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Ten years and ten pearls of wisdom from Vertebrate Publishing

Friday, 8 August 2014

This month, we’re celebrating our tenth birthday. So what have we learnt after a decade of publishing?

1. Tibetan spaniels make poor office pets
Trust us on this one.

2. Let your staff do their thing
If you’ve chosen wisely, every member of staff will be able to make a unique contribution to your business. Identify what it is that they can achieve and give them the tools to get it done. Look at Vertebrate’s Tom Fenton – we gave him a sabbatical and what did he do? Rode every waymarked singletrack trail in England, Scotland and Wales to produce the epic Mountain Biking Trail Centres. A feat he recently surpassed when he seemingly did it all again but in both directions to produce Great Britain Mountain Biking. Tom hates publicity so we’re careful to mention him in every blog we post.

3. Don’t let your staff keep chilli plants
They stop doing any work and spend all their time squashing greenfly.

4. It’s not all about the numbers
OK, so you have to make sure the figures add up – otherwise you’re not going to last long. But don’t succumb to balance-sheet myopia. Staying connected to the wider purpose of your existence is important – that’s what will keep you motivated in the long run. Here, it’s the knowledge that Vertebrate is producing books that connect people with the outdoors, and that we’re capturing unique stories that might otherwise be lost.

5. Appreciate your roots
Vertebrate sits well outside the Oxford-Cambridge-London publishing triad but that’s never felt like a disadvantage. Being in Sheffield means we’re right at the centre of the outdoor community and close to many of our authors and photographers. Plus it means we’re only fifteen (ten minutes – Ed.) minutes away from a post-work Stanage hit.

6. Don’t be an old dog
Keep learning new tricks. The horizon is shifting all the time – when we started publishing it was all about print on paper, but things have changed massively over the last decade. E-books have come to the fore and guidebooks are now supplemented by online resources, like free route downloads. Rather than sticking your hands in your pockets and looking the other way, you need to be receptive to these changes and identify which will genuinely give added value to your customers.

7. Real men (and women) get excited
Seeing a book like Peak Rock or One Day As A Tiger when it first arrives from the printer is always a buzz. It’s important to keep enjoying that. A huge amount of time and energy goes into each book that we produce so permitting ourselves a pat on the back when it comes off is important. But no crying. Or hugging.

8. No publisher is an island
We would never have made it this far if it hadn’t been for the individuals and groups that we work with. We’re lucky to work with some of the outdoor industry’s most inspiring authors and photographers, and the contributions of our editors, proofreaders and other contributors help ensure that the books we produce are of the highest standard.

9. Play to your strengths
We might be a small team but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Just like the 6’ 5” climber who can cruise through spaced holds on vertical limestone but comes unstuck on anything approaching an overhang, bigger companies can experience certain disadvantages. Being small means we’re compact and nimble: communication is direct, there are no bureaucratic decision-making processes and each person can experience the satisfaction of witnessing the direct impact of their efforts.

10. Thinking of getting a Tibetan spaniel for your office?
Don’t. Get a cat. They’re pretty much the same anyway, but quieter.


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