Publishing Ireland Trade Day 2016

This event has been running for the past four years and is growing each year. Irish publishers are small, with few staff. Output varies from 1 or 2 titles per year to 20, and turnover is generally less than a quarter of a million per year. With this in mind, Publishing Ireland encourages the publishers to come together and support each other at events such as this one. The theme this year was #ReachingReaders.

Entrance to Smock Alley with Dublin Book Festival banner

Outside the venue

The trade day took place in the beautiful Smock Alley Theatre, as part of the Dublin Book Festival.

First up was Kathy Foley, Content Marketing Manager at Twitter. Kathy highlighted the importance of Twitter for engaging with users, particularly for SMEs (Small and Medium Enterprises). Three points were made:

  • Your readers want to engage with you.

People feel more well-disposed towards a SME after following; they’re willing to spend. 68% of people surveyed had already purchased a product due to seeing it on Twitter. Recommendations on Twitter come from people you admire and trust. It’s  important to get experts/influencers to tweet about your books.

  • The tools you need are already available to you.

Profile, cover photo, keywords in description, pinned tweet. Tweet ad-hoc but within an overall strategy. Plan tweets in advance. Plaster your Twitter handle everywhere. Monitor your progress with Twitter analytics, which are free and simple to use. Convey personality. Schedule tweets and tweet at weekends too.

  • Hit the right balance between pushing sales and engaging in conversation. For every 1 tweet pushing a sale, have 4 with general chat and interaction. Examples: sneak peeks, on upcoming titles, polls, blog posts, third-party content.

Foley admitted that paid tweets are important and effective but advised publishers to start small, focus on a small target, and monitor the results.


Next was a panel led by Peter O’Connell, a book publicist. He discussed how important it is to get books into the traditional media, including book reviews. O’Connell acknowledged that it’s tough to get a book into the news, but more people read features than book reviews so it is worth attempting.

Barbara Feeney, a researcher for The Pat Kenny Show on Newstalk FM, discussed how she chooses books to review for the show, and what publishers should avoid when pitching their books. They source books by

  • Catalogues, which is time-consuming
  • Receiving pitches, books by post, press releases, reviews. She receives 500 emails per day so ensure email is targeted specifically at her, is concise, and explains why they should review it. Think outside the box. Email is the best way to make contact.
  • Meeting publishers to discuss their catalogue. Acknowledged this is not feasible for publishers based outside Dublin.

The timeline is important. Authors are often booked for the show up to 3 months in advance.

They look for

  • an engaging author, who is a good communicator
  • a book that is relevant to their audience in some way
  • interesting, obscure or subjects.

Direct author interaction prior to the show is helpful, as is a cheat sheet. Do you have a video of the author doing a reading/interview/TED talk?

Broadcasters like to get the first interview. They won’t interview someone that has just recently been on another show. Face-to-face interviews are best but they make exceptions for big names. Pre-records are possible if author is very nervous or not a native English speaker. If the author is considered an expert on a particular topic, they may be invited back to contribute to other discussions on said topic, resulting in further publicity for the book.

Panel discussion on marketing books through traditional media

L-R: Kathy Foley, Barbara Feeney, Peter O’Connell, Martin Doyle

Martin Doyle is the Assistant Literary Editor with The Irish Times. He has set up an online fiction bookclub and commissions short stories. The book review pages on Saturday’s paper are the most important; they cover about 10 books over 4 pages. But they do review books every day, particularly online.

Doyle encouraged publishers to pitch their book to him for review, but to think of the story around the book, for example, does the author have an interesting background or life story? Unusual inspiration for the book? Such a story may lend itself to a feature. The Irish Times have a bias towards covering works by Irish publishers, which is a huge advantage for said publishers. Again, the best way to make contact is to email. They are looking for fresh things, things they haven’t covered before. Need to find a balance between fiction/non-fiction, high-brow/popular, male/female, Irish/international.

They do their best to publish reviews in a timely fashion but it’s not always possible if there are embargoes on books, or the reviewer is late submitting their review. Provide them with the book one month before publication. In order for a review to coincide with an author TV or radio appearance, they need to know about it 2 or 3 months in advance.

Doyle does plan their review pages about 2 months in advance but these are subject to change. When pitching, work out what he wants to hear, and say it concisely. Don’t recommend a reviewer for him!

The following panel was chaired by Eoin McHugh from Transworld Ireland, and focused on the relationship between publishers and booksellers.

Alyson Wilson, Commercial Manager from Waterstones, spoke first, outlining a brief history of Waterstones. She’s much more positive about their position now, compared to when they were run by HMV. Back then, staff had scripted sales pitches for customers and the goal was for every shop to have all the same titles at the same prices. Now they have more freedom to choose titles and promote the ones they are really excited about. And, news to me, they  no longer charge publishers for placement in the front of store, on tables or promotions. Waterstones themselves now pay for all instore promotions. To stay afloat, they did ask publishers for a further discount on titles, but now there are no charges for shelf space, a model that Wilson says is better.

Based in Belfast, she purchases Irish titles for Waterstones and is delighted with the range she has to choose from. (Controversially, Wilson stated that her Scottish counterpart struggles to find books to promote…) Irish books are beautiful, with unique writing and they even sell poetry. “No one else does!” she exclaimed.

Wilson would like more of the following:

  • Debut authors. But, take note aspiring authors, she wants it direct from publishers – less of the editor role for her please!
  • Beautiful, original writing, packaged beautifully. Here she singled out Tramp Press as experts at this.
  • Rediscovered classics
  • Popular Irish history for the general reader, not academic standard. But no more 1916!
  • Art books – but must be high quality. The O’Brien Press’ Looking Back – The Changing Faces of Ireland is a recent highlight.
  • More about contemporary life, particularly for young Irish people

And less of the following:

  • Mid-list, especially fiction
  • Dated covers, particularly on children’s books.

What Wilson would like Irish publishers to focus on

  • Distribution. It’s key.
  • Metadata is so important. The books need to be on Nielsen 2 – 3 months before publication. Otherwise it’s much more effort to order them, and she probably won’t bother.
  • More communication direct with booksellers again. Rebuild those relationships. It helps sell your books.

There was an interesting query from Little Island, who published The Ministry of Strange, Unusual and Impossible Things. The Waterstones’ purchasers in Piccadilly refused to purchase it because they hated the cover. However, all other retailers commented on how much they loved the cover and how well it’s selling. In a situation like this what can be done to convince Waterstones? Alyson offered to act as intermediary in cases like this.


Bob Johnson, founder of the independent Gutter Bookshop.


  • Pricing things at 99c. No one uses 1c. Go to 00 or 95c.
  • Certain formats work well – out with the weird sizes. There are some exceptions to this.
  • Booksellers buy online. They need accurate, rich metadata.
  • Put info on your site like sales reps, distributors, marketers, etc.
  • Give up the focus on selling direct to bookseller. Wholesalers are the best way for the bookseller. There is a 3 hour turnaround between ordering from a wholesaler to receiving the order. This means they only need to keep 1 or 2 copies in stock. Don’t tell him you want to sell direct because wholesalers demand more discount. He will then demand more discount!
  • Don’t tell him what books to put on his counter. It’s his counter, his choice!



  • Irish publishers know their audience. They suffer with UK publishers sucking up the big Irish writers, but the level and quality of books from Irish publishers have come on in leaps and bounds in the last 5 years, particularly in cookery and children’s. Gill produce excellent cookery books. Competition is tough, so knowing audience is key.
  • Events. They bring people in. Do more launches. They make sales.


Adrian White, writer and former bookseller.

Adrian’s ‘moans’ covered the following areas:

  • Why ask a writer for a synopsis of their book? They are too close to the work and are no good at the synopsis.
  • Royalties – pay them more regularly.
  • Why produce a paperback of a hardback that is not selling?
  • Copycat publishing. It sells but it’s depressing.
  • Discounting a premium product.

He has found the author experience humbling, having a whole team making your book better. White admires publishers, how they turn an awful manuscript into a finished book!

Another query: should Irish publishers be panicking about the drop in value of the sterling? Will Irish books start to look too expensive within the UK market? They were assured that, for now, the price between euro and sterling feels right.

Paper steam train coming out of a book

My favourite piece of artwork on display

After a delicious lunch (Umi Falafel – so tasty), we were back for more. First up were three bite-sized presentations.

Ivan O’Brien, MD of O’Brien Press

Metadata & Thema

Rich, high-quality data about your titles is essential. It enables people to find and buy your books.

The current subject classification schemes are BIC – British, and BISAC – American. If you don’t assign a BIC, Nielsen automatically does, but it’s not perfect so it’s best to do it yourself.

Every book has multiple codes. The primary one is in Nielsen; you can have as many secondary codes as you wish. All are country specific.

THEMA is the international replacement for all the country-specific classification schemes. It’s not completist and is regularly reviewed. Germany have already dropped their code and use THEMA. Nielsen will implement it in their next update, next March. Amazon are interested. For now, BIC will map to THEMA. It’s international but extensions allow it to have a national flavour, for example, for Ireland:

  • Geography (Connemara, Ring of Kerry, etc.)
  • History
  • Educational
  • Festivals
  • Ethnic minorities: Travellers

For more information, see

Una McConville, Publishing Manager, Books Ireland

Funding Facts

There are a range of sources, both in the Republic and Northern Ireland, where funding can be obtained for publishing projects. The Arts Councils are the primary option. There are also Irish language and Heritage grants. Publishing Ireland are looking to extend the range of titles that are funded.


Samantha Holman, Executive Director, Irish Copyright Licensing Agency (ICLA)

ICLA facilitates legal access to copyright content for education and business, and provides education on copyright for creators, publishers and users. They represent both publishers and authors which can be tough at times!

Samantha declared we are in changing times at all levels: internationally, European-wide, and nationally. Law trickles from the international level down to the national level.

On the international level, they are still trying to define broadcasting. This has been ongoing for some time.

EU Directives are the next level. The EU Courts of Justice are worrying as they cannot be advised nor lobbied.

The decision the day before in European Courts to treat the lending of ebooks the same as physical books ‘in certain conditions’ will certainly affect publishers business models. The Svensson case and HP v Reprobel were two more cases mentioned as examples that had affected publishers. The Marrakesh Treaty aims to facilitate access to published works to visually impaired, which will mean changes for publishers in how they produce content.

In Ireland, we have the Copyright & Related Rights Act 2000 and the government are currently working on the 2016 Copyright Amendment. Both made just prior to EU passing copyright laws which is not a good idea as a lot of the content is not in line with EU directives.

Holman ended by noting that there are talks of extending ‘print diability’ to ‘all forms of disability’. This is hard to argue against, but in practicality, how do publishers make that work?


Keynote session: State of the Nation(s): Where are we Going?

Philip Jones, editor of The Bookseller and creator of Futurebook.

Jones’ speech was in part summed up by his observation that ‘Publishers have flirted with digital, but woken up with print.’ He mentioned the print revival of the past year that no one foresaw – these include colouring books and adult Ladybird titles, amongst others. They got the forecast of digital growth wrong. 20% of book content is consumed digitally. The technology hasn’t changed the book world like it changed music and media. While acknowledging the drop off in digital, he still admitted there are opportunities in it.

Publishers were never interested in readers before, but that is all changing now with the likes of Amazon and the availability of social media. However, he warned that publishers need to distinguish ‘the signal from the noise’. Just look at Amazon reviews. This insider consumer role in publishing is new and difficult to determine. The more publishers learn about their consumer, the less they trust their instints, warned Jones. Data is vital, but shouldn’t constrain. At the moment, publishers are not using data to change books, but may do so in the future.

Jones, referring to Jellybooks analytics, put the question to the publishers, should data be used to sell more books? Or to change books? He argues that we need to know less about the reader and more about what they buy. There are now more books produced and sold, more independent presses, and more readers than ever before.

New digital formats may emerge. The publishing industry is flexible and adaptive to changes. Publishing is always ‘about to collapse’. But publishers are great innovators. Accessing markets is easier now. Tools are cheaper. This leads to a growth in start-ups.

Jones’ upbeat, yet tempered, parting message was ‘Back yourselves. Back authors. Back books. As always. Then we might be ok.’

Overall, a very engaging and informative day.

Artwork of Snow-White inspired mirror in a book

Mirror, mirror, in the book. More beautiful artwork.





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