Salaries need to be more clearly stated in book trade job adverts to avoid shutting people out through lack of transparency, and to help retain top talent, Katie Espiner, m.d. Orion, has said, calling on the whole trade to disclose salaries when recruiting.
Espiner shared her thoughts as she was interviewed at FutureBook Live in Bishopsgate on Monday (25th November), covering a host of topics, including about what most needs to change in the industry, her “disruptive” arrival at Orion leading to the departure of “quite a few” authors in the process, and what it means to be one of the highest profile female leaders in the book sector.
Espiner, who has been m.d. for Orion since 2015, told delegates gathered that it was “crucial” publishers open offices outside of London, nodding to Hachette’s announcement last week it is opening a Manchester office and that there is “more to come”, in the interests of the diversity of the industry and to help level the playing field. She also said the whole trade needed to be more transparent and more vocal about the salaries new staffers can expect to get and work towards.
“The thing I would really love to see, and it’s tiny but it’s so important, is people putting salaries on their job adverts – and at every level of the business,” said Espiner. “We shut so many people out with that lack of transparency. And the other thing we are bad at saying is, although publishing is not necessarily the best paid industry when you are starting out, actually salaries do go up and people who are in more senior positions get paid very well. I think if we started putting salaries on every single job – if everybody did it, from agents to publishers, everybody – that would really have a big effect on who we are recruiting into the industry and who we are retaining.”
In addition to calling on the industry to address these broader issues, Espiner candidly revealed Orion had lost authors after her shake-up of the division and that she had learned not everyone has to like you from her experiences of that time.
Quizzed on the biggest challenges she faced when she started at Orion, Espiner said she knew there would be “huge disruption” from the beginning because there had been “no change” for a long time. “Suddenly for the first time in my career all eyes were on me,” she said, outlining that among her chief priorities was “to introduce a flatter structure” and make sure people at all levels of the business had exposure to the financials and decision-making to embed the ethos “everybody’s voice matters” and give heads of imprints a sense of ownership. However, not everybody was going to like it, she admitted.
“There were three fairly distinct groups of people in the business, about 100 people: one smallish group who were really excited and up for it, really interested in how things could be different; a, thankfully, quite small group of people who were absolutely in no way interested in what I had to say or anything I wanted to do; and then this much bigger group in the middle of that who were interested in buying what I had to sell [but] needed some convincing. One of the biggest lessons for me was that I needed to focus on the small enthusiastic group and the large semi-interested group and move those people that way, whereas my nature was very much to go to the people who were not going to be convinced and try really hard to convince them.”
Epsiner also disclosed that Orion lost “quite a few” authors off the back of changes made.
“In terms of failing, a couple things that were very obvious, and I suppose looking back inevitable, we lost quite a few authors. When you make a wholesale change like that of course this business is a relationship business; if you remove people who have had that relationship for a really long time, then what does that author connect with anymore? Very few people are loyal to a business,very few staff are, very few authors are, why would you be loyal to a business, you’re loyal to people. You connect with people. So some of those changes did inevitably lead to losing authors I would have rather not have lost. That was part of what happened. But, looking at the opportunity there, it did mean we had space to bring new people in and then people could acquire new authors; that was worth doing."
Touching on innovation, Epsiner also said she thought “we are quite bad at innovating in this industry. What we think of as innovation in this industry is not hugely innovative”, going on to commend publishers like inclusive indie Knights Of, who saw a problem and addressed it.
She also said the trade needed to work harder to shine a light on the work of women “in all areas of the business”.
"What's damaging is this obsession with who the c.e.o.s are at the big houses because I think it really denigrates the work of a lot of really fantastic women do," said Espiner. "There are so many great women who are responsible for huge bits of businesses ... and I thinkn that is really important. The more we talk about it's only men at the top, the more you put women off from trying to get there."