Notes from the field: An Evening with Hachette Publishers
The other week, I attended a Society of Young Publishers event in a tiny, Leaky Cauldron-esque pub in Manchester. It was the first one I’d gone to (it cost £4), and I’m glad that I did!
I feel like I learnt a lot about the various areas of publishing – including areas I didn’t know existed – as well as what the general landscape of it is like. Which isn’t too bad, considering the talk itself lasted only an hour (with the option to stay longer to ask questions, but it was past 8pm and I had a train to catch /shrug).
SO only 2/3 of the speakers were there, as Katie Brown was sick (This was a minor disappointment, as like most people, I’ve always found Commissioning Editors a really interesting job, but, only a minor one).
Paterson talked about what his job entails
- Making sure the books are in stock in Waterstones, but also online in Amazon, and in independent bookshops. ‘Anywhere there’s English readers’ is the phrase he used.
- Making sure the price is right, that they’re affordable. Also being aware of what places they’re selling well in, and capitalising on it.
- The numbers! Analysing data, what people react best to. He said this in reference to covers, but I don’t see why it couldn’t apply to all facets of books.
- Advise marketing on how much money they have to spend on marketing.
- It also seems to be up to him to decide which Creative team gets to run off and do what they want with it, which I talk about a little more below.
Essentially, Editorial/Creative teams are separate, and will pitch the same book in entirely different ways. So it seems like the book is bought by – I’m assuming a Commissioning Editor – the company as a whole, and then the various Creative teams have to pitch to the Finance Director (and, I’m assuming, others) for why they should be the one to be in charge of the book. Paterson said that the pitches could be entirely different – the example he gave was the following:
Creative/Editorial Team, #1: ‘We’re going to publish [Book XYZ] in hardcover! Really try and get in the big bookshops, and do a grand author tour.’
Creative/Editorial Team, #2: ‘We might not do [Book XYZ] in print. We’re thinking of digital, trying to get it high on the Kindle charts. Audio as well as e-book. And we’re thinking it’ll sell really well in France.’
How freaking interesting is that?!?! I love thinking about how different a book can be depending on the packaging, since it goes way beyond just what cover they have.
Paterson also talked a little about how he got into Publishing and it was actually pretty funny. He went to university in Manchester reading English, worked at the Lowry Centre, ended up being an accountant (despite not being particularly good at math), tried to get into Media & Radio, and then got a random interview with Random House in publishing that he was offered despite (or, perhaps partially because), he admitted that he hadn’t heard of them at all until he got offered the interview, at which point he looked through all his books and realised that about 80% of them were published by Random House.
McGinley also spoke in depth about her job, which was vastly different
- ‘Non-Trade Team’, otherwise known as a ‘Specialist Team’, or ‘Custom Publishing’. Was described as dealing direct to customers (not entirely clear on this, if I’m honest), and also the side of bookselling that aren’t the major chains.
- Creating new productions. The example she gave was packaging a picture book with a jigsaw, or a game, to give it extra value.
- She spoke about the importance of value. Not necessarily cheapness, but ensuring the customer feels like they’re getting a deal, or something ‘jazzy’ with it, to make it feel special.
- ‘Publishing process in one bite-sized chunks’ were her exact words. Essentially, I think that means she does the buying/marketing/production on a much smaller scale.
McGinley also spoke about her career progression and how important it was to her. She started of in HarperCollins Distribution Centre, which actually sounds quite interesting. She says there she learned about books were moved around the country. From there, she went to Simon & Schuster, and then into Custom Publishing at Hachette. Soon she’s making the transition to Walker Books as the Head of Specialist Sales (It’s fun because I’m like, I recognise all those Publisher names! They’re all awesome! I even spelt Schuster right! without googling!)
Diversity in Publishing
It’s interesting because when they spoke about diversity in publishing, they didn’t just mean BAME, LGBTIA, Neurodiverse and Disabled people, but also regional and socio-economic backgrounds. Which… just goes to show how rich and London-centric Publishing has traditionally been, when someone who is, for example, a white neurotypical ablebodied cishet male counts as diverse, because they’re from a working-class background and/or outside of London. Kind of a mind-fuck.
According to Paterson and McGinley, publishing is definitely making strides towards being more inclusive. They both referenced nepotism being stamped down in the time they’ve worked in Publishing, saying that in the decade+ they’ve worked in Publishing internships are no longer handed out on the basis of ‘my friend has a daughter who’d like to do this’, but instead by anonymised in-depth applications.
Unclear how much they were talking about Hachette versus Publishing in general, but McGinley did also make the observation that Publishing Houses are very competitive and as such, strive against each other to be the most diverse, the most forward-thinking. So, by the sounds of it, it’s really a case of ‘start being diverse, and the rest will follow.’ They also spoke about how there is a business imperative to making publishing more diverse – since people want to read (and buy) books that reflect who they are, and the way to get those books out there is to hire people who would buy those kind of books.
One thing that Paterson, McGinley and Brown (not present) have done to try and specifically combat the problem of people from regional, lower socio-economic backgrounds being deterred from working in Publishing is to create The All Together Network. As far as I can tell, it’s a network designed to specifically tackle those problems within Hachette, but with the logic referenced above, they’re hoping to create a change throughout the UK Publishing landscape as a whole.
Ways they mention tackling this problem:
- Encouraging homebases of Publishing to be outside of London.
- Paid internships (they referenced Fresh Chapters, an eight week paid internship).
- Reaching out to schools to make Publishing more accessible as a possible career (McGinley mentioned how, when she was in high school, book publishing was never really mentioned as a possible career for anyone who liked English, reading, etc)
- Helping independent presses get access to government funded money they don’t realise is accessible to them
- Putting job adverts in places other than The Bookseller
- Providing advice
- A digital Mentoring programme based in Glasgow, matching people up with people who work in different areas of publishing so they can maintain an electronic correspondence. I… thought I had more information about this than I did, which sucks, because it sounded really great.
One problem they spoke about at length was Publishing being based almost entirely in London – at least in terms of the Big 5. Since, obviously, London is fucking expensive. Paterson spoke about how, when he initially got an interview with Random House, he couldn’t afford the train from Manchester to London twice. So, in a really ballsy move, he asked after the first interview that, if they liked him, could they do the second interview right that day, as he wouldn’t be able to afford the trip there and back (Spoiler: they said yes, did so, and he got the job).
Other thing they suggested, when having an interview in London: asking the potential employer if they’ll pay for your trainfare, or if a Skype interview would be acceptable instead. This is a really, really good piece of advice to someone who has grown up on the poorer side of things, because (at least in my experience), you tend to be less aware that the rules can be bent, that things can be paid for. This gels, I think, with what Paterson said about how richer people tend to be more confident, because they expect more, and so they’re willing to ask for more.
Roles in Publishing
At the end of the evening, they handed out these awesome cards that detailed the various areas of Publishing because – as they said during the talk – most people don’t know about anything other than Editorial. But – as you can see – there are tons more to Publishing books than just Editorial. It’s also interesting to me because when someone says Sales people do get this image in their head of someone flogging products that the consumer doesn’t want or need when, obviously, that’s not what sales is, and it’s not what good customer service is.
Rights is one area of publishing that I think sounds genuinely fascinating, but which I kind of assume you have to be smarter than I am to do. For me, it brings to mind someone who is highly skilled in terms of the law, other languages, salesmanship, and negotiation. I doubt you actually need a law degree for this, but it does sound like it could be a great fit for someone who loves negotiation, books, and travel.
I feel like most people, when they think about working in publishing, think about Editorial. Honestly, it’s one area of Publishing that I’ve always wanted to work in, too – editing books (<3_<3), helping discover amazing, diverse new authors and supporting existing ones, getting to work across all the other departments…
Lastly, I’d like to mention The Future Bookshelf , which is a super cool thing Hachette is doing to try and demystify the Publishing process and to get more books published by diverse authors. Essentially, it’s a way of submitting your book straight to the Publisher even though you may be unagented. Their submissions period opens up on May 24th, and runs until June 2nd.
Anyway, this has been a very nerdy post about very nerdy things! I have a… fair few of writerly/readerly events that I’ve been to that I’ve meant to write about but… haven’t.
Next up in ‘notes from the field’ is probably either going to be ANGIE THOMAS when she spoke at Manchester Library as part of her On the Come Up tour, OR my amazing experience at the all-day Northern YA Lit Festival, as put together by UCLAN Publishing as I’ve FINALLY found the notes I took from all the panels I went to that day. Or possibly SAMANTHA SHANNON as part of her Priory of the Orange Tree book tour, as I’m going to see her this coming Tuesday.