IPG Young Independent Publisher of the Year: the contenders' stories

Ruth Killick
Opinion - Publishing 07 February 2017

Ruth Killick, whose company Ruth Killick Publicity is sponsoring the award, talks to this year's shortlist.

The contenders reflect on their careers thus far, explain why social anthropology can be as useful as a publishing MA, how they get ground-breaking ideas, and what they've learned about how to managing complex projects.

Joshua Brown, operations director at How2Become
How did you get to your current position?
I joined How2Become in 2013 when my freelance work as a computer game artist dried up. What was originally a temporary part-time admin role expanded - I loved the online marketing work and the publishing world, and my job grew along with the company. Within a year I was operations manager, and by 2016 I'd joined Richard McMunn as a company director.

Describe your job in a sentence
I run the business day-to-day - everything from strategising, coming up with new book ideas, and managing eight staff, to production, marketing, building business relationships, as well as pretty much anything I can to keep the company growing!

As well as coming up with new title ideas (I love How2Become a GCHQ Intelligence Analyst!) you've also written your own book, How2Become a Games Designer. Where do you get your ideas and what are you particularly excited about for 2017?
Yes, that's one of the most enjoyable aspects of my role, Writing the games book drew on my own experience and taught me a lot about the publishing industry. Most of the book ideas I come up with now are based on our market research, focusing on a niche. We're lucky that our opportunities are endless, there's always a "How to Become a..." career book we can write. It's great getting an insight to all of these different careers. For 2017, we are aiming to mine our database to target our individual customer needs.

Biggest achievement?
I have two. Becoming a director of How2Become and also being shortlisted for the IPG Young Independent Publisher Award! I've found the IPG to be a great source of information and support, and they have helped me to develop within the industry.

Favourite aspects of the job?
I love all the aspects of my job. It's incredibly varied, as I get to oversee all areas of the business The managing director, Richard McMunn, has essentially been a mentor to me and I have a fantastic team at How2Become. I love online marketing; it's the key to our success (60% of our sales are D2C). Whether it's a new book, SEO work, email campaign, watching an idea come to life: it's always rewarding.

Advice for people wanting to go into publishing?
Go for it. It is incredibly rewarding and provides plenty of challenges. The publishing industry requires all types of skills, and I believe whatever someone's background, they'll have something to offer.

What are the advantages for young people in working for independent publishers?
I can only say from my experience with How2Become. There is a growing need for the publishing industry to make the most of modern technologies and marketing systems. Our young team can produce creative marketing campaigns, directly to potential customers in the way they consume data daily.

Ola Gotkowska, rights manager, Nosy Crow
How did you get to your current position?
I joined Nosy Crow as Rights Assistant in 2012, and was promoted to Rights Executive in 2013 and to Rights Manager in 2014. While getting the job wasn't easy (I had four interviews before joining), I was lucky to join the company at a time when it was still very small and there was a lot of scope for growth.

Describe your job in a sentence.
I sell translation rights and foreign language co-editions to all of Nosy Crow's titles across all languages.

Biggest achievement?
Growing the number of languages in which we have sold rights from 12 to 36 since my arrival. Just last week we added Albanian the list.

Are there particular cultural issues to do with selling foreign rights for children's books?
There are plenty! Food in books for young readers is always particularly hard - you need to steer clear of anything obviously culturally specific. It would be almost impossible to sell a book with pictures of baked beans to a French publisher! Depictions of Christmas and other festivities can be tricky, too.

Anything that particularly surprised you?
I remember being astonished by the realisation that books could be improved along the way - that neither the text nor the illustrations came fully-formed. I really thought that the author and illustrator would send in their work, and then the work would be published - job done.

Favourite aspects of the job?
There are many. Seeing the book evolve from an idea to a physical object. Seeing the foreign publishers' excitement and enthusiasm for our new titles. Going to another country and passing by a bookshop with our books in the window, and knowing that I had a hand in getting them there.

How many languages do you speak and which is most useful?
I speak Polish and English fluently plus some French and Russian. Polish has been instrumental in opening up the Polish market for us, but speaking any foreign language is good when you work in rights: it gives you more awareness of how texts might or might not work in other languages.

Advice for people wanting to go into rights?
In my view, the most important attribute for somebody considering a career in rights is an appreciation and understanding of cultures, other than British culture, ideally combined with strong foreign language skills. Organisational and numeracy skills are also essential.

Is there scope for growing the market for rights and co-editions?
Yes! New markets open up constantly and there is a lot of appetite for UK-originated books. There are countries where it would have been impossible to sell co-editions a few years ago that buy hundreds of thousands of copies now.

What are the advantages for young people in working for independent publishers?
In a small or medium-sized publisher you feel instrumental to the company and you get to make your mark in a way that wouldn't be possible in a big organisation. You also get an invaluable overview of the publishing process.

Emma Milman, editorial manager at Class Professional Publishing
How did you get to your current position?
I applied for the job after seeing it advertised on the IPG website. Lorna and Dick, chief exec and managing director, interviewed me and offered me the role.

Describe your job in a sentence
Providing information and learning resources for the ambulance service.

Your job involves print buying and production, database management, app production and relationship management with authors and professional groups. What's the most challenging aspect of your job, and what's been the steepest learning curve for you?
Ensuring that new clinical guidelines are checked and approved by a range of healthcare professionals before publishing. This was challenging on a variety of levels. There were large numbers of contributors involved, all of whom had demanding clinical workloads, which understandably often had to take precedence over the book. Getting the content agreed and signed off for press was a challenge. Proofs were mailed to ambulance services and doctors across the UK, and I took in feedback by phone and email. It had to be exactly right. Any errors would have an impact on patient care.

Biggest achievement?
Publishing the JRCALC 2016 Guidelines, a 500-page tome full of critical medical advice and drug doses, in a reference book format, pocket book format and as an app. I loved working with our authors, AACE and JRCALC, and our publishing partners Aimer Media, RefineCatch and Librios.

I'm especially proud of the project because it is such an important part of ambulance clinicians' work. Every paramedic uses JRCALC and carries the Pocket Book with them in their cargo trousers. The committee of authors want to recommend best practice to people doing this stressful job, to help save lives.

I'm proud of the app we have produced with Aimer Media. It has received reams of positive feedback from the pre-hospital community, and has led to spin off projects, including an app for the East of England ambulance service, where their local procedures are presented alongside JRCALC. We've also had interest from organisations using the app internationally, which is exciting.

Favourite aspects of the job?
Working with my wonderful colleagues, having fun with our authors and collaborating with our partners.

Advice for people wanting to go into publishing?
Get experience of anything to do with writing or publishing, show initiative and prepare thoroughly for an interview.

What are the advantages for young people in working for independent publishers?
I think working for an independent publisher gives you the opportunity to develop your skills and work with likeminded people who care about their subject area.

The Independent Publishing Awards will be presented at the Independent Publishers Guild's gala dinner on Thursday (9 February).

IPA shortlists 2017

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