Category: Success

Helen Harradine

What I have learnt from working in recruitment for half a decade

Helen Harradine is well known to many of our readers as a regular attendee of BookMachine events. Helen is celebrating her fifth workiversary with Inspired Selection this week! Here are five key lessons she has learnt from working in hashtag#recruitment for half a decade.

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FutureBook Conference

Event Report: BookMachine Unplugged – Talking Audio

On Wednesday 25 September, a packed house of audiophiles gathered in London’s Century Club for the very first BookMachine Unplugged: Talking Audio event. BookMachine editorial board member Louise Newton (Audio Editor, Little Brown) introduced a panel of experts with an outstanding range of experience between them: Catherine Daly (Audio Editor, Faber & Faber), Paul Stark (Audio and Digital Manager, Orion Publishing Group), Helena Sheffield (Marketing & Communications Manager, Penguin Random House Audio) and Sarah Shrubb (Audio Publisher, Hachette Audio).

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Claire Ormsby-Potter

Event report: BookMachine Meets Bloomsbury Publishing

On 19th September, BookMachine hosted its second BookMachine Meets… event in collaboration with the Bloomsbury Institute (@BloomsburyInst on Twitter). Held in the beautiful Bloomsbury HQ in the middle of actual Bloomsbury, the whole event had a wonderfully literary feel before the night had even started. The event was sold out, so there was a lively atmosphere as everyone gathered for pre-talk drinks in the conservatory, and I felt extremely fancy.

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Kit Caless

Like and subscribe: how Influx Press is connecting with readers

Influx Press is an independent publisher based in north London. Influx is committed to publishing innovative and challenging fiction, poetry and creative non-fiction from across the UK and beyond, and they have just launched a new subscription model for 2020. In this interview, co-founder Kit Caless explains the thinking behind this new project.

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Bob Cox-Wrightson

Publishing roles beyond the book industry: tips for job seekers and career changers

So you’re looking for a career in publishing – that must mean looking for a job making books for a publishing company, right? Well, in some cases yes, but this is by no means the only route open to you. Publishing, and publishing skills, are applicable to a wide range of interesting roles and diverse industries.

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Tamara Navaratnam

Agile working: How SAGE’s agile office supports cross-team collaboration

One afternoon a few weeks ago I was in that state of high productivity which is fuelled by the panic of an upcoming holiday. On my ‘absolutely must get done before going away’ list were a number of items I needed to discuss with Amy Maher, the Senior Editor on the Psychology list (for which I am the Marketing Manager). However, the last thing I needed was to take a chunk out of my remaining work hours to have a meeting.

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Philip Connor

What Editors Want: tips from the experts for editorial success

I interviewed 15 editors whose work I admire for my new podcast, What Editors Want, to find out what they look for in a book and what tips they have for other editors.

Here’s some of what I learnt along the way:

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Stop trying to go viral

Norah Myers is a freelance publishing consultant for BookMachine. She is currently writing a business book for a marketing company, practising Pilates, and eating too much flourless chocolate cake (and it shows). Her Twitter and Instagram handles are the same: @bookish_norah.

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Getting to the top of your profession: Interview with Georgina Morley

Georgina Morley is Non-Fiction Editorial Director at Macmillan. She acquires history, historical biography, memoir and the occasional book that might surprise you.  Norah Myers interviews her here.

1) How did you personally know when you were ready to progress to your next role?

Most of us want to make progress in our careers, especially starting out, but you have to learn your way around your job and get a sense of what aspects of your chosen career are the ones that are right for you personally. I was a secretary for a year (it was thirty years ago), then became a copy-editor and then moved across to the commissioning side of Penguin Books as assistant to the then Chief Editor, the late, great Peter Carson.

The two years I worked for Peter were fascinating. He worked with extraordinary authors like Robertson Davies, Jan Morris, Simon Schama and Roy Foster and I learned more in those two years than in three at university. But even though I’d started to acquire for myself and even though I loved being at Penguin and working for Peter, I started to feel restive. I needed a bigger challenge. There were no more senior roles there for me, so I knew I had to move on.

I thought it would take a year to find the right new job, but in fact it took only a couple of months. A colleague told me about a job at Transworld and I was lucky enough to get it, becoming a fully-fledged Commissioning Editor. Five years later, having learnt a huge amount about books, about editing, about authors, about publishing, it was again time to move. I put out some feelers, spoke to contacts who might have the heads up on who was looking to appoint someone and I joined Pan Macmillan as an Editorial Director in January 1994 and here I, very happily, still am.

2) Which qualities do you think help certain people to get to the top of their profession?

Passion – it’s a cliché, but it’s vital. If you can’t summon the energy to be passionate about the books you acquire, to communicate that passion to your colleagues so that they in turn can enthuse their customers and – ultimately – the people who really matter, the readers, then do something else. That tingle of excitement when you read a proposal or a manuscript that you know you want to publish is like nothing else. Cherish it.

Determination – stick at it. Most books you acquire are likely to underperform. Sometimes, they’re just not as good as you hoped they would be. Sometimes, the world just doesn’t want to know.  Sometimes you love a book with a vengeance and your colleagues just don’t get it. Learn when to back down as gracefully (not a trick I’ve always been able to pull off!) and when to keep to pushing at what seems like a very solid wall.

The ability to say no – this is probably the single most important lesson you need to learn. It’s tempting as a hungry young editor to buy books just to be able to say you’ve commissioned something. We’ve all done it. And sometimes we’ve got away with it. But a good editor knows that good enough isn’t actually good enough. Who is the market for this project? How will you reach that market? Does it fit what your publishing house does? If you can’t answer those questions, say no.

Being able to juggle – as an editor, and especially as an Editorial Director where you oversee a particular area of the list, you need to keep tabs on EVERYTHING. You’ll be reading submissions, editing manuscripts, writing cover copy, checking catalogue copy, clearing picture permissions, reassuring anxious authors, persuading them that a particularly cover look is right for their book, persuading your colleagues that the approach they favour won’t find favour with the author, etc., etc., etc. You’ll be dealing with this year’s books, last year’s books and next year’s books.

3) What has been the most challenging element of a senior position?

The juggling, as outlined above, which means there’s not always enough time to think strategically about the area of the list you’re responsible for. Or to think strategically full stop. We spend a lot of time firefighting and you have to be able to carve out space and time to step back from that and think clearly and calmly about how best to get the best for your books, while still ensuring that they are either profitable or prestigious. And preferably both.

4) Where would you like to be in 5 years?

Still working, still caring about the books and the authors and trying to help them publish the best version of their books.

5) What advice would you give your younger self?

Publishing’s a life choice, not just a career. You don’t work city hours (except you do, as you think about books and ideas and publishing every single day of the week, whether you’re at work or not) and you don’t get paid city money. Nobody dies if you screw up, but it will often feel like it; try to keep some perspective.  Have a hinterland. Read books outside the genres in which you publish, do other things than read books.

And if you find you don’t love your job, you’re not excited by the books your company publishes, don’t enjoy working out how to persuade people to read those books, then walk away. It isn’t for everyone. But for me, it’s been terrific. On a good day, it’s one of the best jobs a bookish person could have: you get to get up in the morning and go to work to talk to smart people about books.

Why publishers should be like Bond (James Bond)

Last week I gave a talk at the CoreSource user group on success and agility. Ingram Content Group itself exemplifies both: over the last 20 years it’s reinvented itself by a steady process of acquisition, reorganization and diversification, from its early days distributing microfiche readers in Nashville to an international group offering solutions to publishers and authors at every stage of the print and digital workflow. (So, no pressure, then.)

The theme of the day was ‘Secrets and Spies’. I began by asking: What is James Bond’s most effective weapon?

Could it be the Beretta 418, the gun featured in the original Casino Royale? Or the Walther PPK that replaced it? The improved flamethrower from Live and Let Die? Or maybe the remote controlled BMW in Tomorrow Never Dies, with its sunroof missiles and the wire cutter hidden in the logo?

It’s none of these, of course. Bond’s most effective weapon is his ability to adapt. He is the ultimate survivor – not just because he’s handy with a semi-automatic, but because he constantly changes, evolves, reinvents himself. Bond is agile, in every sense of the word.

I’ve been in publishing for 25 years now, and in digital publishing for most of those years, and for pretty much all that time publishing has been ‘in crisis’ somehow or other, there’s been one villain after another threatening to take over our world.

First there was ‘the threat of digital’, ‘the death of print’, closely linked to the hysteria over piracy. We’re navigating the transition and actually it’s been kind of fun – but costs generally went up and revenues generally went down.

Then there was Amazon, disrupting the established bookselling industry, driving down prices, keeping its data on ebook sales to itself and leaving us guessing at the true size of the market.

More recently there’s been ‘the threat of self-publishing’, and the rush of publishers to justify their existence, the fear of being disintermediated. Turns out there’s still room for traditional publishers, but because authors now have options, the terms for authors had to become more favourable, which erodes publishers’ profits, and the overall market share of the traditional publishing sector went down.

Now it’s ‘the sharing economy’, fuelled by cocreation and collaboration, its core values open access and connection and access rather than ownership and loads of stuff that runs directly counter to the traditional publishing model of selling discrete units of content to people for money.

So where does all this leave us? Each wave of disruption has tended to chip away at profits and add to costs. It feels uncomfortably like the laser is getting every closer to our critical bits.

But of course disruption is just another word for opportunity. The reality is that for those with the imagination and the will to make the leap, there are more opportunities out there than ever before for publishers to make money. Content is the currency of our age, and we are experts on content. Everyone now needs the skills we have.

But publishers who are still exclusively focused on picking one course through this explosion of possibilities, still wedded to the traditional model of selling content in books to consumers through shops to make a profit, are missing out on potential revenue today and I suggest may also  be writing their death warrant for tomorrow.

Like Bond, and indeed like Ingram, successful and agile companies select and seize opportunities – and the best opportunities will be different for each – build on what’s there already to add new revenue streams in growth markets to supplement declining revenues in old markets.

So what are YOUR weapons? What do you do best? How can you exploit that in new ways?

Don’t forget that Bond didn’t operate alone. You can innovate faster and smarter if you collaborate with the right partners. Take a long hard look at your existing partners – are you making the most of the opportunities that they’re creating? And if they’re not creating opportunities for you, consider making some new partners with the right tools and skills to help your achieve your mission. After all, where would Bond be without Q?

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.


The business of books: Only connect

At the launch of BookMachine’s Snapshots III I kicked off the talks by raining hard on the book industry parade. (Sorry.)

While I was on holiday in Dorset last week I wandered into a charity shop in a pretty market town and remarked on the number of books they had crammed onto their shelves. The woman behind the counter said wearily: ‘We’re not taking any more books. Everybody’s getting rid of them and nobody wants them.’

She didn’t know I was a book person. She had no idea she’d just delivered a punch to my gut. It’s not the sort of thing people in my world, and my social media bubble, tend to say. But it is of course true, or at least there’s truth in it.

As publishers, we spend our time with people who love and appreciate books. This is NOT THE REAL WORLD. For many people in this country books are an outdated technology. An irrelevance.

The Reading Agency reported last year that:

  • 44% of of young people aged 16-24 don’t read at all for pleasure (for older adults, that figure is 36%)
  • Only 26% of 10-year-olds say they like reading

And for an industry that makes its money from the sale of books it’s a perfect storm because, as fewer people want to buy books, more books are being published than ever before at lower prices than ever before.

So what’s the answer? Well, there’s no one answer. There never is. But we can find AN answer, I believe, in the creating of connection.

We already know that for many readers a book is interesting only when it’s connected to something else, something beyond the book, that has meaning for them. If they love Bake-Off, they’ll buy the book. If they’re a devoted fan of the YouTuber of the moment they’ll queue up for a signed copy, if they’re at an event with a great speaker, they’ll buy the book at the back of the room, if they’re in a book club they’ll buy the book they’re discussing: they need a reason, they need a connection.

When we write and publish today, we’re engaging in a battle for attention that’s more sophisticated and segmented than ever before. The people who really get this are the platform builders like Pat Flynn, Seth Godin, Jeff Goins, Joanna Penn, Hugh Howey, Denise Duffield-Thomas – and many of these are indie authors because they want control and they can reach their people directly. They have podcasts, blogs, YouTube channels, businesses: they have fans and/or customers instead of a sales force, and their book reaches new readers who become new fans and/or customers. It’s the attention they’re monetising – for many of them the revenues from the book itself are just a side benefit.

When rapper Akala spoke at Futurebook last year, revealing that his self-published books outsell CDs at his gigs, he asked ‘Why would I need a publisher? I have my own customer base.’

The good news is that books have an irreplaceable role in this new online/offline economy of connection and attention, but we have reached a tipping point: readers need a reason to read them. They need meaningful context. And the most powerful reason is always human connection – directly with the author, or with other people who’ve read and loved the book. Which means that publishers need to find ways to support authors to find their tribe and build their platform.

If we don’t respond to that challenge, if we don’t recognise that we’re in the business of making people care and connecting them, we’re simply adding to an undifferentiated pile of books that nobody has a reason to read. We also risk being left with a world in which only celebrities or business-savvy authorpreneurs can succeed in the book market.

Publishers have traditionally thought of themselves as gatekeepers, but once the walls have come down it’s a bit pointless continuing to stand beside the gate. And, even worse, if you insist on standing there you’re going to miss the party that’s going on inside.

Maybe a better metaphor for our future is as table hosts. Publishers don’t own the venue any more, it’s not even our party, but we CAN host part of it: we can lead the conversation in our area, give a voice and a platform to people with something interesting to say, we can make ours the table everyone wants to come to, where the best conversations happen and the most interesting connections are made. We can be where the party is.

And that’s much more fun than guarding the gate, right?

future of the bookAlison 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. 


What makes a bestseller?

Jonny Geller is a literary agent and joint CEO of Curtis Brown. Here he follows up with some thoughts following a recent Tedx talk he gave, ‘What Makes a Bestseller?’.

Print sales are up. Independent publishers are scooping major literary prizes on a regular basis. Attendance figures to The London Book Fair are up. The Creative Industries are worth a staggering £84billion and publishing takes a proud £10bn of it.

What’s not to like?

Except, we are in danger of throwing much of it away.

I recently gave a Tedx talk at Tedx Oxford on “What Makes a Bestseller?” – take a look if you have spare 15 minutes. I talked about the mysterious combination of factors that conspire to hit the zeitgeist and make books pop and hit the mainstream, but it did make me think about how literary agents are in danger of becoming risk averse. The funnel to publication seems to be getting ever narrower.

What I didn’t say in my talk was how publishing can sometimes get in the way of books. We all say we look for new, exciting voices that will enlighten and inspire a new generation of readers and yet we find ourselves all racing for the middle, veering towards the same vanilla, reading group friendly fiction.


The agent blames the publishers for excessive caution. The publishers blame the booksellers for second guessing what they think their customers want. The reviewers – well they just keep getting sacked.

Let’s face it. If the publishing industry closed tomorrow and did not produce another new book for a whole year, there would still be too many books for us to buy, read or sell.

Publishing is breathing its own ecosystem of books that publishers and agents want to see and read, but are we forgetting about the reader? Are we supplying books readers want to read?

Last year, when I read The Martian and saw Dr Foster on BBC, I began to worry about this issue. I enjoyed both, but guiltily. I had a creeping unease that had either project come into my office, I would have asked for edits to “clean them up” a bit. And I would have probably ruined both. People were talking about Doctor Foster at the water cooler because of its uneven and contradictory moments. But that is exactly what made this familiar story of adultery, different. Would we have edited out the very thing that made these stories stand out? Sometimes, books come to the reader directly from self-publishing because we in publishing do not think they work to our criteria.

Editorial taste is, rightly, a highly prized commodity in publishing – the battle between sales/marketing versus editorial vision is often talked about. What we in the publishing industry need to think about is: why we are so reactive? Are we listening to what readers want – originality, difference, dare I say, diverse voices? The bigger the publishers get, the more likely decisions become “corporate” and “strategic”.

The only “strategy” a publisher needs is to publish good books better.

The rise of the self-publishing phenomenon has resulted in, counter-intuitively, caution. The thinking is, I suppose, that these books will come to the big publishers eventually. Publishing is about sticking your neck out and daring people to buy the book you invested in.

Of course we all want dead certs based on what has sold before, but if we are not selling original material that only could have come from this country at this moment of time, and all agree to give it a chance, we won’t have much of an industry to boast about in years to come.


Getting a book noticed: 4 tips from the UK’s bestselling indie author

Rachel Abbott self-published her first novel, Only the Innocent, in 2011 through Kindle Direct. It reached the number 1 spot in the Kindle store just over three months later,held its position for four weeks and was the second highest selling self-published title in 2012. In August 2015, Amazon confirmed that Rachel is the UK’s bestselling independent author over the last five years. She is also listed at number 14 in the list of bestselling authors – both traditionally and independently published – over the same five year period. Here are her top tips for promoting a title.

The one question I am always asked by writers is “How can I get my book noticed?”. As we all know, it is possible to write the most brilliant novel in the world but, unless people know it’s out there, how are they going to find it amongst the millions of books available for the Kindle?

The tips below might help you to be noticed and to build and maintain a high readership.

1) Run an awareness campaign

Don’t only think about marketing activities that result in immediate sales – focus on making sure that people recognise your books, seeing them in as many places as possible. Display your covers: at the end of each email you send; in guest posts for popular blogs; in tweets or Facebook posts. Awareness is crucial to success. When readers see your book in a store you want them to think ‘I’ve seen that book before – it looks interesting.’

2) Develop a list of reviewers

Most bloggers post their reviews on Amazon and Goodreads as well as on their own blogs. Keep a list of the reviewers you like, and make sure you invite them to read the book before launch. Find other reviewers by searching similar authors, plus the word ‘review’. Send reviewers all the details they might need including what the book is about, the word length and genre. Good reviews create a desire for people to buy.

3) Build your mailing list

A perfect example of a marketing plan objective would be to increase your mailing list by 500 readers. Your actions might include putting a link to a sign-up page in the back of your books, running a promotion, creating a newsletter sign-up form for the author Facebook page, blog or website. Then you can send readers regular updates on the book launches.

4) Use social media tools to help you

It’s all so easy to get hooked on Twitter and be on their all day – but use scheduling tools to cut down on the time spent on social media. Remember the average Twitter user reads tweets for no more than 15 minutes per day and follows 270 people, so if you want to catch their eye, you need to tweet at regular intervals.

2017 in review

All the facts and stats from the UK Children’s Summit

For the first time this year, Nielsen Book held a UK Children’s Summit at London Book Fair, covering the incredible growth we’ve seen in Children’s sales worldwide over the past two years, and will hopefully continue to see. As someone who spends a lot of time thinking and talking about book sales data, I couldn’t pick a better subject to present on right now than the children’s market.

Since my first foray to the LBF in 2013, the children’s market has taken a turn for the better – after steadily declining from 2009 to 2013, revenue grew 9.5% in 2014, even as adult fiction and non-fiction continued to decline. Sales in 2015 improved even further, up 5.3% to £309m, marking last year as the highest year for Children’s since BookScan records began. And it wasn’t just one category, or one author, or one publisher. The three largest categories (Children’s Fiction, Picture Books and Novelty & Activity Books) all saw growth, as did the majority of top publishers. Even more impressive, 2016 sales to the end of March are already up 7.4% compared to the first three months of 2015, pointing toward 2016 being another excellent year.

The strength of Children’s Fiction in particular continues to amaze me – value sales grew 11.3% in 2015, and so far in 2016 the category has gone up another 10% in quarter one, topping £20m. Last year, 14 of the top 20 authors were in growth, with the top 20 taking about half of fiction sales. It’s a combination of new and old driving this – David Walliams’ latest Grandpa’s Great Escape was the highest selling children’s title for the last five years, but then we also see J.K. Rowling moving back up the ranks. The new illustrated Harry Potter contributed to her moving from the eighth largest children’s fiction author in 2014 to the third in 2015, and in the first few months of 2016, she’s moved into first.

Contrary to the other large categories, Young Adult Fiction saw a bit of a decline in 2015 (down 5.3%), but there were still some positives – half of the top twenty authors showed increased sales, including Zoe Sugg in first and Terry Pratchett in second. Actually, the top ten YA titles made more money in 2015 than in 2014 (£7.9m vs £7.0m), with 25% of revenue coming from those top ten, led by Girl Online 2: On Tour. We also saw value growth beyond the top 100 titles, and more debut authors earning over £100k than in the previous year, pointing to plenty of future potential in the YA sector.

It’s not just the UK that’s seeing extensive growth in Children’s – of the ten countries we measure through BookScan, only Australia was in decline in 2015, after a really strong 2014. Interestingly, when you look at the breakdown of the market in each country, Australia has the largest share taken by Children’s, at 44% of volume sales, closely followed by New Zealand at 42%. In the UK, Children’s takes about 34% of volume sales and 24% of value, which has grown from only 15% back in 2001, and only 21% as recently as 2012, all pointing to the continuing strength of print in the Children’s market.

Jaclyn Swope is a Publisher Account Manager on the Book Research team at Nielsen BookScan, where she assists a variety of publishers with understanding and utilising both retail sales and consumer data, through training sessions, presentations and bespoke analysis of book industry trends.

Leadership in creative industries: 10 things we learned at #Quantum16

Tracey Armstrong (President and CEO, Copyright Clearance Center), Harriet Minter (Editor, the Guardian’s Women in Leadership section), Shereen Kreideih (Publisher, Asala Publishers) and Robbie Steinhouse (Director, NLP School) formed the panel to discuss leadership in creative industries. Here are our top 10 takeaway points.

1) The difference between management and leadership: management gets stuff done, leadership makes things happen.

2) Stop quoting Henry Ford. We’ve brought up leaders in one culture, and have rewarded them for conforming to that culture. Leadership needs to be more diverse and a good leader will listen to differing opinions.

3) Creatives love their jobs, but this doesn’t necessarily prepare them for finances and leadership. What you don’t like and can’t do are different – don’t confuse the two.

4) Vision and leadership is something that can be taught; you don’t have to be a ‘natural’ leader to be a great one. Some of the greatest leaders have been introverts – you just need to work hard to acquire the skills that you need.

5) People have bad associations with ‘boss energy’. But these character traits don’t always make you a bad leader.

6) Give your team freedom and responsibility. Things don’t always work out, but a good leader will focus on what does and build on these.

7) A leader shouldn’t have to be able to their team’s jobs, but they should be teaching them how to do theirs. It’s all about what’s good for the company: know when to step down as a leader and prepare others to take your place.

8) A good leader will always keep learning.

9) There are different types of leaders that best fit different situations. A company going through a merger would require a completely different type of leader to one that’s going through a period of stability.

10) It’s about inspiring a shared vision. If your team come with you on the journey, then you’re doing well.

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