Lessons learned and shared from a 2019 Trailblazer

Sabby Kaur
Opinion - Publishing Monday, 25 November 2019

Sabby Kaur reports on her 'fantastic and memorable year' as a Trailblazer winner


On a wintry night in January, in an elegant vintage cinema room tucked away in the heart of London, and to my absolute surprise, I was named as one of the five Trailblazer winners. I recall the judge describing a person who seemed to resemble me and thought, Oh, this could be me but probably isn’t. Even when I heard my name I still didn’t believe it, and my immediate thought was, I don’t have a speech prepared!

I will always remember this moment, because it taught me a great lesson. I went to the ceremony that night expecting to lose. Having convinced myself that I was good enough to be shortlisted but not to win, I let the imposter syndrome take over my inner voice. I decided there and then that I would no longer allow my fear of being seen overtake the courage of being heard.

Winning the Trailblazer award has been an incredible experience. I’ve met some exceptionally wonderful people across the publishing industry, notably my fellow Trailblazer nominees, winners, judges and the excellent teams behind the London Book Fair and BookBrunch. I attended the Quantum conference, which was fascinating, listening to inspirational speakers like Jo Forshaw, Debbie Williams and former Dr Who Christopher Eccleston, sharing their experiences on the growing world of audi books. I let my inner film buff out listening to talented director Delyth Thomas speak on a panel about film-making, production and storytelling for children.

"I’ve been a trailblazer my entire life without even realising it"

I was invited to attend a Book Society dinner, where the remarkable Kate Wilson of Nosy Crow gave a speech about her extraordinary journey in publishing. I was a speaker on a panel at the London Book Fair, and went to the Women in Leadership panel, where I had the great fortune of meeting the incredible Perminder Mann of Bonnier Books UK and was able to learn about her experiences of working in licensing and trade publishing. At the Frankfurt Book Fair I had a chance meeting with the superb Alastair Williams of Hachette Book Group, and heard about his entrepreneurial story of Summersdale Publishers.

I saw my Diversity and Inclusion taskforce team of volunteers (part of the Society of Scholarly Publishing) established as a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee. I became a certified business mentor for the Society of Scholarly Publishing mentorship programme. I was nominated for a changemaker award at the company I work for, Emerald Publishing. And I wrote an article for the Academic Bulletin entitled "The road less travelled" (inspired by the Robert Frost poem) about my journey in the publishing industry so far. It has been a fantastic and memorable year.

Most significantly, winning the award gave me the gift of reflection: I feel like I’ve been a trailblazer my entire life without even realising it. As the oldest in my family I was the first one to attend university away from home (London), the first one to live in another country (France), the first one to travel solo (USA), the first one to get married, the first one to work in the publishing industry.

In addition to my publishing role, I support my dad with his photography business as an assistant photographer. I’ve been doing this for seven years now, and I remember being the only female photographer at the events when I first started out; even then I was trailblazing without knowing it. My win itself feels quite trailblazing: the first staff member from Emerald Publishing to win, the first person based in the North of England to win, the first professional from scholarly and academic publishing to win. And so I am sharing with you my personal thoughts and lessons learned over the past year of being a Trailblazer winner…

1 Nourish and nurture a winning mindset
2 Invest time and effort into developing your ability
3 Focus on building trust in people and supporting each other
4 Reflection is important: learn not only from your failures but your victories too
5 Ambition will give you the spark towards success, but you must bring the fire and courage

The Trailblazer awards are an excellent accolade, and my hope is that they keep growing by celebrating professionals emerging from all sectors and corners of the global publishing industry who are not only doing great things but are brilliant people. The conversations and actions around equality, diversity and inclusion across publishing are increasing, and every voice is important in the shaping of what publishing is and will become. Let your inner Trailblazer rise to the surface, and share your talent with the world!

Sabby Kaur is content licensing manager at Emerald Publishing.

The Trailblazer Awards 2020 are open for entries. Further details here. The awards are run by the London Book Fair, in association with the Society of Young Publishers and BookBrunch.

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