SYP Conference Paving the Way November 2019
This year’s SYP Conference: Paving the Way was based in the wonderful city of Oxford. Inspired Selection were not only sponsoring, but exhibiting, speaking and hosting! With an early start for most, we were certainly not disappointed by the key note speaker of the day, Hannah Telfer, Managing Director Audiences & Audio at Penguin Books UK inc Penguin Live.
Hannah gave an inspirational over view of her career, highlighting key decisions she made at certain cross roads and how her “Amazon moment” has been really key in her road to success. That, along with networking, hustling, being nosy, caring about people and being driven have made her great at what she does.
She urged the conference to break down any hierarchical barriers they have built up in their heads. To look at the bigger picture and understand the relevance of their role and what value they can add.
Hannah’s top tips were:
- Hustle you way round the industry
- Be nosy
- Care about the people around you
- Find your drive
- Take every opportunity as you never know where it might lead and what might turn into your very own amazon moment..
Ins and Outs of Bookselling
In the first thought-provoking panel of the day, Emma Bradshaw, Hanna Weigh and Beth Farrell looked back at their career as Booksellers, talking us through anecdotes of funny accidents with customers and of the industry changes they’ve seen throughout the years. They advocated for the ever-lasting importance of brick-and-mortar bookshops, even more so now with the digital age. In-store events are only possible thanks to physical bookshops, and the panellists don’t want to see this disappear with online retailers.
They also discussed the impact of book prizes, and were all in agreement that anything that can be done to bring more books into the media, and more coverage to authors can only be positive. Though, Emma pointed out that shortlists are often dominated by the bigger publishers (who can afford the cost of entering a title in a prize) and that having more and more categories, and multiple winners for a single category, risks diluting the significance of a prize.
A key point that we took away and very much feel ourselves is that physical bookstores are still very well-loved. Bookshops are seen as a community, a safe space for browsing, talking about books and sharing an experience.
Standing Apart from the Crowd: Independent Publishers
In this panel, we heard from founders of some incredible independent publishers (Bluemoose Books, Salad Pages, Guppy Books and Phoenix Publishing) who discussed their role as an indie and the main differences between their publishing models compared to bigger corporates.
The speakers agreed that indies have more freedom to choose the titles they publish, and are less restricted by traditional publishing. Their process is also much quicker, as they don’t have to go through many committees and gatekeepers, which also allows them to jump straight on the train of a new trend.
What we learnt:
- Working for an indie publisher might translate into having a very flexible role, working across Editorial, Production, Marketing, Sales
- Having a close relationship with audiences and authors is crucial for independent publishers, both to identify gaps in the market and to work with the author’s existing network
- Getting bookshops involved is huge, and word of mouth can make a real difference to the success of a book published by an independent
More than Words on a Page
Audio is something which has blown up incredibly quickly in publishing, but isn’t something to be fearful of! Book blogger and podcaster John Fish gave into the trend when the industry was scared that audio would take over, this hasn’t and won’t happen.
What has happened, is that a whole new audience who wouldn’t necessarily consider themselves “readers” now have access to content in a format they can enjoy. Eliza Kavanagh from The Publishers Association highlighted the accessibility which comes with audio, ensuring that content is accessible to those who have difficulty reading because of physical or learning disabilities.
This really insightful panel had some great takeaways:
- Audio publishing isn’t about competing audiences, it’s about tapping into new audiences and getting content to as many people as possible.
- It’s a huge collaborative effort between departments – the final recording of audio cannot be done without the final proof of the print/ebook being complete.
- The success of an audiobook is all in the casting – Rebecca Fortuin, an Audio Editor, ensures that when she casts audiobooks, she ensures that the voice actors are passionate and animated to ensure consistent and engagement all the way through.
(Open) Accessing the Future
With things changing drastically in scientific and academic journal publishing and moving towards more Open Access models, this panel gave attendees an insight into the discussion currently taking place.
To open the panel, Nikul Patel, Senior Open Access Publisher at OUP explained that cOAlition S is a group of funders who have decided that all the research they fund must be Open Access. By 2021, everything they’ve supported needs to be Open Access via different approved models.
There are currently many different publishing models which the room wasn’t aware of; Paula Vega who now works in marketing, highlighted that she wasn’t really aware of the subscription model when she was a student, and now sees that not everyone necessarily has the same access in their academic career, and even less so when they leave institutions. Open Access intends to open up content to people, allowing researchers to utilise and benefit from other research they would not otherwise have had had access to.
To break this panel down, here are the key facts we took away:
- Open Access is vital to facilitate open conversations about research, and open up new ways of talking about and using research.
- It does pose challenges: losing subscription models will result in hardship for smaller publishers and not-for-profit societies who might not have as many revenue streams to fund their projects – some might not survive the move to Open Access.
- Plan S is a European project - what this will mean for academics and researchers globally remains to be seen.
Forging Your Career Path
We heard from two different sides of the coin in this panel: strategic development and a more bold “winging it” approach. Both can lead to great success, it’s all about recognizing the kind of person you are.
Ain Bensenouci is now in her dream role as Events Programme Manager at PRH and took very calculated steps to get there. Every decision she made led her to where she wants to be throughout her education and professional career. On the other end of the scale, Esther Harris cofounded Bookollective (a creative agency for authors and publishers) after working in various roles across different industries and utilising her network of contacts to get to where she is now.
We also heard from Jasmine Denholm who stressed that she wasn’t highly educated, but used her work-ethic and passion for the industry to get ahead. She worked in book stores, talking to the sales people, PR teams and authors who would come in and learnt as much as she could about the market place to then start her publishing career in rights and sales at David Fickling Books.
Every career path is different, with its ups and downs, but the main takeaways were:
- Play to your strengths and find what gets you passionate to make sure you stand out from the crowd.
- It’s not all about educational background – build up a network of people you can talk to in person as well as engage with online, and make sure you demonstrate your interest in the industry to them.
- Be vocal about wanting progression in your role. Your manger can’t read your mind, so it’s okay to have open conversations about where you’re at in your career and where you want to go.
Closing panel: Social media
In the closing event of the day, we learnt all about social media in publishing and about the way these platforms revolutionised the way publishers interact with audiences. Publicity and social media wizards Anna McLaughlin, Sanne Vliegenthart, Clare Fenby and Leanne MacDuff walked us through the many ways publishers can utilise social media to promote books, events, connect with the readers and analyse reading habits.
The top tips we learnt on how to start your career in social media:
- Be on it! You don’t need to post every 25 minutes or have a huge following, but it’s important that you’re knowledgeable and aware of what’s happening across different platforms
- Think outside the box. Look at what publishers are doing, and think about what you’d do differently. Those ideas and creative examples could be very helpful during an interview!
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.