What does a Publishing Director do?

29 Nov 2019 | Jane Willson

In a new series for First Pages, we’re diving into the goings-on of our Melbourne office and the people who make our books happen. In this edition, Jane Willson takes us through a typical day in her role as publishing director at Hardie Grant Books.

Jane has been working at Hardie Grant since 2013. The former editor of Epicure, the food section of The Age, Jane’s speciality and focus lies with our ambitious and forward-thinking list of food and wine books.

This year Jane has worked with many talented authors including Florence-based cook Emiko Davies, Attica wine director Jane Lopes, trailblazing seafood chef Josh Niland, Tokyo tragics Michael Ryan and Luke Burgess, Japanese culinary expert Nancy Singleton Hachisu, and floral artist/ magic maker Annabelle Hickson.

Read below from Jane as she recounts a typical day for her in the Hardie Grant office.

5.35am: Alarm. This does NOT mean I get up at 5.36am. It means I think about it. Option A is spring out of bed to make 6am group training class. Option B is roll over. Let’s say on this day, a Wednesday, I make it to class 10 minutes away on bike with zero time to spare.

7.20am: Home. Drink coffee. Eat granola. Read emails/news and oversee kids’ breakfast/lunch (remotely, from couch).

7.40am: Shower and dress plus general other (dog, chooks, washing, random house/life stuff).

8.07am: Leave house, walk fast.

8.10am: Take train from Seddon Station to Flinders Street for 8.36am connection to Blackburn and 8-minute walk to HG HQ (Typically listening to 7am Podcast, Bon Appetit or The Cut on Tuesdays).

8.55am: At desk. Reply to emails, catch up on news/developments with pod colleagues Pam Brewster, Roxy Ryan and Arwen Summers.

9.15am: Production manager Todd Rechner delivers first copies of two big November titles that have arrived airfreight overnight from HG’s offshore printer, Leo. Pam Brewster offers early positive assurance, alleviating anxiety-inducing combination of excitement and fear that (always) accompanies meeting a title in the flesh for the first time.

jane willson's books9.30am: Covers meeting with design manager, project editor, sales and management team. Talking through cover concepts, including direction, colourways and general appropriateness for market. This can be a happy, straightforward single-meeting situation, or it can involve multiple rounds – both depending on HG team’s enthusiasm (or lack thereof), and the author’s openness. To note, a necessarily subjective process, and consensus probably one of the toughest parts of job. When it gets to round 25 and someone with a loud voice decides they don’t like yellow anymore, we know we are in trouble.

10am: Stay on in boardroom for acquisitions meeting with fellow publishers, sales, imports and managing directors. Each publisher presents potential new titles, starting with elevator pitch (WHAT’S THE BOOK?!) and then exploring detail around structure, audience and comparative titles, as well as author profile. Each pitch is assessed on topicality, relevance to list, commerciality, likely origination expense/achievability, and X-factor. X-factor is not to be dismissed and can in fact carry a proposal a long way. Having gone through new titles, the minutes from previous meeting are reviewed – with updates on contract status as appropriate. Concluding with any other business, which on this day includes the viability of an ongoing series and a general discussion around a potential project for a new authors.

jane willson editing12.30pm: Lunch at desk (today a combination of leftovers while I read news/fluff online and check Instagram – typically all at the same time). 

“The designer has called for a rich, punchy red, not too raspberry and not Donald Trump red either. Always a heart in mouth call – there is no turning back from the WRONG RED when we see the first advances and we have printed 10k copies!”

12.45pm-2pm: More emails, reading (proposals, manuscripts, and proofs).

2pm: Author meeting. One of the best parts of the job. On this day, finally have green light to go ahead with a project that has returned to acquisitions (in various guises) three times over four years. This is unusual, but in this case a super satisfying result. Author is hardworking and off-the-scale enthusiastic, as well as being clever and having a unique selling point, AKA something to say. We talk through overseas markets, process, creative team, timeline and potential sales partners. Both leave meeting feeling the buzz of the potential for this title and the satisfaction of finally getting to the starting line. 

3pm: Meet with publicity manager Kasi Collins and publicist Hannah Ludbrook to workshop vision and expectations around Melbourne Food & Wine Festival events for one of our key overseas authors.

4pm: Meet design manager Jessica Lowe to discuss finishes on a book that is due to prepress in two days. Author wants a ‘natural’ woodfree finish that, fresh out of the box, has undeniable appeal, but hesitancy from HG team’s side around useability and wear and tear. Also discuss PMS choices for another title. The designer has called for a rich, punchy red, not too raspberry and not Donald Trump red either. Always a heart in mouth call – there is no turning back from the WRONG RED when we see the first advances and we have printed 10k copies!

4.30pm: More email, organising the creative team on an upcoming shoot in Tasmania, and finalising a cover. Plus loading the details of a new book onto our group database, Firebrand, and liaising with contracts director Jane Grant on the details of the deal.

5.15pm: Leave for home knowing tight connections will make me late, but ideally not embarrassingly so for netball training pick-up.

6.30pm: Home. Sit. Talk to kids. Think about to-do list (life and work). Check emails (not essential, but a habit nonetheless, especially if have rushed from work and mentally still in that twilight between work and home).

7.30pm: Dinner (this is actually a lie – rarely if ever before 8pm).

9pm: More random house/life stuff. More scrolling/reading/email. No TV on Wednesday (or really any day but Monday).

10pm: Bed. (Yep, early and usually/always before the rest of the house). Read, briefly, but asleep fast.

Jane Willson's Standouts of 2019

by Josh Niland
Because books and authors (and creative teams) like this don’t come along every day. A driven chef with rare talent and, crucially, something to say. 
by Matthew Evans
A perfect storm of good, true things: author Matthew Evans, subject (a year of growing and cooking through the seasons on his idyllic Fat Pig Farm in Tasmania’s Huon Valley), photographer Alan Benson, designer Evi O, and the what’s-not-to-love pig on the cover.
by Jane Lopes
Attica wine director and master sommelier graduate Jane Lopes knows her subject. But you would expect that, right. For me, the real magic here is the combination of Jane’s beautiful writing with Robin Cowcher’s interpretation through illustration. And then, of course, the considered approach of designer Lucy Sykes-Thompson in marrying the two in a wine book like no other. 
nothing fancy small bookcover NOTHING FANCY
by Alison Roman
NY-based Alison Roman. A new book that’s as good, if not better, than her first, Dining In. Veg-forward recipes from a not chef you want to cook. For a crowd, or just for you. Within a week of release in the US, it shot to the top of the NY Times bestseller charts. Alison’s sass and smarts should be a winner in Australia this Christmas too. Guaranteed to convert even the most committed cookbook sceptic or your money back.