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BEA 2014: Lessons Learned in the Classroom

Hanna Lafferty ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Book Editor
Michael Moccio ’16 / Emertainment Monthly Executive Editor

BEA hosted a NYU panel of speakers from the Center for Publishing faculty with prestigious members like Simon&Schuster Books for Young Reader’s Publisher Justin Chanda; an Executive Editor from St. Martin’s Press, Brenda Copeland; Scholastic Trade Publishing’s Vice President of Marketing Matthew Baldacci; Perseus Books Group Publisher Susan Weinberg, and the director of the program, Andrea Chambers. The faculty discussed the impact that the rising generation of publishing professionals will have on the industry, and the valuable insight they have learned from their students.

The discussion began with whether or not the professors found any of their students’ behavior towards new marketing or editorial strategies as risky. Weinberg explained that students making their way into the publishing world were not “risk-taking”so much as employing new business models as a way of life. Young professionals are much more ready and open to the changes taking place in the industry.

Students are looking to learn not only in school, but in their jobs as well. Chanda mentioned he was moving towards a more discussion-based approach in the way he interacts with his employees instead of just handing out “marching orders,”due to his student’s enthusiasm for brainstorming. This isn’t just because individual students are creating ideas and content, said Baldacci, but because this new generation is thinking in more collaborative terms. This marks a considerable change in corporate culture and management styles. What was once more on the side of Theory X management, it appears that Publishing is moving more towards a democratic, task-oriented Theory Y.

Young professionals are interested in every aspect of the business, and this blending of groups from editorial, marketing, and even finance, contribute to the success of the business. Everyone is your colleague, said Weinberg. Other industry professionals should be used as resources for learning about aspects of the business students don’t feel as confident taking on for themselves.

The way the publishing industry uses marketing has changed drastically as young professionals entered the workforce. Since students are used to being marketed to, asked Chambers, how does this affect what students see as content and what they see as marketing?

Chanda explained that the internet has become a great divider between senior and newer publishing professionals. He mentioned how Clarissa Clare (author of The Mortal Instruments series) was an example of the effectiveness of social media marketing. Students live with social media, and are “giving and getting”useful feedback and publicity at the same time. Weinberg believes that while their students use social media as an integral part of their lives, they aren’t necessarily better at it than older generations, who have their own forms of social media. From an editorial perspective, Copeland interjected that the purpose of social media is to form lasting relationships within the industry. While students appreciate the usefulness of Twitter, Facebook, and Tumblr for marketing purposes, Weinberg thought that they did need to create content creators (such as authors) with more respect. The faculty agreed that they all wanted the students to understand writers deserve to be paid for content.

This turned the discussion towards the different avenues of finding valuable content. With no perfect formula on how to find the “next best thing,”said Copeland, students must understand that the best editors are also the best entrepreneurs. Chanda explained that it might be surprising what audiences are interested, or the demographic for a genre. For instance, he found that many of his students (all in their early twenties) were still actively interested in Young Adult novels, but their interest range in Young Adult genres was extremely varied. “They were a great focus-group,”he laughed.

The biggest recommendation the faculty had for senior executives was to engage their younger colleagues in the larger challenges and issues their company faces. Chanda hoped to see a trend in ideas moving from the assistants and newer professionals to the top. Baldacci urged publishers to “let the students activate their own ideas.”There is a constant evolution of opportunity for reaching out to an audience, and students are leading the way for new techniques.

The end of the panel opened discussion and questions from audience members. Our own Executive Editor, Michael Moccio, noted that the Emerson College WLP Program has a stigma attached to anything non-literary fiction/non-fiction and asked the panel members what their perspective—as professors at a different institution—view non-literary fiction. The panelists were in unanimous agreement that there’s always an audience for the story and left panelist Brenda Copeland shocked and speechless.

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