1 What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?
is tiny—there’s just me and my business partner Thomas Ball, and we recently took on a part-time editorial assistant, Roz Green. Officially my job title is operations director, but in reality I dip my toe into almost all areas of the business. We are supported by a team of fabulous freelancers, but we try to do as much in-house as possible.
2 What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?
My background is in web development and IT. Whilst at school around the turn of the millennium I started building websites for businesses, and this grew from a pocket-money earner into a full-time business by the time I left university. In the meantime, I spent a year between school and university on the Year in Industry scheme, working as an IT consultant at a high-tech metal-forming factory. It was a grimy, noisy job, but provided a wealth of both business and life experience that stood me in good stead for university and beyond.
I read Computer Science at Durham, a degree that saw me use the university library on just two occasions, and only one of those was to consult books. Aside from reading a few Terry Pratchett novels and the occasional spot of theology, books were never really a big part of my life—mostly due to being dyslexic and therefore finding reading to be a bit of a chore. (E-readers have helped immensely with this challenge.)
The itch to move into publishing came whilst helping a couple of website clients to produce self-published books, and finding that I rather enjoyed the design and layout process. The itch was finally scratched a couple of years later. Over lunch with a friend, Thomas, we decided to start a theological and historical publisher, despite neither of us having experience in publishing and not really knowing what we were getting ourselves into. Sacristy Press was born in 2011 and our first serious book was published in 2012.
3 What does your average working day entail?
Having what some people call a ‘portfolio career’ (web developer, publisher, cathedral verger), there is no such thing as an average day. Some days will be spent with my nose in programming code for clients, others will be spent publishing books, and once or twice a month I will be wearing a cassock at Durham Cathedral. Occasionally it will be a combination of all three.
From a publishing perspective, my work covers a great multitude of tasks. At any given time you might find me managing production, dealing with authors, typesetting, designing covers, trawling through stock image collections, generating marketing copy, liaising and negotiating with customers and suppliers, reviewing financial data, implementing new technology, miscellaneous paperwork, checking metadata, improving our website, streamlining our processes, managing staff and freelancers and generally running the business. Phew!
4 What do you enjoy most about your job?
The variety. If my whole time was spent programming, or typesetting, or managing projects, life might be more straightforward, but it would also be much less enjoyable. The satisfaction of seeing a new book in print is difficult to beat.
5 What achievements are you most proud of?
We’ve built a press from scratch, published around 50 books and established a solid reputation in theological publishing. I don’t think that’s a bad achievement.
But it is sometimes the little things that generate the most pride. A few years ago, Durham Cathedral was undertaking a huge LEGO project to recreate the cathedral in about 300,000 LEGO bricks to raise money for their £10m 'Open Treasure' development. To celebrate the feasts of St Cuthbert and St Bede, Sacristy Press invited schoolchildren from two schools named after those saints to help us build the two shrines
in LEGO. I think we enjoyed building the LEGO as much as the children did, but we realised just what a wonderful day it was when one of them said, completely unprompted, “This is the best school day ever!”
6 What are your biggest challenges?
The variety. Keeping on top of two businesses is quite a juggling act, especially when they are as diverse as publishing and programming. However, there are synergies – web development and design skills are very useful in the publishing industry.
Coming into publishing with no prior experience has been an immense challenge, and I’m only sorry that we didn’t discover the IPG Annual Spring Conference a few years sooner.
Being non-booky and dyslexic doesn’t help, but neither of these are reasons not to succeed in such a diverse industry.
7 What have you experienced in your job and publishing that you didn’t expect?
The level of energy within an industry that is weathering such significant disruption is wonderful to see and be part of. The friendliness and helpfulness of other IPG members—including those who might see themselves as competitors—is exemplary.
8 What is the best thing about working for an independent publisher?
The variety. (Can you see a trend here?) In such a small press you have to understand and involve yourself in all aspects of the business. Everyone has to be punching above their weight or the business cannot succeed. So there is a constant drive to do better and think differently, which is less common in many larger organizations, irrespective of industry.
9 How do you switch off from your work?
Working from home can make it tricky to switch off, but I do my best to keep regular office hours and firmly close the office door when I’m not working. To properly switch off, I play the ’cello in a couple of amateur orchestras. There’s nothing that clears the mind better than sightreading a Dvořák symphony! I love to spend holiday time exploring new places, especially if there is a medieval cathedral to be discovered, and enjoy skiing too.
10 What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?
If you are new to publishing and want to start a business, join the IPG and make the most of the opportunities on offer, especially the Annual Spring Conference and the Skills Hub
. Talk to as many people as you can, and don’t be shy about appearing naive. As they say in our part of the world, “shy bairns get nowt” (shy children get nothing).