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Heather O'Connell

Smart, scalable and responsible print production [Heather O’Connell interview]

Heather O’Connell has more than 20 years experience in the publishing industry and worked her way up from controller to senior management positions at Penguin and Harper Collins. She now runs Bluebird Consulting and also teaches Production both in-house and via the Publishing MA at UCL.

Heather will be speaking at the first BookMachine Unplugged event of 2018 – The new rules for print production: smart, scalable and responsible. Here Norah Myers interviews her about her work.

1. How do you work with publishers?

In a number of different ways. Reviewing production process and structure, business workflows and the supporting systems. I also provide training to publishers in technical and soft production skills.

2. How do you suggest new ideas to companies who might be unwilling to take a risk?

I work with them so that they fully understand the risk and reward and usually they come on board pretty quickly. I cannot and would not impose a change on a business, change works best with full buy in.

3. How do you help businesses to integrate and streamline new technology, products, or services that can make their work better without disrupting the flow or wasting time?

That really depends on what is being implemented, the scale of the change and the personalities involved. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ answer. it’s about working closely with the client to fully understand their business and implement at their pace with the maximum by in possible. Cultural change is always the most difficult element of any implementation and must be well planned and handled sensitively.

4. You spent over 5 years at Penguin Random House – how much change did you see in that period in terms of production workflows?

An enormous amount. The industry and the technology servicing it, is constantly evolving. It’s vital for any business to continuously improve and evolve to remain efficient and competitive. A few examples of the changes we made during my time at PRH or Penguin DK as it was then, we brought pre-press in house at DK and restructured the workflows and teams to facilitate this, creating a pre-press production and print production structure. We developed and implemented B3, moving from 17 systems across the business to 3. We restructured the Penguin production team so that we have a specialist colour book team. Ebooks were just becoming mainstream and created an ebook workflow and made it BAU alongside our print workflows so that all books were simultaneously published. We implemented an archiving system and process. We changed the mono book production process, streamlining the text design process and creating a number of templates for the business.

5. Has consulting work helped you see the bigger picture, compared to when you were in-house?

Not really, I have always been a big picture thinker and made it my business to understand all of the publishing houses I have worked for and not just the production area. Whether you work in house or as an external resource, I don’t think you can support, advise and innovate effectively without understanding the wider business and the industry we operate in. It has given me an insight into the many ways publishing houses do the same thing I.e publish books and has given me the opportunity to learn a lot and do the thing I love which is to make things better.

Heather will be speaking at BookMachine Unplugged: Talking Production on Wednesday 21st February 2018. Grab a ticket here.

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