“What is different about books?” asked Dominique Raccah, CEO and co-founder of Sourcebooks, as she launched into the keynote address for the book session of the NYU Summer Publishing Institute. She then went on to discuss the many ways that books can be formatted, produced, and delivered to readers. Raccah was not only full of energy and ideas on how to help the book industry continue to thrive, but inspirational in asking us to focus on the fundamentals of making a book a success. After all, she pointed out, we are already hooked on books. Now we need to know how to deliver them into the hands of readers. “Statistics show that millennials read more than older generations,” noted Raccah, urging us to turn our passion into a commitment to the future of publishing. She also explained that while ebook sales have steadied and even plateaued, the popularity of hardcovers continues to increase from 2016 to 2017. It was a great and encouraging start to the three-week book session. Books still mean something. And print still reigns. We all listened up, pleased to be hearing from those we admire and aspire to emulate professionally.
And the upbeat mood continued. While hearing from a panel of leading experts including Madeline McIntosh from the Penguin Publishing Group, Jonathan Karp, from Simon & Schuster, Margot Schupf from Time Inc. Books, Bob Miller from Flatiron Books, and Reagan Arthur from Little, Brown, we were excited to engage in conversation about the future of the business. Surprisingly, instead of focusing on the numbers, the publishers talked about content and noted that the way to really generate the best books for readers is through exclusive and unique content. They spoke of finding a book that sets trends for other authors and publishers to follow such as Gone Girl.
What is also exciting for me is the prospect of collaboration and dynamism within the industry. Libby Jordan, Book Director of SPI, said, “Book publishing is very much a collaboration, so the roles aren’t so clear cut.” A professional world in which you have freedom to try different things and work as a team definitely draws in young professionals and millennials who are seeking less structured career paths.
Another aspect of book publishing that excites many of us is all those formats mentioned by Dominique Raccah. Publishing houses are working tirelessly to make sure that each format, whether it’s an e-book, streaming audio, podcast or hardcover, is strongly promoted to make as many readers as possible aware of it. We learned the importance of starting off with a strong book, inventive publicity and marketing plans, and savvy sales strategies. We also heard about the need to position the title correctly, hyper-focusing on the content and cover design, and analyzing the market to gauge when a book is ready and marketable.
SPI student Anne Mulrooney represents many of us when she talks about the kind of content that she hopes to work with someday: “Book publishing is all about making sure good ideas are created and shared with passion and intention.”
Hearing the words of our panelists and guest speakers at SPI, we are coming to the conclusion that the publishing world seems to be heading in the right direction. Publishers and editors alike (not to mention the sales, marketing, and publicity teams) are working relentlessly to deliver the very best quality and content to readers. With this in mind, it is no surprise that the New York publishing world is one that many of us millennials are trying to break into. Justin Chanda, Vice President and Publisher of Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers, said it perfectly as he moderated a panel of top children’s book publishers: “Books touch and change lives.”
By Abbi McKall Mills