Ben Dunn has been publishing non-fiction for over 20 years at HarperCollins, Penguin Random House and Hachette. He now runs the non-fiction list at Bonnier Publishing UK.
You’re the Managing Director of adult non-fiction at Bonnier Publishing UK. What does an average day look like for you?
Despite our recent headway we are still a compact team, so it’s less about emails and meetings and more about popping round to see each other when things need discussing; fewer emails, more face to face – we might have a reputation for being innovative, but the way we communicate is very 80s!
Blink has had some big hits with some of the stars of YouTube. Where do you see the trend for books by vloggers going over the next five years?
Memoir is king in non-fiction regardless of where it comes from, but obviously, the definition of what constitutes a memoir is very broad; it’s about adapting the book to fit the audience. In Alfie’s Deyes case we called it a Scrapbook and it was a highly illustrated, square format trade paperback. That allowed us to fit the content, price and feel exactly to what our research told us Alfie’s audience wanted. With the F2 Freestylers, we also needed something that would be identifiable to a predominantly male younger audience, as well as something that would appeal to their parents; so we went with a ‘How to’ approach; focusing on getting boys off their screens and outside playing football. Both books had strong memoir elements, however they were packaged in very different ways.
Tell us a bit about the sorts of projects you most enjoy publishing.
We have an increasingly broad list at Blink; having recently added lifestyle with Lagom, and quirky, original non-fiction with 535 to go alongside Blink Sports, Blink General and Blink Reality. I grew up in publishing alongside the rise of popular culture books, and I’ve been lucky enough to publish the full gamete, but over the years, the most enjoyable books have often been written by the most pleasant authors: Sir David Jason was someone I’d desperately wanted to publish for over 20 years, and putting Giles Smith with him on his memoir made it a dream combo. Duncan Hamilton at 4th Estate with his debut Provided You Don’t Kiss Me, detailing his near-on 20 years with the legendary Brian Clough, was another wonderful writer who was a joy to work with. More recently, Jenson Button has captivated the entire communications team here at Blink with his charm and ease; it helps when the book sells, but it also helps when the author is so genuine, too!
What, if anything, do you think traditional publishers could learn from successful indie writers and self-publishing?
As Bonnier Publishing UK continues to grow in size, it’s incredibly important to us that we maintain the essence of what got us here in the first place: a strong entrepreneurial spirit and an ability to combine the best of what traditional publishing has to offer with new and innovative ways of taking authors to their readers as effectively as possible. At Blink, our spiritual home is somewhere in the middle, between self-publishing and traditional publishing. We can learn from both, but self-publishing’s purity of focus – namely the goal of reaching as many readers as possible directly, with no internal distraction, or corporate confusion – remains a powerful lesson to us all.
Which Blink books do you think we should add to our reading list over the coming months?
Blink, Lagom, 535 and Blake will publish around 120 books next year, so it’s very hard to pull out a favourite, but I’m incredibly excited about Roger Daltrey’s autobiography: a genuine tale of a working-class boy made good, and the story of the birth and rise of legendary band, The Who; with Moon, Townshend, and Daltrey coming together despite their startlingly different characters and markedly different backgrounds. I also can’t wait to see published a book called Eye Can Write. Natalie Jerome bought this simply amazing memoir by an 11-year-old boy, Jonathan Bryan, who has locked-in syndrome but whose artistic talent is astounding. Another book I’m very excited about is one recently bought by Joel Simons, who is currently putting together Patricia Wilshire’s professional memoir about her long career as a forensic botanist, responsible for breaking some of the UK’s most notorious murder cases.