5 lessons from a publishing life

Andrew Hayward is MD of Ether Books, and has previously worked at The Lutterworth Press, Penguin, Pearson, Constable & Robinson and Summersdale Publishers.

About eighteen months ago my CEO and I were in an investment fair pitching for money for Ether. At the buffet lunch an investment banker said to me, ‘Andy, I don’t think you have ever done a day’s work in your life.’

I was a bit taken aback and asked if she had spoken to my bosses. ‘No, my point is that you are so passionate about what you do and you love your industry, it is not work for you.’ And I am and I do. I think I have been very fortunate to have been involved in publishing, working with fun people and being involved with interesting projects. So that is the first thing to remember and be grateful for, publishing is a great way of life.

1) Always reply

The lessons I have learnt are very simple. Firstly, always reply to correspondence: it does not take long to send an email, simply acknowledging the other person, but it is professional and courteous.

2) Be prepared

Second is a mantra that applies to whatever you do, not just publishing: fail to prepare, prepare to fail. As anyone who knows me will testify, I am a real thickie but I am never underprepared. I can think of meetings where the other person was not up to speed and it is a waste of everyone’s time.

3) Be patient

Thirdly, plant the seeds and wait for them to come to growth. I had lunch with an editor this week who said she had spoken to an author over a year ago and asked if he would like to write a book for her company. She heard nothing for fourteen months and then she had a missive from him saying he would, indeed, be interested in writing a book for her company.

Likewise, in my role as an agent I had written three times to a newspaper suggesting that they would like to take my author as an occasional correspondent. Not once did I get a response and then two weeks ago the paper got in touch and we have now had two articles in a couple of weeks. Publishing is very much a matter of faith. Sometimes the seeds never grow and sometimes they grow gloriously.

4) Keep the faith

Fourthly, believe in your vision even when people pour scorn on you. I was on the original committee for World Book Day and it took three years to get it off the ground. I well remember my boss at Penguin at the time saying that we were ‘baying at the moon’ (a wonderful phrase) if I thought publishers would share their marketing money with other publishers for a generic campaign. Well our committee continued to bay at the moon and now people say, ‘What a great idea.’ Likewise with Ether. Reading from mobiles was a nonsense, I was told, but now the statistics are proving our arguments and we have people wanting to buy the company.

5) You just never know…

Fifthly, and finally, remember publishing is not an exact science. Any of us who have been around a long time can remember times where books that were going to be sure-fire bestsellers turned out to be duds and books that came from nowhere hit the bestseller lists.

Once when I had been pitching Ether and said, ‘You will get a lot of marketing information as feedback,’ the response had been, ‘Yes, we don’t publish now unless we have all the sales information to hand. The day of the inspirational publisher is gone.’ As they said that I felt a little bit of me die, but the truth is that is not, and cannot, be the case. (A Shepherd’s Life or A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing would undoubtedly have failed any sales and marketing criteria for being published but went on to become bestsellers.)

So, the most important lesson I have learnt over the last thirty-five years is to keep your passion and do NOT be put off by people who pour cold water on your ideas. Believe in yourself and enjoy your job.

Comments

  1. Nadine L

    Great advice that can apply to any industry. My favourite lines are “Thirdly, plant the seeds and wait for them to come to growth. […] Sometimes the seeds never grow and sometimes they grow gloriously.” Thanks for posting!

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