Author Archives: Helen Speedy

About Helen Speedy

Helen joined Atwood Tate with over six years' experience of working in publishing, latterly as Rights Executive for Orion Children’s Books. Helen has an excellent understanding of publishing, an MA in Publishing, and is a natural and experienced communicator. Helen manages the team of consultants working on permanent vacancies across all publishing sectors and her main focus at Atwood Tate is on Senior Management opportunities in all roles and all locations across the UK.

Building a relevant book publishing industry for the future: Roles

Last week I posted some of my notes from a panel discussion on the subject of Building a relevant book industry for the future: Diversity, Content and Data at the BIC New Trends in Publishing seminar. Below is the second installment in this series of three blogs. If you missed the first post on diversity of skills, you can read it here.

New roles and new skills

Q: Despite how the industry might be portrayed in the media, and perhaps be perceived by the general public, not all roles in publishing are for “creatives” although they may require creative thinking. What are the challenges when going outside the industry to recruit for a different skillset?

A: A little while ago, I spoke to a manager who had hired technical experts from outside of publishing to work on developing new products. These developers were not happy working in an open plan office next to people from finance and struggled with the concept of 9am to 5pm. They wanted to be able to work flexi-time and at whatever time of day or night suited them. It was not a happy cultural fit and the expectations of experts from other sectors can be very different.

In consumer trade publishing there is still hostility towards the concept of publishing being a commercial business. As we heard earlier, from one of the other speakers at this seminar, we are afraid of referring to books as a commodity. I once experienced a backlash from editors when I voiced the opinion that having access to more consumer data could be a great thing for publishing and this negative view of the commercial side of the business could also be off-putting to professionals from other industries. Quality of content must not be compromised and not every book needs to be a bestseller, but there has never been a better time to target niche audiences (through social media etc.), and it’s important to understand that a commercial approach to maximising sales of niche publications is not a negative thing.

Q: What (if any) differences are we seeing when it comes to awareness and skills required in different types of publishing? E.g. professional publishing v. trade publishing? Software services, content development, data usage etc.

A: Ebook sales have risen dramatically (though perhaps these sales have reached a peak) and some trade publishers are taking a more data driven and commercial approach. The trend in professional book publishing appears to be to move towards a service/subscription model, but some legal publishers have been doing this for some time now, so it’s not an entirely new concept.

Q: Helen, in your opinion, what might be improved when it comes to Careers advice, both in schools and also higher education? Why does the industry often insist on applicants having degrees? Is this a barrier in your opinion?

A: More needs to be done in schools. There are some good careers services out there (like Cambridge Occupational Analysts COA) but it’s an expensive service and mostly only used by fee paying schools, where the parents have the means to finance it. Children get pressured by their parents and by society and some have little idea as to which subjects they need to take at A level in order to study their subject of choice at university. In terms of a degree being required, I think the issue lies with the education system rather than being the industry’s problem. Publishing could look at apprenticeships for certain roles, but there are so many good graduates looking for a role in publishing that there is little incentive for employers to look elsewhere.

Q: What about technical Degrees? How might the industry attract recruits from these types of degrees, as opposed to always recruiting arts graduates? Diverse skillsets from other degrees…different types of people/minds/new ways of thinking etc…

A: A degree should provide discipline, the ability to think critically and carry out research, so does subject really matter? It does for editorial roles in scientific publishing and for subject specific roles within educational publishing and academic publishing, where subject specific expertise and knowledge are required, but in many cases, it shouldn’t matter. The difficulty that the industry has in attracting graduates with technical degrees is generally a question of salary level and the other options open to these graduates and the kind of opportunities their peers are being offered.

University careers services have a difficult job, but in my experience can tend to be a bit conservative in their advice. However, I think some improvement is happening there – I was recently invited to an event being held for computer science and tech graduates who wanted to work in the creative sector or media, which I thought was a great idea. We should also think about arts grads, who could have good business brains, but don’t necessarily know where to start or what the options are, so think that the only way to go is editorial. I know an English Literature graduate who is a senior software developer, so perhaps the solution is to encourage the interested graduates to develop the skills that the industry requires, regardless of their degree discipline.

Q: How might we get around the challenge of publishing simply not paying as much as other industries?

A: Transparency in terms of pay would be a good start, so that employees or potential employees have a pay structure to refer to. Other industries have more formal pay scales in place but this is not something that the media industries have always been keen to implement.

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Building a relevant book industry for the future: Diversity, Content and Data.

Earlier this month, I was invited to join a panel discussion on the subject of Building a relevant book industry for the future: Diversity, Content and Data at the BIC New Trends in Publishing seminar. The panel was moderated by Karina Luke, Executive Director at BIC and I sat alongside three excellent expert panellists, Sheila Lambie, Senior Lecturer, Marketing in Publishing, Oxford Brookes University, Hajera Memon, Managing Director, Shade 7 Limited and Nigel Warner, CEO, Creative Access, who had some extremely interesting things to say. Unfortunately, I don’t have a transcript of the discussion and wasn’t able to take notes myself (for obvious reasons), so I have put together the following blog posts based on my answers on the day and other material that I prepared for the event. Photos from the event, the full programme and information about the speakers can be found on the BIC website.

This post focusses on the question of Skillset and I will cover what we discussed relating to Roles and Diversity, Content & Career Development two further posts next week.

Q: In light of changes in the publishing industry with regards types of products produced, technical and digital innovations and new way of working, what changes are we seeing as far as skillset requirements? From publishers and other sectors of the books/content industry?

A: Since I started out in publishing there has been an enormous amount of change across all sectors. In the past four years, since I joined Atwood Tate, there has been a lot of change in the trade book sector, which had perhaps been slower to adapt than many STM and academic/professional publishers in terms of innovation and digitisation of content. As I’m sure everyone is aware, sales of digital products, whether that be ebooks, online journals, databases/ online platforms have grown considerably and this obviously affects all roles within publishing and the skills required to do those jobs.

In terms of production, we’ve seen a change in workflows and methodologies (i.e. a move to XML first etc.) but the profile of a production or production editorial professional has not really changed. Knowledge of mark-up languages such as XML and HTML are often required skills now, but we’ve seen production people keeping their skills relevant and up to date through in-house training and proactive self-development.

New product formats and technologies means new systems being put in place, whether that be overhauling production workflows and peer review processes or implementing new digital sales and marketing reporting systems. As a result we’ve noticed a demand for more project managers and programme managers, both permanent and contract.

We are seeing changes to sales and marketing roles and the skillsets required in addition to new roles focussing on consumer data analysis. With more publishers producing subscription products and digital content to be delivered as a service rather than a stand-alone product, there is an increased demand for sales and licensing professionals with experience of selling software as a service, particularly in the professional/business publishing sector.

With digitisation has come the opportunity to gather a greater quantity of more accurate consumer data and this is influencing the way editorial, marketing, sales and publicity people work. We’re seeing a demand for analytical skills and people who understand how to analyse and interpret data and that’s not only on the sales and marketing side but in terms of content and product development too.

In terms of marketing roles, there is greater focus on market research and segmentation, analysing results (ROI) and not just rolling out campaigns. So we’re seeing a lot of roles centring on sector research, such as Group Insight Data Analyst, Market Research Manager, Consumer Insight Manager and Marketing Systems Manager.

Q: How do you think this compares to other creative industries?

A: Publishing may be considered behind the curve in comparison with the music, film and TV industries, but that isn’t a bad thing, as we can learn from the errors those industries have made. This year there has been considerable discussion around the topic of subscription sales models for consumer books and people are looking to TV/film subscription services for inspiration. However, publishers for the professional/corporate markets are also moving away from single products and towards selling services and can hopefully look to journal publishers and other academic/STM publishers for examples of successful business models and systems as they have been working in this area for some time.

Q: How do you think this change in skillset requirement is reflected in education? Are students/teachers aware? Are secondary schools and 6th form colleges addressing these new requirements? Are MA courses doing enough?

A: The majority of skills that we’re looking for in candidates are learned on the job, so I think it’s more about the opportunities that the employer offers its employees. MA courses are really helpful, as they open a student’s eyes to the variety of roles in publishing and the developments in the industry. Highly technical roles are still relatively rare in publishing, because the majority of platforms/systems are being developed and built by external suppliers, but this could change and larger publishers do already have teams of developers working on bespoke software in-house. Where schools and higher education institutes can help is to ensure pupils come out of education with the ability to work with data and the understanding of how interesting and important data is in our commercial world (numeracy and not just literacy). It’s also important that students are aware of the diverse opportunities within publishing services and not just in-house publishing roles.

Q: What about in-house training (in publishing houses, retailers, distributors, etc)?

On the whole, people are less inclined to look outside of the industry when recruiting for digital or data related roles than was perhaps the case three or four years ago. When I joined Atwood Tate, I was working on Digital Marketing roles Online Community Manager positions and our clients were saying that they were open to looking to hire from outside of the industry, because they felt that existing publishing candidates lacked the experience required. However, I’m pleased to say that this has changed and in the majority of cases, the online/digital aspects of roles have been integrated into the traditional positions as training has been provided or people have spent their own time developing their skills.


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The Publishing for Digital Minds Conference, 7th April 2014

This year’s London Book Fair warm-up conference was well attended by publishers and publishing services providers from all sectors and representing a number of nations.

Anna Rafferty opened the conference with the worrying statistic that one home in ten in London doesn’t hold a single book and several speakers mentioned their concern over Chris Grayling’s ban on sending books to prisoners.  However, despite new and perennial concerns about the state of publishing today and what the future holds, the conference generated fruitful discussions and provided positive food for thought on many issues.

Anthony Horowitz was the first keynote speaker to take the stage and he rattled through his speech, reluctantly complimenting his publishers and making a strong case for the value added by a traditional publisher.  Horowitz said that his publishers give him an identity, an association and ultimately the knowledge that he is not alone.  Does the rise of self-publishing mean the demise of traditional publishing?  Horowitz presented us with a resounding “no”.

Next up, YouTube professionals Rosie Allimonos and Jake Chudnow introduced author Richard Wiseman and talked us through how to successfully harness the power of YouTube.  Allimonos said that in order to make the best use of YouTube as a marketing tool, you have to start thinking and behaving like a channel, and stop using it as a repository for unrelated trailers and clips.  Psychologist, Richard Wiseman, played some psychological games with the audience, but the impact that his YouTube channel has had on sales of his book and the peak in sales following his channel’s launch was clearly no trick of the mind.

The final keynote speaker was Bill Thompson from the BBC Archives.  Bill delivered an inspiring and philosophical talk, exploring the distinction between words printed in a book and words captured in a file.  According to Thompson, the difference is that the book is a passive form, whereas the digital file remains active.  A book is a finished object.  It can have a history, but once printed, it does not change or adapt.  An ebook, in Thompson’s opinion, is not a book, but an active part of a digital ecosystem: your kindle ebook may be updated if a new edition becomes available and the file can be accessed and viewed in multiple ways.  However, Thompson accused Amazon and Apple of exercising control over files and taking away the life and flexibility of digital files by pinning them down with proprietary software.  He called Kobo and Kindle “killing jars for words”.  Thompson concluded by saying that publishing needs to do things differently and avoid following the music industry’s example. With digital formats, new things become possible, but how do we take full account of what digital content can do?

The rest of the conference offered an array of panel discussions, case studies and group discussions. Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend every session, but from following the tweets, I gather that the Marketing Case Studies and the panel discussion entitled Children and Young Adult Consumers: reaching them safely and effectively, were entertaining and informative sessions.

There isn’t room to write about everything – it was such a packed schedule, but here are some of my highlights.

The panel discussion on the democratisation of content, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding followed on well from Bill Thompson’s keynote speech and generated some interesting opinions to counter Horowitz’s argument for role of the traditional publisher.  The panel was made up of representatives from scholarly publishing through to trade publishing, but all agreed that open access and digital dissemination of content provides a valuable opportunity to capture data about the habits and needs of your audience/reader.  Jan Reichelt of Mendeley, whose enterprise enables file sharing for academic purposes, says this platform has enabled users, publishers and institutions to do more with and profit more from their content.  With the transparency open content allows, content providers can measure usage and thereby monitor and analyse how users value their content. Frances Pinter of Knowledge Unlatched, echoed this opinion that there is great value gained from having direct contact with the end user.  She described the slow moving business model of scholarly monograph publishing and the lack of contact with the end user when operating under the traditional model of selling to libraries and institutions.  If the end user is not the one directly paying for the content, then it is difficult to move forward and find out how to increase the value of the product for the end user.  Pinter believes that open access could change this and prevent scholarly monographs from becoming extinct.


Ashleigh Gardner from Wattpad and Matt Locke of Unbound, talked about their experience with crowdsourced and crowdfunded fiction, but the theme of empowerment through direct contact with the end user echoed the opinions of Reichelt and Pinter.  Locke explained how authors can profit from interacting with their readers through social media and direct online engagement and Gardner stated that, without a middle-man, new niche genres flourish.  Both Gardner and Reichelt mentioned the profits to be made through data licensing, i.e. selling data to publishers and other related industries.

After lunch, everyone gathered in the conference centre to hear Martha Lane Fox in conversation with Anna Rafferty. Martha Lane Fox spoke of the need to redress the gender imbalance in digital start-ups and technological roles.  She urged women to be enterprising, bold, big and ambitious.  She praised the richness of content that publishing has available and her advice to publishing in this digital age was to be resilient in order to survive.  The technical landscape has offered opportunities for innovation and change at a rate that has never before been possible and to be successful, you need to be resilient to change.  On a more philanthropical note, Lane Fox called for a continued fight to make access to the internet and digital content available to all in society. On reflection, it makes perfect sense that Martha Lane Fox cited Elizabeth Gaskell’s Mary Barton as the greatest literary influence on the way she sees the world.

A major theme debated at the conference and throughout the Book Fair was whether subscription models can work for trade publishing.  Subscriptions service providers such as Scribd and Safari, argue that subscriptions are a good middle ground and that there is a demand from the new generation of consumers who are more comfortable with a subscription model – the Netflix Generation…  However, in the question time when this topic surfaced again, it became apparent that, from the publishers point of view, the jury still seems to be out and publishers remain unconvinced of arguments for the subscriptions model as a low risk venture and the next big thing in terms of digital distribution.

The conference sparked lively debate across a number of topics, but to me, the overarching issue of the day for the speakers from all sectors of the industry was the importance of accessing consumer data. We were left to ponder how best the industry can move on from the traditional print publishing business model that is very data poor and towards more interaction with users and the opportunity for increased profitability that this brings.

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Consultant in the Hot Seat – Helen Speedy

Helen2The third of our “Consultant in the Hot Seat” posts, Helen Speedy has been asked a variety questions by the team here at Atwood Tate.  Read on:

1)      Who would you invite (and why) to your fantasy literary dinner party?

I think I’d probably invite Martha Gellhorn, Alison Weir, Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle, Victor Hugo, Shirley Hughes and Goethe.

Martha Gellhorn: I have always admired Martha Gellhorn. Reading her work and her biography helped gently break my teenaged dream of becoming a fearless war reporter.  She’d have some great stories to tell.

Alison Weir: I am a big fan of Alison Weir and I’d love to be able to ask her more about some of the historical figures that she has written about – Eleanor of Aquitaine and The Princes in the Tower, for example.

Sir Arthur Conan-Doyle: I’m not quite sure how he’d fit in but I love Sherlock Holmes and I was fascinated by Arthur and George by Julian Barnes.  I also think it would be good for Conan-Doyle to meet some of the strong women at the dinner party.

Victor Hugo: I studied French and German at university and wrote a dissertation about Victor Hugo’s art and poetry.  When you spend so much time alone reading, researching and getting into someone’s head, you can’t help but feel you somehow know them.  I think he and Conan-Doyle could have some interesting conversations about mysticism and table turning – not that I believe in any of that, but it was a great influence on them both.

Shirley Hughes: I have loved Shirley Hughes’ artwork and stories since a young age and I am now enjoying revisiting my favourites and some newer titles with my own children. When I met Shirley Hughes some years ago, she was charming and interesting and I’d love it if she could do some sketches of the guests around the table.

Goethe:  I think this great German writer could either be a complete bore or the life and soul of the party. After studying an entire paper on Goethe at university, I developed a real love/hate relationship with him, so I’d be intrigued to find out how I felt about the man in person.

2)      If you could write ‘THE book’ on something, the definitive how-to guide on any subject, which topic would you choose?

 It would have to be a book on negotiation and mediation.  I’m always on the look-out for new tips and when you start practising your negotiation skills, they become useful in every part of your life, personal and professional.  The only risk is that, like me, you might end up with a four year-old who can out-negotiate you.

3)      What role would you like to see created in publishing next year?

The paid intern.  I think it is time that publishing and the media took proper steps to ensure interns are paid something for their efforts.

4)      What three books changed your life?

When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit by Judith Kerr

My mother gave me When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit to read when I was 11 or 12 and told me that it was written by the creator of Mog the Forgetful Cat (a childhood favourite).  My maternal Grandfather was a refugee from Austria and growing up, my mother met a lot of Jewish refugees, including some who had come to England as children either with family or on the Kindertransport.  Giving me the first part of Judith Kerr’s autobiography, was my mother’s way of starting to tell me more about her background and what it felt like to be the daughter of someone who had lost everything and had to start a new life from scratch.  We shouldn’t dwell on the past, but when you think about the tragedy and hardship behind the positive new beginnings that people like Judith Kerr and her brother made, it is inspiring.

Die Blechtrommel (The Tin Drum) by Günter Grass

I read this gigantic novel when I was far too young to really understand it all but I can still vividly recall certain scenes. I started reading The Tin Drum over a man’s shoulder on the tube when I was about 12 and I decided I wanted to read the whole thing myself, so I did.  In retrospect it was a real influence on me and my future reading habits.  It’s a wonderful novel, surreal, surprising – just how the adult world looked to a pre-teen.

The Wasteland by T.S. Eliot

I used to read a lot of poetry and sadly I seem to reach for the prose much more these days.  The Wasteland is an exceptional work and I read it first when I was in Sixth Form.  Then a couple of years later, when I was at university, this boy who was trying to get a date with my best friend, turned up at my room when he couldn’t find her and ended up sitting in my armchair and reading me the entirety of The Wasteland in one sitting.  None of the other girls would put up with that pretentious behaviour, so I think that my acquiescence was a turning point for us both. That boy is now my husband. I might have been “multi-tasking” and writing an essay whilst he read, but don’t tell him that.

5)      What are you most looking forward to in 2013/2014?

 I’m looking forward to getting a full night’s sleep, eventually, when my son gets the hang of that and hopefully that might happen before the end of 2013…

On a more serious note, I’m definitely looking forward to attending the Bookseller Children’s Conference later this month (my heart still lies in children’s books publishing) and I’m also already thinking about LBF2014.  I missed the London Book Fair this year, so I’m even more excited than usual about next year’s.

True fact: Helen was once taught how to fire a pump action shot-gun by an ex-SAS officer turned author, who shall remain nameless…

To find out more about the roles each of our consultants covers, go to the “Meet the Team” page:

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