Making Love: What the Mills & Boon archive reveals about publishing relationships

Mills & Boon

This is a guest post from Abigail Barclay, Managing Consultant at Inspired Selection. Abigail is recruiting for a range of roles in professional publishing as well as managing a team of recruitment consultants.

With Valentine’s Day approaching, we are all eager to learn some lessons in love and what better classroom for this than the Galley Club’s Mills & Boon talk delivered by the fabulous Judith Watts. Roars of laughter, chinks of wine glasses and plenty of provocative images filled the room as we, the attentive students, took notes to learn how to romance our publishing brands.

Lesson One: Cherish Your Brand

The Mills & Boon brand is a strong one, recognisable for a very particular genre of story and cherished among a specific group of readers. The stories deliver exactly what you hope for, indeed requesting one of the ‘Books in Brown’ from the newsagent (as lending libraries were in decline in the 1950s) would and could only end in an alpha male sweeping up a beautiful heroine *swoons*. Furthermore, as we heard later on, that alpha male could also be relied upon to be tall, dark, handsome and best of all… silent, or with very few words!!

Trying to be all things to all people can dilute a brand and can mean that you are front of mind to no particular audience. This is the first of our lessons in love, to fall back in love with our brand every day and keep focused on why it is special.

Lesson Two: Love your Authors

Mills & Boon gave a platform for some great female authors in an age when this simply wasn’t done and nor an option. Before banks gave women mortgages, this brand gave women a career through love, support and oftentimes pseudonyms.

This is not a one way relationship either and like all good relationships it’s about give and take. Mills & Boon soon recognised that the more you loved your authors, facilitating a lifestyle for them, the more you got out of them at a high quality. In today’s highly efficient and highly productive publishing houses, we must remember to show our authors how much we respect and appreciate the, making it an exciting and fun environment to be in. This will be the key to publishing the best stories.

Lesson Three: Have a Passion for your Product

These books offered their readers escapism from their daily lives. Creating a world that replaced ironing with idols and dishes with dishy men. Of course this must not cross the line and the stories needed to be within the boundaries of what is right for readers to read. For example, a heroine must never be tipsy. Judith showed us some very important questions from an author to ensure that the product was on track: “Are the love scenes too tame?”, “Are the love scenes too advanced?” and very importantly, “Are bedroom doors to be fully closed?”

While obviously this list had us in fits of giggles, it does show a great respect for their product as it’s clearly of imperative importance that it is spot on. We can take this as our third lesson in love, let’s not churn out products to our customers; let’s be passionate about making something that will be loved.

Lesson Four: Get Close to Your Reader

Now, not too close please… This is about understanding your reader and while we think about customer insight and data analysis as a current and innovative trend, Mills & Boon were way ahead of the game. We saw a glimpse of one of their surveys, an early piece of data collection in the industry. They will have come across the same issues as we do today such as the validity of the data, I mean how many readers do you think would answer honestly, “Do you read Mills & Boon romances over and over again?”!!

Lesson Five: Embrace Change

Finally, and a lesson for us all this Valentine’s Day – Embrace Change. Challenge traditions, look forward and experiment (in a purely professional sense!). People change and businesses change and the possibilities of what we can do with products change but we still love them and always will.

It is hard not to feel like this week’s theme for the industry is discoverability. After attending this seminar and the huge news of Harper Lee’s sequel, we are surrounded by lessons for us to learn that whilst we must look forward and embrace change we shouldn’t forget where we came from.  We have built an industry on core values of integrity and creativity and from that we have seen huge success. This value lies in our history and archives and as Judith positively encouraged, we can revisit company archives to find hidden gems that may just make 2015 a very special year indeed…

This first appeared on the Inspired Selection Blog

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