2015 YPG Conference Recap

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On the drizzly morning of December 2nd, 2015, some 200 young publishing professionals gathered at the new Hachette Book Group headquarters for the AAP’s annual Young to Publishing conference. There was a bright and expectant buzz as YPG members snatched up bagels and settled in for a day of panels and presentations featuring speakers from wide-ranging sectors of the book publishing world. Attendees were excited to hear advice from publishing veterans, to learn about the constantly evolving literary world, and to experience those tingly moments of validation—“This is why I love what I do.” And they weren’t disappointed.

Pour it on. Always have more in your pocket.

—Michael Pietsch


Hachette President and CEO Michael Pietsch

Michael Pietsch, President and CEO of Hachette Book Group, opened the event by sharing some wisdom from his long editing and publishing career. “If you’re in publishing, you’re in sales, no matter what you do,” he advised, reminding his audience that each person in publishing, regardless of their job title, shares a common, enormously essential goal: driving books into the hands of readers. To that end, he encouraged everyone to continue to innovate, get outside the realm of your own experience, and be open to new ideas.


Rodrigo Corral, Creative Art Director at FSG

Rodrigo Corral, Creative Art Director at FSG and designer of iconic book jackets for James Frey, Chuck Palahniuk, Junot Diaz, and many others, also stressed the importance of getting outside yourself. “Take someone out to coffee and learn what they do,” he suggested. Learning to collaborate and building successful partnerships with people in other departments are essential for staying innovative and bringing something unique to each project. To produce creative, lasting, original work, he imagines the following question from editorial, sales, and marketing standpoints: “Does it feel like a bestseller?”

We’re heading in this direction. You can come with us now, or you can catch up later.

—Judith Curr

From Atria Publishing Group, Publisher Judith Curr and Dawn Davis, Vice President and Publisher of 37 Ink, gave conference attendees a glimpse into their recent innovations in publishing. They also cited collaboration as one of the engines of originality. Davis mentioned that she loves how the publishing process has become so much more democratic than it was when she was starting out, describing the teamwork between departments and across levels as “a laboratory for new ideas on how to cultivate and engage new readers.” Recent developments in reader outreach are “so much more exciting than sending out galleys and hoping for rain.”

They shared a couple of their new projects with the group: Keywords Press is a unique new imprint focused on turning YouTube stars into authors (“clicks into book sales!”). Curr remarked  that Keywords’ author signings often attract crowds of screaming fans, a rare sight for most publishing events.

Crave, a new app that allows readers to download romance novels serially, aims to engage readers with an experience more in line with the way other media are consumed today (their research included, among other things, the reasons games like Candy Crush Saga are so addictive). The Crave experience is interactive, and one of the more interesting features is the “book boyfriend,” the steamy cover model who plays a much more involved role than his paperback counterpart. While Curr herself didn’t attend the casting call for these models, she heard from others thatit was “the best day ever.”


Publisher Judith Curr of Atria and VP and Publisher Dawn Davis of 37 Ink

In another great example of successful collaboration, Editor-in Chief Sarah McGrath and Associate Publisher and Publicity Director Jynne Dilling Martin of Riverhead presented a case study of exactly how dynamic teamwork and outside-the-box thinking can create a runaway success from an unlikely beginning. McGrath described her initial rejection of The Girl on the Train, and the way it haunted her until she changed her mind. She and Martin recounted the many challenges involved with this project—a little-known author, no media platform, a debut novel budget—and the big plus, which was that it was “an amazing read.”

How do you create buzz with these restrictions? As Martin said, “you don’t need a whole lot of money to do innovative things.” You just need an energetic team and good ideas. In publicity, “The single most important thing is relationships. You need to find the fresh, funny way to reach out again and again.” (In this case, that involved cupcakes, as well as a hilarious Instagram campaign). As they’d hoped, there was an early, intense response from readers and reviewers, and the rest is history. “We invested in something that we believed in,” McGrath said, looking to inspire young editors to “find the book that can be made into the next something.”

In the digital world, experimentation is also essential to survival. Publishers Lunch’s Michael Cader and Google’s Director of Strategic Partnerships, Tom Turvey, engaged in a fascinating debate over the future of digital publishing. The primary takeaway was that there is still major potential for the e-book, and that success will depend on getting many more languages, being as aggressive as possible with pricing, and paying more attention to different growth opportunities.

When freedom of expression is oppressed in one part of the world it filters out to all of us. Everything we do is out of belief in the written word. No matter what you do in publishing, it is an act of courage.

—Geoff Shandler

Geoff Shandler, Editorial Director at Custom House/HarperCollins and Chair of the AAP’s International Freedom to Read Committee, was joined by PEN American Center’s Katy Glenn Bass (Deputy Director of Free Expression Programs) and Paul Morris (Director of Literary Programs) to discuss the role of the publishing industry in defending freedom of expressing worldwide. PEN, which advocates for writers who are under threat of imprisonment, violence, surveillance, and censorship around the world, operates in two ways. The first is to demonstrate solidarity and spread awareness. The second is to advocate for laws and policies that protect freedom of expression around the world.

Some of PEN’s work today involves providing individual support for publishers and bloggers who have been attacked or are under threat of attack in Bangladesh; petitioning on behalf of poets being persecuted in Iran for blasphemy; and helping US and Chinese publishers negotiate contracts that better protect Chinese writers against government censorship. Signing these petitions, and communicating solidarity with imprisoned writers, not only sends a message of support to the writers and their families, but also shows oppressive governments that someone is paying attention, that they won’t forget about the issue. As Bass said, “Governments don’t like to be embarrassed. They don’t like to be reminded that someone thinks they’re doing something wrong.”

All three speakers were passionate about the gravity and importance of PEN’s work. “Words are dangerous,” Bass said. “One of the first things that dictatorships do is go after the intellectuals, take down publishing, go after the writers, the journalists, the written word. We believe that written expression should be free; the best response to words you disagree with is more words. It’s dialogue, it’s debate.” Shandler added that “Every book is political. All are amazing documents, all are provocations against anti-intellectualism. Words are weapons in an asymmetrical battle.”


Geoff Shandler, Editorial Director at Custom House/HarperCollins and Chair of the AAP’s International Freedom to Read Committee, with PEN American Center’s Katy Glenn Bass and Paul Morris

If you believe in the power of books, and you’re as inspired by these words as I was, consider joining PEN, or finding out more about the work they’re doing.  Shandler noted that being involved with these efforts not only makes a difference to the lives of writers around the world, it also helps determine the future success of the publishing industry globally.

In a brief run-down of the current state of copyright law in the internet age, AAP’s General Counsel and Vice President for Government Affairs, Allan Adler, discussed recent and ongoing Congressional reviews of copyright law, outlined the positions of what he termed “copyright advocates” and “copyright minimalists,” and warned of anti-copyright rhetoric and misinformation circulating the blogosphere. He encouraged young publishers to pay close attention to this issue as it continues to evolve in Washington and beyond.

You can change what the country reads, and that seems to me the most privileged and amazing position to be in.

—Sloane Crosley

The event’s closing speaker, the hilarious Sloane Crosley, gave the attendees a fascinating glimpse into the other side of publishing: the writing process. Formerly the Deputy Director of Publicity at Vintage/Anchor Books, and currently a full-time writer, Crosley spoke on the importance of extracting herself from other peoples’ stories in order to write fiction, the “external crazy” of working for a publishing house vs. the “private crazy” of working for yourself, and the pitfalls of artlessly confessional writing (it’s like too-spicy food, where the extra spice masks the lack of flavor). While reminiscing about her time working in publicity, one reflection in particular seemed to resonate widely with the conference audience: we are changing what people read, and it is an amazing position to be in.

This article was contributed by YPG member Emma Brewer. To learn more, visit our Contributing Writers page.

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