whitefox publishing, and why books are like Pokemon Go!

6 minute read

As part of our ongoing series of interviews with authors and folks from the publishing word, we had a chance to catch up with John Bond, the CEO of whitefox Publishing, he was kind enough to answer some questions for us. And draw a few interesting parallels between books and Pokemon Go!

John has worked in and around publishing for 25 years. He was Marketing Director at Penguin before joining the Main Board of HarperCollins UK where he ran Group Sales and Marketing, eventually becoming MD and Publisher of the Press Books Division including the award winning 4th Estate imprint. He left in 2011 and set up whitefox, the largest curated network of freelance publishing specialists in the UK, working with writers, publishers and brands.

What does whitefox do?

whitefox is a publishing services provider based in London that uses a curated network of over 1500 specialist freelancers to assist authors, brands and traditional publishers in creating books. Our core team has decades of commercial publishing experience at a senior level, from publishers such as Penguin, Faber, Random House and HarperCollins.

There are two ways we tend to work with our clients: matchmaking and project management. When matchmaking, we find our clients experienced freelancers specifically suited to their needs. Project management is a similar process, but offers all-round support at every level: from editing a manuscript to selling and marketing.

What’s behind the name whitefox?

We are a trusted, experienced provider of publishing solutions. Our name reflects that. For some clients, we operate almost as a white label service. And like the white or Arctic fox, we aim to be quick, versatile and invisible when necessary. It isn’t a pun on anything to do with books or reading!

What makes whitefox different?

whitefox, as a team and a curated network, evolved out of the publishing industry — we know what matters to writers, agents, publishers, editors and designers. We believe this, combined with our collective experience, adds value to projects for writers who want to take their books to market themselves. Our network has always been based on a core list of our personal, trusted contacts from our publishing days, built up during years of working with some of the world’s best loved authors.

What advice would you give self-published authors about social media strategy? Is blogging worth it? Instagram? Twitter? With so many available channels, how should authors think about their own time and the channels that deliver the most value?

If an author is relatively new to social media, it can be overwhelming. It might be a good idea to make an author Twitter account, an author Facebook page and a devoted Instagram account, and then use them all until it becomes clear which one fits most naturally with their way of life.

All of these platform are good ways to discuss readings, events and your own book, but as a general rule, tweets and posts should primarily offer useful and interesting information that does not directly pertain to your publishing output, with only occasional mentions of publication dates, book tours etc. Overtly promotional feeds (and clearly automated feeds) are always a turn-off and will only attract other promotional (and automated) followers. Authors should explore often, follow new people and never miss out on any PR opportunities that may help position them as a unique, empathetic voice through these channels.

Are there a few recent projects your team is particularly proud of, or books you find especially intriguing?

Yes, actually we hosted a panel at last year’s London Book Fair that focused on changing attitudes to self-publishing and the wonderful books that are being created as a result. Slowly but surely, DIY projects driven by creative, entrepreneurial writers are consigning any notion of vanity publishing to the vaults of history, and, as one of our author clients says, ‘Indie publishing is becoming cool, just like indie films and indie music.’

We recently collaborated with photographer Matt Humphrey and actor John Schwab, project managing their glorious, deluxe book, which has been shortlisted for a British Book Design and Production Award. It’s called Curtain Call: A Year Backstage in London Theatre and features over 500 beautiful behind-the-scenes photos of actors rehearsing, recuperating and steeling their nerves backstage at London’s famous West End theatres. Matt and John had a strong vision for their book and knew they wanted a high level of quality and input into all the key decisions about design and production. The book has sold strongly through the Curtain Call website, exhibitions and retail channels, and Matt and John are already planning a new edition in 2017.

Our longtime client and former Capitol Hill Chief of Staff, Gerald Weaver, has been in the UK doing the promotional rounds with published articles in The Guardian, The Times Saturday Review and The Big Issue. His second novel The First First Gentleman is a timely story about Melinda Sherman’s race for the US Presidency and has just been published.

Self-published books often fly under the radar. What are some great ways for self-published authors to market, and for readers to discover high-quality self-published works?

New platforms for promoting books both self and traditionally published are proliferating. Companies like BookBub offer direct to consumer marketing for temporarily discounted or free eBooks. While it may seem counter-intuitive to give away your book for free, doing this can generate more reviews, give your book a higher retailer ranking and trigger the ‘halo effect’ which relates greater visibility to a higher number of subsequent full-price downloads.

If an author is interested in getting mainstream exposure, they should be prepared to spend some money and think long term and strategically. You can’t underestimate the difference a trained, well-connected publicity professional makes to a book’s campaign.

The future of books and reading are going in interesting directions, from Twitter fiction to serialized fiction to things like Wattpad, and audiobook consumption is soaring. What are you particularly keeping an eye on, in terms of “non-traditional” books?

We are keeping an eye on mobile reading apps, as we’ve been told to do many times at various publishing and innovation conferences over the last year. It’s interesting to think of books as competitors to other digital activities like mobile gaming, music streaming and web browsing. The number of Pokémon Go users has overtaken that of Twitter users in the US. Pokémon Go is proof that adults can be enticed into new or unconventional activities, as long as they are readily available at all times, on a device they never leave home without. I’m sure content providers are working on ways to get people as excited about good books as they are about finding a Pikachu in their corner shop.