On November 15, we braved snow flurries in Chicago to attend BISG’s day conference: Book Publishing, from Concept to Consumer.
The Book Industry Study Group (BISG) works to create a more informed, empowered and efficient book industry. Their membership includes trade, education, professional and scholarly publishers, as well as distributors, wholesalers, retailers, manufacturers, service providers and libraries.
Throughout the day, seven different presenters described their jobs – their workflow, the challenges they face, and where their work fits into a book’s lifecycle.
Most of us only see books during a relatively small part of their lives. The details and strategy that consume our workdays are only a fraction of the work that goes in to bringing a book to the public. Acquisition editors see books when they are just manuscripts and ideas. Printers shepard books into the physical world and then pass them along. Library marketers are thinking about how books will live in communities years after their pub date, when the pages are soft and earmarked. This overview of what our colleagues are doing across the industry was a welcome reminder that we all depend on each other’s work to bring the best books to the readers who will love them.
For those who weren’t able to attend, here is a bit of what was covered:
Publishing is beyond personal taste
Contrary to popular conception, Todd Stocke described his role as SVP and Editorial Director at Sourcebooks as less about his own inimitable tastes and more about analyzing data and looking for spaces in the market to tell new stories. For him to be successful at his job, he needs to be able to think outside of his personal preferences and the demographic details that have given rise to his interests and tastes. He has to have an idea of what people of different backgrounds are interested in, and to have access to the writers telling those stories. He described the necessity of having a pipeline that is both broad and deep. A broad pipeline means getting manuscripts from a variety of sources and a deep pipeline means developing relationships with the people providing those manuscripts so that, for example, an agent will know immediately if the manuscript in their hand is the perfect book for the Sourcebooks nonfiction editor.
All stages of book publishing are about the audience
This was the overarching theme of the day. It was not a shock to hear audience as the focus for acquisitions, bookstores, or libraries. These are the parts of the industry that we know need to be responsive to what readers are looking for. But we were surprised to hear how much audience fits into how other players in the industry do their jobs. As Judine O’Shea described the design process for a book, she made the point that a big driver for her is audience-appropriateness. If she’s designing the title and page layout for a children’s book, how many colors will be too busy for young eyes? Will the font be easily legible for early readers? Michael Shea from LSC Communications pointed out that audience use determines the physical form of a book, too. Different binding styles are better for the different ways books live in our lives. For example, an art book that is meant to lay flat on a coffee table will be bound differently than a trade paperback meant to be read on the subway. The glue used on a technical textbook that will be out of date in a few years will be different from the glue used on a book that might be passed down from generation to generation.
Know your local, professional community
Suzy Takacs chalked up some of her success at the Book Cellar to her close relationships with local players of the book industry. She described her warm relationships with other booksellers, and how she has called upon stores like Women & Children First to help her stock titles in advance of events. She even described visiting IPG’s warehouse for a last-minute pickup. She is able to quickly respond to inventory needs and meet consumer demand because she has positive relationships with other booksellers and with distributors. Stephen Sposato of the Chicago Public Library expressed a desire to work more closely with booksellers. He suggested sharing data about which titles have long hold lists, so that bookstores will know what readers are asking for and can make sure to adjust their inventory to align with demand.
- Concepting/Acquisition: Todd Stocke, SVP & Editorial Director, Sourcebooks
- Editorial Development: Annie Nybo, Editor, Albert Whitman
- Design & Production: Judine O’Shea, Marketing, Publishing, and Grants at HPC
- Manufacturing/Warehousing: Michael Shea, SVP LSC Communications
- Distribution: Richard T. Williams, VP Development IPG
- Retail: Suzy Takacs, owner Book Cellar
- Libraries: Stephen Sposato, Manager of Collection Development & Readers Advisory, Chicago Public Library
And, stay up to date with industry news by subscribing to the NetGalley Insights newsletter.