Melissa Coates: Sure thing! Bookcase Australia is a book subscription box service, like YA Chronicles or Owlcrate, but instead of focusing on one genre of books, we're focusing on solely featuring Aussie authors and Aussie creators.
Jordan Meek: Bookcase is sent out every 3 months. We pick a new release Australian title and curate a box surrounding the book (i.e. we get bookish treats that relate back to the book we've chosen and/or the main characters, genre or setting). We decided to start it up because we felt there isn't enough emphasis on Australian books or Australian artists and thought this would be a great way to deliver great books to Australia and beyond.
GR: Awesome! And how did you two know each other beforehand?
JM: We met at Sydney University. We both did the Masters of Publishing degree together. Mel is originally from Tasmania and I am from the Central Coast (an hour north of Sydney) so it was by pure luck that we enrolled in the same degree and become fast friends
GR: Aha, so you've got a bit of a background in the Aussie publishing industry too
JM: Yes we do. It was through this course that we learned how hard it is for Australian authors and it helped us create Bookcase to support them.
GR: And you work in a bookshop Jordan, is that right?
JM: I work at Dymocks and I am interning at Pantera Press. Mel works at a printers and they do self-published books
GR: You're both still in Sydney then?
MC: Yep, sharehousing in the city of rental nightmares!
GR: Every quarter when you're sending the boxes out, does each subscriber get a copy of the same book?
MC: Yes, the box is the same for everyone. Same book, same items. We're hoping to develop it eventually into having different boxes for different audiences but we're starting small.
All Australian though :)
GR: How do you choose what book to feature each quarter?
JM: We generally choose a genre that we ourselves would want to read and go from there. Our first book we sourced from an self published author. This time we are reaching out to publishers and seeing what titles they have coming out in the month of our next box. From there we will select two or three that catch our interest, read them all, and choose the one we can best explore with the box items
GR: I assume you read (and liked!) the first book too?
MC: We certainly did! We were friends-of-friends with the first author, and were lucky enough to read a pre-release copy. We loved it, and Helen Scheuerer's hard work as an Aussie business woman in the industry, so we had to ask if we could feature it.
Luckily for us she agreed and we had a great time curating the box
JM: Yes! It was Heart of Mist by Helen Scheuerer. It just fit perfectly with what we want to achieve and it’s a excellent book!
GR: So it's kind of taking a review/recommendation one step further by putting it in someone's hands.
MC: I suppose it is! It's also about creating a more in-depth reading experience, by supplying items that enhance aspects of the story
GR: You mentioned "she agreed" and that brings up an interesting point - are you looking to work with the authors on these boxes, or will you be making most of the choices independently of whether they know what you're doing?
MC: With Helen we ran things past her simply because we value her ideas and input. We won't necessarily have the same experience with other authors and publishers, but it was a fun experience working with an author who was excited by the creativity involved in the curatorial process
JM: For the first box we had Helen looped in from the beginning. Because it was a first for us all - her debut novel, our first box - we collaborated a lot closer with Helen than we would if we go through a publishing house. I think through a publishing house will be different simply because we will be talking to the sales team rather than the author but it would be nice to work with another author.
GR: I'm sure a lot of authors would be interested in what you're doing and keen on your work. What happens if someone really loves say, fantasy, literary and crime books, but isn’t interested in YA or “women’s fiction”? Are they able to sit out one quarter or do they have to unsubscribe and resubscribe the next time around?
MC: We'll have 6 monthly, and yearly subscription options, but also the option to simply buy one box in a one off sense. If our audience is keen on being adventurous they can sign up for a year, and get 4 boxes with unknown genres until the themes are released, but if they prefer to wait and see what the theme is, they can simply drop by every quarter and purchase one box at a time.
The 6-month and yearly subscriptions will have the option to freeze their subscription to skip a box if they're not interested in the genre
GR: Sounds like there's a way to meet lots of different needs. Do you have any particular preference for big vs small vs self publishing? You mentioned that you’re working with publishers for next time and have already done one indie author; was that a conscious decision to draw from different areas, or just how things have panned out?
JM: It's just been how things have panned out. We were lucky Helen wanted to work with us because we had to crowdfund the first box (we hit our target goal in the first 48 hours!) but up until then, it was a "we really want to feature your book if we get the funds" deal. We weren't ready to approach publishers until we had the funding so we are in the midst of contacting them all now for the next one
MC: If we hear of an indie author publishing something that we like the sound of we'll likely approach them to read a pre-release copy, and if we like it, we might feature it.
We're not biased either way, but we do love to support independent and small businesses and artists so if we get the chance to represent a little known author, we'll love to.
GR: You talked about crowdfunding... what kinds of start-up costs were there that meant you needed to go the crowdfunding route? Is there enough of a time lag between subscriptions closing and you guys sending out the boxes that you can use each box's subscription fees to cover its contents?
MC: There wasn't a great deal actually, because we work from home and it's an online selling platform. But things like buying the packaging, getting a start on products, the website fees and setting up different accounts all needed to be covered.
And yes! We'll close sales before ordering so we'll know exactly how much money we have to work with before getting down to business putting the boxes together.
The design and item choices will likely be made before then, but we won't order until we know the numbers we need.
GR: Are you hoping to buy direct from a publisher or supplier for a discounted rate, or will you buy through a retailer like Dymocks if you have to?
JM: Preferably through the publisher/supplier for the wholesale rate. We are hoping the cost of the subscription covers the cost of the box items and we plan to have at least three extra goodies on top of the book in each box
GR: Speaking of which (should have asked this earlier!), what DOES a subscription cost?
JM: A one off subscription is $39.99 plus post & handling. The 6 and 12 month subscriptions will be slightly discounted as they are bulk payments. We are still figuring that out at this stage
GR: What kinds of “bookish treats” do you look for? And where do you find them?
MC: Anything small and light that makes sense with the story! This time we had handmade scented soap and a hand woven macrame keyring, plus artworks and a bookmark by yours truly that either depicted scenes or characters in the book. We'll be looking for things like tea, candles, jewellry, and other small treats, on places like Instagram and Etsy. We want to keep our sourcing local so we only approach Australian makers.
One of our contributors contacted us after I sent a shoutout on some facebook pages for Australian artists.
GR: You’ve said one of your goals is to support Australian authors. Are there things about the local industry that you wish more readers knew or appreciated?
JM: Yes. I think the most startling statistic that readers might not know is the average yearly income for Australian authors is around $12,000. That includes authors published by the big publishing houses. It puts the price tag of books ($20-45) in a lot of perspective, even more so because the author receives up to 10% per sale. If we can feature Australian authors in our boxes and promote them on our social media channels and blog, perhaps their books will be bought more and they can start making a liveable income, an income worthy of their books
MC: Also our Aussie market is still quite small compared to more established ones like in the UK and America, so we often find American and English authors more easily and for less money here in Australia. We'd love to see our own market grow, and to see Australian books be more widely read here and abroad.
GR: I recently looked that one up when having a conversation with my husband about what "making it" as a writer means... I was formerly a high school teacher and don't really want to do that anymore, but it's a bit sobering to realise I could do casual relief teaching ONE day a week and earn more than the average writer. It's certainly not proportionate to the work that goes in!
MC: Yeah it's crazy. You have to be obscenely successful as a writer to make a half decent living from it.
GR: What about the books themselves - is there something that you particularly enjoy about reading books that might be set in Australia or written using "our" language (I never realise just how much Australian English differs from other places until my American critique partners start asking questions about things), or themes that you think crop up more?
JM: I find books written in "our" language easier to relate to because I can understand the jargon. Sometimes with American or UK books I am pulled out of the story by a phrase or word because I don't have the context.
MC: Honestly part of why we started this is because we were talking one day and realised how few Australian authors we had actually read. We asked each other "Why is that?" and realised that unless you write very very "Aussie" kinds of books, set in Australia, or with Australian characters, they're not marketed so strongly as australian books. I remember realising Garth Nix and Isobelle Carmody were Australian when I was 16 and being really excited by that as I'd thought they were American. I partially want to showcase Australian authors that do all sort of genres, not just our literary writers like Tim Winton, and our outback category romance books that sell like hotcakes. I wanted to explore the fact that we write fantasy, and sci-fi and young adult novels too, and they also fall under the Australian literature umbrella.
We'd also really like to feature some indigenous writers, as it's such an underrepresented voice in our community that we believe would be really worth helping to put out there.
JM: Also yeah, we don't read enough of our own authors (a fact made very clear by our instagram challenge and general lack of Australian author influencers) which is a shame. We want to be able to proudly read our local authors and show them off
GR: Yes, it's a similar sentiment that started #loveOzYA and that's become a really exciting and successful movement. I hope you guys are just as successful in what you're trying to start!
JM: I hope we reach half the success of #loveOzYA! They are doing some really cool things.
GR: If you've got time for one more, do each of you have a favourite genre (or author)?
MC: Thank you for being interested in what we're up to! It's been a real pleasure. I'm a genre junkie that sort of jumps between them and reads everything but I love fantasy, sci-fi, and romance the most. I also love a good classic, and speculative fiction :) I'd say my favourite Aussie author is Isobelle Carmody.
JM: My favourite genre would be fantasy. I just love the intricate details of worldbuilding and the different elements to magic within these worlds. My favourite fantasy author (other than J.K Rowling of course) is Ian Irvine. He is an Australian who also writes Crime and Children's. His fantasy is one of the best series I've ever read - The Three World Cycle. I also love a good speculative fiction, YA and historical fiction
Thank you for interviewing us!
GR: It's been a pleasure!
You can sign up for Bookcase Australia on their website. Jordan and Melissa also run a blog, instagram, facebook and twitter accounts.