We are exploring and sharing user stories from the world of indie book publishing to discover and showcase creativity, inspiration, knowledge and the details behind the stories that make them remarkable.
Meet Francois Le Bled and Jens Lennartsson, head publisher, photographer and joint founders of New Heroes & Pioneers, a young publishing house located in Malmö, Sweden. We sat down for a talk with Francois and Jens about making art and coffee table books in a digital age, discovering amazing new talents and how to sell books and get your work noticed.
Hello, Francois and Jens! Thank you for taking the time to talk with us. Walk us through the story of New Heroes & Pioneers from the beginning till today.
Francois: New Heroes & Pioneers is a two-year-old publishing house located in Malmö, Sweden. We prefer to say that we are a young publishing house, rather than saying that we are a small publishing house.
Initially, Jens and I created the company, and we basically wanted to mix publishing skills together with art skills. Jens contributes with a skill set in photography and design, and I with my years of publishing experience and a great interest within arts and culture. I love to read arts magazines, discover talents, go to museums; that’s what I really like to do. Then Jens really likes to use these, I would say artistic skills to push that to the next level and make a good-looking publication, in the shape of a book or an article for our online magazine.
Hide in Plain Sight is the title of the first book we did together and the first book of Jens. The book is about 100 inspiring ways to improve your travel photography.
Jens and I didn’t know each other before starting the New Heroes & Pioneers. I wanted to start a publishing house and make books based on my interest, so I contacted Jens on Facebook based on his photography and to get a better understanding of his culture, before starting the company. Then we met, and agreed on doing a book.
It all started in a kitchen and then we sent it to an incubator, and then from the incubator, we just took the space that you saw today, which is kind of that niche between office, a small gallery, and a store.
I have great confidence in Jens and his ability to combine all the content together, art direction and marketing of the books. I know that the feeling is mutual and that Jens trusts me and my skills in finding the artists and making sure that the content of the books will be good, beautiful and interesting.
By the end of this year, we will have published five books, including two book series and by the end of next year, we will have published an additional ten to twelve books. This large number of publications is very unusual for a young publishing house, but we believe that we have to take some risks to be different, instead of just leveraging on only two or three books. Another risk we’ve taken alongside making books has been to create an online magazine. When you visit www.newheroesandpioneers.com, the homepage of the website is the online magazine. We want people that are visiting our website to see us as more than just an indie art book publisher, but also make them understand that we are a content provider of culture.
That being said, a very important thing to know about us also is that we talk and we publish things that we like. Some people ask us, “What’s your credibility? Who are you to talk about culture, to say that this is culture and this is not? We would like to argue that we’re no one in particular, and we don’t want to be used as a reference, we want to be used as a portal to talk about things that other people don’t talk about. We want to be a new open door to knowledge or culture and publish what we see and like in our own subjective opinion.
Visual storytelling; which design features do you work with to create a different and more personalized experience for the reader and how do you select your designers?
Jens: With everything we do, the books and online magazine and in general everything else, we’re trying to add our Scandinavian touch to it. Our design approach is based on a clear minimalistic feel, but we work with a lot of international designers from all around the world. However, we only choose the ones that have a Scandinavian feeling about their work. We’re trying to mix the rest of the world with Scandinavian design.
Our goal and the way we want to work is to find a designer that basically can do the work from start to finish without any interference from us. We spend a great amount of time and energy to find and select the right designers for our work. It is always hard to pick the exact right designer and to give the perfect brief to them. So we spend a lot of time carefully looking into all of their previous work. We have a close dialog, about the expectations for the collaboration between them and us, so that the designers will have the freedom to do their thing and still fulfil our expectations of the project.
What inspires you?
Jens: The only business segment that I’m not looking into is other publishing houses because a lot of them do not work visually. It usually looks the same. They work with a lot of text and cover photos with nothing around them. For inspiration, I’m looking into fashion companies, start-ups, design and advertising agencies.
Inspiration-wise, I think there is a lot of potential for a book publisher to work with, especially for someone creating coffee table books or art books as we do, since we have access to loads of material and a broad network of creative people that are able to produce more material if needed.
New Heroes & Pioneers wants to work with amazing new talents – How do you define these?
Francois: I would say that what defines amazing new talents is a very subjective opinion about what and who do we see as talented. We might see potential in someone, others may not, but I think that is what defines art in general; it all depends on the eyes of the beholder. At New Heroes & Pioneers, our core values are based on only wanting to publish people that have never been published before. We want to give a chance to those that haven’t been given a chance just yet. When you’re famous, it’s not complicated for you to find a publisher because then you are already famous and it is easier to get your work noticed and sold. We’re doing it the other way around. We want to have a cool project from people that have never been published, young students and even people that have been rejected many times because they don’t fit into a commercial point of view, or artistic point of view for a publishing house.
We want people to pitch us cool ideas. I know that cool is a very generic word but interesting, different, fun, quirky ideas are what we are looking for. We’re open to anything as long as we all like it and it doesn’t offend anybody. Who is Anna Anderson, a new book of ours we just released, for example, is a very quirky book about people with the same name. We loved the idea and that’s why we decided we wanted to publish this one instead of another one.
Where do you find amazing new talents?
We have an online forum and a book pitch, and then we have a team of editors that are doing a lot of research. Most often it begins with a Google search, but talents can also be spotted from a gallery, etc. Moreover, twice a year, Jens and I gather and look into all the artists the editors have been working with and talking to throughout the year. We look at the people that have been contacting us, and we look also at people we would like to publish that we’ve heard about but haven’t done research about them just yet. That’s how we’re making our potential publishing calendar.
What are the most challenging and rewarding aspects about being a book publisher in a digital age?
Francois: That’s a question that I have been trying to answer for the last six, seven years of working in publishing. Whether, it’s the digital age or not, it is challenging and rewarding to be a book publisher first of all. Before having the competition of the digital age, you had the competition of normal printers, non-digital printers and the publisher. I would say the challenge is to reach out and be different and to be able to blend old traditional book printing together with the new digital age.
We’re actually using digital very much at New Heroes & Pioneers, not for publishing purposes but for marketing and distribution purposes; everything is digital.
We are a book publisher of art and coffee table books, not a publisher of e-books, but that doesn’t mean that we exclude the idea of making e-books. Actually our first book Hide in Plain Sight and our new book Anna Anderson will be available for readers both in print and e-book, because the concept and content of the books have the abilities to be applied into a digital format. A book like Share or a book like Mindful Encounter will never be published as an e-book, since the concepts of these two books are all about the size and sharing the pages, which is not possible to do with an e-book.
Our strategy is to use the digital age to our advantage and to do what we do best; create beautiful books and market them the way we do best with digital tools.
Selling books, which skills are required?
Francois: I believe that the skills required for selling books is a mix of knowledge and creativity. You have to have knowledge about the process of book selling and look into who are the big buyers, distributors, etc. Creativity is about finding alternative sales channels, because books today are not just limited to bookstores, you can buy books in many different ways. Further, one of the most important things is to know your target group and be focused on them instead of trying to reach out to everybody. A common mistake a lot of companies do and we did the same in the beginning, is that we selected a specific target group but we still were talking to everyone, which makes it difficult to grab hold of the attention of your target group.
So how do you stand out and get the attention of the reader and buyers?
Francois: This question leads me back to what I was telling you before about the way Jens and I are working together, about our mixed skill set, where I bring the knowledge and he brings the creativity and the different ideas. What is important is to have different books, books with a point of view, books with a concept. All of our books have a concept and something that makes them stand out. Whether it’s the size of the book like, Share, the format used with Mindful Encounters or the content within Hide in Plain Sight.
And finally, what will 2015 bring for New Heroes and Pioneers?
Francois: 2015 is going to be a big year for us since the company is moving into its third year. You know when you’re a young company, the third year is always a critical one because that’s when you need to start making money; otherwise you’re doing something wrong.
We have basically been spending four to five months starting the company. One year and a half developing content, developing the books, and 2015 is the year where we’re going to release approximately 12 books. That’s where we’re going to see if the books we’re doing actually are books that people are interested in. Further, next year is the first year that we’re going to start selling the rights of our books to other publishers abroad. Lastly, 2015 is also the year where we’re going to start doing commissioned books, which are books that people are asking us to do, and this new work opportunity is very important to us and something that we are looking forward to.