What's most important?

For this post, I asked a range of people one simple question: what is the most important role in publishing? I set just one simple rule: “publishing” is everything that happens between, but not including, the writer and the reader. The answers are varied and illuminating, and hopefully show us where we should focus our efforts as an industry over the next few years. Let us know if you agree – or what your pitch would be!

 Nick Harkaway

The keystone of publishing is the editor, and that role now goes far beyond working with the author on the text. It is the hub of design, marketing and publicity decisions, commissioning and price, and the management of everyone in the chain. The problem with that is that it requires borderline genius levels of polymathy, and the present structure doesn’t necessarily either select for or reward the key qualities – and if it does reward them it’s often by promotion away from their use.

Nick Harkaway is a novelist, commentator and speaker. His books include ‘The Gone-away World’, ‘Angelmaker’, ‘Tigerman’ and ‘The Blind Giant: How to Survive in the Digital Age’.
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 Anna Faherty

Tough question! I’d say it’s whoever has a deep understanding and empathy with their audience, the creative capacity to craft a compelling vision of how to satisfy them and the practical and business nous to ensure that happens. That might be a market-savvy editor, a product-focused marketer or the founder/CEO of the organisation. Of course, few people can offer all this, and so the most important role is actually the individual who brings the right people together, with the right knowledge and skills, to collaboratively drive the generation and practical implementation of audience-focused creative ideas.

Anna Faherty runs Strategic Content, a content development and digital publishing consultancy. She was formerly Course Leader of the Kingston University MA Publishing programme and is an Associate Lecturer at Oxford Brookes University. She tweets as @mafunyane.
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 Laura Summers

Tricky question, so I’ll cheat and pick ‘author-as-marketer’. Five years ago, I would have said Sales and/or Marketing, because even the most talented author needed help to be discovered. Nowadays, however, the author not only provides the creativity behind the text (without which there is nothing) but also builds the brand and fosters the relationships which determine the success of a book. Savvy authors make a huge difference to book sales. Think of Seth Godin and Tim Ferriss, whose strategic approaches to both their writing and their brand highlight the most important role within publishing.

Laura Summers is co-founder of BookMachine, a community for the people who make publishing happen. When Laura isn’t plotting BookMachine events and awesome website content, she works on Marketing strategy at YUDU, and helps small to mid-sized publishers with events and marketing.
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 Alastair Horne

The most important role in publishing today – excepting author and reader, without whom the whole process is rather redundant – is not specifically the Editor, the Head of Marketing, or even the Social Media and Communities Manager (though the last of these is of course a really important role). It’s the person who asks questions; the person who doesn’t meekly accept that this is how it’s always been done, but asks ‘How could I do this job better, more quickly, or more easily?’ and – without waiting for permission or instruction – finds a way to do it. They’ll end up telling us all what to do.

Alastair Horne is a Social Media and Communities Manager for Cambridge University Press; he tweets as @pressfuturist, blogs occasionally at www.pressfuturist.com and is currently working on a novel set in a Parisian cemetery.
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 Krit Sitathani

No matter the content, no matter the publisher, no-one can read unless they know that content exists. There are thousands of amazing writers out there, from David Attenborough to the Economist. Fortunately, the internet makes it easier to find content than ever, whether that’s Netflix for TV series or Reddit for cat pictures! However, the abundance of content means that we need a streamlined system to find what we want – which is why Netflix, Reddit and even Facebook are hugely popular. Websites running personalised algorithms will be the main way that content is discovered in the near future.

Krit Sitathani is Community Liaison at Sparrho, a personalised recommendation platform for scientific content. He is also a PhD student at the University of Cambridge, and spends too much time rowing.
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Kathryn Morrell

To me, every little detail – each different role – within the process is vital to the success of any given project. There is no most important title, as such. Indeed, the most important ‘role’ within publishing is problem solver. For a project to run smoothly and reach its full potential, a problem solver must exist in every department, at every level, during every point in the production process, regardless of that person or team’s actual title. Although it doesn’t always seem like it, publishing thrives on the solutions, big or small, that contribute to steadily moving our industry forward.

Kathryn Morrell is Creative Services Manager at emc design, responsible for art-buying, quality control, project management and editorial production. She still cares about the Oxford comma and, when not at work, you can find her playing football, dancing tango or curled up with a glass of wine and a good book.
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Hermione Ireland

It has to be the editor – and I say that as a former marketing director! But the editor is the scout and the midwife, finding the author’s book and helping the author polish it into the best version it can be. They are the internal champion, helping balance authorial needs with commercial necessities. They also add enormous value to self-published authors, honing and refining plot lines. Writing can be one of the most solitary art forms, and a positive external voice is a great addition to the publishing process.

Hermione Ireland is an experienced marketer, communications director and e-commerce practitioner, with over 20 years in publishing, much of it as the Marketing & PR Director at Dorling Kindersley. She runs Byte Consultancy, working with publishing technology businesses.
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Posted on 8 Oct 2015
Written by John Pettigrew

Hat wearer, recovering editor and now CEO & Founder of We Are Futureproofs, John Pettigrew has 20 years of experience in educational, illustrated and academic publishing, and a history of successful print and digital product development.