We interviewed Miranda West, publisher of DO Books. Miranda has worked in publishing, mainly in commissioning and editorial, for fifteen years. She set up DO Books after discovering the DO Lectures, which take place in various places throughout the UK every year. The lectures and books inspire attendees to take action for positive change, be it personal, environmental or for business. DO Books are concise guides written by DO Lectures speakers, who range from experts in industry disruption to experts in sourdough bread.
DO Books is the publishing arm associated with the DO Lectures, a series of talks that encourage people to take action for personal development, be it in business or in living a more self-sufficient, creative and fulfilled life. What do the books add to the DO movement?
Each DO Lecture is only twenty minutes long and is designed to inspire – to light a fire. The books are the kindling that really help to get things started. They are more practical than the talks and draw from the author’s immense knowledge and expertise – often built up over decades. Even though the books are concise guides that can be read in one or two sittings, they are referred back to time and again – especially when someone is actually putting the ideas into practice. Both the books and the lectures exist to inspire action and positive change. On a more pragmatic note, a 5% royalty from each book sold goes back into the DO Lectures to help it survive and thrive. This is in addition to author royalties.
Do the books always follow the lectures? Is the written content ever commissioned before the lecture? How does the DO Network discover such interesting and specific angles?
Not at all. Sometimes the books are only loosely related to the original lecture. I attend the DO Lectures each year and listen to all the talks and consider whether there is book potential. Some are very personal stories that don’t lend themselves to books – certainly not a practical or inspirational guide – but are incredible talks.
When it comes to coming up with concepts or new book ideas, I tend to work quite instinctively – sometimes a single sentence within a talk might spark an idea, or it could be borne out of a conversation I have with a speaker when I find out a bit more about them and what they do. Or a provocative title for a topical subject comes to me – I’ll then work backwards to find a DO speaker who might be a suitable author. Similarly, not all speakers are able to produce a book with us. Some may have a contractual obligation with another publisher, but more often than not they’re too busy doing the thing that I’m asking them to write about! Even if they wanted to apply the brakes to write a book, it might not be practical for them to do so. In many ways it’s all about the timing.
What skills and knowledge from your previous positions in publishing have proven most useful in setting up DO Books?
I’ve worked in book publishing for over fifteen years. From Routledge – the academic press – to a small independent, and then to André Deutsch – part of Carlton – before moving to Penguin Random House where I commissioned for the Ebury and Vermilion imprints. I was fortunate to work with some brilliant authors, and the team of people in-house were great fun and super talented. I’m still in touch with some of them. In terms of setting up DO Books, I knew the publishing process inside out – that is to say, how to take a book from original concept through editorial, design, production, PR, marketing and onto a retailer’s shelf – virtual or otherwise. So that experience gave me the confidence to progress the idea of setting up a book company. The challenge was the business side of things. I read books, articles, asked questions and taught myself how to start a new business. From registering the company and what (if any) loans, grants or investors were out there, to setting up basic systems, building an e-commerce website, sourcing distribution in the UK, US and Australia, and getting my head around HMRC and the tax system (ongoing!).
What is the most important lesson you have personally learned from a DO Lecture or Book?
Probably that some things just take time. We associate most startups with the tech world – speed, innovation, scale. But the majority of new businesses require our attention, our time and nurturing every day. It’s a labour of love. Another favourite that comes to mind when things leap forward or move faster than anticipated is: ‘Enjoy the ride, it’s your ride’.
What are your three favourite books of all-time, fiction or non-fiction?
That’s a hard one! Paul Arden’s It’s Not How Good You Are, It’s How Good You Want to Be is a book both David Hieatt (founder of the DO Lectures) and I referenced when things were getting started; Rework by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson is a book we acquired at Vermilion that I read for pleasure; as for fiction, The Children’s Book by A.S. Byatt. A fourth – if I’m allowed – would be The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. It’s the first book I remember buying with my own pocket money and now enjoy reading to my own children.