Society of Young Publishers Conference 2018 – Rewriting the Rule Book – Innovation and Disruption in Publishing


For Throwback Thursday we are looking back at when our consultants Chloe Daniell, Shalini Bhatt and Rhiannon Griffiths attended the SYP’s annual conference earlier on this month! This was an absolutely brilliant and insightful day and started with a keynote from the legendary Claire Conville, who co-founded her own Literacy Agency. She noted how eBooks and digital are a new way to share truth, knowledge and beauty. As publishers we are custodians of the rich culture – we find the storytellers and then find the audience to tell them to; innovation and disruption can be the quiet time-bomb with the power to transform minds.

Chloe took on Stream 1, Write Your Own Story, beginning with Countering Unconscious Bias. As an industry, diversity and inclusion has been a hot topic over the last few months. To discuss this was Dr Nancy Roberts, Founder of Umbrella, which uses AI and analytics to identify and correct corporate bias by creating and monitoring reports. After 20 years in publishing, bias and elitism played a part in her departure and she felt there was something she could do to contribute to change this. Although Nancy notes that there isn’t evidence for the effectiveness of unconscious bias training, it is good to understand what it is. Biases are normal and some can be helpful! As data and tech diversify, we will start to see change. The picture is mixed, and it is a long journey; things are moving in the right direction and using data will only drive this forward.

The next panel in this stream was Switching Up Your Career; as an industry, people believed that the only way to get into publishing is to follow the route of going to university, undertaking unpaid internships, facing numerous rejections and hoping for a stroke of luck with an entry-level role that might get your foot in the door. This was a panel aiming to break this perception and show that there is no conventional path into publishing: no matter your age, location, profession or background, it is never too late to switch up your career. Top tips include:

  • Making yourself visible
  • Utilising social media networks
  • Highlighting your transferable skills

There was also a session on CVs and Cover Letters - How much conflicting advice have you had over the years? This was an interactive workshop talking about the dos and don’ts hosted by @SuzanneCollier. With CVs and Cover Letters being the only thing in the way of you getting an interview and potentially landing your dream job – you need to get it right.

The key takeaways were:

  1. Don't use CV templates. How many other candidates are using the same?
  2. Avoid columns, it's harder to know where to look on the page.
  3. Stay away from colour/graphics unless it's a design job.
  4. Contact details go right at the top: proof read them!
  5. If you're in a job, do not use your work email address, it gives a bad impression about how you use your work time.
  6. Lead with the information most relevant to the job you want & don't write a generic personal profile.
  7. If you're not getting interviews, set some time aside to have another look at what you’re sending across.
  8. Never write a CV in the third person. Who else would have written it?!
  9. Make sure you elaborate and provide context to your skills and experience. What does 'communication' mean? 'Liaising with authors daily' is a clearer example. Instead of 'administration' you can list tasks like 'processing invoices' or 'diary management'.

Shalini went to the panels in Stream 2, speaking at one during the afternoon. The first panel was The Year of Publishing Women with Eleanor Dryden, the Publishing Director of Bonnier Zaffre, Anna Glendenning, Editor at & Other Stories, and Rose Goddard who is the Prize Manager for the Women’s Prize for Fiction. Anna highlighted that she actually stopped reading male authors until there were as many female authors on her shelf, and & Other Stories have ONLY published female authors this year – there have been some amazing initiatives which have surfaced in line with this decision and, although submission policies had to be addressed, it was a successful venture.

During the Dare to be Different seminar, Shalini took on perceptions of the publishing industry and its lack of diversity along with Aki Shilz of The Literary Consultancy, Anna McLaren-May of Bonnier and Juliet Harrison of Emerald Publishing. It was agreed that the industry is moving forward in making way for less traditional routes to publishing; some publishers, including Bonnier, Penguin Random House and Egmont and beginning to do away with typical application processes and favouring online forms to encourage a blind process and less unconscious bias. Hiring managers are looking at education less and experience more – including transferable skills. PRH also offer initiatives, such as the Spare Room Project, to encourage those from outside of London to pursue internships in the City as well as offering talks across the country to educate young people on the roles within publishing. Salary transparency was also discussed at length, with Aki being an active advocator for full transparency, especially with entry-level salaries. With regards to inclusivity in publishing, hiring managers need to remember that it isn’t always about ticking boxes but is about giving everyone a fair shot at roles.

Following this panel, Far From the London Crowd examined the publishing landscape outside of London, and how it can be a struggle for those further afield to get into publishing locally to them. Jamie Norman came down to London from Canongate’s head office in Scotland to discuss the vibrant publishing industry up north, along with Syima Aslam, who founded the Bradford Literature Festival because she identified a gap in the market, Simon Masters, an author who struggled to get his book published being from the north and Penny Thomas of Wales-based Firefly Press. Looking outside the industry, they all encourage book-lovers to buy from local indie bookstores and publishers to encourage them to publish more books locally. Inside the industry, however, publishers need to be proactive about meeting clients and authors outside of London and changing the submission process to encourage a wider pool of authors; agents could be more proactive in finding authors, rather than waiting for the authors to send their submissions.

Rhiannon attended Stream 3, By the Book. This started with a panel looking Beyond the Book; Natalie Jerome from Bonnier Books UK highlighted the importance of drawing talent from outside the book industry – we are a great believer of transferable skills at Inspired Selection! Isabelle Barber from The Forge addressed the controversial view “TV might save the novel” – it can be a cheap way to get the ‘Netflix generation’ engaged in classic novels, for example adaptions such as Vanity Fair and Killing Eve. Roshini Radia from PRH and BBC Studios pointed out there can be audio content engaged in with no book giving it awareness – in general, the way we engage with content is changing. Audio or visual content often allows for a longer amount of time to delve into a story. Amy Joyner from Kogan Page added how important it is to know who the audience is, so that you are able to pitch to the correct market. She also stated it’s about the content, not the format.

For the afternoon sessions, we had Judge a Book by its Cover, in which we were treated to some viewings of the covers that never made it! Claire Ward, Creative Director at Harper Collins Fiction and Non Fiction, notes the struggle between what is beautiful and what is commercial. Anna Morrison, also a freelance book designer working part time at Pushkin Press, stated that success is great but it can limit creativity if you get too scared of failure to take a risk. For getting into design, at entry level the advice was to have lots of ideas and lots of potential. You don’t necessarily need a degree but you do need the talent. Lastly we heard from the author, editor and designer of Be More Pirate – this book describes how disruption is happening across the industries, and that we need to step out of permission based change. The book cover for this role broke the norms in not having the author or the title on the cover, which made for a striking effect.

The closing panel was Voices of the Future. We heard from Aimee Felone, co-founder Knights Of who highlighted the importance of young voices being heard in the industry, and everyone’s story to be told, as children may think they cannot be what they cannot see. We also heard from Keshini Naidoo and Lindsey Mooney who have recently set up Hera Books, flying the flag for a female fronted digital company. They noted how digital can take away the gatekeepers and get the content straight to the reader. The ending note was how to ensure that publishing is a diverse space – don’t rely on people from diverse background to bring up diversity, and speak to people outside the industry. Lastly if you see something you disagree on – speak out!

Thank you to the Society of Young Publishers for organising such a good day and to all the speakers. We loved attending and talking to all the attendees during the breaks.