Industry Insights: Jodie Lancet-Grant
By Leyla Mehmet, Elizabeth Guess, Kathryn Smith and Aimee Whittle
For this issue, we interviewed Jodie Lancet-Grant, a children's author and Communications Director for Bluebird and Innovation at Pan Macmillan. Both her debut, The Pirate Mums and forthcoming title The Marvellous Doctors for Magical Creatures (out this June), are picture books featuring LGBTQ+ parents published by Oxford University Press.
What does your day-to-day look like as a Communications Director? What drew you to this role?
What I love most about being a Comms Director for a non-fiction division is that every day is different. The sheer range of subject matter is one of my favourite things about publishing in general. Overseeing campaigns for books on subjects as varied as cookery, the menopause, racism and mental health, sustainability and how to leave toxic relationships, means my role is always interesting.
Day to day I’ll be working with my team planning campaigns – from writing copy for ad campaigns and drilling down into audiences, to briefing and approving artwork to setting up events and partnerships. At Bluebird, we have a particular mission to weave making the world a better place into our publishing and our communications, whenever we can, and that often means partnering with charities and working with grassroots organisations.
What inspired you to write your picture book The Pirate Mums?
I wrote The Pirate Mums to counter the dearth of picture books featuring families that looked like mine. As soon as my daughters started to realise that our family, having two mums, was a bit different to the norm, I immediately turned to books. But there was little choice, especially when it came to stories that just happened to feature families with same sex parents, rather than being specifically about how "all families are different." Those books are also important and often brilliant, but I was looking for more incidental inclusion of LGBTQ+ families.
Whilst I started writing my first book for my own children, I realised that representation isn’t only important for kids with same sex parents. To counter homophobia and breed tolerance, it’s vital that everyone sees families of all shapes and sizes in culture – especially culture for children, as we internalise values at such a young age.
How do you think the rise of digital platforms, like TikTok, have impacted how you implement marketing strategy/communicate campaigns for your titles?
I actually don’t think it’s that much of a change. It’s wonderful to see TikTok give such a brilliant lease of life to fiction – in particular, queer YA and mythology-based novels. But marketing strategy has always been about connecting with gatekeepers and influencers who love the books we publish and helping them spread the word to people who rate their opinion. Twenty years ago, this was achieved almost entirely through PR (public relations) via journalists and trusted media outlets, or direct to consumers through advertising. Now we have more options, but the job is the same. We still need to develop deep understandings of both our audiences and the media used to reach them – whether that’s TikTok, The Times or targeted social media advertising.
I think a bigger change, perhaps, is that authors have for many years now been able to speak directly to their readers through their social media platforms. As publishing comms professionals, we have an opportunity and a responsibility to work with our authors to help them make the most of that: through book promotion but also through listening to those audiences and understanding what they want.
One of the biggest issues is resource. There are so many ways to reach our audiences now and utilising all of them takes time, which can be a problem for stretched comms teams.
Do you think enough is being done in diversity and inclusion within the book industry?
I think that there is a lot of work going on to increase diversity and inclusion within the industry but more needs to be done. There still seem to be some archaic ideas floating around, especially at the upper levels. Bluebird’s recent book, Maybe I Don’t Belong Here, by actor David Harewood, shines a light on how everyday racism affects mental health and I found it incredibly eye-opening and moving.
As a writer, I still find that there is some resistance to me putting same sex couples in my books without there being a lesson to learn about them. I think there is still an expectation for writers from minority groups to teach and set examples, rather than have the freedom to simply tell wonderful stories.
What would be your best piece of advice for publishing hopefuls?
Don’t be afraid to circle the industry and get experience outside of it. I worked for two years at a PR agency and then one at a charity before I landed my first job in publishing. In my team we have a publicist who was until recently a journalist and a marketer who worked in further education. They’re both brilliant in publishing.