Matt Haslum spent 8 years building an award-winning digital creative agency working with big brands, helping them focus on engaging their customers online. He joined Faber & Faber as Marketing Director in 2012, building a list-focussed consumer-facing marketing team along side an award-winning website and Members programme. Since leaving Faber in 2017, Matt has been consulting for publishers and creative agencies on a broad range of topics – from digital development, to list & campaign planning, to marketing and publishing strategy. In March 2018, Matt became UK MD of Chelsea Green Publishing, leading US publisher on the politics and practise of sustainable living.
This role at The Quarto Group is a full time, 9-12 months fixed term contract to cover part of the Group Director of Corporate Marketing & Communications’ remit while she is on maternity leave. It reports to the Chief Executive Officer.
Jodie Mullish is Communications Director at Pan Macmillan imprint Bluebird, publisher of Joe Wicks, Russell Brand and Jasmine Hemsley. She was previously Head of Fiction Marketing at Pan Macmillan, and has also worked at Penguin, Quarto and a number of award-winning marketing and PR agencies on clients as diverse as Banksy, Christian Aid and the Central Office of Information. Norah Myers interviews her here.
Sarah Plows manages the marketing and publicity team at Jessica Kingsley Publishers, having previously held positions in the marketing departments of Palgrave Macmillan and Robert Hale. She features on The Bookseller’s 2017 list of Rising Stars in the publishing industry. Here Norah Myers interviews her about her role and recent award.
One of the most important components of building buzz behind your newest, shiniest book is getting book reviewers on board. However, building up a reliable stable of book reviewers is a long-term process. It’s a relationship, and treating working with book reviewers as a purely transactional affair won’t do you any favours – you don’t just put books in the slot and hope a review pops out like magic.
Last week I was lucky enough to receive a VIP behind-the-scenes tour of Blackwell’s flagship store in Broad Street, Oxford. The point of the exercise, led by Kate Stilborn, Blackwell’s Customer Service and Operations Director, is to build stronger connections with publishers, in order for all of us to work better together. And sell more books, of course.
I expected a whistle-stop tour, but in fact I was greeted with a full day’s programme, prepared by the shop’s Customer Service Manager, Nicky James, which included meetings with lots of different staff members, and the opportunity to get to grips – literally – with the books themselves. By the time the day ended – with an unexpected fire alarm and al fresco goodbyes – I had aching feet and an even greater appreciation for the dedication and passion of our bookselling colleagues.
So here’s a snapshot of my day at Blackwell’s, plus some – ah – snapshots. (Sorry.)
The first stage on my tour was the Gaffer’s Office, furnished just as it was in Basil Blackwell’s day, and now used as a reminder of former times and as a green room for visiting speakers. But this step back in time is no indicator of the company’s direction of travel. They’re currently in the midst of a Revolution in Customer Service, and they’re in the process of transition to an employee partnership model similar to John Lewis’s.
In an age when online shopping is so easy, Nicky James explained that Blackwell’s is aiming to provide a wonderful customer experience every single time. They have a programme of ‘mystery shops’, leading to feedback on how customers are treated, with an emphasis on learning rather than blame. I love the fact that there’s a box to tick on the mystery shopping questionnaire for ‘moments of delight’ – that moment when a bookseller goes above and beyond the shopper’s expectations.
The theme of autonomy came up again and again during my time at Blackwell’s. In a booklet containing 10 Great Ideas for Giving Outstanding Customer Service, Toby Blackwell gives staff freedom to bend or break the usual rules in pursuit of excellent service – an approach I find outstanding.
After meeting several booksellers from different departments (quite a few of them called James), I found myself in the breathtakingly book-filled Norrington Room, in the care of David Kelly, the store’s Sales Manager. I know this room well from my earlier life in Oxford, but I didn’t know until now that it covers come 10,000 square feet and contains an outrageous three and a half miles of bookshelves.
David also revealed another fact that surprised me, when he told me that the booksellers for each department make their own decisions about what to stock, meeting reps personally and negotiating terms specifically for their lists. My experience of the bookselling world from the publishing side of the net has been one of increasing centralisation and lack of empowerment at the individual shop level, so this was a true surprise for me. Each bookseller organises the displays in their area of the shop with care and attention, and they invite visiting speakers and academics from the university to curate thematic collections – as you can see on the tables in the picture below.
Yes, David agreed when I questioned him on this, it would be more efficient to negotiate with publishers centrally – but the benefits of empowering staff to make their own decisions about which titles to promote and how to promote them cannot be underestimated.
How can we, as publishers, make David’s work easier, I asked. His answer, without hesitation, was that we should stop jumping on bandwagons such as colouring books and children’s book parodies. In his view, it ‘saturates the market and makes books less special’ – it’s like copying another bookshop’s window display: unimaginative and backward-looking. New ideas, please!
I emerged from the bowels of the building into the bright light of the ground floor, the home of fiction from 1960 onwards. I met James Orton, a star of the bookselling team whose love of books positively radiates from him, and I saw just how much freedom the staff have to curate collections of titles, enabling them to share their passions and participate in topical cultural moments.
Eye-catching shelf displays present customers with hand-picked selections of the booksellers’ current favourites – and what really struck me was that booksellers (just like normal booklovers) get just as excited about books published last year, or fifty years ago, as they do about the latest new releases.
I pulled my weight for a short while and earned the right to wear my Bookseller badge by filling a table with books for James’s Dirty Realism display. This is the point where I learned that there are books everywhere in the shop, stacked under tables in orderly piles, and that booksellers are black belts in the art of carrying armfuls of books without bumping into anyone or falling over – fates I narrowly avoided.
After working with Maria, Lorna and Jade in the first floor Literature department, my day ended with a chat over coffee in the café with Beth from Events and Aleida from Sales Development. Blackwell’s run a programme of successful book-related events throughout the year, and they also provide bookshop services for many of the academic conferences that take place in Oxford.
Beth loves hearing from publicists, and it’s a useful reminder to us publishers that we have to stay alert for every promotional opportunity. There are more organisations than we may realise who are keen to meet our authors, and whose audiences are ready to buy their books. If they don’t come knocking on our doors, it’s up to us to make the introductions.
Aleida explained that proof copies are invaluable in building up staff enthusiasm for forthcoming titles – you’ve probably got the message already that the team at Blackwell’s are mad about books, and Aleida told me all the staff read the proofs the shops receives. So it’s worth splashing out on some digital copies of your forthcoming titles if you can find room in your budgets.
What would they like from us, as publishers? Beth and Aleida gave me their wishlist:
Speaking of moments of crisis, our meeting was interrupted at this point by a fire alarm, and I joined book browsers and booksellers in the sunshine on Broad Street for a last chat and goodbye before heading home.
Meeting the staff and seeing behind the scene of one of my all-time favourite bookstores was a treat that I will treasure – and I hope the experiences I’ve shared here have helped to shed a little light on the mysterious world of bookselling that exists between us publishers and those even more mysterious people: the readers.
Many thanks to Kate Stilborn for inviting me, Nicky James for planning the day, plus David, James, Miguel, Maria, Lorna, Jade, Beth and Aleida for sharing their knowledge and enthusiasm!
Abbie Headon has worked in editorial and digital roles at Summersdale Publishers and Oxford University Press, and is now working for a range of publishing clients as Abbie Headon Publishing Services. She’s available for all kinds of publishing projects and spends too much time on Twitter at @abbieheadon.
Carys Bray is the author of a collection of short stories, Sweet Home, and two novels, A Song for Issy Bradley, which was shortlisted for the Costa Book Awards, and The Museum of You. Here, she shares her experience about an author’s relationship with a publicist.
When my first book was published I was my own publicist. I managed to arrange a few appearances in bookshops, but if anyone approached me (I couldn’t bring myself to approach them) I found myself saying things like: ‘You can buy one of my books if you like, but you don’t have to – in fact, have you ever read any books by Carol Shields or Anne Tyler or Liz Jensen? They’re brilliant, you should definitely buy their books…’
I was a terrible publicist.
When, having written my second book (my first novel), I was assigned to work with a publicist, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I didn’t know that publicists work on several books at once and face both time and budgetary constraints – I’d never really given it any thought. I quickly realised that although some of the trickier jobs (such as sending out review copies, speaking to bookshops and festivals, working with book bloggers, arranging interviews and so on) may no longer be exclusively mine, I needed to remain engaged and think about the best way to showcase my work.
Advice from other, more experienced writers was, and is, helpful. Here are a couple of thoughts from some experienced writers:
‘Publicists are expected to perform magic for every author, every time, and from what I’ve seen they go into it with absolute dedication and determination, but it doesn’t always pay off for reasons that aren’t always within their control.’
‘Writers need to make a leap of understanding – our books are only the single most important thing in our own universes. A book is not a story. Writers need to offer a publicist something – apart from their book – to work with.’
Every book is different and, as another writer friend advised, ‘A standard approach does neither the book nor the writer justice.’ I’ve tried to offer my publicists things to work with (at such times I realise how boring I am and vow to get some interesting hobbies!). It can be tricky to decide which parts of your life you’re willing to share and which are entirely yours and should remain separate from your books and writing life. A good publicist can help you to strike a balance.
There have been times when things haven’t gone quite right. I’ve spoken to rooms of mostly empty chairs and once to a room containing one person – it was actually quite fun in the end! I’ve carried bags of books to events and lugged every single one home with me. I’ve twice been interviewed by journalists who subsequently removed all the questions and chopped up my words to create a decontextualized first person narrative which sounded absolutely nothing like me. But I have had many enjoyable experiences, too.
When The Museum of You was published I spent a day riding around the northwest in an old-fashioned bus. When A Song for Issy Bradley was published a writer at the Guardian conducted a thoughtful interview addressing my feelings about Mormonism. I have given talks in libraries, interviewed writers at literary festivals, been an after dinner speaker and interacted with many generous book bloggers. Publicists have helped me to practice interview questions, smiled at me through the glass while I’ve done live radio interviews, helped me find my way around unfamiliar cities, and even offered consolation following a horrible gaff on social media. I’ve enjoyed working with my publicists and hopefully, between us, we’ve managed to find ways to introduce my books to people who will really enjoy them.
Abbie Headon runs Abbie Headon Publishing Services, and offers a range of skills including writing, editing and commissioning, alongside social media, website development and publishing management. She champions fresh approaches to solving the industry’s challenges and can be found mingling at most publishing events. Abbie’s also BookMachine’s Commissioning Editor and sits on the BookMachine Editorial Board.
Bridget Lawless is a screenwriter, novelist and educator. She has written a number of educational books about social issues, including drugs and violence. Currently she’s re-evaluating her own fictional writing and first novel in the light of launching the Staunch Book Prize, which is proving an interesting creative challenge.
Publicists and marketers are working in a digital and trad media world where contacts are easy to find but perhaps harder to reach. Nurturing and maintaining relationships in this environment is as important as ever but some challenges are presented. How do you keep up with simultaneous communication through email, Twitter, Messenger, Instagram, Facebook and other digital platforms without feeling overwhelmed? How do you ensure that your communication is meaningful, that you present yourself as a valuable contact rather than white noise or even unwanted spam?
January this year saw the launch of our new series of books on gender diversity. From first-person memoirs to children’s storybooks, many of these books are written by trans and non-binary people and consider the particular challenges that this group faces.
Georgina Moore is Communications Director at Headline and Tinder Press, and runs the Press Office. Her recent campaigns include Bryony Gordon’s Mad Girl and Sarah Schmidt’s See What I Have Done and she is currently working on Maggie O’Farrell’s memoir I Am, I Am, I Am. Sam Perkins interviews her here.
There aren’t many people who can describe themselves as a professional content marketer, publisher and writer. These are three things very close to my heart, so I was practically dancing round the room when Melissa Romo agreed to be my guest on The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast.
Melissa is Head of Global Content Marketing at Sage (the accountancy software company, not the publisher), and wrote a novel, Blue-Eyed Son, which she set up a publishing company, Red Ship Books, to publish. (You’ll have worked out by now that this is not a woman who does things by halves.)
Content marketing is now mainstream in every industry. It’s part of what Melissa described as the ‘digital transformation’, but that doesn’t mean it’s always necessarily done well. Here are three top tips from my conversation with Melissa to check your own content marketing strategy is on track.
Melissa described how Sage ‘is striving to truly leverage content as a strategic element of its digital marketing in a way that it hasn’t been able to so far.’ One reason why it’s been problematic in the past was legacy structure: ‘The company has really been organised by countries or acquired units, and so activity around content has been relatively siloed in those countries or acquired units… there hasn’t been a holistic thinking about the audience.’
The audience is not monolithic, of course, and neither is it an abstract concept. The people you’re writing for are real people with their own preoccupations, fears, frustrations and hopes. ‘It’s the job of content professionals and content specialists to help define the audience, and put a face on the audience,’ says Melissa. ‘We worked on this last year, defining six personas for Sage, and that is how we define our content… we have, in the past, tended to start with the product we’re trying to sell, and what we are working hard to change at Sage is that we actually should start with the person we’re trying to sell to.’ Not the imprints. Not marketing vs editorial. Not the UK vs the US. Whatever way your company has been carved up to create neat reporting lines is almost certainly not the way you want to be presenting yourself to your readership.
I was struck by the fact that Melissa is one person on Twitter (@RomoAuthor), despite wearing so many hats. It wasn’t always that way, she told me, but ‘trying to run three Twitter accounts as an author, a publisher and a content professional was too hard, and I realised I lost the synergies that go between those three types of roles, and so I just decided to dump the three and go with @RomoAuthor… I want to just be that one persona out there in social media.’ What makes her so special is precisely that blend of expertise, experience and interests. People buy people, so focusing on your audience should not mean that you lose your sense of yourself. The publishers who are winning at social media and content marketing today are those who let the personalities of their passionate, intelligent, sometimes snarky, often funny individual members of staff shine through. Having said that, you can’t always have a bright young thing on hand to answer a customer’s question so…
I asked Melissa what she thought were the trends in content marketing – what do we need to be thinking about next?
‘What’s really hot right now is content coming out through robots… The bot that Sage has developed is called Pegg, and Pegg actually works through Facebook Messenger and through Slack… You know, if you ask Pegg about your accounting balance, or just “Have I been paid by this customer today?” Pegg will be able to tell you if that has happened or not.’
Some publishers are already using chat bots like this: HarperCollins has recommendation bots that work through Facebook Messenger (BookGenie and EpicReads), and Pan Macmillan are on the brink of launching theirs. The team behind it, BAM Digital, are also developing a recommendation engine for voice-activated assistants such as Amazon’s Alexa, which as Melissa notes is taking the US by storm: ‘Everyone has Alexa on their kitchen counter.’
Content marketing is still a relatively young discipline. In some ways it’s simply what we’ve always done – told stories, connected with each other, made someone laugh or cry or think, or persuaded them to do something – but it’s also just beginning to explore the boundaries of what’s becoming possible in this disrupted world.
Watch this space.
Alison Jones (@bookstothesky) is a publishing partner for businesses and organizations writing world-changing books. She also provides executive coaching, consultancy and training services to publishers. www.alisonjones.com.
On a cold day in November, I was lucky to be the first person clicking on a button that said I want to win! Actually, I’ll be honest, luck had very little to do with it! When I read that BookMachine was offering someone the chance to win a 1-day PTC course in copywriting, I knew I was going to do everything in my power to be that first person!
I’d like to get into technical copywriting and have had some amazing inspiration and influences. Why technical writing? If there’s one thing I’ve always appreciated, it’s clarity with words. Years ago, as a census enumerator, I remember explaining to residents how to complete the census form. The census forms bore the Crystal Mark of the Plain English Campaign. I understood the process a publication needed to undergo to earn that symbol. I loved that! I loved that something had to be written, edited and simplified, and made jargon-free so that Joe Bloggs down the street could understand it – in essence, so that it was foolproof.
Working in the NHS, I’m sorry to say, means that unfortunately, like anyone working in a massive organisation, I’m relentlessly exposed to jargon. I HATE jargon! Can’t understand it!
And so, back to the course. PTC’s Peter Mackay introduced Bev Legge, our trainer. With years of experience – both in journalism and publishing, he had plenty to share (and divulge!). Everyone else attending was in in-house publishing, so I was a bit of a fish out of water. From the outset, we were prompted to think about good copy vs bad copy. Faced with a blank screen? It doesn’t matter – start typing, even if it’s bad copy! There’s never a positive to come from staring at a blank screen for more than 15 seconds.
A useful – and very personal – aspect of the day was the ‘Reviews’ we did on each other’s copy. As a way of breaking up the theoretical learning, we each studied examples of our own work – for appraisal and feedback – not alone from Bev, but from each other. This was eye opening and constructive.
Bev got us working in small groups and alone, simplifying, slashing and editing, making huge changes to swathes of copy: face the fear and do it anyway! (Who said that?) Some of his veritable nuggets of creativity were the links and tools for searching and inspiration, especially the Google advanced searches and settings – I didn’t realise till then how limited my own Google experience had been.
No-one walked away hungry – with gourmet snacks and drinks at every break and a sumptuous cooked lunch, not to mention sweet jars strategically placed on our tables, temptation lurking for even the hardiest of healthy-eating fanatics!
I came away from the day, head swimming with ideas and inspiration, the seeds sown for my career leap into copywriting.
Become a BookMachine member to be in with a chance of winner a prize like Anna did.
Anna Nolan is a proofreader, copy-editor and paediatric dietician. She is a member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and is a volunteer on their social media team. She’s just starting her copywriting career and juggling these jobs with bringing up two feisty kids! Find her on Twitter and LinkedIn.