Colin Campbell has been working in IT for over 40 years, and he's seen it all. From the early days of mainframes to the latest cloud-based technologies, Colin has been there and done it all.
How to Break Into the Publishing Industry
Becca is passionate about helping unpublished authors get published, and she is committed to making the publishing industry more accessible to everyone.
In our first interview, Becca shared her insights on the publishing industry, and her aim to give people the space to write what they want without having to worry about the labels that are attached to them. She also talked about her own journey to self-employment, and shared her thoughts on the challenges and rewards of working for yourself.
After a few months, we caught up with Becca again to see how her business was going. In this second interview, we discussed her work processes, latest successes, work/life balance, and more.
Can you introduce yourself?
I’m Becca Barnard, I am 23 and I’m in North Wales.
And what is your self-employed business?
The formal name is Barnard Publishing Limited, but I just go by Barnard Publishing. I am a trade publisher, which most people don’t really understand what trade is. It’s just normal books. It’s fiction books. Stuff that you would normally go into a bookshop for.
Where are you on your self-employed journey? How long have you worked for yourself?
I’m very much just starting out. I started in November last year (2022). I’ve kind of dabbled with starting my self-run business since July last year. But November was like the first kind of point that I was just released into the world and had to do everything myself.
Have you worked on many projects so far?
Just the one, really. As I was finishing my dissertation, I took the project from that and published it under the Barnard Publishing name. And it went really well. Both the author and I are very happy with it. I still keep in touch with the author, because she’s a good friend. I’m hoping to do a little bit of remarketing for it soon, to try and get it out there a bit more.
And did you have any experience in the industry already?
Yeah, so the past year, I’ve done my Masters in Publishing and Book Culture. That’s the only real experience I’ve got, I haven’t had any proper industry experience. But during my Masters, I have produced three books, so I’d call that equivalent.
Going forward, is there a particular type of book or niche that you want to publish?
My niche is more for the authors rather than the books, I think? I’ve always wanted to focus on unpublished authors, because it’s very difficult to get into the industry and to get published. And also, LGBTQ people. Not necessarily about the issues that they struggle with, because I tend to find that people who have a label attached to them tend to write about issues of that label, rather than what they might want to write about. So I want to give people the space to write what they want without having to worry about the labels that are attached to them.
What’s been your main reason for becoming self-employed and going straight into it from studying?
My dissertation was producing a business plan. So, I already had that set up. I was lucky enough to be coached through it a little bit. And it’s always kind of something that I’ve wanted to do, ever since starting the Masters.
My dad has his own business as well. He’s an engineer. So I’ve seen him do it, and the enjoyment he’s had from it, and I thought I could do the same. And also, the publishing industry is difficult to get into if you don’t have contacts, which I don’t really have up in North Wales because everything is down in the South.
What’s the main hope or objective you have for your business?
I would love for one of the books I published to be in a normal chain commercial bookshop, that would be really cool. But I guess a smaller one would be to have a little office with a couple of employees, and just have a small, little community. I’ve always wanted that type of like, stay as a small indie publisher, but have this small community to work around
And on the other side, what’s your biggest worry or fear?
Currently? Because of the nature of the industry, money isn’t very flowing. Everything costs a lot of money. And books tend not to make a lot of money. So, you know, paying myself is sometimes a bit difficult. I kind of work it out the same as royalties. When I pay the author royalties, I get paid the same cut. So, I’m not like taking anything away, I’m just kind of sharing it.
Or when I hadn’t started yet, looking forward, it was that publishing is such a dominated industry, by like five big companies who you will always see in bookshops. And getting in, and trying to make a living, is very difficult. Everyone that I’ve spoken to about publishing has said, if you’re doing it on your own, it’s so difficult. And for some reason, I’m still doing it.
Do you have a plan of how you’re going to break that cycle as a small, indie publisher?
I don’t really know. I tend to just think about it from project to project. So, I’ve got three projects going on at the minute. For the next year, I know what I’m going to be doing. And I think I would like it to get to a point where either people are coming to me and saying “Hey, could you publish this book for me?”, or I have a list of authors who I know are going to write stuff. So, I will know how many books I’m going to get.
That’s a traditional way for indie publishers to work. If you’ve got people like Penguin, they probably have millions of submissions, and they can’t publish them all. But I think having a small group of people who I know I can work with, and it’s the same with illustrators as well. I know I can go to people and get results, and we can kind of work together and build each other up.
For anyone not familiar with book publishing, how do you make money? Do you try to publish as much as you can, or just focus on the most likely bestsellers?
Yeah, so there are various systems that are in play in publishing. You’ve got different methods of publishing, so that’s traditional, self and hybrid. Obviously traditional is that you take your stuff to publish, they do it all and you get paid royalties. Self-publishing is that you do it all and take all of the money up front. And hybrid is where you pay an author a bit of money so they can get the project started, and then that money will get taken off royalties.
As a publisher, I try to do more of the traditional route. So, I’m taking all the risk, rather than the authors.
And then there are the books themselves. The front list is the books that you’re pushing. For me, it’d be the poetry collection. And my back list would be the three books that I’ve done before. So the back list kind of sits there – it doesn’t make a whole lot of money, but you can always revitalise it and push it to the front again. And that’s one way to boost the money.
But when you’re trying to push a book from the front list, it’s making sure that you’re breaking even after all of the venues, and the cover, and actually purchasing the books. And then you find more books, in the hopes that you break even and then profit, if that makes sense?
How do you promote your books and business? What’s your route to customers and new authors?
Currently, I’m purely on social media. I don’t have a lot of newspaper contacts or ‘big’ people, but I find that the authors tend to. The poet I’m working with, her mum, is best friends with someone who’s big in writing. So, we’re going to try and get her to review the book and do a bit of promo stuff.
Another way is doing a press release. You’ll write a story around the book, around the author, and then send it off to a newspaper and hope they’ll release it.
I’m lucky that I haven’t had to reach out quite widely for authors yet. The three people I’m working with, I met through Uni. One of them I worked with on a previous book, and two of them, I was at Welcome Week selling some books at the university. And they just came up and said “I have a book, do you want to publish it?” And that’s how we got talking.
But again, it’s more social media based, because that’s where I find most people are. Reaching out on Instagram and Twitter, and having a submission page on my website. And making sure to target specific places like writers’ groups and reading groups.
What do you like to do outside of work?
Until recently, I wasn’t reading a whole lot. I was at Uni for four years, so I had plenty of academic readings to do. So, I’ve only recently started reading again, but then I’m also big on TV and film. Having to read a lot for my job, sometimes I just want to sit and watch something and not have to process.
I’m a big Marvel and Star Wars person. My partner and I are watching Bad Batch as it’s coming out, and we’re also going through Star Wars Rebels because we’re trying to catch up and watch everything in kind of order. So yeah, lots of adventure, sci-fi, that kind of stuff.
Do you have any heroes in life or business that you use as inspiration?
Definitely my dad. Like I said, he runs his own business. He didn’t start out immediately from Uni, like I did. But we moved around a lot for his job. And from what I remember, I know he’s a lot happier doing what he’s doing right now than when he was in another company. So yeah, I’m aspiring to have that kind of freedom to do whatever I want, the same that he does.
What does your typical working day look like at the moment?
It mainly depends on the day. At the minute, because I’m processing the poetry, I’m laying it out, I will spend hours just staring at a screen moving text boxes around. And that is all I will do.
But there’s also been lots of meetings. In the past two days, I’ve had four. Yeah, just lots of sitting, and typing, and talking, which I enjoy, so it’s all good!
Are there any websites or apps that you find yourself checking every day for work or leisure?
My email, obviously. I also check my WordPress website to see how many views I’ve got, if I need to upload a blog, and to make sure everything’s working.
I also check publishingperspectives.com. They write a lot of blogs based on stuff that is happening all over the world in publishing. They’ve got lots of useful information that I’ve taken and added into what I’m doing.
How has IPSE membership helped you so far?
The two most useful things are the Incubator emails that I get. The way they break it down so you’ve got 2 minutes, 20 minutes and 2 hours for different tasks that I’ve found really useful. And the weekly blog emails are also very useful. Because it’s not just about publishing, it’s about business as a whole. And I’ve found a lot of things that I can again adopt into my business.
Read the second interview:
When we last spoke, you had just finished your masters and published the first book as Barnard Publishing. What’s changed for you, and your business since then?
So, I’ve published two books since then, both poetry collections. One of them, I’ve literally just finished, and I’ve just sent out the pre-orders. I’ve moved offices, so I’m now in a designated space instead of a home office. And I have a fancy new monitor, which just makes my life so much easier!
People might assume that you work on one book at a time. But you’ve managed to publish two in fairly quick succession?
The way that I run things is that people will come to me with projects, I’ll say yes, and then I’ll approach things as stuff happens, if that makes sense.
So, at the minute, most of my projects are in the writing stage, so there’s not much for me to do. But the next person to finish and send me the draft, I’ll edit that. And then it gets sent off and then the process is staggered like that. The two projects that I’ve finished were both already written. But because the first one had a specific publication date it needed to get out first, so I gave all of my attention to that.
It turned out really well. I’m very happy with it. The author’s very happy with it. It was great, and we had our first physical event for it as well. We booked a venue in Liverpool, which is where the author was studying. And we had a friend design a kind of game experience for it. People would come in, and the work was projected onto a wall, so they could walk through and experience the poetry which was nice.
Have you faced any new challenges, or problems which have needed to be solved?
I went to my first book selling event. It was a small festival in a little village towards Anglesey. It wasn’t specifically for books, it was for small businesses, and I was like, I’ll go as well. So that was good, and I’ve got my foot in the door there.
The next big thing is trying to publish a novel. I’ve got a couple in the works, but because they’re much bigger, they’re going to take longer. So, I think maybe next year, they’ll start to be ready.
What’s a typical turnaround time for a novel? Can it be difficult to schedule?
It kind of depends on who you’re asking. I have a pretty quick turnaround for the stuff I produce. So, the last one, the most recent publication, took a couple of months because it was already written and all of the art was already done. Between March and July, I got it sorted, and that included finding a new printer, talking to the printer about the situation and what our possibilities were. So now I’ve got that, it’ll probably take even less time.
But if we’re talking about a novel from scratch, the writing will take a couple of months depending on how busy the author is. Usually they’ll have another job, so they’re not just writing all the time. And then the editing will take another couple of months, because I’ve got to read the whole thing and mark my notes, and then they’ve got to change it, and back and forth. Usually, I’ll only go through a couple of rounds of edits.
And then it kind of gets a bit murkier with the placing, like putting it on the page, and then the cover design, because they happen at the same time. The software that I use helps to format everything and make it look nice, and obviously I’ll have to tweak little bits and make sure things like chapter headings look OK. That might take another month or so, if I’m doing that alongside the cover design.
The bit that probably takes the longest is the marketing, getting it out there and making sure people know about it, getting the pre-orders in. That might take another two, three months. One of the big five publishers, they will take at least a year, if not longer, to produce something, but they have a lot more going on. So, from start to finish, about a year, I think.
You mentioned you have a little community of illustrators and people that you work with? Is that still growing and working well?
For the most recent book, the author did all the illustrations, beautiful colours, and it was amazing. And the one before that, it was a friend of the author who I contacted. I tend to ask my authors if there’s anyone that they know who is an artist, who does that kind of stuff.
But I’ve recently put the feelers out for a cover illustrator for the third instalment of a trilogy I’m doing on short, fantastical horror stories. So that was good to get someone new into my little list.
And you’re happy with your progress at the moment?
So far? Yeah, definitely. Absolutely.
Outside of work have you been reading any new books? Obviously, that’s probably a silly question when it’s your job!
I’ve very recently started reading the Percy Jackson series, because I had them on my Kindle, and I’ve never read them before. And my sister has read them, and she’s like ‘this is something you have to do’.
It’s been nice to read books that aren’t for my demographics. They’re ‘kid’s books’ so it’s all written very simply. But after a several-year long reading slump it’s nice to get back into it from the beginning with something very simple, but still very interesting.
Has your IPSE membership been useful over the last few months?
Yeah, I still get the emails and they’re very useful. And I occasionally dip into the blog and website as and when I need them.
Any other new websites or resources which have been helpful for you?
I recently signed up to The Bookseller which covers all kinds of publishing and book-related stuff, like which publishers have purchased the foreign rights to publish books, or the data on what is being sold right now, and what is in the top 50?
Has moving offices out of your home changed your work day? Or is it pretty similar?
It’s changed a little because I have to commute now, and can’t just walk down my stairs. And I feel like there’s more structure. I sit and do my work for a certain number of hours, and then go home, which is nice. I don’t feel the temptation to go sit on the sofa and watch something.
It’s nice to have a designated space away from home. And it’s my dad’s office, so he’s down the corridor. The room I’m in was also being used for some storage, so there’s a piano nearby.
Do you play?
I used to. I haven’t in like 10 years, or so.
It sounds like you’re really busy with new projects, but are you still able to find time for hobbies, family, and friends at the moment?
Yeah, definitely. Now that I have an office, spending evenings or weekends not doing work is nice. But I am starting a new job in August as a receptionist in one of the local dentists, so I can help pay for the space and save up for a house or rent. So, my evenings and weekends are going to become the business, and the balance will become a little more difficult when I start that. But I’m still going to try.
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Mark Reynolds is a self-employed engineer who specializes in road safety. He has over 30 years of experience in the industry, and he is passionate about making roads safer for everyone.