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Amanda Rutter, Strange Chemistry: From accountant to blogger to publisher

 

You can download the whole Frankfurt Academy Quarterly “Can I play too?!” on children’s and young adult’s media as a PDF here and join in the conversation on the Book Fair Blog.

By Jörn Brien

 Amanda Rutter was a qualified accountant for ten years until, in 2011, she changed careers to take up the editorial role with Strange Chemistry. Amanda used to oversee the review blog Floor To Ceiling Books; was a slush reader for Angry Robot Books; has done editorial work for Morrigan Books; and, when not reading for work, reads for pleasure.

Strange Chemistry was launched at the beginning of September as an imprint of the British publishing house Angry Robot, part of the British Osprey Publishing group. Strange Chemistry concentrates on science fiction and fantasy literature for young adults. In this interview Amanda Rutter, editor of Strange Chemistry and former blogger, explains how a publishing house for young adults acquires new readers in the Web-2.0 age, the role of social networks, how bloggers are incorporated into the marketing and why an imprint for young adults is worthwhile in the digital age.

FAQ: Strange Chemistry was launched in September as an imprint of publishing house Angry Robot, especially for YA Science Fiction and Fantasy Literature. Why does it need an extra Imprint?

Amanda Rutter: I think the main reason that a publisher would decide to start a new imprint is because they are unable to achieve what they wish to do within the constraints of their current imprint. Angry Robot (Strange Chemistry’s parent company) deals in adult SF and fantasy, and so required a new imprint in order to bring out books that young adult readers would want to pick up. Next year the crime imprint Exhibit A is being launched. I think it definitely ensures that a brand is not diluted by creating different imprints. It means you can target the right readership, that the right people are in place to choose the books that are being published.

The name came about partly because we wanted to reflect the speculative nature of our books – the strangeness of science fiction and fantasy – and partly because we wanted to try and describe the period of being a teenager, a time of great chemistry and change.

FAQ: In the future you will publish eBooks too. Will there be special content, such as interviews with authors, sound documents …

Amanda Rutter: A lot of the print books – especially those published through Angry Robot – already include special content. We have started to investigate ways in which we can add value to eBooks, but so far we are not offering anything more than you can see in any eBook. Rather, we are trying different ideas – such as our Clonefiles initiative, which offers a free eBook when a customer purchases the print version. We are acknowledging the fact that people want to be able to read books now across different formats, and that they should have access to both print books and eBooks at the same time.

FAQ: What about this 12-month subscription for Strange Chemistry eBooks? Is this a promising way of selling eBooks?

Amanda Rutter: I LOVE this way of selling books! And I think that readers appreciate the idea as well. You see, sometimes you have readers who are very loyal to publishers – they like pretty much every book that they see announced for the next year, and so it just seems a very good idea to offer a subscription where they will get every book but at a reduced price. It saves them money and means they don’t have to buy each one separately. Instead they receive an email every month of their subscription with the downloads of the novels available. It’s easy, it’s quick and it helps customers show their loyalty.

FAQ: Why do you accept proposals only via a literary agent and what is this Open Door period all about?

Amanda Rutter: I know how many people there are who have written a novel and who are looking to publish that novel. If I opened Strange Chemistry to submissions without an agent, I would simply have to spend too much time reading and responding to queries about manuscripts. So I rely on agents to help – they take the brunt of the work and then pass through the manuscripts that they feel are worthy of attention.

Of course, we also know that, by only listening to agents, we *may* be missing some wonderful stories – and that is how the Open Door period came about. Angry Robot ran the first one last year, inviting unagented authors to submit their work, and they now have five new novelists signed as a result of it! This year I decided I would do the same and I’m currently working through what was sent in. There are some very interesting potential manuscripts!

FAQ:  When it comes to marketing, what role does social media play for Strange Chemistry?

Amanda Rutter: At the moment and for the foreseeable future our marketing will not be huge campaigns, with posters in train stations or information in cinemas about new books. Instead we shall be trying to work with bloggers and booksellers to get the word out about the Strange Chemistry books. As such, social media is possibly the most important aspect of our marketing activities. I think the best way to try and market books is to show that you are interested in ALL books, not just to talk about your own books. If you only talk about your own books on social media, then people stop talking to you and they definitely stop listening. If you talk about ALL books and ALL authors, then people become much more interested in what you have to say and they want to start a conversation with you. Plus, it makes things much more fun!

FAQ: For me it was very interesting reading about special offers for bloggers at Angry Robot – the Robot Army – can you tell us a little bit about this concept?

Amanda Rutter: We have the Chemistry Set rather than the Robot Army! The concept came about very early on at Angry Robot, and was a way to reach out to readers and offer added extras and opportunities to read review copies of novels. I’m using the Chemistry Set in a similar manner – it offers news, extras from authors like extracts from books, advanced reading copies, and a chance to see things like cover artwork a little earlier than they would normally. Again, it is a chance to reach out to the people who have shown great loyalty and offer them extra – and a chance to be “part of the gang”.

FAQ: You have been a blogger and then became editor of Strange Chemistry – how did this connection come about and how do you use your blogging experiences for managing a YA publisher?

Amanda Rutter: Blogging – including a presence on social networks – is a great way to make connections. It was through reviewing and using Twitter that I met my current boss. Apparently he was keeping an eye on my career and my doings when he started thinking about a YA imprint and who would be best to run it. So therein lies a lesson – be aware that whatever you put on the Internet can be seen and remembered by MANY people, including those you might be querying for work in the future.

As to now, one of the biggest ways that I use my blogging experience is to create a real family feel – amongst the authors who have signed for Strange Chemistry, and the readers of the books. We all love books, we all want to talk about books. This is the same feeling that I experienced while part of the book blogging community and I thought it would be fabulous to create among my authors.

FAQ: Where do you see yourself and Strange Chemistry in five years?

Amanda Rutter:  Well, to start with, we want to cement our place in the world of YA – publishing consistently good titles. After that, we have plans to start publishing YA outside of science fiction (thrillers, contemporary, romance, crime, historical etc). And after that… well, we’ll have to see!

 

Meet Amanda Rutter on Twitter @ALRutter or at the Frankfurt Book Fair

At the Angry Robot stand in Hall 8.0, J955

Meet Rebecca Smart, CEO of Osprey Group – Strange Chemistry’s publishing “motherhouse”

Rebecca will speak at the “Publishers’ Launch” conference in Frankfurt

When: 8 October, 10.30 am – 6.30 pm

Where: Room Dimension, Hall 4.2

 

Publishers Launch @Frankfurt Academy

Publishers Launch, the trade publishing strategy and tactics conference aimed at consumer publishing executives, agents, retailers – and those who wish to do business with them, is the can’t-miss stop for an international trade or digital executive at the Frankfurt Book Fair 2012. Sessions will be organized by two central themes: innovating CEOs and global e-publishing strategies and data.