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Wanted: Key Skills for the Book Publishing Industry

One the main lessons I’ve had in the last few years has been on recruitment as we hired for various positions across different businesses. Sometimes this has been for established positions in established businesses and at other times new roles in new or changing companies. As a result, we have had a lot of internal discussion over identifying and recruiting the right person for each role.

I have written before, as have many others, about the lack of diversity in the book industry – that the vast majority of people that work in the sector are white and middle-class. However, rather than asking why we are not employing more diversely, I think the more interesting question is why diversity isn’t attracted to us. Why are only a very small section of the public attracted to working in book publishing?

I’m not sure if it plays a role or not, but the roles appear very defined – everyone wants to work in editorial and if you can’t you can start or work in marketing, sales or production. But as the book marketplace has completely evolved over the last decade, surely the main roles should have changed too? What is beyond doubt is that there are some key skills lacking that most publishers are in need of:

Data Merchandising

Quality has been replaced by discoverability as the most important product measure for publishers in product-jammed marketplace. Nearly all retailers or customers use technology within the product discovery chain and so meta-data is all important, but still being handled by the intern in many publishing houses. Anyone who could increase sales overnight just by the use of data would be practically priceless.

Fanbase building

While publishers and authors love a national review and they retain marketing value, they no longer generate the sales spikes of old. Peer trust, review and platform are now all-important. With social media allowing trends to catch in seconds and loyal followings to be created in minutes and maintained over a considerable time, marketing departments should be snapping up anyone who can demonstrate success in building peer fanbases.

Event co-ordinating

We often look to the music industry on the back of its recent recovery, and while 100,000 people are less likely to fill Wembley for an author reading, the growth of book signings and literary festivals demonstrate the potential in events for publishers. A candidate who could run a successful and co-ordinated events schedule would be a huge asset for marketing or sales departments.

Partnerships and breaking into non-book specialist outlets

While the print book market is now stabilising and showing potential for growth, our high-streets are sadly not going to be refilling with new bookshops any time soon. As a result, for the book publisher, the domestic market is now a much smaller one with the success of new books often based around seven conversations with the remaining key retailers. Someone who could build partnerships outside of the traditional book retailers leading to listing/stock and sales in non-book specialist outlets would be a very exciting addition to any book publisher.

These are four examples and there are no doubt many others. Rather than thinking of set roles, we are trying to break from our traditional thinking and think about the specific skills our businesses require. It may or may not bring more diversity, but finding these skill would certainly lead to more successful publishers and as a result even more jobs.

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Tom Chalmers set-up Legend Press in 2005, a book publisher focused predominantly on mainstream literary and commercial fiction, as well as publishing a small number of non-fiction titles. Chalmers has been shortlisted for UK Young Entrepreneur of the Year, UK Young Publisher of the Year, UK Young Publishing Entrepreneur of the Year, and longlisted for the Enterprising Young Brit Awards. In 2008, Chalmers acquired a further publishing company, Paperbooks Publishing, run from the same office, and at the start of 2010 launched Legend Business, a business book imprint. Legend Press has also launched successful self-publishing and writer workshops ventures, now separate companies New Generation Publishing and Write-Connections respectively. In 2011, Legend Press was shortlisted for Independent Publisher of the Year. In 2012, he launched new venture IPR License, the first global and digital a platform on which to list and license literary rights. Chalmers also speaks regularly on publishing and business and is an Enterprise Ambassador for the Prince’s Trust.

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