An insight into the publishing world…

Posts tagged ‘journalism’

Introducing Writer Graeme Roberts

Today’s People in Publishing interview is with Graeme Roberts, journalist, writer, and PR professional. Graeme and I worked together when I worked on the Hull Wasps Basketball programme as Game Night Editor. I would send my match reports and previews and other type articles to Basketball Magazine, a magazine on which Graeme was working at the time (and discusses in this interview!) Here he talks social media, newspapers and print, and his love of writing…

Graeme in Dublin

Graeme in Dublin

Please introduce yourself and give us a bit of info about your career and career path.

My name is Graeme Roberts, 29, from Manchester, UK. I would describe myself first and foremost as a writer. It’s a fairly broad term but I think it’s the most apt. I currently work in public relations for a research and consulting company called GlobalData, which means I write, edit and interact with the media on a daily basis. Before that I was a journalist for Basketball Magazine and I still do some writing for my local club, Manchester Magic. I recently undertook some freelance work for Basketball England, the national governing body, reporting on a number of their finals events. Writing is what I most enjoy doing. I love words and I’m thankful that I’m able to do something creative every day.

When did you know you wanted to work in the writing and media industry?

I don’t think I really knew what I wanted to do until my late teens, if not my early twenties. I got into writing at secondary school, when my English teacher encouraged me to write poetry. I compiled a large collection of poetry in my young adulthood and it helped me through a long period of illness. Deciding that I wanted to write for a living was part of the recovery process. It gave me a purpose and it still does.

Which of your achievements so far are you particularly proud of?

In writing terms, my proudest achievement is probably having my work published in the Manchester Evening News, which is my home city’s main daily newspaper. There’s something special about seeing your name in print. Digital is great, but there’s something about print that gives me a tingle. Perhaps it’s the smell of the ink? Outside writing, I worked on the statistics team at the basketball tournaments at the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games. That was an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime experience, made all the richer for being able to share it with my brother, Matt.

There’s something special about seeing your name in print. Digital is great, but there’s something about print that gives me a tingle. Perhaps it’s the smell of the ink?

What attributes do you feel are essential in a successful journalist?

It’s hard to say because I don’t really feel like I’ve been successful in journalism. I’ve only really been doing it for a couple of years and l was full-time for less than a year. I think it’s a very competitive industry and you need to be prepared to work hard to progress, but you also need some luck and to know the right people. I like to think being a skilful writer, both in terms of your content and your ability to craft language, is important, but I  sometimes read a newspaper and just despair at the stuff they print. These things are driven by demand, but I often wish there was more demand for greater substance.


What was the most rewarding part of working for Basketball Magazine?

I think it was just getting to write about something I enjoy. I’ve been a huge basketball fan since I was 11 and I’m very passionate about the game. The beauty of it is that it’s as simple or as complex as you make it, so there’s always something to write about. I’m incredibly grateful to Iain Roberts (no relation), who set up the magazine, for giving me my first break, but ultimately it didn’t work out because the market is very tough. To say British basketball is a niche market would be an understatement. We were only the second print magazine in the country for basketball at the time and now there are none. Digital is killing print, but that’s not necessarily all bad. It’s probably good for the environment. I think the real problem facing the industry is that people are no longer as willing prepared to pay for news because they can get it for free. It saddens me that the media has to rely more and more on advertising revenue rather than quality content to sustain itself.

I think readers should become your fans because of you have something meaningful or interesting to say, not because you make a strong sales pitch.

You are very successful on social media both as an individual and for the companies you’ve worked for. How important is social media in the industry now and how can we make the most of it? 

 I have a lot of followers on Twitter but I wouldn’t say that’s a fair indicator of aptitude. I follow a lot of people and it’s a reciprocal thing. In reality, my level of interaction isn’t brilliant. I suspect that’s partly because I use Twitter to moan about my first-world problems like the weather or public transport delays. On the flipside, I would agree that I’ve used Twitter in a professional capacity to achieve some success. We were able to drive a lot of traffic to Basketball Magazine’s website through Twitter, but a lot of that is down to it being a medium that the typical basketball fan likes to use. Twitter is not as relevant for GlobalData, as its clients are a very different demographic. We tend to find LinkedIn is our strongest suit, as it’s a more business-oriented social network.


Equally, what should we not do with social media? Any pitfalls to avoid?

 I believe the biggest mistake you can make is to constantly spam people. I follow a lot of authors on Twitter and many of them use the platform almost exclusively to promote their own books. It’s a huge temptation when you self-publish, which I’ve experimented with myself, but it can be a big turn-off. Self-publishing is tough, so I can sympathise with people using any possible means to get their work noticed. However, I think readers should become your fans because of you have something meaningful or interesting to say, not because you make a strong sales pitch.

What is the most enjoyable part of working in PR?

It certainly helps that I work with such a passionate and talented PR Manager in Emily Packer. She deserves a lot of credit for our success as a team. For me personally, seeing something I’ve worked on being used by a major international outlet is the biggest buzz you can get in PR. We’ve been featured in some of the world’s leading publications, such as the New York Times, The Daily Telegraph and The Independent, plus we’ve featured on the BBC News website a few times. I’m at an advantage with GlobalData, because the company produces some genuinely unique research into the healthcare and energy industries, but we still have to package it to grab the attention of the top outlets.

You were swiftly promoted in your most current workplace due to your speedy success. What would you say are some of the fundamentals in effective PR and media exposure?

 Some of the reports we receive from our analysts are highly technical, but we’ve found that it’s the sound-bites and the key findings that journalists and editors really crave. There was an instance not long ago with our GBI Research brand where we were struggling to find the best approach for a press release on a report into Alzheimer’s disease. We decided on an angle based on one of the more eye-catching findings and the press release led to an enquiry – and consequently some press coverage – from The Sunday Times. That doesn’t happen on every occasion, but I do think you have to understand how the media works and what appeals to your target audience.  

What are your goals for the future?

I am planning to dedicate more of my free time to work on my own writing and I would love to have a novel published in the next couple of years. I’m a huge fan of literature and film and my dream is to write fiction for a living. My favourite writers are George Orwell, Kurt Vonnegut and Quentin Tarantino, so that should make for an interesting mix. I’d also like to travel more, experience other cultures, climb a mountain, fall in love, get married, have kids, do some humanitarian work – a whole list of things. But as long as I’ve got words to work with, I’ll be happy.

You can follow Graeme on Twitter here:

Do you have any questions for Graeme? Put them in the comments below and I will get them answered!

Graeme in Helsinki

Graeme in Helsinki

Introducing Author and Journalist Brian Lavery

Today’s interviewee is a very dear friend of mine from Hull University (where we undertook our English with Creative Writing undergraduate degrees together). Brian is such an inspiring. friendly, and talented man. As he explains in this interview, he’s been such a success in a number of areas. He is a truly skilled writer. Tonight, I will be attending the launch for his book The Headscarf Revolutionaries (published by Barbican Press, a publisher for which I once interned) at the Maritime Museum in Hull. Take a read of this interview with the writer in anticipation of my book review and blog post covering the event itself!

Brian Lavery, fellow Hull Alumni. Photo credit: Martin J Goodman of Barbican Press.

Brian Lavery, fellow Hull Alumni. Photo credit: Martin J Goodman of Barbican Press.

Please introduce yourself and tell us about your background and your career.

My name is Brian Lavery and I am a writer, journalist and late-comer to academia. When I write creative nonfiction I am Brian W. Lavery, so as not to be confused with another Scot with the same name as me, who also happens to be a world authority on maritime history. So, just my luck that the first book I get published has a maritime theme. Perhaps that is why the phrase “lucky as a Brian” does not exist.
The other Brian, however, is far more encumbered by success than I – and very well known too – so I was advised to give myself a middle initial to prevent confusion. However, I do not have a middle name, (I joke with my publisher that when I was a kid we could not afford it!) So I use my father’s initial. It’s a nice wee tribute too. He was he best-read man I knew, that did not teach or write, at least not professionally.

I was born in Glasgow’s East End in 1959 and I am told I am apparently from a disadvantaged background, although I must say I did not notice this as my mother and father did a great job of disguising it. I am the fourth of six sons. My father was a sheet metal worker and my mother a shop assistant. I have been writing since ever I can remember. My father always encouraged me and was a big fan of education in general. He worked in shipyards and factories and was keen I should not do similar. ‘The heaviest thing a smart man will lift is a steel rule,’ he said. His advice stuck. I even used it as a piece of dialogue recently in a short story.

I have been a regional and national print and broadcast journalist and now latterly an academic and writer. I have edited two weekly newspapers; news edited two regional dailies, and held various roles on national and foreign papers and magazines. I have also worked as a reporter, features writer, sub-editor, publisher, PR and media consultant, speechwriter and contract publisher. I returned to higher education in 2008 and recently completed a PhD with the University of Hull’s English Department. My new book, The Headscarf Revolutionaries (Lillian Bilocca and the Hull Triple Trawler Disaster) (Barbican Press) resulted from the research for that doctorate.

Having already been very successful in the writing industry and working in journalism for 25 years, what drove you to go to university and then later to do a PhD?

Shakespeare tells us the world’s a stage and we are players etc., well, this is the third act to my play. When I did my undergraduate degree I loved it. I was still working. I had to, to pay the fees etc., But I realised I had found something new. I am not a religious man, but going back to university, for me was how I imagine it must be for some folk “finding God.” When the University of Hull offered me a PhD place (and paid the fees and gave me a tutoring post too) I did not hesitate. At 52, I was Hull’s oldest scholarship boy. I also had two years of teaching that I thoroughly enjoyed and hope to continue. I also owe a vast debt to my wife and my two daughters for their support in helping to make my third act a reality.

Of journalism, writing for radio, creative non-fiction and short fiction, which do you find the most challenging and why? Which do you find the most rewarding?

If you are doing them correctly, i.e. to the very best of your ability, each time, every time, then they should all be equally challenging and rewarding. The challenge being getting the story, script, poem or whatever out there and the reward being in knowing that you did your best in so doing. That said, I couldn’t remember a time I did not write. And when the chance came to get into newspapers I jumped at it. I dropped out of university and set off to college in Sheffield from Glasgow, with dreams of being a latter-day Damon Runyan or Raymond Chandler.
I became fascinated with every aspect of newspapers, their production and processes and as a result managed to get into senior positions relatively early. Aged 24, I was the country’s youngest editor when I took over the Humberside Weekly News in 1983. My other writing took a back seat as I married, had a family, and moved onto to national print and broadcast work and so on. Most of the time I was based in Hull and later a lot of my work was freelance. I also worked as a “UK” correspondent for foreign titles. Journalism brought me a degree of success and travel, but most of all I loved doing it and swore that if that feeling left, I would quickly follow. I still wrote poems, prose etc., but did little with them. As John Lennon said, ‘Life is what happens when you are busy making other plans.’

What advice would you give for anyone starting out in the journalism industry?

If you want to be a journalist, don’t do it. If you NEED to be a journalist, then well done, because you are half way there. Folk always make way for somebody that knows where they are going. I am not big on advice. I did not follow it as a young man and rarely give it as an older one.

Print journalism – which was my principal practice – is vastly different from when I started.

What was the biggest change you saw in journalism within your time in the industry?

When people ask me why I left mainstream journalism, I tell them I didn’t. It left me. Print journalism – which was my principal practice – is vastly different from when I started. There was no Internet, computers etc., just paper, ink and typewriters. But it is not just the vast technological change, which is welcome, but it is more that the fact that the actual print model is now, in the main, a dead man walking. I no longer felt at home there. As I said earlier the “feeling” of loving doing it left me and I decided to do something new. I hung on only to help support my family.
Many papers and their attendant websites are simple click-bait hubs and because the big corporate publishers missed the bus by not taking new technologies as seriously as they should have, print media, especially local papers, are struggling. Sadly the knee-jerk reaction to that decline was to throw the baby out with the bath water and as result mature, experienced journalists like those who taught me, are a rare sight indeed. I still feel there will be a place good news outlets, whether online or in print. But it can’t all be about money. The old Press barons like Beaverbrook, knew this and often made losses while making great newspapers. But I will halt with my philosophy of news, lest I bore your readers to death.

You are about to publish
The Headscarf Revolutionaries with Barbican Press, an independent publisher based in Hull and London. How did this come about?

I had a quite bit of interest in my book before it was finished. But I simply felt no-one would give me the dedication and support that I knew I would get from Barbican. I knew some of their writers and their works. I liked what they did – and how they did it. I was in good company, so when Barbican offered to publish my book, I agreed. But it was year before I signed a contract. As a young man, I would have jumped at the first offer from the first publisher. As an older man, I am not as ready to jump and not as easily impressed. That’s great thing about being “an overnight success” after just 30 years. I put a lot of store in trust and integrity and Barbican excels in both those departments. They also are gifted editors. But most importantly – they actually care.

What do you feel are the advantages of publishing with an independent publisher?

Input. You are much more part of the process in a smaller indie firm. I am presently ten per cent of their writing stable, as opposed to just another assignment for an appointed editor in a big publishing house.

What ways do you find are most effective in marketing yourself and your books?

Having a background in public relations and journalism, gives me the advantage of knowing what to do. Knowing folk in the media helps too. But like selling anything, if the product is dodgy it will come back to bite you. The most effective way to market a book is to write it well, to the best of your abilities. The rest is in the lap of the gods. As for marketing yourself, I find being a shameless self-publicist is a positive boon. It is also hard work. Go to the readings, the signings and do the interviews. Work at it. After all, the readers are not going to come round to your house.

Like selling anything, if the product is dodgy it will come back to bite you. The most effective way to market a book is to write it well, to the best of your abilities.

What fuelled your interest in Lillian Bilocca’s story and in the maritime/trawler history of Hull?

It was the story of Lillian Bilocca and the Hessle Road women that captivated me, more than an interest in the trawling industry or maritime history per se. In 1988, I wrote Mrs Bilocca’s obituary for The Times. They used just five paragraphs. I always thought she deserved so much more. A mere 30 years or so later, I got round to writing it. The story of these brave women and their fight to improve safety at sea is one of great courage. It is the story of this city in the 20th century.

How do you feel being named the City of Culture for 2017 will help boost Hull’s literary scene?

Make no mistake, Hull richly deserves to be recognised as a city of culture, for that is what it is – and has long been. It was so when I arrived here more than 30 years ago – and certainly long before. It is not as if the city suddenly became more cultured on the day of the announcement. When that announcement was made I was dragged in as a ‘talking head’ for a local radio interview and told them that I was obviously pleased, but wary. Pleased that my great adopted home city was getting the recognition it deserved, but wary that we might be overwhelmed by swarms of outsiders, ‘consultants’ and folk from “That London” telling us how cultured we are. We in Hull already know how cultured we are. Without sounding too cynical, my main fear is that local writers, artists, playwrights, poets, painters etc., who have been – and still are on a daily basis – the mainstay of our cultural capital, may be overlooked or under appreciated or worse still, subsumed. I do not want a “W1A” scenario where the “Perfect Curve” brigade come in, steal our metaphorical watch, tell us the time, and sell us the watch back. I am also worried that the future of the arts in our city may fall prey to a “sub-committee” culture. After all, when did you last see a statue built to a great sub-committee? My bitter and twisted sarcasm aside, I am confident the arts community of our city will not allow that sort of thing to happen. It is too great a community. If you throw a penny at a crowd in Hull you will hit a poet, writer, musician or other artist with it. Our literary scene will grow and enjoy many boosts with or without assistance, whatever the year.

You can find out more about Brian and his work here.

Brian is also very active on Twitter here.

You can read more about Barbican Press and the publisher Martin Goodman here.

Do you have any questions for Brian? Please include them in the comments below and I will get them answered!

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