Interview: Simon Appleby, owner of the only digital agency in the UK dedicated to books

Abidemi Sanusi
Oct 3, 2017 · 5 min read

In today’s post, we interview Simon Appleby, founder of Bookswarm, the only digital agency in the UK dedicated to the ‘world of books’.

You’re the owner and founder of Bookswarm, the only digital agency in the UK dedicated to the ‘world of books’. Why books only?

I am a firm believer in the importance of adding value through a specialist focus on one industry. There are numerous aspects of our projects which benefit from this experience. For example:

  • Deep linking to different book retailer websites and retailer affiliate links
  • Handling bibliographic data, including bulk imports from title management systems
  • Industry trends and challenges

…If you’re going to focus on one industry, it should be one that you enjoy, believe in and want to see succeed! — Simon Appleby, Bookswarm

That way, every project you do helps you to learn lessons you can apply to future projects, and you can benefit from word-of-mouth recommendations and good karma.

Have you always worked in the publishing industry?

Not at all — I have always worked in the digital media industry, and in 2007 I started working for an agency which had a number of publishing clients — including Faber, Little, Brown and Hodder & Stoughton. As a keen reader, I found I really enjoyed the projects and the people, not to mention the free books — so everything developed from there, and Bookswarm still works with Faber and has other relationships that can be traced back to those initial engagements.

What do you think are the top three challenges facing authors in the digital age?

With both self-published and traditionally published authors required to do more self-promotion than ever, finding a workable balance between marketing and actually writing is tough.

Knowing what to actually write — it’s technically easier than ever to bring books to market, but just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. If you don’t have an agent, finding other people to advise and support your decision-making is a good idea.

Finding the right team — of editors, cover designers, marketeers — to help in the journey.

Do you work with traditionally-published authors only?

Not at all — we’ve worked with a number of self-published authors, including several projects through the Reedsy platform. Here are some examples:

What’s the process behind your projects, from initial enquiry through to implementation and sign off?

After an initial discovery session, which can be a meeting or a call, we produce a project brief which documents what is required, its business objectives, intended audiences and creative parameters.

From there we move on to information architecture — creating a sitemap and wireframes, which show all of the key interfaces, allowing clients to view functionality and layout. Then we move on to creative design, which is an iterative process.

Once the client has signed off the creative, we move on to build the site, test it and train the client to upload their content.

That’s the basic process, but there are numerous ways it can vary — in very tight schedules, you might run design and build in parallel, to allow content uploading to begin quicker.

Why do authors need to care about branding? Isn’t it all about the books?

Like it or not, successful authors are brands. Look at the big names who are franchising out their name in collaboration with other writers; look at how publishers want to work with celebrities who have written (or ‘written’) novels.

A brand is not a substitute for talent (or it shouldn’t be) but it certainly helps to have a brand when you are marketing the work of talented people — Simon Appleby, Bookswarm

>>>[Related links: How to build your author brand]

What’s the most challenging part of your job?

Keeping all the plates spinning at once (typically around 20 projects on the go at any one time). Oh, and finding time to read as many books as I would like!

How do you manage expectations that digital is the magical answer?

By having a project process which is focused on business objectives, I hope we keep the client’s mind on the fact that what we do is only part of the marketing mix, and generally needs to be considered in conjunction with marketing and publicity strategies, social media, cover design and many other issues.

How can authors make better use of their online platform?

By creating more content, and updating regularly. It’s hard to emphasise this enough — a website without good content is a wasted opportunity.

How do you convince an author about the importance of digital marketing?

I seldom find they need convincing — if an author has decided to come to us, it’s usually because they’ve already decided to take control of their own digital destiny.

Complete this sentence: You built it and they did not come. What now?

Don’t panic. If you have a good website with worthwhile content, you still have something of value — you just need to work out ways to connect it with the right audiences, whether that’s through social media, judicious use of Pay-Per-Click advertising or just word-of-mouth.

Where do you see book publishing in the next 5–10 years?

I wish I knew. I think the falling back of the ebook market and the growth of children’s over recent years are both very positive for books and reading, but the decline of independent retailers is still cause for concern and I worry that the trade still hasn’t learned lessons about the size of advances for celebrity authors. I don’t think it’s going to get any easier to make a living as an author, that’s for sure!

How can authors who would like to use your services get hold of you?

They can submit an enquiry via the Bookswarm website.

Abidemi Sanusi

Written by

Author. Nominated for Commonwealth Writers' Prize. Helps writers write better & make more. Write your first book:

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