Visiting a publishing house may not be high on the list of things to do in London for many people. But for a group of young writers, this tour generated much excitement. As my class and I approached the blue door with the gold plate etched with “Bloomsbury Publishing” the trees glowing green after the rain echoed the anticipation shining in our eyes. We entered the quaint white building and were told to wait by the smiling, round face of the receptionist. There was only a moment to admire a framed display of the publishing house’s best selling books, including The Kite Runner and Eat, Pray, Love before we were greeted by two young women.
They began the tour in reception explaining that the company’s founder, Nigel Newton, preferred welcoming wooden bookcases and carpeting over intimidating corporate concrete and glass. This area was part reception part trophy room as the books lining the walls with their covers facing out were all published by Bloomsbury. The room creaked with age and it’s musty scent mingled with the nutmeg smell of new books.
Our tour guides were both young women. One had short brown hair and wore a bright fuchsia sweater and black dress pants. The other was tall with blonde hair and vintage white button down and corduroys. We apologized for being a few minutes late, but the brunette dismissed it with a friendly shrug and dissipated the awkwardness I felt. The tour of the tiny publishing house became increasingly informal. Beginning with the women looking up from their keyboards in their cubicles crowded into the second floor to wave at us and ending with the tea and cookies awaiting us on the third floor conference room.
Four of five women were already waiting for us as the nine of us crowded in to join them at the table. There was a short scuffle as everyone found a seat. When everyone was settled, a jovial woman with auburn hair offered us tea. As she dispensed the hot water, the female coworkers around the table chatted to each other, laughing and requesting their own tea. The room quieted down when Evan Schnittman managing director, entered in a blue button down, blue tie, grey pants, balding head, and black plastic glasses. The women fell silent as he introduced himself to us and said hello to our professor, his personal friend. He is also American and is from New Jersey.
With the entrance of Mr. Schnittman, the room fell silent, but the warmth remained. I felt Evan was given silence out of respect, not fear. Indicating the idea of mutual respect in the workplace, Evan ran the meeting by asking questions. He asked questions that would seem obvious to his employees, but not to us students. For example, he interrupted one woman to ask her to define what Big Box Stores are to us. She answered that they are like Target or Waterstones and then asked, “Is this a test?” The simple questions their boss asked made the employees uncomfortable, but they got along well enough with him to joke about it. This small joke put me at ease as well for I too was confused, but then I realized his questions were meant for our sake.
I was fully engaged as each person went around the room and explained her job in the company. Janet Murphy, Editor in Chief of Specialist Publishing, spoke about the difficulty of targeting the specific audiences of sports. Jenny and Emily from Academic Marketing explained how professors find books to assign to their classes. It is called adoption. Publishing companies send out free books to professors in hopes that they will make their students buy it for the class.
I was even more interested when Evan Schnittman began to talk about E-books. He explained that while they are becoming more popular, he personally does not feel they can replace a hard copy. He stressed the importance of the shopping experience. After obsessing over his Kindle, he found that he missed going into bookstores. He gladly paid more for the print book from the bookstore than the electronic version because the internet can’t replace going into a store and physically picking up and examining a book. He pointed out the task of the company is not to make consumers love reading, but love books.
I mulled this comment over as I left the building after the meeting was followed by a few glasses of wine. I am interested in pursuing a career in publishing and Mr. Schnittman and seeing Evan Schnittman who is passionate about his job enough to relate it to his life beyond the walls of the publishing house. I was moved by his willingness to live in a foreign country in order to work for Bloomsbury. This love for his work made me excited for a career in publishing. I left the publishing house with an ignited desire for a future in literature and, thanks to the wine Evan produced at five o’clock on the nose, a flush in my cheeks.
Bloomsbury’s website: http://www.bloomsbury.com/
Evan Schnittman’s Blog: http://www.blackplasticglasses.com/