Q&A with James Spackman

By   Jantien Abma 2 min read

We spoke to book marketer extraordinaire and publisher of Pursuit Books, James Spackman, about cycling books, the similarities between cricketing and cycling readers, and his blog, The Blackpool Tower.

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1. What was the initial allure of book marketing?

I’ve always been instinctively interested in what makes people decide things and what influences their choices. That sort of psychology is clearly a part of many publishing decisions, not just marketing campaigns, but if you love books and love trying to persuade people about things, then sales and marketing in publishing is good fun.

 2. You are publisher of Profile’s cycling imprint, Pursuit, and an avid cyclist yourself. How is it to be surrounded by content with a singular focus? Is there an inbuilt readership with cycling books, or is there still a fair bit of marketing to do since cyclists rarely read while they commute?

I’m finding it refreshing to concentrate on one very specific area of writing, since most of my career has been more broadly-focused. And to be able to marry my personal enthusiasm with my publishing capabilities is proving very satisfying. It’s amazing how unlike work it feels when you do things based on natural curiosity, with the confidence of deep subject-knowledge behind you.

It is a (the only?) drawback of cycling that you can’t read while you’re doing it, but I do think the two things seem quite compatible on another level. Like cricket, cycling seems to have an educated, literate audience. Unlike cricket, most of us haven’t grown up in a traditional heartland of the sport, with a steady and rich stream of writing to accompany it. So cycling fans often seem to be educating themselves about the sport they love, and catching up with the heritage that has hitherto been largely continental. 

3. What are the first things you think about when planning a campaign?

Audience and proposition. If you can’t articulate very clearly who you’re talking to and what you’re saying to them, you are wasting your time. 

4. You have a great blog, The Blackpool Tower. What do you aim to achieve with it, if anything, and do you think an active presence on social media and in the blogosphere is useful as a marketer?

Thank you. I don’t actually think I’m a model blogger, since I do it infrequently because I’m too focused on writing things which are substantial and complete. A blog should be more spontaneous than that. I do use Twitter a lot and have it to thank for many good things in my career. 

I think it’s inarguable that social media presence is a must, and not just a work account. It’s useful for your personal brand, helps you learn how to engage with others in all sorts of ways. Whatever you choose, blog, Instagram, Youtube channel … it’s good to give yourself the experience of trying to create something yourself and promote it.

5. What is some advice you would give to publishing students interested in being part of a marketing department?

Try to publish a book, or an ebook, yourself. First hand experience is priceless.

Join, or shadow a book club. It is never the wrong thing to listen to real people talk about books, how they choose, them, buy them, read them, judge them. It is different to college, it is different to publishing. And they pay our wages.