Interview: Why I Love My Work with Alison Jones, Publisher and Book Coach at Practical Inspiration Publishing
Welcome to the second interview in the “Why I Love My Work” series!
It is my great pleasure to welcome Alison Jones today. Amongst the many things she does, Alison publishes fantastic books like Hype Yourself by Lucy Werner and The Invisible Revolution by Nicola Huelin. She is not only exceptionally knowledgable about publishing, she understands fundamentally what role a book should play in a business.
When I was thinking about who to interview for this series, Alison immediately sprung to mind. In all my conversations and meetings with her, she has always struck me as someone who loves what they do.
More than than, she also spends a lot of time working with entrepreneurs who are also designing businesses and working lives that they love. I knew she would have a lot of interesting insights to share.
Tell us about yourself
I’m a lifelong book geek: publisher, author, reader, reviewer and book coach.
I believe that good business books are good for business, both for their authors and their readers. At Practical Inspiration we help people with something to say create superb books that are both practical and, well, inspiring.
After 25 years in traditional publishing with companies such as Chambers, Oxford University Press and Macmillan, I founded Practical Inspiration in 2014, with the vision of creating a real partnership between publisher and author.
I’m also the host of The Extraordinary Business Book Club podcast, head judge of the Business Book Awards, a member of the IPG board and the author of several books, most recently This Book Means Business (2018).
Why do you love your work?
I get to work with interesting, motivated people with a wide range of expertise and help them articulate and communicate their message – that’s a huge privilege, and I feel very fortunate to have worked with some really extraordinary authors.
Books are still, perhaps more than ever in our digital age, the most powerful tool we have for connecting deeply with another mind, and a good book can literally change lives. What’s not to love about that?
Was there a time when you didn’t love your work?
Shortly before I left Macmillan I started to feel that publishing was ‘broken’ – the industry was struggling to come to terms with a world in which attention had replaced content as the scarce resource, and making money from the sale of content felt like an outdated business model. But that frustration drove my vision for publishing partnership, and I’m proud to have pioneered that model.
How have you designed your business around the work you love?
I’ve got a fantastic team whose ‘zones of genius’ are complementary to mine, and we’ve spent a lot of time and thought developing robust systems and processes to ensure that we can each do our best work as each book goes through its journey from idea to manuscript to published book.
Putting robust systems and processes in place might not sound like the sexiest use of time, but it really frees us up to focus our attention on the fun stuff rather than firefighting!
We have a simple but powerful tech stack which includes our bibliographic system at the core plus cloud tools such as Slack and Trello to help us collaborate, prioritise and track progress.
We all work from home most of the time, which allows us to live our best life – in my case that means running with my dog most mornings and editing podcasts with a glass of wine in my pyjamas! But we also make sure that we get together regularly to share ideas and build relationships.
What advice would you give to someone who doesn’t love their work?
First, I’d ask yourself whether it’s the work you don’t love or the circumstances – they’re two very different things. If there’s a particular problem bugging you, that’s a relatively simple issue: sort the problem. That might mean moving jobs, asking for more flexible work pattern, putting in place better task management tools or carving out headspace for deep work, for example.
If there’s a more fundamental issue, if no matter how great the circumstances might be you simply can’t get excited about your work, then you have a great opportunity ahead of you: there’s never been a better time to make a change. Make it your business to carve out a bit of time each day to explore yourself and your opportunities: find a good book (Defining You by Fiona Murden is a great place to start) or simply make yourself a research project and work out what you might like to do, then identify the first step. More people than ever have a side hustle going on these days, and very often that becomes a whole new career or even a business.
Stay curious and take action – there’s huge power in both.
How will you be creating more opportunities to do work you love in 2020?
I’ve got a challenging set of goals for the year and i’m going to be involving my team in working out how to achieve them – it’s so much more fun, and so much more efficient, to pool our brainpower!
I’m also going to STOP doing some things: I set myself the goal of reading 100 business books in 2019 and made it (just) but it took away something of the joy and depth that I value in reading, so I’ve set myself a target of just 12 really good books this year, which I’ll read and review more thoroughly. Being intentional about what you say no to is just as important as deciding what you’re going to work towards.
Do you think everyone can design a work-life that they love?
Yes, although I might not have felt that way when I was in full-time employment! I think too the trick is to look for the good in the life you create for yourself rather than the areas that are still lacking – not everything about my current work-life is perfect (I could do with a bigger office, for example, and I still spend more time than I’d like travelling to London) but if you look for things to complain about you’ll always find them.
As in marriage(!), love isn’t so much something that happens to you as something you choose, day after day. It needs work and cheerfulness, and much depends on the story you tell yourself.
What do you think holds people back from doing that? What can they do to overcome that?
When people hold back, it’s almost always out of fear: fear of change, fear that they’re not good enough to achieve their goals, fear of what people will say, sometimes even fear of succeeding!
And the best defence against fear that I’ve found is as I said above the twin forces of curiosity and action.
Ask yourself ‘what if?’, talk to people who’ve made the change and learn from them, research your options with an open mind, ask yourself what’s the BEST that can happen as well as the worst, then ask yourself what the first step might be and just do it.
You don’t need to go all in, just experiment and notice what you notice. Then take the next step, and the next…
Thank you so much Alison. There is great wisdom and insight in your answers.