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PUBu and the opportunity to learn from those who come behind us

Tuesday, October 27, 2015   (0 Comments)
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By Jeff Crosby, Associate Publisher/Director, Sales & Marketing, InterVarsity Press

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There’s an axiom as old as Methuselah which implores us to learn from our elders, to draw upon their wisdom and heed their time-tested perspectives.

 

And so we should.

 

But I’m equally convinced there should be a parallel axiom about learning from those who come behind us, from the relative youth in our midst who have wisdom and insight that bear listening to.

 

The 2015 installment of ECPA’s PUBu gathering, which convened at Wheaton College in the western suburbs of Chicago October 19 and 20, offered a unique opportunity for the industry professionals assembled to learn from people across the spectrum of ages and disciplines – editorial, marketing, production, digital and design.

 

Two PUBu sessions stood out to me in particular, and both are reverberating more than a week later. One was delivered by a senior statesman of our industry, Leland Ryken. The other was offered by a 27-year-old audience development manager at Moody Publishers, Parker Hathaway.

 

Wisdom was in abundance from both of these men.

 

I first encountered Ryken’s work in published form when I read The Liberated Imagination: How to Think Christianly About the Arts (Harold Shaw Publishers) as a bookstore owner/manager in the late 1980s. Subsequently I’ve had the opportunity to work with Ryken on three projects he’s co-authored and published with InterVarsity Press, Dictionary of Biblical Imagery, Reader’s Guide to Caspian and Reader’s Guide through the Wardrobe.

 

But I’d never heard him address his colleagues in publishing.

 

In a session at last week’s PUBu seminar titled “What Authors Want from their Editor,” Ryken, a professor of English at Wheaton College, spoke to a group of editors (and a few marketers, some of whom once had him in class!) from his unique perspective as the author of more than 50 books, the first of which was published in 1969.

 

Offering a taxonomy of editors, Ryken suggested that he has encountered four types in his nearly five-decade career of writing books and journal articles:

  • The editor as an absentee landlord
  • The editor as an aggressive adversarial
  • The editor as a pushover
  • The editor as a friend and collaborator

Reading from a prepared manuscript in a classroom at the Meyer Science Center where PUBu was held, Ryken encouraged his listeners to “take the time to engage in conversation. Praise something. View yourself as a colleague and collaborator with the author.”

 

Collaboration, in Ryken’s view, embodies six core characteristics, and he shared them with equal doses of whimsy and strength. The six elements of collaboration, he said, are:

  • A common goal
  • An abundance of trust
  • A supportive environment
  • A desire to share
  • A variety of talents
  • An ability to solve problems

As I stepped out of Room 133 that day I thought to myself, “Those are great characteristics for all of our work with authors – not just the editorial dimension.”

 

The wisdom of learning from our elders.

 

Earlier on the same day in the same classroom Parker Hathaway, in just his third year at Moody Publishers and a recent graduate of The Moody Bible Institute, delivered a highly-conversational session titled “Knowing Your Reader So You Can Serve Them Well,” which included a case study on a project he and his colleagues fashioned in support of Prepare: Living Your Faith in an Increasingly Hostile Culture  by Paul Nyquist (Moody Publishers, 2015).

 

In the spring of this year an IVP Academic editor sent me an email he’d received containing the Moody Publishers creative campaign focused on Nyquist’s book that struck me in a profound way with its visual and written content and a clear understanding of the demographic and psychographic its creators were attempting to reach. I set out to find out who was responsible for the “Prepare Timeline” and eventually traced it back to Hathaway. I subsequently invited him to lead a PUBu session which detailed the work they had done.

 

During his session, Hathaway first unpacked what an “audience development manager” is about, which is:

  1. To develop readers that a company can serve for the years to come.
  2. To discover new and creative ways to reach those readers with books and other resources.

In a retail-challenged era when many of the publishers assembled need to focus on end consumers with increasing regularity and precision, the description of this role caught my attention as did what came next: A survey of the tools that Hathaway and his Moody Publishers colleagues Rachel Strull and Matt Boffey used to execute the Prepare campaign. Some were familiar, but more than half of the research tools he presented were new to me and many of those gathered for the class, including:

  • Follower Wonk
  • BuzzSumo
  • Topsy
  • Social Mention
  • Soovle

Hathaway skillfully interacted with his audience – many of whom entered the industry long before him – and humbly offered credit to his colleagues who participated in the development and execution of the campaign that was the focus of his case study.

 

The wisdom of learning from the relative newcomers in our midst as an industry.

 

As the collective ECPA industry, we need to continue to listen to our elders, people like Leland Ryken, for all that they can bring our way. At the same time, we need to engage and listen to people like Parker Hathaway, who bring fresh eyes to our work spreading the good news through Christian literature.

  

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Jeff Crosby is associate publisher and director of sales and marketing at InterVarsity Press.  He served as the lead on the PUBu planning committee (known as the BrainTrust) and developed the marketing sessions.


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