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Would That We Yanks Could Be So Collegial…

A challenging economic situation. Cover prices up; consumer spending habits down. Consolidation of distributors; retailers flexing muscles. Traditional media expensive and fragmented; new media baffling and unproven. Add a new political administration on the horizon, natural disasters creating additional uncertainty, and domestic terrorism threats dominating the news. Ask yourself: is this the environment to inspire creative and successful book publishing? It is. But it isn’t the USA. This is the UK in summer 2007.

I had the tremendous privilege this summer of spending my four-week sabbatical in London immersing myself in the day-to-day of British book publishing. What I found there was inspiring, challenging, and reassuring; I also found a group of professionals, primarily at our sister company, Transworld UK, but also among other houses, literary agents, booksellers, and media consultants who were warm, generous, enthusiastic, engaged, and above all committed to the mission to make books—literature—a relevant part of the cultural landscape. I look on it as my professional out of-body experience: and yes, I saw the light.

I relearned critical lessons in London. But while I was immensely excited by the strategies I saw employed, and came away with clever ideas to apply to my own marketing campaigns, and delighted in the contacts made, the real lessons are less tangible, and perhaps therefore more important.

When you step outside your routine, but are in a parallel environment, the essentials return with great clarity; for example, appreciating the importance of teamwork, and partnership, and communication in the successful publishing plan for a book or author. In the most buoyant campaigns, each publishing professional involved backed his or her self out of the process—in other words, “I” was not the subject of the campaign, but if I didn’t carry my load, the object standing in the way of success was “me.” (Get it? Grammar? Blame my mother, the English teacher.) This is not a publishing secret: this is a simple precept that is easy to state but very difficult to enforce. What I saw was both a top-down and bottom-up application of teamwork, infused with respect, and through it some astonishingly creative ideas were fostered. The interdependence of the entire company was emphasized; all communications, all meetings, all distribution of responsibility, were predicated on keeping the The Goal (for a book or author) clear, and foremost in each individual’s work. Simple, right? A case of the urgent not dominating the important—and who among us doesn’t have to drop everything for a time-sensitive situation, every week if not every day?

You won’t see radical new media strategies for my advertising campaigns—the media landscape is different enough, and frankly so much more supportive of books and book content that much of what I learned doesn’t apply here. You might not notice a refreshed take in our creative, either (although my computer has somehow defaulted to British spellings when I autocorrect so some of the flavour may seem alien). The changes in meeting content, the scheduling of activities, the day-to-day practicality of homing in on The Goal … none of this is sexy, really, but all of it is necessary. What I learned on my summer sabbatical is to look for the connection, and keep it. Easily said.

PT thanks Betsy Hulsebosch, SVP Creative Marketing Director, Bantam Dell Publishing for sharing her Limey love-in.