John Bond, Warwick Graduate, co-founder of whitefox and former MD at HarperCollins visited Warwick earlier this year to talk with students attending a LitBiz event. The title of this blog is shamelessly taken from Mike Shatzkin via John as it offers a new way of looking at a career area which remains incredibly popular, particularly with arts students. Publishing has always had a reputation for being tough to crack career-wise, with only the lucky few managing to succeed. And given the recent spate of mergers in publishing, it would seem that it’s going to get even tougher. Or is it? Well, there’s no question that you’ll still be fighting off the competition if you want to work for a big name, but cast your net a little wider and you may find there’s room for cautious optimism. Interesting times lie ahead for authors, content writers and those looking for their first break in publishing.
Publishing: what’s the forecast?
As we heard at the 2014 publishing and journalism sector event, graduates who want to enter careers in these industries need to be attuned to the impact of the digital era. On leaving his position as Managing Director at HarperCollins, John Bond co-founded whitefox based on the very principle defined in this blog title, of positioning publishing as a range of functions which anyone can benefit from. whitefox describes itself as “a publishing services provider who works with writers, publishers and corporate clients to create bespoke, innovative publishing projects”. As a Careers Consultant speaking to students on a regular basis about opportunities in publishing and writing, it was very encouraging to hear John talk so enthusiastically about the future of publishing. Here are his
12 reasons to be cheerful:
- If you want it, you have control – put yourself in the driving seat.
- There’s no such thing as out of print – with print on demand a natural part of the publishing process.
- The supermarkets are coming -Sainsbury’s and Tesco’s are making the most of opportunities to sell e-books online to offer more alternatives to Amazon, the giant in this space.
- Publishing is still not a science – despite more and more decisions being driven by algorithms, books continue to come out of a creative left field and take consumer markets by surprise.
- Will there really be fewer publishers? – the very people who are being “let go” by merging publishing companies will soon be setting up their own twenty-first century publishing companies. Exciting times lie ahead, as the newer companies will have the freedom to create whatever business models they want.
- Learning to love book craft – there is a value in good editing! If you unbundle publishing and create a recognisable value, you can charge for this by the hour. There is no reason even if you are operating outside of a mainstream publisher, not to have access to good book craft.
- Going global – international rights can be exploited, giving authors additional royalty streams.
- The new agent – given the fact that books can now be successful without having a retail presence, agents need to think carefully about where they add value to the writer and the more innovative agents are now running events, creative writing workshops and are thinking laterally about rights.
- Embrace your hybrid – a hybrid author uses a diverse approach to get their work out to readers, using both the traditional system of publishing and also acting as an author-publisher in order to retain control, self-publish their own work and make more money.
- Speed to market – the beauty of anyone being able to publish is that you can do this much more easily. Writers who write more than their publisher can handle, now don’t have to wait years for an appropriate ‘slot ‘, they can go down the self-publishing route.
- You are not alone – there are downsides to making uncurated content publicly accessible to anyone but there is also power in the community. The power of endorsement by a community and the idea of a collective endorsing something can be very powerful. Authors can also take advantage of crowd sourcing their editing too, something which has been done by people who are self-publishing successfully like Polly Courtney.
- We are only at the beginning – and it is fascinating to watch this unfold. Ok, so big publishers can benefit from economies of scale when it comes to media buying and distribution but they are also bound by what they have got. Large publishers find their costs are still being sunk into large fixed costs when the days of huge physical print runs are long gone. If you work in a more innovative way, you can rent space by the hour and be flexible.
The road to success
So, if we are only at the beginning it makes perfect sense for soon-to-be-graduates with publishing and writing aspirations to keep on top of developments and watch industry trends by reading relevant blogs, The Bookseller (available to Warwick students through the library catalogue) and attending industry events such as the London Book Fair.
Attendees at this year’s fair could hear from industry experts at free seminar sessions on ‘The Changing Face of Publishing’, ‘The War for Talent’ and ‘Futureproof Your Career’ where HR directors talked about bringing in talent from other industries and the challenges involved in being the last industry to embrace digital.
If the ability to be enterprising, flexible, adaptive and digitally savvy are important attributes for careers in publishing and content writing, you need to think carefully about how to showcase your skills and talent. And nurture the right mindset. It’s also important to keep an open mind and consider opportunities offered by smaller companies. Don’t just focus on the ‘big’ names – you’ll only limit your career horizons.
With the ability to interpret trends and data becoming increasingly important, why not make the most of available IT training – free to all Warwick students. Also watch out for future sessions from guest speakers involved in content production and publishing at Warwick LitBiz.