Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

Off the Beaten Path: Sarah Twombly

This article was originally published on our parent site for the book publishing industry, Publishing Trends

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With the increasing fluidity among industries, it’s not unusual for executives to leave traditional publishing roles in favor of new business ventures. In this Off the Beaten Path series, we asked four former traditional publishing professionals how their publishing experience affects their roles in their current companies and what they miss about their old stomping grounds.

Sarah Twombly

Senior Strategist, Blue State Digital;
former Literary Agent at Joy Harris Literary Agency

How has your publishing experience been helpful in your current job/industry?

The number one thing publishing taught me to do was advocate for myself and the projects I believe in. Having a point-of-view is one of the most important things you can do, across industries, and in publishing in particular. Writers need you to understand their voice and have a vision for how their project not only fits in a given market, but how it stands out in that market. To create something different and new is an uphill battle. In publishing, you have to have an unyielding belief and confidence in your POV. It’s what has made great editors great — Nan Graham, Sunny Mehta, agents like Binky Urban — what they all have in common, among other things, is a unique sensibility and POV, and the smarts and confidence to advocate for what they know is in a book’s best interest.

What can publishing learn from your current job/industry?

Across the board, trade publishers have been slow to adopt and adapt to new technologies. The way we interact with the written word, what we want from content, it’s changing at a faster clip than any other time in human history. And yet the web teams at publishing houses are incredibly small. Often times social media and email are managed by a team of only two or three—for publishing houses that publish at least 2,500 titles a year. People are reading more than ever before. There are unending opportunities to not only engage readers, but widen the purchase funnel. Imprints need to function more like sub-brands that are part of a master brand. There’s a missed opportunity to differentiate one house from another. Right now, you’d be hard pressed to find a consumer who could tell you the difference between S&S, Random House or Hachette. Even more so between Atria, Knopf, Delacorte and Little, Brown.

What do you miss about publishing?

I miss the authors. They were always the best thing about the job. It’s an honor to help usher someone’s words into the world. A joy to develop a rapport and understanding of their craft. A privilege to foster creative genius and help unlock an artist’s potential. That’s what always kept me going, and what I continue to miss.

What do you like about your current industry?

I love digital strategy because it moves at a fast clip. You know immediately if something is working. It’s cheap and easy to change course, and best of all, you can interact with your consumers in an authentic and meaningful way. Social media and email aren’t PR megaphones. They are channels that can make the case for your unique brand proposition, build loyalty, and gain invaluable insights about what your consumers want and care about. I love working to understand what drives behavior, what inspires someone to care, and how to harness this understanding in a way that helps our clients meet their goals.

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