5 Minutes with Christopher Norris

5 Minutes with Christopher Norris

Starting out as an editor at Letts Educational in 1990, Christopher’s career in the book trade has been eclectic and diverse. Via the Booksn ginger group, he created the ITV book series You’re Booked! (acting as Consultant Producer), helped to pioneer World Book Day in the UK, and pitched a publishing heritage proposal for the Millennium Commission for an interactive literary experience (called Utopia) that later morphed into the web 2.0 fiction recommendation engine, StoryCode (for which he was Research Director). StoryCode pitched – unsuccessfully – on BBC Two’s Dragons’ Den in 2006. Currently, amongst other professional roles, Christopher works as Head of Crowdfunding at CrowdPatch CIC, the not-for-profit crowdfunding platform for entrepreneurs, and as Director at Jolabokaflod CIC, the company he founded to introduce the 74-year-old festive Icelandic literary tradition to the world.


What was the last book you read?
Blockchain Revolution by Don and Alex Tapscott, a book I had to buy twice on account of leaving the original on the plane to Frankfurt last year. Being a Buchmesse virgin, I naïvely neglected to check-in early online and, despite arriving at Heathrow in plenty of time, I nearly missed my flight.

What’s next on your reading list?
I’m an adventurous reader. On my work-oriented list I’m itching to read books on pop psychology, digital business trends and Viking history. When I’m next on a beach, I’ll take with me a mixture of Scandi noir, laugh-out-loud comic novels and literary fiction.

Tell us what you do in 20 words
I promote Jolabokaflod globally to encourage people to buy books for loved ones to read over Christmas and other occasions.

What is the one thing about your company that we need to know?
The Icelandic word Jolabokaflod isn’t as hard to pronounce as people might think: ‘Jola’ is ‘Yule’ (as in ‘Christmas’), ‘boka’ is ‘book’ and ‘flod’ is ‘flood’, which gives the English translation ‘Christmas book flood’. The Icelandic national character is synonymous with the Jolabokaflod tradition, so I never hesitated in using the word in the company name. This keeps the cultural link to Jolabokaflod’s country of origin and provides a conversation ice-breaker when people say: ‘What does that mean?’

What is the single biggest challenge facing the publishing industry right now?
The Holy Grail of the book trade is getting Millennials to read for pleasure at the very moment they start out on their adult lives. Re-establishing the habit of reading in post-education people who are simultaneously seeking work, homes and life partners is key to building and maintaining a vibrant market of life-long book lovers.

What is the one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out in publishing today?
Find a way into the trade by highlighting skills you have that are needed by publishers (e.g. digital media expertise, subject knowledge, relevant volunteering experience) and, once safely ensconced in-house, become a sponge for learning throughout the company and join membership networks like the Society of Young Publishers, BookMachine and Byte the Book to meet people and make friends across the book trade.

Tell us about a passion you have outside the business
I’m an enthusiastic advocate of crowdfunding as a fabulous way of raising seed money for projects as part of running marketing campaigns that build networks of fans and followers. I’ve run many successful crowdfunding projects both for myself and on behalf of other people. I’d love to teach the book trade how to use this valuable tool for raising funds, creating viral buzz and developing markets for books.

Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?
I’ve had two fabulous mentors in my career so far. First, Tony Mulliken (Chairman, Midas PR) opened his bulging Filofax to get You’re Booked!, the ITV book series I created and co-produced, through the door at London Weekend Television. He also attracted seed finance to our pilot episode to get the show commissioned. I worked throughout the series from the proverbial ‘broom cupboard’ in Midas’s offices, then in Kendrick Mews. Second, the late Martyn Goff (former Administrator, Man Booker Prize), who inspired and mentored me at his office at Henry Southeran with stories from his days at Book Trust, the Booker Prize and Bedford Square Book Bang. I still have a copy of a Society of Bookmen memorandum he gave me on ‘Co-operative Advertising’ when I was pitching World Book Day to the trade in the mid 1990s. The pamphlet pitched generic marketing to the book trade in 1924: the money raised from the campaign paid for the establishment of the National Book Council, which eventually became Book Trust.

What is your prediction for the year ahead in the publishing industry?
Apart from the usual suspects – established authors with fan bases – the most popular titles in 2018 will not be predicted by algorithms or historic sales data. Gut instinct and editorial nous are still vital components of commissioning decisions made in-house in collaboration with sales teams adept at crunching numbers.

What piece of advice would you give first-timers at The London Book Fair?
Network like there’s no tomorrow. If you’re not stuck selling rights on a stand or running around Olympia with a diary crammed full of appointments, arrange to meet friends for coffee, attend seminars that take your fancy and crash as many parties as you can. Also, don’t arrange to meet anyone at an Artisan Bakery food outlet: as I learned to my cost at the London Book Fair last year, Olympia comprises around six coffee bars with this same name. It’s much safer to arrange to meet at an unambiguous landmark – say a large publisher’s stand – and then hit the café trail together.

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