find talent from everywhere.
Can you tell us the last published book you read which you really enjoyed and why? (and was it an e-book or in print?!)
I’m going to be honest and say I’ve found it really hard to read for pleasure – through lockdown but also a bit before too as there are just so many books out there and I feel a bit overwhelmed. My TBR list – both physical and on my Kindle – is at a staggering amount and I don’t know where to start. Dolly Alderton’s Everything I Know About Love made me really laugh, and I read that in hardback. The Volunteer by Jack Fairweather opened my eyes and I bought that at the airport in trade paperback. On my kindle I absolutely raced through the To All the Boys I Loved Before series.
Perhaps I could finish by asking how you think the publishing industry is being or will be affected by the restrictions we have been living under in terms of normal routines of social contact and shopping?
Knowing how this will affect the industry is very tricky – a lot of books have been moved to the autumn so in some ways it could be more challenging coming out of lockdown than it has been in it simply due to competition and the sheer number of books published.
What I hope is that this will lead to more acknowledgement of how important the digital market is. There is still a lot of snobbery in the industry and I’ve heard authors, agents and publishers talk about ‘proper’ publishing and getting a ‘proper’ deal. I’d love for this to open people’s eyes to how many opportunities there are in digital – and also just how much talent there is too. It’s simply a different model – and shouldn’t be seen as something less.
Thank you so much for talking with us, Charlotte, and all the best for your second year.
My pleasure, thank you for having me!
For more about One More Chapter see:
And to contact Charlotte
Charlotte was talking with Susan Leona Fisher: (Website: www.SLFisherAuthor.co.uk)