Heligo set to launch into business and smart thinking space with fresh approach

Heligo set to launch into business and smart thinking space with fresh approach

Rik Ubhi may have only taken two days off since he joined Bonnier Books UK to lead its new business and smart thinking imprint, Heligo Books, but he insists that he would not have it any other way. Ubhi took on the role of editorial director at the end of March, having previously worked in marketing and publicity at Simon & Schuster UK and Zed Books, after starting his career in marketing and editorial at Tindal Street Press. He has “always been interested” in business and smart thinking publishing and, when he discovered Bonnier was planning to launch an imprint in this area, pitched his services to lead it. 

He describes the process of launching the imprint as being “like a fun start-up operation”. He expands: “When I joined, we had an idea of entry into the business and smart-thinking space… but apart from that we had a real standing start. We had no idea for a name for the business list, we had no titles commissioned, we had no branding. And over the past eight months, we’ve pulled everything together. It’s been really positive.” He also says there has been enthusiastic feedback from the trade, with agents and authors “really excited by what we’re doing, and what we’re hoping to do a bit differently”. 

He is referring to Heligo Books’ aim to go beyond the traditional business market to captivate new, diverse readers. Ubhi explains: “What I really wanted to bring was a sense of more inclusivity and representation into the business landscape. I don’t think it’s unfair to say that there has been a lot of homogeneity in terms of the type of authors, and also who we market books to. I wanted to bring in voices slightly more from the margins who might be overlooked in traditional publishing, and also bring in audiences and communities who might not be served by traditional business lists.” The imprint’s publishing will focus on “looking at different types of lived experiences and atypical entrepreneurs” as well as trying to cater to “younger readers” who might feel that classic business and smart thinking titles “don’t necessarily speak to them”. 

A Jewel in the crown
Ubhi cites the journey of Jewel Burks Solomon as an example of the “atypical” stories he wants to share. Burks Solomon is the first head of Google for Startups in the US; she sold her start-up Partpic to Amazon when she was 27 years old, and is the author of 2023 Heligo title Beyond Silicon: Surviving, Thriving and Doing Business in the Valley. Ubhi says: “This book is not just her own story of success, but a real corrective to the ‘tech bro’ culture of entrepreneurship based around Silicon Valley.” He adds: “I think there are loads of lessons to come from that which will tap into a younger demographic.” It is one of eight titles currently signed to the new list, four of which will be released next year, with the remaining four to come in 2023. 

The first of these is From CIA to CEO: Unconventional Life Lessons for Thinking Bigger, Leading Better and Being Bolder by intelligence officer-turned-entrepreneur Rupal Patel, publishing in May 2022. It will be followed in June by Simon Lancaster’s Connect! How to Inspire, Influence, and Energise Anyone, Anytime, Anywhere, which Ubhi describes as “a toolkit for communication for almost every situation”. In August 2022, Heligo will release Deliver What You Promise: The Fundamental Building Blocks of Business by Bali Padda, who is credited with revitalising LEGO in the 2000s and 2010s. The last book on the 2022 roster, yet to be announced, is coming in the autumn. 

Two established authors will be joining Burks Solomon on the 2023 list: Adam Alter, who previously wrote Irresistible and Drunk Tank Pink; and Mauro Guillén, who previously wrote 2030. Alter’s Unstuck: How to Break Free When the Status Quo Won’t Let Go is a “brilliant book on how to unstick yourself if you’re blocked creatively or you’ve reached a plateau in your career or your life”, while Guillén’s title asks: “What are the things that we can learn from each generation?” The final title currently on the Heligo list is Filterworld: How Algorithms Flattened Culture by New Yorker writer Kyle Chayka, which Ubhi pitches as “a kind of polemic against algorithm” and an “exploration of our artistic spaces”. 

Heligo also intends to develop intellectual property and its own series ideas that “connect with our long-term strategy”, with ambitions to eventually publish eight to 10 titles a year. Ubhi would also “love to create a sense of community around the list and get a really active community of people who interact with our brand”. He believes that the imprint’s messaging will encourage this, saying: “We’ve got a very strong visual identity, which I think is really impactful. We wanted to reflect the slightly disruptive nature of our brand.” The imprint’s name is inspired by a little island off the coast of Scandinavia (the birthplace of Bonnier Books) called Heligoland. 

Ubhi, who brainstormed the name with Bonnier’s managing director of adult publishing, Kate Parkin, explains the thinking behind it: “Heligoland has always been a jumping-off point between mainland Europe and Scandinavia. It’s always been this point of exploration, of horizons widening. We loved that idea of enrichment, setting off on a journey of discovery.” 

A wider focus
The introduction of Heligo Books is part of Bonnier’s wider focus on growing its non-fiction publishing. Supporting Ubhi’s work on the list are editorial manager Justine Taylor and non-fiction marketing manager Francesca Eades. Ubhi says there is a “very collegiate feel” to the non-fiction division and that working at Bonnier generally is “really collaborative—there’s lots of sharing of ideas”. His long-term goal for Heligo is encapsulated in two core ideas: growing Bonnier’s market share in the business and the wider smart-thinking landscape; and publishing books that are “more representative of our culture and our society”. 

Ubhi is particularly excited to be launching Heligo Books because business and smart thinking publishing is currently “a really interesting space”. He says: “There are all these things which have come out of the past 18 months. What we’ve seen over the pandemic is the appetite for doing something which inspires you and putting purpose first in people’s hierarchy of needs, rather than necessarily just profit, in terms of choosing a career or a path in life. It’s a huge area to explore.” He adds: “Also, I think there’s been a real sense of community that has come out of what’s been happening. You can see all kinds of interesting ideas about teamwork, collaborative working patterns and sympathetic management.” 

He predicts that this shake-up of the ideas around work-life balance will generate “loads of great content” in the areas that Heligo specialises in, and he is enthusiastic about the future of the list, saying: “I hope there are lots more exciting things to share coming from us.”