Clare Millar interviews Huyen Hac Helen Tran, Digital Marketing Manager at NewSouth Books Australia.
What did you study?
I studied an undergraduate double degree in media arts/production and international studies. I had originally started in creative writing but decided to swap because I wanted to learn some skills I had never tried before (editing, filming, audio recording). It was a good decision, and yet I am considering going back to study a Masters in Creative Writing next year. Wish I could’ve done it all!
What is the most useful skill you learned in your degrees? And what was the most enjoyable part of your studies?
My most useful skill was learning to critically analyse various materials, from creative texts to theory to news reportage to conversation. It helped me consider everything from varying angles, and to listen to others and understand the importance of history and cultural value. Not to say that my degree perfected these, as I am always growing and learning to be a better communicator. But the importance of it being a communal act as opposed to a one-way or even two-way street is drilled into me. It has informed how I work in a team, where I see my career expanding and is how I feel more in tune to the Australian publishing and literary community at large.
The most enjoyable part of my studies was getting to be creative, and really focusing on honing my voice through essay writing or script writing. Considerations of different modes of writing really worked both sides of my brain, and this stimulation was exciting. Of course, learning to use InDesign, PhotoShop and Premiere Pro were huge pluses that I can’t ignore either. Let’s say these used the third side of my brain!
Tell us a bit about NewSouth – what is its role in the books industry?
NewSouth Books is a dynamic place. It’s one of the largest book distributors in Australia, working with a combination of over 800 international and Australian publishers such as Princeton University Press, Giramondo Publishing and of course, New South Publishing.
I certainly didn’t know much about the importance of the distribution side of publishing when I started, and I’m not sure young people trying to get into the industry know about it—I hope they do! It’s a great place to see the start to finish of how a book gets onto the shelves. Not just the wonderful creative aspect of the publisher-author relationship but also how inventory, product, production, sales, and booksellers work together to give a book the attention it deserves.
I could be wrong, but it feels like the amount of experience and knowledge I’ve gained in my almost three years here would’ve been impossible if I had been anywhere else at this point in my career. I went from being a Marketing Assistant with little publishing knowledge to the Digital Marketing Manager. This growth was completely aided by the support of my manager and the rest of the company. It’s a great place to mould your own intentions and understand all the ins and outs of publishing.
What does a typical day look like for you? What skills make you successful in doing that?
Every day is different and that’s what keeps it interesting. Throughout the day I can work on an array of different tasks such as collating marketing materials with InDesign, liaising with publishers on metadata management and hearing about their upcoming releases, pitching to ebook vendors to promote our Australian ebooks, working with the publicity team, the sales teams and even the Publishing Coordinator of NewSouth Publishing.
There are deadlines to adhere to, meetings to attend, and different expectations depending on whom I’m speaking to. I’ve honed my organisational and interpersonal skills, and I think that’s what helps keep me afloat. I never thought I’d say this, but emailing is also such a skill that I didn’t realise I needed to learn until I started since I only worked in hospitality and retail before working in publishing.
How does digital marketing differ from more traditional marketing methods?
It’s an entirely different way of advertising. How do you market books in a digestible way for social media, that catches someone’s attention within .5 of second to make them click on a link? It’s a huge market to tap into, and there’s always so much to learn and different ways to do so. The combination of SEO, analytical tools, use of different programs to deliver information and the more qualitative side of understanding your audience really forces your brain to be more creative.
Digital marketing methods allow you to develop your brand quite concisely too. You see what people are responding to, not just through how many buyers you have of the book but how many people clicked to read an article or learn more about the author. There’s always a flow of data, and you keep taking it on to see what you can do from there on.
What are most proud of in your career so far?
I’m proud of the growth and the clarity I’ve had in seeing where my skills lie and what I can do with them. During 2020 when events were getting cancelled, it was awful to see how authors and their books were impacted. NewSouth made a conscious decision to put more attention to their online presence and I was confident that I could help with this. It’s ever-growing, and so are my skills. I’m proud of the progress, and that there will always be progress. I always thought the only options were publisher, publicist, editor, or author. These all sound incredible for me, but there is space in publishing for so many different skills, we just need to have the space to water and grow them.
And what are you hopeful for or excited about?
I’m excited about building on top of what I’ve been able to start off, and seeing it emerge in extra publicity and engagement with authors. I’ve always had an interest in how the literary community and digital medias can collaborate. It’s how I started getting to know more about Australian writers and their books in the first place, as a teenager. I remember being 17 years old, going on Twitter and following as many authors, magazines, and publishers as I could so I could just see what people were talking about every day. As I’ve gotten older and have had more experience, it’s solidified my attention to how digital experiences can be innovative, curated and truly be something that readers and writers want to see.