Summer Reading #1

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So this is a very short Q&A I did for our Wednesday Reads blog post series at work. Bonjour Tristesse is a short read, perfect for summer.

What is your job?

Marketing Executive

What do you do day to day?

My main responsibility (or at least one which takes up the most time) is putting together design briefs for a wide variety of promotional material from seasonal catalogues to flyers for book launches to goody bag contents. I oversee print advertising so this involves submitting titles to The Bookseller category spotlights, liaison with academic conference organisers to insert adverts in the programmes and working with a range of publications for advert space. One of the great things about working in a small publishers is you are able to shape your role to a certain extent. Aside from these fixed priorities I have commissioned guest blog posts from authors and topical experts to tie in with campaigns, book releases and national events. I love going to conferences and exhibition fairs – I have immensely enjoyed meeting such interesting characters who have spent years researching a niche area of theology.

What are you reading?

Bonjour Tristesse by Francois Sagan – a beautifully evocative portrayal of the south of France and  summer romance

Where are you reading it?

When I read I don’t want any distractions so I don’t tend to read whilst commuting. I much prefer to spend a lazy Sunday afternoon absorbed in a good book and it’s the perfect way to relax in the evenings too.

How are you reading it?

I will never be a digital convert. I have a beautiful Penguin Modern Classic edition

What percentage have you read?

I’m sadly nearing the end

Would you recommend it?

Definitely – read it if only because when it was released it caused outrage. But seriously, you know it’s good when you read another page at any given opportunity. It’s a coming of age story (with a twist) that is as relevant today as when it was written. It has the sense of revelling in carefree pleasure which really only comes with living a life of privilege without responsibility.

Why does it matter?

It matters because it brilliantly captures a pivotal moment in most people’s lives. Sagan’s style is so atmospheric, that it’s impossible to not be transported and moved by her words. The characterisation is realistic and the storyline poignant.

What else are you reading?

I do love a good psychological thriller and I find they are the perfect holiday read so I’m also reading Lying in Wait by Liz Nugent and Disclaimer by Renee Knight. Thoroughly recommended!

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Critical review of critics

From an author’s perspective, Amazon can be seen as having democratised the way in which a book is reviewed, with reader assessments more representative of the book-reading masses and less obliged to conform to a pre-determined consensus. The internet has provided a means for an ever increasing, easily accessible and vital exchange of opinions in literary criticism. As advertising budgets are slashed in smaller publishing companies and revenue models in the industry adapt to counter the dominance of Amazon, it would seem that reviews have never been so crucial as a way of increasing the exposure of a title at no cost to the publisher. Amateur critics undoubtedly have insights and recommendations which can significantly impact the success of a book and for smaller independent publishers, this word-of-mouth marketing is key.The more books there are, the greater the necessity for a way to navigate the field. Thousands of books are published every year while at the same time pages in newspapers and magazines dedicated to reviewing new releases is diminishing. On the internet, however, every literary niche has its community of readers and critics.

Whilst I acknowledge that there is a case for critical analysis which elevates any discussion of a novel from that of personal taste, the point isn’t that traditional critics are always wrong and bloggers or Amazon reviewers are right, or even that these comments are overwhelmingly negative but rather that authority has migrated from critics to a much wider audience. We live in an age of cultural populism – an age in which readers are not only entitled to their view but are encouraged to share it.

Changes to the English Literature GCSE syllabus

Last week saw the unveiling of amendments to the English Literature GCSE syllabus texts and a renewed focus on British writers. The course, from the OCR examination board, has been designed to give students a proper grounding in the “literary heritage” of Britain. The government has defended the changes, arguing that they will ensure that a more diverse range of literature is studied with courses now incorporating a 19th century novel, at least one Shakespearian play and fictional prose or a drama from 1914 onwards.

I would have liked to have seen To Kill a Mockingbird continue as required reading. It is a profoundly moving tale with a strong emphasis on moral courage and the ability to relate to another by putting yourself in their skin and walking around in it. It is a novel which contains themes with which all students can empathise; regardless of their ability or background and this level of accessibility ought not to be underestimated; particularly at a time when the popularity of reading for pleasure is in such rapid decline amongst school age children.

Curtailing the remit of GCSE literature risks a disengagement with books and the study of the text being reduced to a discussion on themes in contextual isolation. The appeal of literature relates to the way in which it encourages the reader to think beyond the boundaries of their own lives, and cultural and geographical circumstances. To restrict this is counter to the essence of education which should be about being made aware of new ideas, fostering free thinking and awareness of wider social and cultural issues. The ‘English’ part of an English literature course should be adjectival; not prescriptive and I would question how teachers are expected to engage their pupils with the nuances of English social classes which are central to the discussions revolving around Pride & Prejudice.  In addition, of course, classrooms are increasingly multicultural and to some extent the curriculum must reflect this reality by paying  attention to the acute cultural sensitivities playing out in the political and social arena. Should Dickens, Austen and Shakespeare be included? Yes, of course, but alongside Zadie Smith and Meera Syal. How, I hear you say, will material be selected? One criterion for which books, poetry or plays are included must surely be their ‘teachability’, the extent to which the text stimulates classroom discussion.The second, I would suggest, must have something to do with a literary experience as opposed to the rather tedious analysis of a book’s themes. And this is where To Kill a Mockingbird comes in as an extremely relevant example of how the words on a page can transcend what is studied in a classroom environment and have a lasting influence on a life. For me personally, having studied the book for GCSE eight years ago, the following line still resonates with me:

“I wanted you to see what real courage is, instead of getting the idea that courage is a man with a gun in his hand. It’s when you know you’re licked before you begin but you begin anyway and you see it through no matter what. You rarely win, but sometimes you do.”

Focus: London Book Fair 2014

The London Book Fair surpassed all my expectations. The venue was Earls Court, a vast space in which the buzz of deals being made, the showcasing and exploration of the latest innovations and the sheer excitement about the future of this industry were palpable. As the events draws to a close this year and having scoured every free catalogue and industry news pamphlets, I thought I would share some highlights which piqued my interest.

Market Focus on Korea

“Technology is now integral in helping to break into new territories”

The objective of the Market Focus is to draw attention to the great potential of certain territories in conducting business on an international basis. According to a an article in Publishing Perspectives, Korea has proven to be an increasingly important market for UK publishing with a reported 22% growth in exports over the last decade. The latest tools designed to enhance reading experiences were truly phenomenal. Tabon Books based in Korea specialise in the creation and distribution of ePubs and provide a range of enhancements, for example, animation, interactivity and text searching.  I was interested to learn that this year they plan to launch the Tabon eBook Shopping Mall concept which gives publishers their personalised “shop front” identity plus the additional benefit of having the freedom to sell their eBooks the way they want.  IPortfolio and Y Factory respectively focused on transforming the educational learning environment and the mental development of children in encouraging a curiosity about the world. I am personally delighted to see such commitment to the promotion of learning. The London Book Fair is the global marketplace for the negotiation of rights as well as the sale of content across a range of mediums. What was particularly evident to me was the evolving landscape of opportunity which makes for a very exciting time to be in publishing.

Business Models in Publishing

One of the advantages to studying towards an MA in Publishing is the rapid realisation that having an understanding of business terminology is fundamental to the industry and that publishing is as much about business as it is about nurturing and promoting creative talent. With an assessment which requires us to plan an affinity scheme which connects publishers with the readers of their books firmly in mind, I attended the Big Debate which took place at the LBF. In order to remain profitable, publishers as content providers have sought to address the wide gulf which has traditionally existed between these two components of the process by acquiring customer insight via data. This enables publishers to construct a reader profile which can serve to market titles more effectively. Harper Collins, for example, have set up a “consumer insight” department while some trade publishers have partnered with companies such as Oyster in order to share built-in audiences. The interesting discussion point was that research conducted by Publishing Technology last year suggested that online communities are a growth area in the marketing of content and that a news and fan portal would be valued by publishers and readers alike.

Merchants of Culture?

This week involved the Publishing MA class discussing interpretations of this terminology and the title of John Thompson’s 2010 book, Merchants of Culture, which looks closely at the changing role of the publisher. This term – publishers as merchants of culture – is an interesting one and is open to much analysis.

The book highlights the increasingly competitive marketplace as publishers compete to acquire content by entering into contractual relations with authors or their agents. Added to this, publishers must also compete for the attention of readers and retail space once a book has been produced. The book marketplace is incredibly crowded and from the research I carried out for my latest course assignment, I understand the importance of the symbolic capital of the imprint, the social networking of publishing staff and the author in ensuring that a new title is not lost in the flood of books which appear each season.

Critiques of the publishing industry often focus on its corporate nature, arguing that the profit motive impedes decisions that would otherwise be based on pure literary merit. However, it is essential for publishers who bank on having a few big hits to offset a lot of flops. Thompson states that being “merchants” does not mean offering only low-culture products, but differentiating the offer in order to compete. It does not mean an end to the promotion of culture but of producing it in different ways and at different levels.

In a world where anyone can publish a book, publishers, like any business, cannot remain static. The diversification of sales outlets e.g. supermarkets, toy shops, the internet have meant that modern publishers have made efforts to connect their books with specific audiences by going where that market goes. With the advent of social media and the influence it has on book sales, a publisher cannot avoid being a merchant and ignore the taste of the ‘common user’. In other words, a book must be shown to be financially viable and that enough profit will be generated to support the company’s other activities.

In October 2013, The Business of Fashion examined the rise in popularity of books related to fashion, in particular highly illustrated monographs which retail between $150 – $500 on average. When the leading publishing house Rizzoli published a book on Tom Ford in 2004, the initial concerns were whether or not consumers would respond positively and whether a niche product would be only desirable to a limited audience. Ten years on, the book is still in print and selling remarkably well. It is a trend which can be observed internationally. Go in to most of the larger book stores and it is apparent that books pertaining to fashion design occupy far greater space on shelves than titles related to, say, architecture or product design.

Marketing campaigns have successfully positioned such books as being almost comparable to luxury accessories; akin to the latest designer handbag, for example. Additionally, fashion brands have international following and so benefit not only from the expertise of the publishing house but also from being able to introduce a form of the brand in overseas markets at a relatively small sum. The release of a new collection which seem to occur fairly frequently is a good opportunity to tie in with the marketing of the book. From a retail viewpoint, it is evident that a book can assist with maximising sales of a new line. If the brand already has a strong presence then it is a means by which the ‘brand’ can communicate with it’s ardent followers.

So, the fashion book has increasingly become an ‘objet d’art’ , a sort of collectors possession, which has escaped the fate of other genres in this digital age. This may go some way in explaining the ongoing popularity of fashion books and provides a fabulous and timely (at this stage in my course) example of a successful marketing campaign.

 

 

Children & Books

WORLD BOOK DAY takes place today; a celebration of the joy of reading. I can remember as a child cherishing the book tokens and the subsequent deliberation over which book to choose. I thought today would be a chance to write about a topic which I believe presents an often underestimated challenge to society, namely the decline in the number of  children and teenagers who read for pleasure. One manifestation of this issue is the impact it has on a child’s ability to research. Having worked for a time in education after leaving university, I was able to observe how frequently students used the internet to access vast amounts of free information; often typing word for word the title of an essay on Google search and then expecting the answer to be as easily obtained. There was very little desire to explore any given topic further and one has to wonder what effect this will have in terms of their further education, ability to demonstrate initiative and think independently.

The title of my blog reflects the course of events in my own life, the start of a career working with books but also indicates a love of ‘travelling’ by way of reading a book. It is a free form of entertainment being able to absorb the descriptive passages of a novel and view unfolding events through the eyes of a character in a book or discover new facts or places in nonfiction books. It is possible to travel around the world and trace the developments leading up to the modern world through the pages of a book. I believe that sense of wonder is worth attempting to instil in the children of today.

The main objective of World Book Day, this being its seventeenth year, is to encourage children to discover books and a love of reading. Now that publishers are embracing the digital age, I would hope that many more children, a new generation of readers, learn to love books in many different ways. A book is a friend for life so the sooner children start to handle books, look at the pictures and notice the symbols on the page the better. Of all the skills which small children learn from their parents, the most useful one which sets a steady course for successful access to the curriculum and familiarity with words and therefore learning, both in school and the wider world, is the ability to understand and handle language in its written form. Reading to children, however small, teaches them to focus, use their imagination and creates a curiosity for further investigation and experience in a huge range of subjects from astronomy to poetry and from historical epochs to lively fiction in all its forms.

A life without books is a sterile world. Children should be encouraged to read whatever their interest from comics to the great novels of English literature or from an encyclopaedia containing ‘mind-blowing facts’ to the latest teen read. Without books, children’s imaginations are stunted. The demands of the education system move swiftly and those who have not been introduced to books before they enter school are often at a continual disadvantage.