An Interview with Stephen Page
By Millie Kiel and Mara Radut
We recently chatted with the Executive Chair of independent publisher Faber & Faber and Chair of Creative Access, Stephen Page. He told us about his professional journey, the landscape of independent publishing, and his outlook on diversity and inclusion in the industry. Here is what he said:
As a magazine written by publishing hopefuls for publishing hopefuls, we would love to hear about your journey into the industry?
I grew up in the midlands and for most of my childhood threw a ball at my brother in the garden, or listened to music. Aged sixteen, I joined a rock band and after I got my degree, we all moved to London for a fairly calamitous attempt to “make it.” I got a job in a bookshop to pay the rent and fell in love with books, though not so much with bookselling. I wrote to dozens of publishers and got a job as a Marketing Executive at Longman in Harlow, where I worked as a Product Manager importing books on how to use personal computers. I knew little about the subject, but my research for the interview meant that I knew more than anyone else. This was 1988.
As Chair of Creative Access, what strategies or methods do you think have the most potential to improve diversity in the industry?
Creative Access have had a major impact on the creative industries, with publishing being an industry where the impact has been among the strongest. They have placed over 500 candidates from under-represented backgrounds into publishing roles.
The main strategies that have worked relate to; sourcing candidates for roles, internships and bursaries, supporting those candidates to perform to their best in interview, and offering training for publishers seeking to transform the make-up of their workforce.
These strategies have kickstarted the beginning of change, but it is critical that these changes are viewed as long-term, as real transformative change will only come if these policies are adhered to in the long-term. I strongly believe that the industry is committed to making that the case.
To ensure that the pressure remains to truly transform the industry, data will be vital. Measurement of staff make-up (among other data points) is now being collected and shared by many publishers. True representation of the societies and communities we serve as publishers has to remain a measured goal that is continuously recalibrated.
Access and inclusion might typically be harder for independent publishers who don’t have access to the resources of larger publishing houses. What can independent publishers do to combat this?
I actually think that representation is not harder for independents, though the approach may differ from bigger companies. The centralised HR departments, greater financial resources and larger pool of staff, including bigger numbers of non-publishing staff (warehouses, HR teams etc), mean that bigger companies have a wider area of activity, but many independents can move more quickly, and a small amount of change can have a major impact on a smaller workforce. In the Independent Alliance we have a Diversity and Inclusion Working Group who organise shared training, mentoring and surface best practice.
We have to ask, what are you reading at the moment?
I'm reading three books. Free by Lea Ypi is a compelling account of growing up in communist Albania. Love's Executioner by Irvin Yalom is a series of fascinating case studies by a brilliant psychotherapist, which are concerned with death, but therefore life. And I am reading a proof of a wonderful “fact-stranger-than-fiction” book that Faber will publish in 2022 called The Premonition Bureau by Sam Knight.
What is your favourite thing about working for an independent publisher?
The freedom inherent in being in a smaller scale, single entity. That inevitably means that there is a lack of administrative and bureaucratic complexity, and you can be close to the books and writers whatever your role, including senior leadership. You are all on one buccaneering boat, and perhaps there's a sense that we succeed and fail together. But that can also exist in imprints within corporations, so I wouldn't want to overstate that difference.
What advice would you give to someone applying for roles at independent publishers in the current market. Do you think smaller houses look for different qualities in a candidate compared to a larger publishing house?
Don't apply to work in publishing, apply to work at the company where the opportunity arises. Do your research, find out as much as you can about the company and ensure that when writing your covering letter or preparing for an interview, that you ask yourself why the publisher is hiring the role, and what you can do in the role to make the publisher more successful.
In general, I don't think indies are looking for different candidates. We want the best, as do our corporate competitors. Get experience across both and find out which suits you better, then later on perhaps nail your colours.