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Me and My Job: Ivan O’Brien
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IvanOBrien
The IPG
Posted by IPG
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1 What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?

I’m managing director of The O’Brien Press, a family-owned publishing company founded in 1974, with 18 employees.

2 What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?

I cheated a bit by being born into it! The O’Brien Press was founded when I was five, and I worked here, as well as for other companies and government bodies in the publication space, through school and college. An attempt to work in the world of science and escape the pull of the family company ultimately failed, and I’ve been working here for just over 20 years now, and been MD since 2006.

3 What does your average working day entail?

Every day starts by looking at sales figures: the best days are when I see that something is starting to run low on stock and I can bang a metaphorical gong and start discussing reprint quantities.
After that, it’s down to email. An MD of a small company is plugged into all aspects of the business, as well as talking to authors, customers and suppliers, so there’s a vast amount of communication to be done. The major challenge is to ensure that there is enough thinking time and enough focus on medium-term issues, as there are always lots of things pinging into the inbox that need attention. As vice president of Publishing Ireland, I’m often involved in dealing with industry-wide issues, both nationally and internationally. As I write, the follow-up from the Frankfurt Book Fair is almost done, so I can get back to building the list for 2018-19.
If it’s a meeting day—don’t try to contact me on a Thursday morning: cover, editorial and production meetings eat those up!—then my work changes to the decisions that shape the company’s output.

4 What do you enjoy most about your job?

When a book arrives in from the printers, and all the meetings about cover, content, packaging and market converge in a physical object that looks, feels and smells wonderful. There’s really nothing like it.

5 What achievements are you most proud of?

Building on our country’s cultural identity, particularly in the area of children’s books. The fact that children in China, Italy, Mexico and a dozen other countries can read Under the Hawthorn Tree and learn about the famine in Ireland through the medium of fiction shows the power of books. I could list so many books of real, objective importance that we have brought to people’s lives.
Getting through the prolonged economic collapse in Ireland from 2008 was very tough, but we have an amazing team that saw us through. Most of them are still with us, which is wonderful.

6 What are your biggest challenges?

We are at the intersection of the worlds of arts, entertainment and commerce. Maintaining a balance so that the best books get made and the wages get paid is never easy! And Brexit. The uncertainly—I’m being polite here!—that was created by last year’s Referendum is clearly going to make life very hard, both commercially and artistically.

7 What have you experienced in your job and publishing that you didn’t expect?

Friendship and decency at all levels. Pretty much everyone in this industry is fundamentally decent and generous. This is something that can be learned and re-learned, year after year.

8 What is the best thing about working for an independent publisher?

A small group of people can make decisions, and implement them quickly. We can follow our gut instincts and just make it happen.

9 How do you switch off from your work?

With my wife and children, in a choir or on my bike! There’s nothing like cycling up a mountain in a gale to take your mind off the finer points of a publishing contract. And reading, of course—because that’s what we do.

10 What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?

Publishing is not just about editing! Many people who want to get involved with books think this is all that is involved, but then discover after a year or two in production, sales or publicity that they do love publishing, and that what they are doing is more up their street than editorial. So consider the whole business, try a few roles and see what’s a good fit for you.

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