Interview: Anna Lewis from CompletelyNovel.com

There are more hybrid social network/book marketing sites coming online now.  A few examples: BookaBook, Webook, Long Tale Press.  Even HarperCollins has gotten into the act with Authonomy.  Each of those offers a rating system, where readers can vote on their favorite books.  This is far from the most perfect solution, as it can turn into a popularity contest – the person with the most traffic wins, as opposed to the person with the most compelling book.

Completely Novel takes the competition out of the social network by purely offering writers a place to promote books.  It’s more like a hybrid of Good Reads, with the ability to read a full manuscript online.  From there, hopefully, readers will buy a printed book or ebook.  Here, Anna Lewis talks about this model for book marketing, and answers some of the criticisms in SPR’s review.  Overall, it’s a very good site and a taste of what’s to come in online book marketing.

Self-Publishing Review: Who’s behind Completely Novel?  Anyone that has run websites in the past?

Anna Lewis: Oliver Brooks, Anna Lewis and Jon Gilbraith. Oli has run some commercial webshops in the past and Jon has built a number of websites including one that is for music-lovers and djs. CompletelyNovel is the most ambitious and innovative website that either one of them has worked on so far.

SPR:  Why was Completely Novel started?

AL: Oliver had been talking to writers and people within the book publishing industry. Coming from an engineering background, he couldn’t help looking at the process traditionally used for finding new manuscripts and trying to come up with a better way it could be done….especially a way which made it more enjoyable for the writers! He’d seen the potential of print-on-demand and the way that it could link into web 2.0 technology to provide a more interactive and creative process for getting your work read and then proving it had a market to publishers.

SPR: How many authors currently use the service?

AL: We have about twenty authors with books uploaded to the website and a number who are in the process of getting their books ready to put on CompletelyNovel.

SPR:  Does the site have all genres – both fiction and non-fiction?

AL: Yes. Although at the moment the majority of work we have up there is fiction, we are encouraging non-fiction writers to use the website too. Where writers may have a niche audience, CompletelyNovel is a great way of finding those readers who are most likely to be interested and selling your book to them.

SPR: How is Completely Novel different than Lulu and similar services?

AL: Rather than simply providing an online space from which writers can sell their work, CompletelyNovel also aims to link people from across the book industry. There is lots to keep readers entertained on the site, as well as the ability for publishers and literary agents to get involved. We want to create a hub for all things book-related, not just a webshop for self-published books.

SPR: Why not allow books for download as well as reading on-site?

AL: Currently we don’t offer books for download because we want to ensure that the writers can have full control of their manuscript. The idea behind CompletelyNovel is that it can act as a springboard to getting a publishing contract. Your book is available to read online rather than download so that you have the ability to take it offline if you choose, and you don’t need to worry about people having digital copies of your work.

SPR: How are you promoting the site?

AL: With CompletelyNovel one of the best things is that it’s in the interest of each user to promote the site themselves. By promoting the site to their contacts, writers can encourage more people to read their novels. This also helps to build up the community which is beneficial for all the other readers and writers on the site.

SPR: What distribution do authors have beyond the CompletelyNovel site?

AL: Linking to print-on-demand printers means that you can sell your work as a paperback. We will soon be linking in the ability to buy ISBNs through the site so that the book can be listed on Amazon and book catalogues.  We’ll also be building applications and widgets that can be used on other sites such as Facebook and writers’ blogs so that their books can easily be purchased from anywhere.

SPR: Can you upload a book to CompletelyNovel and then list the same book in
a different ebook directory?

AL: Absolutely – we’re here to help writers to become known so the more exposure the better –  as far as we are concerned you can list your book in other places. We do advise to ensure that if you list your book elsewhere, you are staying within the terms and conditions of the other service. Because of the interactive nature of CompletelyNovel and the direct links with readers, we hope that you use our site as a central place from which you can market any previously published work, as well as manuscripts uploaded to CompletelyNovel.

SPR: The site lists a number of participating publishers.  How did they get involved?

AL: We approached a number of publishers and simply told them about the website – they were very enthusiastic! CompletelyNovel offers two main opportunities for publishers. The first is the opportunity to look into different ways of sourcing the books that they publish which derives directly from the tastes of readers themselves. The second is the potential to reach a wider audience of readers. Through CompletelyNovel, publishers can keep people informed of their latest developments, drive traffic to their own sites and enhance their online presence.  If any publisher wishes to start a profile on CompletelyNovel it is very easy for them to do so – just get in touch.

SPR: There’s currently only one printer associated with CompletelyNovel.  What sorts of printing options do you ideally want to provide?

AL: We will be integrating our site with digital printers from across the world. Users will be able to choose which printer they use for which country. We aim to make an unrivaled print-on-demand network available to everyone. This will ensure that books can be produced as locally as possible to the purchaser, which will make the book printing much greener, and also enable users to choose between printers based on price, quality and speed of delivery.

SPR: One of the criticisms I made in the review was that the site includes both traditionally-published and CompletelyNovel-published books.  Why have both on the site?

AL: CompletelyNovel is about joining together everyone who loves books. Readers really enjoy being able to share their thoughts and discuss traditionally published books with friends.  What’s great for aspiring writers is that this makes it easy for us to recommend self-published books based on readers’ habits and interactions on the site. That makes it easier for self-published writers to find an interested audience.

SPR: Completely Novel is located in the U.K.  How is self-publishing regarded in the U.K. compared to the U.S.?

AL: Compared to the US, I think there is less awareness of self-publishing as a viable means of getting yourself known as a writer in the UK.

SPR: It seems like the paradigm is shifting so that self-publishers are taken more seriously.  What do you think about the state of self-publishing?

AL: We think it is the logical progression given the developments in printing and the web which make self-publishing much more viable and economical. We see self-publishing as having two important roles: one being the ability to prove that a book has a market before a publisher invests in taking it on and the other being the ability of writer to reach the long-tail – the niche markets that perhaps aren’t as viable for large companies. Self publishing opens up lots of opportunities and it’s going to increase.

SPR: What’s the future of Completely Novel?  What are the long-term goals and new tools that might be on the site in the future?

AL: The long term goal is to bring everyone involved in the book industry together to make book publishing much more fun and efficient. Expect to see more interaction with other web platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Amazon), a service community of editors, proofreaders and designers, and more distribution options (printers, phone applications, audiobooks, eBook readers). We’ve got some really interesting partnerships in the pipeline with publishers, libraries and other book-related organizations too. We want CompletelyNovel to be the best place to find great new books, and people to share them with.

SPR: Thanks, Anna.

  • Interesting interview, I had not heard of CompletelyNovel until now. Sounds like an interesting scenario. I’m not a fan of authonomy or other “voting” sites, as those can be easily manipulated by getting your friends to vote you up. Quality of writing should be considered, as well as compelling story. However, I do agree, the publishing world is changing and things are shifting fast.

  • Hello. Thanks for the link in the introduction to your article, but I wanted to clear up a slight mis-impression about Long Tale Press.

    While it’s true that we are a social website, we’re not so much a “book marketing” site as we are a publishing house. We’re a publisher like any other, except that we select our material through a social, community-based process rather than through the traditional system of agents and editors.