Today’s People in Publishing interview is with the very successful and impressive Karen Brodie, Head of Publisher Relations at The Reading Agency. I am such an admirer of the work that they do at The Reading Agency, and I’m very jealous of Karen for playing such a huge role in it! She’s worked extremely hard for what she’s achieved, and has been recognised for this hard work as a BookSeller Rising Star. Below, she discusses her work and her career journey in publishing.
Please introduce yourself and give an overview of your career so far.
I’m Head of Publisher Relations at The Reading Agency. I started in publishing in Edinburgh and then worked at HarperCollins and Penguin in the rights departments. I expanded my international experience at the British Council, working on literature projects overseas to strengthen cultural relations for the UK, including the first literature festival in Kurdish Iraq, a language-learning radio programme where I interviewed authors for broadcast across Africa and an Arabic-English translation conference. I moved to Istanbul to manage the Turkish partnerships and programme for Turkey Market Focus at The London Book Fair and stayed a second year in Turkey as Head of Arts, extending my arts experience to work on film, fashion, visual arts, music and digital projects. I returned to London with the Iran team to develop the British Council’s UK-Iran programme. Nine months ago I took the job at The Reading Agency. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have had such interesting experiences and have met lots of inspiring people.
How did you come to work for The Reading Agency?
After returning to the UK, I was keen to reconnect with publishing. The role at The Reading Agency was a unique opportunity to bring together my literature background in both the private and public sectors. It was a challenging interview with stiff competition and I was so pleased to be offered the job.
Can you explain a little bit about your role and your responsibilities at The Reading Agency?
The Reading Agency is a national charity which specialises in inspiring more people to read more and encouraging them to share their enjoyment of reading with others. There’s a strong body of research to show that reading for pleasure improves wellbeing and empathy, and develops skills to support people throughout their lives. As Head of Publisher Relations I work with an excellent team developing and managing relationships with publishers and the wider industry to help us deliver The Reading Agency’s programmes for adults, young people and children.
We work with a huge variety of partners in the publishing industry and it’s my responsibility to identify and agree mutually beneficial partnerships across our programmes. The Reading Agency has a unique relationship with public libraries and I work to build and strengthen relationships between publishers and public libraries to reach more readers and find creative ways to promote authors. It’s a hugely varied role which includes managing commercial relationships and CSR relationships with publishers, developing our reading groups network, and contributing to the Radio 2 book club selection panels.
How did it feel, after all of your hard work, to be named a BookSeller Rising Star?
It was hugely encouraging and rewarding to be recognised by the industry for the contribution I’ve made to The Reading Agency in such a short time. And there’s still so much I’d like to do.
What would you say is the most rewarding about your job? What makes you feel like you’ve really made a big impact?
There are so many things! We have compelling evidence from participants in our programmes that The Reading Agency’s work has prompted attitudinal and behavioural change. It’s motivating to hear personal stories from people who have completed our Reading Ahead challenge or received a book given out on World Book Night. There are some examples here
I really enjoy finding ways to reach non-traditional audiences. I’m always excited about working with diverse partners and creating unique opportunities to reach new readers. It’s fantastic to get feedback from librarians, publishers or readers when a promotion has made a real impact.
Equally, what is the most challenging and why?
It can be a challenge to balance the needs and priorities of publishers, libraries and reading groups who operate in very different contexts. My role is to help our partners understand each other and facilitate meaningful collaborations. Although not all partnerships are straightforward, we all want to get more people reading and it’s this shared agenda that always prevails.
Once we get people reading we want to keep them reading and empower them to choose their own books, share their ideas and inspire others to read.
In what ways do libraries and publishers innately differ in terms of how they operate and how do you work to bridge that gap between the two? What would you say is the key to successful partnerships?
Although publishers largely have a commercial focus and libraries a cultural one, the two approaches are not mutually exclusive and both partners complement each other’s strengths. Both bring creativity, expertise and resources to every project. At The Reading Agency, we provide several opportunities throughout the year for our library and publisher partners to meet, exchange information, share ideas and plan promotions. The most successful partnerships develop when both partners are clear about what they want to achieve from the project, and are communicative and committed.
What would you say are some of the key ways in which you and your company help attract people to reading?
We work with public libraries, schools, colleges, workplace and prisons across the country to take reading into different places and help people find a way into reading for pleasure. Once we get people reading we want to keep them reading and empower them to choose their own books, share their ideas and inspire others to read.
We work with publishers to design and deliver fun, imaginative activities which encourage people to engage with books in new ways, discover new authors and genres, and make reading social so it becomes something shared with friends and family. Through our programmes we create promotions and events in the heart of communities and encourage volunteers to act as reading ambassadors, sharing their passion with others.
How can we, as people working in the book industry, help attract a wider audience?
We are all familiar with bookshops, libraries and the variety of stories and information available to read, but many non-readers feel overwhelmed by these. We’re all passionate advocates for reading and are in the perfect position to support non-readers to find the right books to inspire them, and give them the confidence to talk more about books. For information about how individuals or companies can get involved in our work and reach new readers email email@example.com
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