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BookMachine Unplugged series to launch in January 2018

Over the past 7 years BookMachine have organised over 100 industry events, and listened to over 300 industry speakers kindly share their knowledge. From this, we have learned that that if you want to stay at the forefront of what’s happening, then you need to understand the past and have a sense of what is happening in the future – but you also really need to know what is happening now, both in your discipline and across the indusry.

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Transferable skills

Book Publishing has a reputation for being notoriously underpaid, but how do we even know what people are being paid?

Back in 1995, Suzanne Collier ran her first Salary Survey, causing uproar within the industry. No one ever talked about pay and publishers were highly suspicious of the survey as they thought it would lead to a rush of staff demanding rises. This didn’t materialise, although one Managing Director complained about the results because they thought the salaries were too high!

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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.

Editorial Project Manager [JOB POSTING]

Bradt Travel Guides is looking for an in-house project manager to join our editorial team as soon as possible. The role will involve managing approximately 12 titles a year (from point of contract to delivery of material to the printer, and including overseeing freelancers and outsourced books), as well as taking a role in the production of e-books and creating content for output to the website and social media channels. Very strong editorial and writing skills are essential (and will be tested as part of the application process); you should also demonstrate the ability to juggle tasks, meet deadlines and stay calm under pressure. You will have worked in publishing (ideally travel guides) for at least 3 years, have experience of project management and managing budgets, and be very computer literate. Familiarity with digital publishing, InDesign and content management systems (especially Librios) an advantage (but not essential).

Please email your CV with covering letter (stating current salary) to Claire Strange at claire.strange@bradtguides.com. Deadline for applications is Wednesday 16th November 2016.

Your pay – your say: Tania Hummel interview

Tania Hummel is an executive coach and board-level HR professional. She has worked in HR for almost 20 years and was most recently Global HR Director for Macmillan Science and Education. Tania will be speaking at our July event with Unite the Union, ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?‘. We interviewed her here. 

1) How do you think that pay and conditions in the publishing industry differ today, to how they were 20 years ago?

The publishing industry has seen enormous change over the last 20 years. The rise of Amazon, the advent of ebooks, and changes in the way that rights are bought and sold have transformed the industry in ways that couldn’t have been predicted before the internet age. Consumers now expect content to be delivered in a variety of ways, whether as print, ebooks, audio, games. Publishers have become multi-media, multi-platform content providers and new skills and ways of working are still evolving.

Things felt a lot more certain 20 years ago, and this was reflected in the terms and conditions at the time. Publishing with its low margins and long lead times paid less than other skilled industries, and Publishers took a more ‘paternalistic’ approach generally to pay and benefits. In a more uncertain (VUCA) world, Defined Benefit pension schemes have become unaffordable, and benefits that reward long service are less attractive to staff who can’t really afford to work for too long at any one employer, as moving on is often the only way of securing a substantial pay rise.

Many jobs were outsourced quite early on – proofreading, typesetting and some editorial roles. Sometimes to freelancers in the UK, while other roles or tasks like publishing services went abroad to places like India. It’s likely that publishing will continue to buy in the skills it needs from outside the industry, and that roles within the industry will also continue to change. Some will become more skilled, whilst others are likely to be automated and disappear. In any event, I expect to see more freelancing, not less, in line with predictions of the rise in the ‘gig’ economy.

2) What one piece of advice would you give to someone who didn’t think that they were being treated fairly in the workplace?

It depends on the facts of the situation. Being treated fairly can mean different things to different people. If the situation was a one-off and seemed uncharacteristic of the culture, I’d encourage the individual to check their company’s grievance policy for guidance and to raise their concerns informally in the first instance with a sympathetic HR contact. Failing that, I’d suggest that they approach ACAS or their union rep if they have one.

3) What can publishing professionals do before accepting a new job, to make sure that their working conditions are acceptable?

They can do an internet search, or visit Glassdoor or similar sites for reviews on working for the company. These aren’t always entirely objective but it’s a good start. They could also ask people in their network who already work for their potential new employer for their views. They should also look at the contract and handbook at the offer stage, which should give a good idea of how things are generally handled. Having few policies can mean things are very much at the manager’s discretion, which can be a good or bad thing depending on the manager. Having overly rigid policies on everything can also be a disadvantage.

4) What should be taken into consideration when deciding to work for either a large publishing house, or a smaller company?

There are pros and cons to both. In a larger publishing house there are likely to be better opportunities for promotion, training and development. But it can be harder to get noticed, and it may well be more competitive. Jobs might also be quite narrow. Smaller companies can be surprisingly good on benefits, but sometimes there aren’t any to speak of. That said, roles tend to be broader and, if the company is growing, you might be able to grow with it, taking on extra responsibility and learning by doing, but the downside might be that a smaller company is also likely to pay less than a larger one for a similar role.

5) As an industry, what have you seen done to improve pay and conditions, that has impressed you?

Some publishers have been really good at creating profit sharing schemes – if the company makes it’s profit target it’s only fair that the staff should benefit from that, especially at a time when inflation is so low and pay awards are too.

Grab your ticket for ‘United, We Publish: Your pay – your say?’ on the 14th July here.

On being an assistant editor: Kate Ellis interview

Kate Ellis is Assistant Editor at Avon, HarperCollins’ commercial fiction arm. Before emigrating over the border to London, Kate had a crash course in publishing at three Independent Welsh publishers and spent 18 months dabbling in education books in Athens, Greece (with lots of hilarious stories to tell). Here Norah Myers interviews her on the step up from Editorial Assistant.

1) How have your responsibilities increased since you became an assistant editor?

My responsibilities have changed enormously. I’ve taken on authors of my own which means I’m now not only co-ordinating copyedits, I’m editing myself. I’m briefing my own covers (EEK) – seeing an idea that you have in your head come to life and actually look good is such a rush. I now have the opportunity to acquire books (I’ve recently acquired my first title), build relationships with authors and agents, do cover research and briefs, write social media campaigns, and actually have a say in what we publish and say things to authors like, ‘this is going to sound crazy, but go with me…’ (hopefully they do).

It has been really challenging managing my own work, while also assisting and taking on work from others. I’ve earned the privilege of pushing back and saying ‘no’ to extra work. I’ve just got to learn how to say it…!

2) What is decision-making like in your new role, and how have you learned to trust your decisions as part of your new responsibilities?

It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Ever. But also the most liberating. For the first few months, I kind of sat back and allowed the people around me to guide me and give me ideas to work from. I adopted the ‘I’m just an assistant, what do I know?’ attitude. Multiple heads are certainly better than one (especially when they’re experienced heads), but I’ve learned that I have to trust my instincts.

When you’re working on something, you’re the closest person to it and you know it better than anyone. So why shouldn’t you have a say? You’re not going to get very far in publishing if you don’t have a voice.

I recently had to brief the cover for my first acquisition. I thought I had sussed out what it needed to look like, but it just wasn’t translating onto the page. It wasn’t until a few rounds of designs, and a very deflated me, that I really took charge. I did a load of research and said exactly what route we needed to go down. When the covers came in for the third time, I knew instantly which one it was and, luckily, everyone else agreed. Being bold, taking charge and owning something is the only way to do it, as scary as it seems. It also made me think, wow, I’m actually okay at this.

It’s incredibly encouraging to work in an environment where, no matter what you say, your opinion is heard. And with people who hold their hands up and admit ‘so, I know this is going to sound stupid, but…’ and say it anyway!

3) What do you look forward to as your role progresses?

I’m most looking forward to tasks taking less time and becoming second nature. Everyday I’m still learning all the things I have to do that I didn’t know about.

I can’t wait to have all the knowledge that my team around me has. When I first started, they were talking about covers and authors that I had no idea about. Now, I’m able to join in and bring my own ideas to the table. So I’m looking forward to just rolling names off my tongue and not having to say, ‘you know, that one with the rolling hills and flowers on it?’.

I’m also really excited about the editing possibilities. It’s every editor’s dream to have bestsellers and to have played a part in the book that’s on everyone’s lips. So what I’m most looking forward to is being the lead (as scary as the prospect seems) on a big hitter. The next 50 Shades. I’d happily be that person who inflicts the next big thing on the world… (sorry in advance).

4) What’s the most interesting thing you have learned about yourself as you have grown into your role?

I’ve learned that I’m actually quite strong. It’s a tough industry and a very fast paced one. You’ve got to be right for it, otherwise you’ll totally crumble.

I’ve gone through quite a few highs and lows already and, although the lows were pretty tough, and sometimes totally deflating, they’ve only helped me develop. It’s great to be at the top, flying high, but it’s the lows that you really learn from.

5) What advice do you have for current editorial assistants looking to progress into their next positions?

Be honest with your manager about what you want to do. Ask for more responsibility, ask if you can shadow an edit or two. The more you get editorially involved, the better. It’ll show that you’re eager to progress and it’ll also give you more to put on your CV (hey, if they don’t recognise your talent, someone else will!).

I learned very quickly that you’ve got to take charge of your own career and progression. If you don’t ask to do more, someone else will. So make sure you’re the person who doesn’t miss out because someone else got in there first. No one is going to run your career but you.

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