Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Five Questions with the Society of Young Publishers

At Frankfurt this year I had the opportunity to speak to Jon Slack current chair of the UK based Society of Young Publishers. He told me about a number of new programs that the SJP is working on to encourage the young people in our industry and also to draw in the old ones. One of the more interesting programs they recently developed was something called Canon Tales.

Here is a description of Canon Tales:
Twelve figures from the publishing industry spoke to a captive audience at the Cochrane Theatre, conveying their own personal take on creativity in publishing. Canon Tales was conceived two years ago, when Doug Wallace heard about a similar event for creative professionals in architecture that proved to be a huge success. Jon shares Doug’s belief that publishing is overlooked as a creative industry, and Canon Tales seeks to redress this.

Each speaker told their canon tale to the backdrop of visual images – 20 images, each lasting for 21 seconds, thus totalling a seven-minute presentation. Some were personal stories, some were focused on the speakers’ own output. First to take the stage was Rob Williams, Creative Director of Penguin. He chose to speak about the launch of the new James Bond book, Devil May Care by Sebastian Faulks. His slides showed us figures and pictures from the marketing campaign for this book, whilst Rob gave the audience some maxims that he has discovered during his publishing career, including ‘Make a story at every stage’, ‘Engage in creative collaboration’, ‘Limit access to the product and create theatre around its launch’, and ‘If nobody wants to talk about it, it doesn’t work.’
In addition to mentioning Canon Tales below, Jon also notes a program the group is arranging for Frankfurt 09 which will be designed to make Frankfurt less intimidating for a young first time visitor. Jon is reaching out to overseas groups and it would be interesting whether we could organize a similar group in the US.

I asked Jon Slack my five questions:

Tell me about your involvement in SYP?

I am the current Chair of our group; as with the rest of our 18-strong Committee, it is a voluntary position and lasts for a year. I've been involved with the group for a little over two years now; in 2007 I held the position of Social Secretary (basically someone who organises the parties!). This year we've run over a dozen and a half events from London alone, with some very prominent names in UK publishing. Our main aim has been to exchange information between 'young' and 'old' publishers that can benefit everyone, and facilitate the networking that goes with that.

How long has SYP been in existence, and is it only a UK based organization or does it go beyond?

The SYP has been around officially since 1949; next year is our 60th anniversary. It started out as a talking shop for young publishers (ie people under 35) and has largely remained that way since. At the moment we are based only in the UK, with another division set up in Oxford, and others being set up in Scotland, Ireland and Wales in 2009. The only country outside of the UK I've seen with a group like ours is Denmark, and to a smaller extent the Young Publishers Group, based in New York.

What are your plans for drawing in the young publishers in other countries – specifically the US and Australia?

I met some fantastic people at Frankfurt from the US who are already helping to get the operation off the ground during 2009. We're hoping to work with groups such as the AAP, the American Collective Stand and also BEA, and use word of mouth and the advantages of the internet to help attract anyone interested in taking part. In Australia, the APA is already setting up events for young publishers and, again, the level of enthusiasm I've seen to make something like this happen is very encouraging. We want to use international events, particularly the Book Fairs in London, New York and Frankfurt 2009, to bring everyone together, dicuss the possibilities, and really explore the potential of a truly global young publishing network.

In another conversation you told me about your upcoming program for Frankfurt; can you tell me a little more about that?

We're working with the Frankfurt organisers on a number of things, including the International Young Publisher's conference which I mentioned earlier, which ties in with our focus on how we can make the Fair work better for younger publishers. We'll be hosting a Canon Tales event (see attached flyer for info on the last one held this July) at a new venue away from the usual publishing hangouts. If possible we'd like to see it made more affordable for younger publishers to come to Frankfurt, and perhaps this network can help make that happen too.

What type of involvement do you look for from old publishers like me and how do we get involved?

Our name is responsible both for our appeal and also for regular confusion; our voluntary committee are publishers all under the age of 35, yet we've always been supported by 'older' publishers, who attend and speak at our events. One of the reasons behind the SYP's longevity is the remarkable good will within the industry to help our events succeed. There are countless publishers happy to volunteer their time and share their views on big issues facing all of us. In the US, or Australia for instance, the independent committees we're forming we'll be hoping for a similar level of support, and from what I've seen so far, there's precisely the level of willingness we need to make this happen. But please get in touch if you want to help!

Jon can be reached as follows: jslack @

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