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“Ask yourself, would I pick up that book?”: Industry experts offer aspiring writers advice on how to make it in the industry at the 2021 Comma Press Publishing Conference

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Featured Image: Jessica Ruscello on Unsplash

Knock those doors down! Don’t wait for them to open: Two phrases that best describe the discussions on day one of the 2021 Publishing Conference hosted by Comma Press in association with Manchester Metropolitan University. This event was held over two days and aimed at those aspiring to work in the publishing industry.

Marianne Tatepo was the first speaker for the Publishing Conference and spoke about how she multitasked her way into publishing. She explained her journey towards becoming the commissioning editor at Ebury, a division of Penguin Press, and the various roles she engaged in, from being a researcher at a financial tech company to media planer at BBC, before securing a permanent job in the publishing industry.

Acknowledging the need for resourcefulness, Tatepo’s advice was to broaden transferable skills and not to be disheartened. She talked about taking the initiative to ask for the job you want. Her advice those all those wanting to make it in publishing is to make use of the work experience, traineeship and mentor programs offered by publishing houses. She said: “Don’t shy away from any jobs that may not directly seem connected to the publishing world.”

“Learning on the job is what you do in production,” said Farzana Khan, Production Controller at Hachette Children’s Group and Co-chair for Society of Young Publishers. Khan led the second session of the day, which focused on the role of the publishing production team. From her first job interview to working as a liaison across the globe coordinating and finalising the final print, she talked of how the production team is for someone who is highly organised and can stay on top of things. Khan spoke about how importance of choosing the publisher who is right for you.

Khan explained that the production team deals with everything, from acquisition to determining cost, to finalising the cover of the book. The role of production works with teams across publishing, like the editorial and marketing and external suppliers.

When asked about how to best handle an interview for the role, she said: “Research absolutely everything about the publisher when going in for an interview, from Wikipedia to Twitter and know about the role you are applying for. Go into a bookshop, look at the book, look at the format the cover, the pages. What was good about it? What could have been changed? Does the paper inside it look good? Ask yourself ‘Would I pick up that book?'”

“Ask yourself, would I pick up that book?”

Farzana Khan, Production Controller at Hachette Children’s Group

The third talk was led by Matt Casbourne the Sales, Marketing and Publicity Director of Duckworth Books. Casbourne talked about the ‘Gift of Gab’, which is crucial for anyone who is looking to work in sales.

The Sales Team serves as the reality check for the rest of the publishing teams. “It is a question of what you have in your big book bag,” Casbourne said. “Sales are not always about the new book, one has to be familiar with both the frontlist and the backlist.”

The right place and the right time are very important in sales and marketing. Keep in mind the sales period when most books are published. The first is from January to June and the next from July to December, all of the publishing world works around those times. When talking about making a sale, he said: “From the price of the book to the synopsis, it all comes down to fitting everything onto one sheet of paper, which we call a title information sheet or advanced information sheet,” said Casbourne. “It’s like the nanocapsule of the whole book which contains everything about the book,” he added.

From signed copies and Pinot Noir to biscuits shaped like the book cover, according to Casbourne, sales and marketing is, without a doubt, one of the more interesting sides of publishing. Asked what to keep in mind regarding sales, Casbourne said: “Enjoy the relationship with the sellers and buyers, be transparent… honest. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Publishing is like this warm fuzzy place everyone can share what we have. There is a consistent line of passion passed on from the author to the reader via the process of publishing, but it is also important to understand the market, listen. You can always sell more of what you are selling.”

“Publishing is like this warm fuzzy place everyone can share what we have. There is a consistent line of passion passed on from the author to the reader via the process of publishing.”

Matt Casbourne, Marketing and Publicity Director at Duckworth Books

The last section for the day, Publicity, was led by Poppy Stimpson, the Publicity Director of Pushkin Press. Talking about her experiences of being rejected by many roles, she said: “Try not to be too disheartened, it is nothing personal, just not the job for you”.

Stimpson spoke about the role of the publicist as a personal cheerleader, explaining how work often starts a year before the actual book comes out. Working with authors, writers and illustrators, it is very important to be organised and to be a multitasker.

Stimpson explained that it’s important to know where to find active job listings, like The Bookseller, Creative Access, Publisher’s Publicity Circle and the jobs page on the publisher’s company page. From Q and A with authors to book clubs, online marketing is as important as other traditional methods of publicity and marketing. “It is really fun, fast-paced and satisfying when you see the orders coming in when the campaign has been a success,” Stimpson said.

Social media today plays an important role in keeping in touch with people in today’s world. We are always on the lookout for brand partners who have a solid platform and reach. In publicity the press release is our bread and butter. “A bound proof, along side your pitch and press release is basically the publicist’s tool kit,” she added.

“Bookbloggers, booktubers, bookstagramers and most recently booktokers are a huge part of the future of publicity. Word of mouth is very important, particularly the book review in newspapers, window displays and recommendation cards are what often drive the campaigns,” Stimpson continued. “Consume the media, keep chasing. There is a reader for every book. Follow campaigns in real-time, that helps when looking for a job in publicity, always have a one-line pitch for the books. It’s like prescribing a literary medicine,” said Stimpson.

“Consume the media, keep chasing. There is a reader for every book.”

Poppy Stimpson, Publicity Director at Pushkin Press

If you missed the introductory event or wish to revisit them, take a look at Comma Press’ Youtube channel to watch: An introduction to publishing with James Spackman and a Panel Discussion on How to break into the industry, featuring Anne Ashworth (Head of Employee Apprenticeships at Pearson Plc), Suzy Astbury (Managing Director of Inspired Selection), Raakhi Vadera (HR Manager at Pan Macmillan), and chaired by Society of Young Publishers North.

About the author / 

Meera Jacob

New to Manchester, currently doing my MA in Creative Writing, Novel Route at Manchester Met.

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