An exclusive interview with Oliver Rhodes, founder and former c.e.o. of Bookouture, as he launches his brand new company, Storm Publishing.
I like new publishers. They give us authors even more options when trying to find the perfect home for our books. So it was really interesting to discover that Oliver Rhodes, the founder and former c.e.o. of Bookouture, has launched a brand new publishing company called Storm Publishing.
I sent him a bunch of questions to see what he can offer for authors, especially published authors. You can read the whole interview below. For more information about Storm Publishing, check out stormpublishing.co.
Before I get to the interview, I just wanted to share the stand-outs for me:
Storm Publishing plans to harness automated systems to free up their editors' time, meaning more time for its authors and the creative process
It's offering a digital royalty of 50% of net receipts for authors (but no advance)
Authors will eventually be offered direct access to sales data, which will be rolled out over the coming months
If a book isn't selling well, elements of the book's package such as blurb, title or cover can be tweaked
Oliver guarantees the team will get back to all authors who submit their work within two weeks
Audiobook editions will be published simultaneously for every title
Onto the interview...
1. What do you feel makes you different from the other digi-first publishers out there?
One of the big differences, as we’re starting out, is the amount of time and attention that our launch authors will get from very experienced and successful publishers. The ratio of publishers to authors tends to get stretched as companies grow so there’s an advantage of getting in early.
When I look back to the early days of Bookouture, we had an incredibly high hit rate and many of those authors are still publishing very successfully. Storm being a smaller publisher doesn’t mean less know-how – just more ‘can-do’.
There are two things that I hope will set us apart going forward. The first is a focus on innovation, which is something that publishers are generally poor at. There are so many opportunities for publishers to use technology more ambitiously – in ways that will create better results and a better experience for authors.
As a publisher, what that might mean is more effective Amazon or Facebook ads – as an author what you’ll see are higher sales and chart positions. It could also mean automated systems that save editors time – and as an author what you’ll get is more of your editor collaborating with you to make the best creative decisions.
The second thing I believe will make a difference at Storm is the talent density in the company. Essentially, that means the percentage of superstars you have on your team. The higher your percentage, the higher your talent density. This isn’t my phrase – it’s one borrowed from Netflix CEO Reed Hastings.
In creative industries, the most talented people don’t perform slightly better than the average – their results could easily be twice as good. That’s why we’ve put in place an uncapped commission for our acquiring editors based on the revenue from the authors they publish – to attract outstanding performers.
As an author, the strength of the immediate team that you’re working with – and especially your editor – will have a massive impact on your success. The founding team we have at Storm are some of the best in the industry and my aim is to maintain that quality as we grow.
2. Transparency is a big thing for published authors. What lengths will you be taking to provide as much transparency as possible to authors (e.g. access to sales data)?
I completely understand why transparency is important to authors, and it has always been one of the hallmarks of how I’ve run a business. With Storm, we try to be as clear as possible with authors from the outset about what we offer. We’re upfront about our commercial model, which doesn’t pay an advance; but offers a digital royalty of 50% of net receipts.
In terms of sales data, my aim is that we give authors access to regularly updated sales figures without having to request it from their editor. We’ll be working on this in the coming months! I know how engaging it is to follow the success of your book closely and I think it’s a real benefit to treat authors as true partners in this respect.
3. You describe yourself as author-focused. How does that work on a practical level?
Author focus is part of our strategy and so it impacts the decisions we make throughout the company. We’re not just focused on profit – but also on how we can improve our authors’ results and their experience with us. That’s a real benefit of being an independent publisher, rather than part of a larger business.
One of the most important aspects of this is our approach to how we publish authors. We want every book to be a bestseller, so we’ll support them all with a high level of attention to detail and invest in paid marketing campaigns for each new release. If results are below expectations, we’re prepared to go back to the drawing board and relook at our publishing decisions. That could mean changing a book’s blurb, its title or even its cover – but the important thing is that it gives your book the best chance of success.
We also accept submissions directly from authors, and always will do. There is no need for an agent (though we love working with agents, too!). For authors who don’t have agents, we can also represent translation rights, which opens up another revenue stream for them.
4. Published authors reading this may be interested in submitting if either they’re dissatisfied with their current publisher, they’re out of contract or they’re exploring a new genre under a pen name. Is there anything you can say to encourage them to join the Storm Publishing family?
Our submission process is quick and easy, so I’d encourage authors to find out whether they’d be a good fit with Storm. There’s one simple form and we guarantee a response to submissions within two weeks. The form is here: stormpublishing.co/submit
If we’re interested in publishing you, we put together a proposal – so you’re clear about what we can offer and can make an informed decision.
There’s also a page on the website that outlines six reasons to publish with Storm, which might be helpful to your readers. My favourite point is about the track record of our team – we have, between us, published books selling well in excess of ten million copies. Click here to read it.
5. What genres and trends do you see on the horizon for 2023 ?
In terms of genre, I’d love to have a crystal ball, but I’m afraid I don’t! Fifteen years ago, publishers had more of a role in setting trends because they were gatekeepers – but that isn’t the case to anything like the same extent now.
In commercial terms, the most important trend of the last five years has been the increase in audio sales, and I would expect that to continue. That’s why at Storm we’re committing to publishing an audiobook edition simultaneously for every title.
6. Joffe Books allocate a £5k spend to all books at an absolute minimum. What are your thoughts on this?
At Storm, we’re guaranteeing paid marketing campaigns for every title, which will include Facebook and Amazon advertising. The amount we spend will vary, but there’s no cap on spending – if ads are performing well, we will keep them running.
It is also worth saying that, with marketing spend, the key is that it’s being spent effectively. If ads are not converting to sales, then there’s no point in continuing to spend – it’s better to understand why they aren’t working and to adjust. That might be changing the ads, but it could also be making alterations to the book’s cover or title.
Paid ads are a very important part of any marketing campaign, but we’ll also submit books for promotions (retailer and paid promos like Bookbub), run emails lists, and deliver publicity campaigns. We aim to cover all bases.
7. And finally, one most publishers don’t like to answer but we all know they have a ballpark figure in mind: what would you consider as ‘good’ sales in a novel’s first year?
The answer to that question depends on a lot of different factors, including an author’s previous sales history, and the range is huge – so it really is hard to give a ‘one size fits all’ answer.
We treat each submission to Storm individually and put together a bespoke publishing strategy for each author. Authors writing in a niche area might sell fewer copies, but at a higher price – perhaps delivering brilliant novels in a series three times a year that just keep selling. That’s just as attractive as a bestselling break-out novel and we’re looking for both types – the key thing is the quality of the storytelling.