Charlotte Harper / Editia / Nigel Featherstone / Publishing

What’s the Future of Publishing?: A Verity La interview with Charlotte Harper of Editia

If there’s two things we’re fans of here on Capital Letters, it’s online magazines with great content and publishers who like to experiment. Put the two together and it’s magic, like in the instance of Verity La‘s recent interview with Charlotte Harper of Editia. Verity La has kindly given permission for Capital Letters to reprint the first part of the interview, which you’ll find below. For the interview in its entirety, head on over to Verity La.

What’s the future of publishing?  It’s a fair question, an important question, and if there’s anyone who might be able to provide an answer, or even just a few hints, it’s Editia’s Charlotte Harper.  Editia is a freshly cooked ‘digital-first’ publishing business straight out of Canberra, Australia, and is devoted to long-form journalism and non-fiction shorts.  The press’s first book, Crowdfund it! by digital expert Anna Maguire, was launched in 2012. Editia’s founder and publisher Charlotte Harper is a former technology journalist, a Walkley Award-winning web producer (for her contribution to The Sydney Morning Herald’s online coverage of the 2000 Olympics) and ex-literary editor of The South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.  At The Canberra Times, she was variously chief sub-editor, features, online editor, and editor of firstly the Saturday news features section and then the Sunday magazine. Harper’s Weird Wild Web was published by Penguin Australia in 1999.  But back to that question: what’s the future of publishing?  Interviewer: Nigel ‘All Things Internet Give Me Hives But I’m Up For The Challenge’ Featherstone.


What was the motivation for starting Editia?


In short, I love books and the stories and ideas they contain, and am always looking for ways to foster the same passions in others. Curating and sharing content in order to inspire, entertain and inform fellow readers is instinctive to me, and journalistic writing is the genre I know best.

If you’re after the long version, I’ve always wanted to be a book publisher, since creating a Mr Men book at age seven. I sent ‘Mr Water’, a hand-drawn, written and stapled production, off to Mr Men author Roger Hargreaves in the UK and was thrilled when he sent me a personal reply. I remember reading about book industry jobs labelled ‘Acquisitions Editor and Commissioning Editor’ in my school careers adviser’s office in my early teens and thinking that was for me. Journalism distracted me for a few years (nearly 20!). But even in the media, I particularly enjoy coming up with or spotting good ideas for content, commissioning writers, multimedia producers and photographers, and overseeing the process from concept to finished product. These roles are more my thing than reporting or copy editing.

I started my career as editorial assistant for a tech publication. This allowed me to pursue my interest in the potential of emerging technologies like the internet and mobile phones, but steered me away from books for a while. To get back on track, I enrolled in the Macquarie University Postgraduate Diploma in Editing and Publishing, and was fortunate enough to gain a practicum placement at HarperCollins. While working as a web producer at The Sydney Morning Herald I wrote a book based on my Saturday website review column. Penguin published it as Weird Wild Web. Dropping into the iconic publisher’s offices in Glebe for meetings about the book was a huge thrill – perhaps even more exciting than seeing my own book in bookstores.

Next stop was The South China Morning Post. I couldn’t believe my luck when I was appointed literary editor, and made the most of every opportunity to meet and interview publishing people – authors, agents, editors, publicists, distributors, booksellers and publishers – from all over the world. It was around this time that I decided I would start my own publishing business at some point, either in Hong Kong or back in Australia. I figured I’d need some serious financial backing, and even talked to a couple of potential business partners, but the time wasn’t yet right.

Family commitments led me back to Canberra in mid-2003. I managed to squeeze in a holiday to London first, and spent most of it visiting book publishers instead of tourist sites, sometimes to meet with staff, but often just to look up at their offices in awe. Back in the Australian capital, I enjoyed working on my hometown newspaper, particularly as fill-in literary editor and as editor of the Saturday news features section and then the Sunday magazine. I was wistful, though, about being so far from the book publishing hubs of Sydney and Melbourne. (I’m pleased to say this is less and less the case. Digital technologies bring the world closer. Canberra has grown up a lot over the past few years too, and Editia is now part of a growing literary community at the Gorman House Arts Centre.)

In 2009, while on maternity leave with my first child, I discovered (and became addicted to) Twitter. It was a tweet that sparked my decision to start a digital publishing business. The Kindle was just starting to take off internationally, and the Twittersphere was awash with rumours that Apple would soon announce a magical device that would change the book industry forever. The #appletablet hashtag became an obsession for me. The night before the iPad launch, I uploaded the first few posts to my new Ebookish blog, and I was soon researching ereaders, publishing developments, ebook production and social media marketing for the blog, for Fairfax and forBookseller + Publisher. In February 2010 I attended The Digital Revolution, a groundbreaking conference run by the Australian Publishers Association, and realised that the time was right to make my move. I had the skills, was building the contacts, and saw that barriers to entry were breaking down through technologies like print-on-demand and browser-based ebook production.

I wasn’t sure exactly what I would publish at that stage, but it soon became clear that ebooks provided an opportunity to publish feature articles that were too long for the arbitrary space available for them in magazines and newspapers. I had always been frustrated at having to cut good copy to fit, rather than run it at its natural length. As a literary editor, I was also aware that there were plenty of books out there that would’ve been greatly improved if they’d been shorter, rather than padded out to fit the conventions of traditional publishers. As an editor with experience publishing longer form journalism, it made sense to stick to what I knew, but in this new, longer than an article but shorter than a book, form. I suspected that as had often been the case with my own feature writing, there were journalists out there who had much more material than they could use through the existing channels for their work. Editia is already attracting exactly these sorts of authors.


How are you going about attracting your writers?


I am currently working with five authors, and each one came to Editia in a different way. I met Anna Maguire at a conference she helped organise for the Australian Publishers Association in 2010. We became friends and spent two years trying to work out how we could work together. In December 2012 I rang her and said, ‘I’ve got it!  I’ve been planning to launch my own publishing business and am thinking now is the time. Would you like to be my first author?’ Digital innovator that she is, Anna agreed on the spot. The subject matter took a few different turns in the months afterwards, but it was great to work with a cutting edge blogger for the first project,Crowdfund it!.

I found the second author, Johanna Baker-Dowdell, while fact-checking Anna’s book. Johanna was crowdfunding her own book about mumpreneurs. I’d been trying to commission someone to write a book on exactly that topic, but why start a new project when there was a perfectly good one right there on Pozible? I wrote to Johanna to ask whether she’d consider signing a contract with Editia for the ebook edition ofBusiness + baby on board. She was keen, and sent a few chapters through. I loved them, so away we went. Johanna has since said that the combination of self-publishing the print edition and working with a publisher for the ebook version offers the best of both worlds.

Next up was Scott Bridges, who notes in his acknowledgements that I love ebooks even more than he does. Scott approached me after seeing my presentation on entrepreneurial journalism at the Walkley Media Conference in late 2012. We’d met briefly beforehand at University of Canberra, where he lectures in journalism. I tutor there and am studying for a research masters. Scott had written most of 18 days: Al Jazeera and the Egyptian Revolution by that point and asked me to take a look. I’d just had a baby so was caught up with non-Editia tasks for a few months, but once I started reading, I was hooked. Here was exactly the sort of book I’d been hoping to publish: gripping narrative non-fiction by an Australian author on a topic with global relevance. It even fits in with our existing key subject areas as a media title.

The fourth author is Carly Lorente, winner of the inaugural Editia Prize for short non-fiction/longform journalism. Her book, Minyma, is amazing, as was hearing her excitement when she learnt she’d won.

And the fifth remains anonymous for now as the contract terms are set but we’ve yet to sign on the dotted line. He came to me via one of Australia’s most highly regarded literary agents, which was a huge buzz for me as a start-up.

I met another potential author in the corridor at the National Library after the Miles Franklin Awards. He recognised me after seeing me talking about Editia at an event for entrepreneurs run by the Lighthouse Business Innovation Centre earlier in the year. We’re emailing about the project now.

Editia is also open submissions for one hour a week, and I am in talks with a few authors who have submitted pitches that way.

To read the rest of this interview, head on over to Verity La.

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