Welcome back to ‘30 Seconds With…’ where we speak to leaders in the world of media across television, broadcasting, design, cooking, baking, making and more, for their notes of advice.
For this edition, we caught up with Stephanie Jackson of Octopus Publishing Group. One of the UK’s leading non-fiction publishers, the group is known for its dynamic range of eye-catching and inspirational books by top authors on a wide range of topics, from food and drink to health and wellness, lifestyle, and the arts. Here, Stephanie lets us in on what pitches grab her attention, how she reads between the lines when it comes to weighing up risk, and the book ideas that food publishers are hungry for.
30 seconds, start the clock…
What is the strangest idea that has ever been pitched to you?
Hmm – cows, corpses, circuses spring to mind (though not all within the same pitch). The truth is that people work incredibly hard on pitches – really putting their hearts, minds, and heads on the line – and sometimes it’s the least obvious things, or shall we say most distinctive, that really fly. It’s hugely important that we’re open to brave ideas and fresh thinking, and that we nurture new writers, chefs, and brands. Some of my most successful publishing came about by overturning resistance to risk, and proving that there’s a market for material that hadn’t been commercially published before. Being first with something new and surprising – when it works! – is a brilliant place to be.
What does the future hold for food publishing?
Food is one of the biggest categories in non-fiction, and – while the overall volume and value of sales fluctuates each year – it remains solid, sizeable, and incredibly vibrant. As with everything else, topics and trends ebb and flow. It might seem as if the vegan, slimming, and appliance genres have been over published, for example, but we’ll see more as new voices arise, new audiences engage with that content, and new products, approaches, and gadgets emerge. The regional and national cookery classification, which went into decline a few years back after a surge in the number of books published, is definitely on the rise again – with a dazzling display of new books this year from across the industry and plenty more in the pipeline. The joys of food publishing are the ongoing desire from readers for inspiration (whether it’s what to cook after work on Wednesday, feed a gluten-free guest, serve to friends and family for Sunday lunch) and the breadth of truly fantastic talent, each with their own evolving take. What’s certain is that food publishing will remain dynamic and inventive – and that it will thrive.
What are you working on at the moment?
There’s so much we’re excited about right now. We have a new collection from Persian powerhouse and six-time cookbook bestseller Sabrina Ghayour coming this Autumn. Flavour goes right to the heart of what Sabrina’s fans love most: maximum impact, minimum fuss – and I think it’s her best selection of recipes yet. And we’re republishing a hidden gem from the heart of legendary food writer Diana Henry’s extraordinary cookbook repertoire, just in time for the holidays. Roast Figs, Sugar Snow, to quote Nigel Slater – who wrote a special piece for the new edition, ‘is a carol to what makes the cooking of the cold months something to cherish.’ It’s an absolute classic, it stands the test of time, and I’m so proud to be bringing it back. Wonderful new books from Mildreds, Chetna Makan, and Jeremy Pang also feature in our Autumn list, as well as A Very Vegan Christmas – which will be an absolute lifesaver for those seeking an alternative to the store-bought nut roast. And there is much to look forward to for 2024, including some utterly wonderful new signings we can’t wait to tell you about. Watch this space!
Here’s a taste of the group’s food and drink titles to tuck into:
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