Texts on publishing (III)

“It’s a sad fact, but if you read just one book a year during the course of your career you’ll be among the top 5 per cent of most learned people in the industry. Indeed, you could probably claim guru status. Actually, let me rephrase that. It’s a ‘fantastic’ fact. Fantastic, because it makes it so easy for your to steal an advantage over the not-so-enthusiastic amateurs who are your competitors.”

That quotation comes from How to do better creative work by Steve Harrison (Pearson, 2009). He is writing, not about publishing, but about the advertising industry. However, I suspect something similar could be said about publishing.

Harrison lists 13 books that he recommends. Most of them deal specifically with advertising (including, of course, Ogilvy on Advertising) , though some are more general (for example, Gladwell’s The Tipping Point). I would like in this blog to develop an equivalent list on publishing. Previous posts have covered Transparent Imprint by Michael Barnard and The Truth about Publishing by Stanley Unwin.

To that list I would like now to add Harrison’s own book. Though it focuses on advertising, rather than publishing, I think it can be read with profit by publishers.

Some parts of the book deal very specifically with advertising (and direct marketing). In many places, however, there are parallels to be drawn with publishing. For example:

  • he sees creative work in terms of ‘problem/solution’;
  • he is strong on the need not to start on creative work too early. He stresses the need to get the pre-brief right;
  • in particular, he urges careful attention to phrasing the proposition (and emphasises the need to couch it as a clause, not a noun phrase).

Since reading Harrison I’ve found I’m sharper at negotiating book proposals and drafting blurbs.

In other places the parallels are less precise. Here I would define the value to publishers in terms of opening up a space in which to examine one’s processes, asking “How would other creative industries see these tasks?” Harrison has a sharp eye for the way in which teams do and don’t work – he is especially good on the latter, emphasising how one can often anticipate pitfalls.

My final reason for recommending the book is simply that it’s inspiring – from the title and the design of the book through to the wisdom within the text.

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One Response to “Texts on publishing (III)”

  1. […] Steve Harrison, How to do better work […]

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