A round-up of my day at the annual conference of The Society of Young Publishers.
On Saturday, I volunteered at the annual Society of Young Publishers’ Conference. This year it was held in Oxford at Brookes University (which has the coolest floating lecture theatre). The theme of the day was ‘Publishing: A Thoroughly Modern Business’. I’ve been a member of the SYP in London for just over a year and I 100% recommend joining them if you are looking to get into publishing. They hold fantastic book clubs, pub socials, publish Inprint, a magazine featuring interest pieces from members and host an incredibly useful jobs board on their website.
This year’s conference kicked off with a keynote address by Juliet Mabey, co-founder of OneWorld Publications, which recently saw huge success with Marlon James’ A Brief History of Seven Killings winning the Man Booker Prize. OneWorld was set up in Oxford in 1986, but five years ago moved to London as the Oxford market is based around academic and educational publishing. OneWorld publish primarily non-fiction but are now well-known for their fiction. The core of the business is publishing authoritative but accessible books for a broad audience. 80% of their list is bought through literary agents and next year more than half will be books in translation. In recent years, OneWorld have increased the number of marketing and publicity staff within the company and have recently set up a children’s list called Rock the Boat.
Juliet advised young publishers to ‘look for internships in a company that allows you to move between areas’. Mabey said ‘networking is the backbone of every area’ and ‘you have to have a bit of luck in publishing’. As an aspiring publisher, you can ‘learn a lot from bookshops’ just by looking around at what’s selling. As we’ve heard from lecturers on the UCL MA Publishing, ‘publishing is much closer to gambling than any other industry’.
‘you have to have a bit of luck in publishing’, Juliet Mabey
As the audience began to ask questions, an interesting discussion started around fiction in translation. Mabey said ‘now is the time for publishing translated fiction’ and her preference would be a ‘translated fiction section’ in bookshops. We should be ‘looking at who is publishing in other countries’.
Following Mabey’s keynote address we had a short break and discovered the goodies in our tote bags (this makes my total tote bag count twelve and I’m aiming to get to at least thirty by June). I received a lovely copy of the graphic novel Dan and Sam published by Picador.
We then moved on to the first talks of the day. There were five streams of talks which happened in five different rooms and you were able to choose which to go to. In the breaks, it was great to catch up with people who’d been in other talks to find out what they had learned. The five streams were entitled ‘Best Career Foot Forward’, ‘Let’s Get Topical’, ‘The Innovative Publisher’, ‘New Frontiers’ and ‘What Next for Our Modern Business?’.
The SYP Oxford Committee were very flexible and the volunteers were able to sit in on the talks they were interested in. The first talk I attended was Emma Barnes of Bibliocloud and Snowbooks discussing coding. The way Barnes spoke of new business models and coding language was hugely inspiring. After a degree in Archaeology, Barnes started in trade publishing. After having a revelation and deciding she wanted to do something meaningful, Barnes started Snowbooks fifteen years ago and has published 354 books since.
Barnes’ business model rejects Adam Smith’s idea of specialisation in The Wealth of Nations, instead favouring publishers who ‘work across the entirety of the process’. Barnes treats the ‘customer as king’ and champions thinking about ‘different ways to approach the business’. It was refreshing to see an individual really pushing for change, evaluating her position in the industry and seeking ways to improve her business.
Barnes now has four years of coding experience and began with a ‘burning problem’ to solve for her own business. Barnes said ‘efficiency does not have to cost £80,000 or need a computer science degree’. She talked about ‘using code to help us become more creative’ and solve problems. Barnes built a publishing workflow app in 2011 which she sells to other companies to help them ease their process. This helps publishers to set out ‘unifying objectives for their organisation’. Barnes said coding provides a ‘sense of control’ and is ‘nothing to do with maths’. Barnes said ‘as editors, coding could not be a more perfect fit for your type of brain’ because it is about ‘patterns, narrative flow and eloquence’. According to Barnes, we have seven years before the seven year olds cause a ‘massive disruption’ with their programming skills. She actively encouraged us all to begin gaining skills in coding as ‘the opportunity here is extraordinary’.
‘as editors, coding could not be a more perfect fit for your type of brain’, Emma Barnes
Barnes suggested coding is simply ‘words, shapes, order’ but the ‘vocabulary around coding puts people off’. The main point I took away from the talk was the self-sufficiency coding can provide. I’m making an early New Year’s resolution to explore the world of code. It might take me a while, but there’s hope yet! According to Barnes, ‘understanding the industry is the killer bit’.
Barnes’ recommendations for getting into code:
Rails Girls London – a free day on 5th December 2015 where 200 women get together to write an entire web app. Applications are now closed but look out for more events in the future.
The Ruby on Rails Tutorial by Michael Hartl – a book to teach yourself code.
Rails for Zombies – an interactive app.
After an enjoyable lunch chatting to some publishers, we headed to the second round of talks. I went to ‘Women in Publishing’, a panel discussion with Anne Kitson from Elsevier and Emma House from The Publishers Association.
Both speakers believe there is still a glass ceiling for women in publishing. Kitson said there are surveys ‘proving diversity on boards makes for better sales and return on investment’. House said the problem is that women who have been ‘running big multinationals’ are being ‘replaced by men’. House said diversity is particularly difficult in the ‘academic space’ as only ‘one CEO of academic and educational publishers is a woman’.
Kitson said that when boards are hiring, they don’t ‘reach down into the organisation’ and will not promote people if there is no danger of them leaving. However, Kitson said ‘people are recognising more and more that diversity is a good thing’ as it makes businesses more ‘global’ and ‘creative’.
‘people are recognising more and more that diversity is a good thing’, Anne Kitson
A large section of the discussion focused on mentorship. Kitson strongly argued ‘there should be more mentorship’ and said ‘women sometimes don’t recognise themselves as mentors, maybe due to confidence’. House said you ‘should not be afraid to ask for mentorship’ and Kitson added ‘in most cases people will give you that time’.
As closing thoughts, House and Kitson offered advice. Kitson said ‘look for the things you’re interested in, go out and talk to people’ and ‘think about what you want to develop in’. Kitson also advised entry level publishers to ‘push for development tasks not just admin’ and encouraged people to ‘go through the interview process’ to ‘get feedback’ even if not successful. House said ‘volunteer for things, to speak and to organise’ and ‘step outside of your comfort zone’. This was a great discussion from two inspiring, experienced professionals which really engaged the audience.
‘step outside of your comfort zone’, Emma House
Whilst the third set of talks was taking place, I took over manning the registration desk and had a much needed tea break!
The conference closed with a panel discussion on free speech, featuring Hannah Trevarthen from English PEN, Anne Beech from Pluto Press and Saphia Crowther from Amnesty International.
I had a fantastic day meeting people and listening to the insightful discussions on relevant topics. I will definitely be attending the SYP Conference in London next year!
You can find out more about The Society of Young Publishers here.