Publishing chief offers business and life lessons to Latimer students

Stephen Page & Latimer students
Stephen Page & Latimer students

The head of one of the UK’s leading independent publishing houses has visited The Latimer Arts College in Kettering to speak to students about his life and business experiences.

Stephen Page is CEO of Faber and Faber, which has published some of the best-known literature in the English language, including William Golding's Lord of the Flies, and boasts world-famous poet T. S. Eliot amongst its past editors.

Stephen, who is credited with bringing Faber into the modern age, spoke to over 150 Latimer students about the challenges of a career in publishing and how the industry is overcoming the digital threat through a revival in high-street bookselling.

He commented:

“Faber makes about 200 new books every year and we’ve got around 4,000 titles in our warehouse. Much of my work is about adapting publishing to both print and digital, and we’re arguably the best in the world at these things."

“Books, film, television and computer graphics are all part of what’s known as the creative sector, and I often hear people in government being dismissive of this, suggesting it’s all a bit ‘amateur and fun.’

“This could not be further from the truth. The creative sector currently contributes £90 billion of the UK’s gross domestic product. It is globally famous and employs about two million people. It also mostly involves work that can’t be replaced by automation or ‘bots,’ something which is happening in other industries across the country.

“A big part of publishing today is converting books into TV and movies and vice versa, and I also get to work on some really exciting material. We’ve just worked in near secrecy to publish ‘Collusion’ by Luke Hardin, an exposé of the Russia–Trump scandal.

“We’ve also released the complete screenplays of Christopher Nolan’s films, Dunkirk and Interstellar, and work with really exciting stars and authors like Benedict Cumberbatch and Kazuo Ishiguro, who has recently won the Nobel Prize in Literature 2017.

“Getting a job in publishing isn’t easy. It involves self-belief, hard work and persistence. I wrote about 100 letters to different publishing companies and got my first job as a marketing executive, selling books about personal computers. The only catch was I didn’t know what marketing meant so I had to phone my sister-in-law to find out.

Stephen Page Principal Siobhan Hearne
Stephen Page Principal Siobhan Hearne

“Today I'm in charge of Faber, based in Bloomsbury in London. We have about 120 staff and since the digital revolution and 10 years of Kindle, print has actually grown while digital has begun to die away, representing only about 20% of the retail market."

“Character is often the first things we notice in a really fresh book. For example in Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling managed to create over 139 distinct characters. The way you write is also clearly important. Boring sentences are boring. Getting people to turn the page using a cliffhanger, and books that allow the narrative to roll are all vital elements which we help identify.

“No one goes on a course about how to find a bestseller, but working in a publishing house offers a massive range of careers, ranging from stock controller and publicity manager, through to business analyst and commissioning editor.

“For anyone looking to work in the creative sector it’s important to recognise that every business needs to communicate creatively. If you are a major supermarket, you need to tell your customers who you are. Every advert is actually a narrative, because storytelling one of the most powerful thing we can actually offer as human beings.”

Speaking following the event Year 8 Latimer student, Wiktoria Gawlak, said: “I love everything about reading and literature and Stephen was so enthusiastic and encouraging. It was very interesting to hear about his career and I really enjoyed being able to ask him questions about his work.”

Jyoti Pankhania, Assistant Principal at The Latimer Arts College, added: “Presentations like Stephen Page’s genuinely enrich the curriculum for our students. In particular Stephen echoed the ethos of The Latimer Arts College – effort, hard work and a positive ‘can do’ attitude are the principles to success.”

The talk was arranged through the charity ‘Speakers for Schools,’ and also acted as part of The Latimer Arts College’s ongoing ‘Raising Aspirations’ programme – an initiative designed to help students engage with leading industry professionals and businesses.