We had a fantastic evening at the Book Machine: Meets Jessica Kingsley Publishers event yesterday! It was great to hear from the panel on how JKP works, how they develop their list, how they market to their audience and what makes them different from other publishers.
JKP made its name through publishing specialist literature on autism. As awareness grew, their list grew and they are now market leaders. JKP identify niche markets and identify the needs of a specific group of people.
Here we have summarised what each of the speakers had to say about their role within JKP.
Lisa Clark – Editorial Director
Lisa has been at JKP since 2007.
JKP published their first book on autism in 2006. The list now comprises of 650 books from picture books for children to parenting memoirs and is an internationally recognised list.
How does JKP maintain and develop an established list? It is important that they stay ahead of the curve and maintain creativity. It is key for editors to stay in touch with the community by meeting people constantly, attending events and being present online. Editors do this by tuning in to the debates on twitter so they can identify emerging topics. This network brings authors to JKP.
JKP champions strength and difference. Editors identify sensitivity to readership, to language for example, so that they can maintain strong relationships with communities. Lisa says that this sensitivity is what makes JKP stand out compared to other publishers who dabble in and out of these markets.
They champion autistic thinking and provide support for the challenges. 8/10 of top e-books last year were from the autism list and they are now looking to create more digital content.
What drew Lisa to JKP? Lisa fell into her role but cannot imagine herself leaving, after being at JKP for 12 years.
Andrew James, Senior Commissioning Editor
Andrew manages the gender and diversity list. The list has filled gaps in the market and now successfully dominates it. This year JKP will publish their first book on the overlap between autism and transgender people. Andrew says that other publishers might see some topics as too niche but for JKP they are a goldmine!
To build a list takes a lot of research; editors cannot go in blind, instead they need to understand the language and terminology, issues faced by communities and current debates. They also look at how other publishers have approached the topic, what they did wrong and what they did right.
JKP publishes in a vertical way; they publish resources for children, teens and adults. This means that they have left no opportunity for other publishers to muscle in on their market.
Andrew says that the authors are the experts! The authors know what the market wants. JKP does not work with agents instead they commission from inside the community.
The challenge is to stay ahead of the pack and identify new audiences to reach out to. JKP avoids trends and has moved away from memoirs and introductory books.
Andrew also stays on top of what is new on social media, what is being written about on blogs. YouTube is also a platform for people to share and speak about their experiences.
What drew Andrew to JKP? Andrew used to work in academic publishing but he got sick of monographs. Andrew loves that in the morning he can be working on a children’s book and in the afternoon he can be working on a professional book. Andrew is also passionate about LGBT rights.
Sarah Plows – Marketing Manager
The marketing team is made up of 6 marketing executives who each have responsibility for a certain list and market towards a certain group.
The marketing team immerse themselves in the needs and concerns of their customers. They do this by communicating at every point through email, conferences, over the phone and by reading specialist press and twitter. This allows the team to be aware of sensitivities.
Their long-term strategy for the niche market is to build their mailing list (230,000 contacts) of already engaged customers who have made a commitment to the brand. They can then use email marketing to target these contacts.
Content marketing is also important; the blog has 200,000 hits a year. The team ensures the content is as discoverable as possible, for example by framing headings as questions that people may use in google searches.
The marketing team also leverage their author relationships and connections. Their authors may have links to professional organisations, some authors work for NGO’s.
What drew Sarah to JKP? Sarah loves that JKP has a wide remit to be innovative and take risks. Publishing a diverse range for a diverse audience and meeting audience needs is rewarding for Sarah.
Lily Bowden – Senior Publicity and Marketing Executive
Lily says that autism, gender and mental health currently have the most publicity appeal.
“Own voices” is a buzz term at the moment with authors sharing their own experiences. It is important for Lily to put the author’s voice at the forefront of her pitches and to find something relatable within own voices stories.
Lily treats her authors as a fount of knowledge, they are the experts and the best people to learn from and talk to. This not only generates trust with the authors that their story will be told in the right way but also gives Lily confidence to pitch their story.
Lily has learned that it is ok to miss the big opportunities. It can feel counter intuitive to miss publicity opportunities but it is her job to make sure they are the right fit for her authors. A learning experience was with 2 authors, 1 who was transgender and both on the autism spectrum who were invited to the ITV show This Morning, it was an uncomfortable and awkward interview.
Lily finds allies in the media, for example journalists and publications sensitive to the cause or already producing content about current issues. This means that stories will not be twisted to fit a house style, but instead their profile will be raised organically because journalists are on board and supporting the authors.
What drew Lily to JKP? Lily loves the variety and being able to work on books that teach you something. Lily hopes she has been made a better and more liberal person.
Pippa Adams – Special Sales and Rights Assistant
Sales for niche publishers differs in that they do a lot of work with NGOs and support groups rather than to the big supermarkets and retailers. JKP builds and maintains relationships with specialist booksellers and suppliers.
JKP’s books are stocked by specialist retailers who are in close contact with the communities they work with. The booksellers may not be huge but it is important to build strong relationships with them so that their books reach communities that these booksellers engage with every day.
Pippa also builds relationships with academic professionals and library suppliers.
Pippa uses her authors as a resource. For example, an author may head up an organisation that could present an opportunity for book sales. Local authority and government spending can be opaque in terms of how the money is being spent, however authors may have contacts, which allows Pippa to spot trends.
With regards to translation rights, the back list is very important. As different countries become more aware, there are spikes of interest. For example, recently this has been the case in Russia with autism. As knowledge grows and spreads, opportunities come organically.
What drew Pippa to JKP? Pippa previously worked in educational publishing in the Middle East and became aware of JKP as her younger brother has autism. When the opportunity to work in the UK and when JKP were looking she jumped at the chance. From a rights and sales perspective, she enjoys knowing that she is spreading something good and not just books.