Last week I attended the Patrick Hardy Lecture, an annual event organised by the Children’s Book Circle. This year the speaker was Marion Lloyd, a children’s literature guru with an eponymous imprint at Scholastic Children’s Books. She is very, very good at what she does – if her own imprint isn’t enough to convince you, take a look at the shortlist for this year’s Guardian Children’s Fiction Prize. Of eight titles, three are Marion Lloyd Books.
Compressing forty years of experience into an hour long speech can’t be easy, even for someone of her editorial prowess, but she gave it a go and the results were funny, insightful and moving. Some of the advice she offered was familiar, but I had never heard it shared with such warmth and wisdom.
She began by expressing her admiration for the young people trying to get into publishing nowadays because it is so extraordinarily competitive. The last time she recruited for a position at Scholastic there were 347 applications. Many, she said, were from candidates with far more relevant and interesting experience than she had when she started out. She didn’t share this anecdote to say that a career in publishing is hopeless, but to illustrate that it is something that will require dedication, tenacity and nerve.
Another thing she said aspiring publishers need is an insatiable appetite for learning that translates into the ability to reinvent themselves. She specifically encouraged taking advantage of training opportunities and working in different parts of publishing to gain new skills. She was an editor for the majority of her career, but became a bookseller for a time to learn a different side of the business. The importance she placed on learning tallies with something my classmates and I heard on the very first day of our publishing MA: publishers must be perpetually curious people.
Besides being curious, a successful publisher also needs to be commercially minded. Lots of people end up in publishing because they love books. This was true of Lloyd, who described her pleasure in receiving new books for Christmas, and then finishing them by Boxing Day, as a child. But merely loving books does not make you a good publisher. You must, Lloyd said, develop yourself as a reader, develop yourself as a publisher, and remember that they are two different things.
She explained what she meant with an example from her early editorial days: when she was in charge of the Pony List at Armada, an author sent in an out of print book for Lloyd to consider. Lo and behold, it was one of Lloyd’s own childhood favourites, a book she had read and loved many times over. But, as she flipped through it with her publisher’s hat on, she knew she would have to reject it. As a reader, she felt the same love for it she always had, but as a publisher she knew it would not fit in her list.
I’m beginning to understand the difference in my own professional life. Recently I attended a company session on digital strategy. Although I’d acknowledge the importance of digital advances in publishing before, I’d been rather ambivalent about them. In truth, I saw them as necessary evil. But my Managing Director has converted me. She summed up why digital technology is important and vital to the future of publishing better than anyone I’ve heard on the subject. For her part she explained, as a reader, she will always be addicted to the smell, texture and weighty presence of a ‘real’ book, but as a publisher, she increasingly views the book as a piece of technology. And it is her job to bring that technology to as many users as possible. Ereaders, ebooks, multimedia apps…they’re all just ways to enhance this piece of technology and reach new readers.
Lloyd did not speculate about how digital technology will change publishing, but she said she was sure of one thing whatever happens. Fundamentally, she said, the mission of publishers, the people who love, live and make books, won’t change because people’s fundamental, human need for stories will not go away.
As an editor, stories were at the heart of everything Lloyd did. She worked with authors to build great books and bring great stories to readers. Sharing her own story last week empowered others to continue that mission.