Hanna Otero | 'We don't realise how much we see things through the lens of our own culture'

Hanna Otero | 'We don't realise how much we see things through the lens of our own culture'

I started at Lonely Planet at the start of 2018, so nearly nine months ago. It’s very different from my previous role. The biggest challenge has been looking at publishing from a global perspective and making books for the US, UK and Australian markets that are also supposed to be coeditions down the line. There is a lot to consider.

One reason I wanted the job was because we are living at a time when we have become entrenched in ways of seeing things like immigration and nationalism. This is the time to be teaching children about the world, so the global reach Lonely Planet has is very exciting. We have coedition partners in 20 to 25 countries around the world.

Working across continents is a challenge. One of the biggest challenges is logistics and getting the offices to align, but thank goodness for technology, which means there is always some kind of daily contact. I use Google Hangouts a lot. By the end of the year I will have done five trips to the London office from New York, which is helpful. It’s always easier to do business with someone once you’ve met them face to face.

Although we speak the same language, the [UK and US] cultures are different. The funny thing is we will talk about an idea and the UK team will sometimes say "it’s a bit worthy", or "it’s too schooly". There is a difference in the aesthetic as well. We don’t realise how much we see things through the lens of our own culture. I’ve worked in publishing for many years and I used to come in saying, "This needs to be done my way", but I have learned that it doesn’t necessarily have to be that way.

I got the job by applying in the traditional way. I spotted an advert in [US publishing circular] Publishers Lunch. I grew up in a military family and had moved around a lot, so the job at Lonely Planet melded two of my interests, children’s books and travel.

This year we are publishing 28 titles and the goal over the next few years is to maintain a small but focused list. Before, some of the books we published weren’t really "Lonely Planet". We are the people to do books about how people cook around the world, or about manners around the world. It’s good to have two teams because it means we have more of a diverse list. In terms of tone and art style, we usually meet in the middle. Each team appreciates the other.

One thing I find fascinating about the UK market is the explosion of beautiful non-fiction—I really admire publishers like Wide Eyed and Flying Eye. In the US there is still a feeling that non-fiction should be photographic.

At the conference I want to talk about the challenges I’ve encountered in publishing globally, not just our achievements. There are complexities and things about this type of publishing we all need to learn.

The Bookseller Children’s Conference: Hanna Otero will deliver her keynote speech, Inspiring Kids About the World Around the World, at 9.40 a.m. Tickets are available here.