That’s how Kate Wilson, MD of Nosy Crow, described publishing in her entertaining and insightful Masterclass at Kingston University this week. Hot from what Kate describes as her best – and most fun – Frankfurt ever, you might have thought her energy levels would be waning. But eating all those Dime bars on the stand must have paid off, because we were treated to a rapid and disarmingly honest personal publishing memoir, telling those new to the industry how it really is and provoking sage-like nods from more experienced members of the audience.
Kate puts her professional success – including spells as MD of Macmillan Children’s Books, MD of Scholastic UK Ltd and a momentary blink as CEO of Headline – down to happenstance. But what really shone through her presentation was her personal commitment and determination. In a career involving trekking to bookfairs in Wigan, observing medical procedures in the Lister Hospital, marrying her boss (with whom she has two children), doing the caesarean shuffle to return to work within six days, and seeing her offspring so infrequently they might not recognise her, the only way was up the corporate ladder.
After leaving Hachette, however, various non-publishing roles were offered. Kate even toyed with the possibility of becoming a university Pro-Vice Chancellor (“if I knew what a Pro-Vice Chancellor did…”), before realising that she really did love publishing, it was just the bosses (aside presumably from the one she married) she had a problem with. So, she finally relinquished corporate ambition and is now MD of her own small children’s publishing business, Nosy Crow. The company philosophy is built around the concepts of curation, connection and creativity. It’s a simple but effective strategy, playing to the strengths of a small and nimble organisation:
- Sort the good from the bad and be seen to do it.
- Protect what you’ve sorted.
- Communicate with consumers in a language they like…
- … and allow them to connect with you.
- Create content from scratch.
Unlike corporate publishing machines, Nosy Crow doesn’t want to outsource the content selection and shaping process wholesale to agents, take an age corralling colleagues into making decisions or spew out corporate messages which will be viewed with suspicion by consumers. In fact it is obvious that Nosy Crow value their open and honest communication – with mums in particular – as a major strength. You don’t have to rummage around their blog too much to find an example which demonstrates that they are real people, just like their customers. The entry about The Bookseller Industry Awards is a prime example.
It’s when talking about this personal aspect of publishing that Kate is at her most passionate. She may know everything there is to know about managing staff and warehouses and bottom lines, but it’s the visceral reaction of a young reader responding to a book irrespective of what their parent or teacher thinks that really gets her going. That and the opportunity to create new stuff – from engaging printed stories to major novelty projects. In the old days ‘novelty’ might have meant high investment pop-up creations, or the inspired buggy book idea. Now it’s the world of apps, with three Nosy Crow experiences coming to an iPad near you soon. But gone are the days when great ideas and content alone guaranteed success. You’ll get nowhere now without a strong brand and close customer relationships, or, as Kate puts it, “nobody owes you lunch unless you can work out your position between the author and consumer”. And that’s why Nosy Crow might just have the business edge over some of their big corporate competitors.