A Response to “What Skills Do Publishers Need?”

Posted by Justine Solomons on February 5, 2013, in News

Our event a few weeks ago "What Skills Do Publishers Need?" was absolutely fantastic and we had a really positive response on the night both at the event and via the twitter feed.  We were especially intrigued by Laura Florence Jones who was following the debate on twitter from Edinburgh. She has very kindly allowed us to reproduce her thoughts below. You can find out more about Laura on her blog.


The wonders of Twitter. One minute I’m lying in bed watching Friends for the umpteenth time in a comatose state after a day of poster designing at Luath and the next I’m in a bookish debate about skills needed for the publishing industry. The intriguing hashtag #bytethebook appeared on Twitter, all the important people were piping up about it, so I had to see what the somewhat amusing pun hashtag was all about. I retweeted a lot of the tweets that I thought were important, amusing or downright ridiculous. I’ll list many of them here with my thoughts, the thoughts I had but were unable to express at the time due to Twitter’s limit and the rapidity of the hashtag’s movement.

RT @SuzanneCollier ”There’s little or no careers advice at university for people wanting to get into creative industries.” #bytethebook

I must admit, I have found the careers service of Edinburgh University a lot more helpful after I graduated. I’ve had 2 jobs through them in the last 6 months, none to do with the creative industry, but still. They’re there. However, during my undergrad studies I (and many of my fellow students) detected that they were only making an effort with us English Literature folks to be seen to be making an effort. Once a year we would get a 30 minute talk from a careers lady (where are all the careers men?) that was after a lecture. It started at 1pm. Lunch time. So the poor careers lady was talking to a few hundred hungry, tired, grumpy, impatient students who were not in the mood to be told how hard it is to get a job with an English Literature degree. Thanks for reminding us. We forgot.

In third year, for our annual “advice”, the lady popped up.

“So, do you remember my message from last year?”
*silence* *snores* *tumble weed* *eye daggers*

I honestly can’t remember the message. I only remember the ridiculousness that the careers service seem to be under the impression that their golden nuggets of advice are shiny enough to inspire us all year round.

It put me off the careers service, the information I needed was always online, presented in a simple, honest package without the annoying middleman(lady) so I never had a one-on-one meeting as was encouraged. My friends did, and were, to my memory, disappointed. They didn’t know anything about applying for postgraduate courses in film in London, “look online” they said. They didn’t know anything about gap years for the graduate, “look online” they said. They only seem to categorise postgraduate life into “employed”, “unemployed”, “in further education”, “volunteering” and “unknown”. I hope to God those unknown people are the ones in the creative industry with no interest in telling their ex-careers service that their useless advice had absolutely nothing to do with their creative success. I do hope.

To careers people, creative people are lost people. We’re to be told to not expect much and to work hard for little pay. Thankfully, I’ve had a fairly good hard working ethic throughout my education and low expectations for my financial future, so I don’t need anyone to tell me this.

So, that tweet resonated. (And my thoughts are a little over the 140 character limit.)

@AtwoodTate Unpaid internships are scandalous @raffers - yes indeed

Welcome back old friend, the intern debate that burns so bright.

I don’t have much to add here considering my last post on the unpaid intern, but I will add that I’m encouraged that the debate is spreading. If we talk about it incessantly, maybe publishers will get so fed up with our moaning that they’ll pay us to shut up…

@AtwoodTate: If you want the right people to make great content and high revenue you have to pay for them #fact #bytethebook

Continuing in the previous tweet’s vein, we begin to look at the implications of the unpaid intern beyond the morality and the intern themselves. People are starting to realise that quality productions come from people who can work long enough and well enough on content because they’re paid to. Consequentially the content becomes valuable. Despite the industry’s troubles, publishing is a business (as we will come to see) so it has to invest, and invest it must in people. Pay them and reap the rewards of a happy employee who will be happy to work their best for you. (pay cheque permitting…)

RT @cleggcom #bytethebook most important thing to get into publishing: be born posh/rich #bytethebook

A sad truth. If the business is all about networking then there’s no better contact than daddy getting you a position as a trainee assistant. Some people are fortunate, get a step ahead. Others have to shell out money they don’t have, work jobs they probably shouldn’t have time to work and stare at debt reminders from SLC.

@juliasilk72 #bytethebook Should not be a separation between digital and other functions. Everyone should incorporate digital into their role @baddabyng

This was an interesting one, and what should be a fairly obvious one. As digital productions grow up and approach the legacy of print publishers need to be aware and quick to adapt. If anyone still has the mentality that the digital revolution is either going to kill the book or is a passing fad, wise up. They go together like yuppies and ebony embossed business cards. Realise this.

@LoisBray Agree w/ @justinesolomons the education system often dictates the subjects students decide to pursue…also inhibits diversity #bytethebook

A flashback to secondary school was not what I needed. It was what I got with this tweet. There’s little room for freedom, expression, choice, change of direction at school. You’ve done Maths 2, why would you want to change to Art 1.0?! No no, you’ll do Maths 3 like everyone else. Or, rather, at my school, it was a case that you had to choose 2 out of 3 subjects. Then specialise. You want to do History, Modern Studies AND Geography? Oh no no no. My school was more an inept mess than an inhibitor of diversity, it was just simply too poorly run and supervised to operate otherwise. I, and many people of my year who I’m still friends with feel lucky to be where we are after that mess. And we’re mostly insecure arts students. We wanted to lead potentially diverse lives despite the school. Sad situation.

pressfuturist #bytethebook Byng: I wish we could pay our staff more, including me. We have uncapped bonus schemes to share success, but it *is* a business

Ah, here’s the business line. What I’m not sure about is why business has become synonymous with ‘we have no money to pay our staff’. Yes, you are a business. So, create a business plan to pay your employees better? Simplistic thinking, I know, but it’s used a little too flippantly as an excuse.

@juliasilk72 #bytethebook Publishing is Darwinian. You have to continually adapt your skills to survive. @raffers Yes!

My favourite idea of the night – publishing is Darwinian. It’s a simple but glorious idea. Right now, the publishing industry is floundering as it fails to grow the gills it needs to breathe against the digital current. Who knows how we manufacture these gills but I bet it involves more audience interaction through crowdfunding, removal of DRM, digital freedom, print works of art…but these are just ideas to explore…

RT @pressfuturist #bytethebook So, publishing doesn’t pay, authors don’t make money, and we’re now selling ebooks for 20p. Hmmm.

Huge, huge problem. Seeing publishers happily promote their 20p e-books puts my blood on the boil. For the briefest rise in custom, there’s a bigger, more detrimental impact for the industry as a whole. Publishers fear that by not being part of the cheap digital bandwagon they’re going to miss out on sales. I understand they want to have their voice heard, to be seen as engaging with digital necessities, but it’s the wrong way about it. As more people expect dirt cheap books, the customer’s expectations will fall accordingly and that average £7.99 price tag is going to look far too exciting in the near future. Keep prices up, maintain the value of the book itself, keep the author afloat, invest in future books on that imprint, prevent customers from expecting something for nothing. 20p

doesn’t go very far.

RT @marketingjulia #bytethebook Publishing still seen as glamorous and has graduates queuing up for unpaid work experience.

I think I see what Julia is getting at here, but it wasn’t presented well. By suggesting us unpaid interns are being taken advantage of because we want to be part of this ‘glamorous’ industry is patronising and wrong. My image of the sparkly, long-lunch filled industry has long since been pummelled, and rightly so, if anyone does enter an industry for the ‘glamour’, they’re doing it wrong. I queue up for unpaid experience to be able to get a low paid job in a difficult industry that I think I will like. High standards, I think you’ll agree. But still, don’t insinuate that my image is anything more than realistic, please.

Finally, I was happy to see the London Book Fair to end the hashtag on a fairly high note.

RT @LondonBookFair The only thing that won’t disappear is the stories, everything else is changing #bytethebook

It’s definitely comforting to remember that despite our fights over pay and digital, the stories will always be there. They’re why we are here. Everything else is very much changing, but it’s only the presentation. Content, of course, varies in quality, but as long as we’re able to treasure the stories we love, it all becomes a little less grim. It might not be a glamorous industry, but it’s one full of passion and it’s why it will stand the test of time. It needs to change its outfit a little, maybe add a few ruffles to its collar but otherwise, the content underneath will stay the same and I think we can and should take comfort in that.


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