The Oxford Society of Young Publishers May Speaker Meeting

Posted on June 13, 2008 in Uncategorized

 

Anna LewisMeet Oliver Brooks and Anna Lewis – two twenty-something Cambridge graduates starting up their own business. CompletelyNovel.com aims to bring a new level of collaboration to the book industry. Acting as a platform to promote, print and order books written by aspiring authors, it’s not just readers and authors that the site will connect. Print-on-demand companies, for example, can run off perfect bound copies of books which can then be sent directly to the purchaser. Other people involved in the process of producing books, such as translators, illustrators and proofreaders, will be able to offer their services on the site too.

 

The idea came to Brooks when he was talking to a friend about the difficulty she was experiencing getting her work published. She’d done well in writing competitions, but she couldn’t seem to catch a break. To carve out a reputation for herself, Brooks suggested getting a few good reviews and some sales behind her.

 

Thinking that a website could provide somewhere for people both in and outside of the publishing industry to share feedback and showcase and find new writers, Brooks talked to authors, printers and business people in the publishing industry, and decided to incorporate the popular ‘print on demand’ philosophy into the business plan. The books will be available online, but they’re not meant to be read in their entirety, nor will they be downloadable, as all the books on the site will be protected from potential hackers. The idea is that they’ll be available from the site at such a reasonable rate, that they should work both as a solution for interested readers and for authors keen to get their novels out into the world.

 

The young entrepreneurs behind the site embrace the modern web practices of providing services for free and then finding a way to generate income once traffic to their site increases. No one will have to pay to register on or use the website. Brooks and Lewis are currently looking at a number of options to finance the project’s future, and as the number of users on the site increases, they intend to offer enhanced, premium services to regular users.

 

The site also has another key function – promotion. Marketing has always been one of the biggest problems for self-published authors as they struggle to find the time, resources and know-how to publicise their books. Brooks and Lewis intend that reviews on the site will increase authors’ profiles and provide them with impartial feedback. CompletelyNovel.com will also offer marketing opportunities to writers of published books, in the hope that publishers and literary agents may find the content of the site a much improved and more easily searchable alternative to the physical ‘slush pile’.

 

After the graduates had introduced the project, a lively debate ensued. The eager audience subjected Brooks and Lewis to what the event organiser could only describe as a ‘Dragons’ Den grilling’. The questions came thick and fast ­­– did sites like this undermine the editor’s function? How could CompletelyNovel.com ensure quality, both in the material submitted to the site, and the reviews? Aren’t online communities and social networking sites already a bit old hat? And what about the websites out there offering similar services? What actually makes the site ‘completely novel’?

 

Oliver BrooksBrooks and Lewis confidently assured the audience that editors could easily be a part of the mix – they could even advertise their services on the site, or use the service to find well-performing books and develop them to be published with an existing publishing house. It was envisaged that the quality of the material and reviews would be monitored by the site’s ratings system. For every review and purchase, books will acquire points which will determine their ranking on the site. Brooks refuted the idea that the site was fundamentally linked to the social networking movement: ‘CompletelyNovel.com is entirely dedicated to books. Linking people and companies together as a community is a valuable tool to make our service as useful and fun as possible’.

 

The two appeared confident in their ability to stand out and survive in the present online self-publishing boom. While acknowledging that there are already a number of companies that provide services to authors and have a web interface, they asserted that there are none that link the services, customers and readers together in a seamless, easy-to-use way. Lewis concluded the meeting:

 

‘CompletelyNovel.com will not replace any part of the publishing industry. We believe that there are significant opportunities and benefits for everyone arising from close collaboration between the many services currently out there, and direct interaction with the customers. All the tools are out there already – our true novelty lies in our approach to making them as accessible as possible’.

 

CompletelyNovel will be launching their private beta trial on 24 June, in preparation for a public release at the end of the summer. To be involved in the first online trials and give feedback that will shape the site, please visit and register at www.completelynovel.com.