What I wish someone had told me about publishing


This is a guest post from Alice Murphy-Pyle. Alice is Marketing Manager at Transworld Books, an imprint of Penguin Random House. Follow her on Twitter @alicemurphypyle

“Learn digital skills!’ people bellow when you try to get into publishing. ‘It’s the future!’

Well. It is and it isn’t.

When I started in publishing I did bring some digital skills with me – not exactly shaking the industry foundations, but enough to get by. I quickly learnt, however, that marketing is about much more.

1. Hone the ability to learn

Many of the things I spent ages refining – video editing, web design, Photoshop – I no longer use in the day-to-day. But I can if, say, our designer is busy.

The ability to keep building on the tech skills I have, though, means that I have a range of tools available for when I need them. Analytics, too, are everything.

2. Cultural awareness is important…

…and not just about publishing.

It is so much easier to have an opinion on a book if you are plugged in.

Music, theatre, TV, art and films influence publishing in ways both subtle and obvious.

Within non-fiction in particular, ideas for marketing campaigns can come from anywhere. As a department, we keep track of the ideas, tech and creativity coming from other business sectors and work out how we can apply them to publishing.

3. Having a specialism is important

Being able to have an area of speciality means you become more expert and therefore have more authority in what you know. I don’t solely work on women’s fiction, but it is where the bulk of my biggest fiction campaigns to date have been.

In the next few months I have crime, political memoir, gardening, saga, women’s fiction, literary and historical fiction campaigns coming up. The brilliant thing about working in trade publishing is that it is so varied.

4. Experience beats enthusiasm

I’m fortunate at Transworld to work with lots of people who have a lot of experience and have been in the industry for years. It means I can ask other people for their advice, see what has been done before, and what more we could do.

Using other people’s experience to work out what will work means that you build up your own knowledge, too.

It’s definitely important to have original ideas, but a solid foundation in what has come before pays dividends. Ask questions, discover what other people have learned, and use that knowledge to create amazing campaigns.

5. The sands are shifting beneath your feet

Things that worked even a year ago aren’t a dead cert to work now.

The ‘next big thing’ often belly flops into virtual oblivion.


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Meanwhile Facebook advertising, which was seen as the lamest-of-the-lame a few years ago, is a key part to many campaigns. I recently spent half the budget of a large advertising spend on Facebook feed ads, because that’s where that author’s audience is.

Across Penguin Random House, we have enormously nuanced consumer insight, enabling us to target our marketing to the right platform for our readers.

The traditional ways still work for many books, but they are fortified with ever more nimble methods.

How we market books evolves, but amazing jackets, catchy copy lines and most of all brilliant stories are still key. The medium changes, but the basics remain.

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