Clare Millar interviews Jennifer Kean, Licensing Manager at Story Box Library.
What did you study?
I graduated from Swinburne University of Technology with a Bachelor of Arts Degree, with majors in Marketing and Media Studies.
What is the most useful skill you learned in your degree? And what was the most enjoyable part of your studies?
Group assignments provide great training for learning how to communicate with and respect team members once you’re in the workforce. It’s probably not a surprise that I really enjoyed composing essays and putting presentations together. I didn’t enjoy the exam side of things quite as much!
What does a typical day look like for you at Story Box Library? What skills make you successful in doing that?
No two days are the same, which is what I love. The crux of my role involves starting new and maintaining existing relationships with publishers, negotiating head licensing agreements and overseeing necessary copyright clearance to allow filming of our storytelling segments.
But, I also work with the publishers to obtain varied content that is required by different members of our Story Box team, such as our videographer, producer/director and educational consultant. I also support our Accounts Department with any paperwork relevant to processing licensing renewals and approve rights-related invoices for payment.
Keeping track of rights and production spreadsheets as well as maintaining the electronic filing system of all our paperwork is also my responsibility.
Communication, coordination and organisation are key. The ability to pre-empt what will be required months in advance is important but so is being flexible because not everything goes to plan all of the time.
How has your role changed during the pandemic?
During the height of the pandemic, particularly in Victoria, we certainly saw an increase in demand for our SBL content. With the closure of childcare centres, schools and public libraries many teachers and families turned to our online resource for both educational purposes and entertainment.
In regards to my role, the biggest change or challenge that I experienced was in the way I approached publishers for rights approval.
Rights paperwork is typically approved months in advance, allowing us time to source the best storytellers and locations, and to confirm filming dates. Covid-19 turned this process on its head! Production in Victoria was ground to a halt with crews and storytellers alike being forced into isolation and work put on hold. But, we still needed fully edited finished stories to be ready for release in the weeks and months to come.
In order to make this possible, I had to reassure publishers that the stories they were signing rights over for would be filmed and released in due course. Basically, I had to get all of the paperwork and content ready for when we received the green light to resume filming. A lot of juggling was involved as well as improvisation. In conjunction with our producer/director extraordinaire we even managed to film a few of our stories remotely in Sydney.
And you freelance as well. What does this involve?
I’m not freelancing at present as I’ve recently become a new mum and I have my hands full taking care of my son and working part-time at SBL on the days that he is in childcare. But, as a freelancer I offered publicity/marketing/PR consulting, event management, administration/PA support and editing/proofreading/copywriting services for clients across a variety of fields. However, most of my freelance work involved providing self-published authors with access to the benefits of a dedicated marketer/publicist in the lead up to the launch of their book release and in the weeks that follow when retaining momentum is so important.
How has technology changed over the course of your career so far?
Gosh! I could be giving away my age here! One of the subjects I distinctly remember studying as part of my degree was learning all about this ‘mysterious’ thing called the World Wide Web! Yep, this was the late 90s and practising ‘surfing’ the internet was a component of the tutorial class.
In my first office job, sending emails had only recently been introduced for basic communications. The majority of important documents were still sent via a fax machine! By the time I started working in the publishing industry some technological advances had obviously been made, but many aspects still seem antiquated by today’s standards.
Here are a few examples:
- Mailing label addresses were still manually typed/printed off and hardcopies of books posted out for review, Email Marketing Software/Platforms didn’t exist.
- Data and images were saved to 3.5 inch Floppy discs (!) or burned to CD-ROMs and posted to the recipient because the files were generally too large to email. Storage and sharing services such as Dropbox and WeTransfer are life-changing!
- Every Monday morning part of my job was to look through the physical newspapers from the weekend and cut out/file any articles and book reviews that I’d secured. We also paid for a media database subscription where such content was collated from newspapers across the country and a PDF would be emailed to me based on the book titles that were on my current list. No such thing as a Google Alert!
Tell us a bit about why permissions and licensing are important in the books and publishing industry. How does your role fit into a team?
Permission and licensing are vital to the publishing industry because it is imperative that the work of Australian authors, illustrators and publishers is compensated appropriately to ensure its strong future.
I work closely with publishers to respect copyright requirements by ensuring copyright fees are paid for usage and that all creative parties are credited within the final video segments we produce.
We also always provided links from our video segments to purchase the original book and artwork as another way to support Australian children’s publishing. Our company is consistently striving to ensure that we offer engaging content for our audience whilst safeguarding and supporting the industry.
You’ve previously worked in both big and small publishers before moving to Story Box. How do these compare?
The overall processes that I followed in my time in marketing and publicity at both big and small publishing houses didn’t differ too much. However, the new release list type and size did.
In my years at Hardie Grant Egmont (now called Hardie Grant Children’s Publishing), I worked exclusively on children’s and young adult titles and therefore all marketing and publicity campaigns were devised around the best ways to target/reach that audience. This was mainly through kids magazines and newspaper book reviews/articles that would be read by parents. Organising events, book tours and launches as well as writing festival appearances for the authors and illustrators of these titles was also a big part of my job.
Upon moving to Five Mile Press, I not only looked after their children’s/young adult titles but the adult list too. This meant that I was able to branch out into pitching and securing publicity with radio and television interviews as well as continuing to promote all books through magazine and newspaper book reviews/articles.
What are you most proud of in your career so far?
I have worn several ‘hats’ over the past 17 years— marketing, publicity, freelancing and most recently licensing—and with each I am proud of the new skills I’ve learned, the challenges I’ve faced and how I’ve successfully broadened my network and established my reputation in this amazing industry. I’m also fortunate to be able to count so many publishing colleagues as my friends.
A few standout moments reflect the diversity of what I have been able to achieve through the opportunities my career path has presented. I’ve organised and accompanied Australian and international authors on book tours all across Australia and New Zealand, secured high-profile celebrities and politicians to attend book launches or read stories, negotiated exclusive content for television and newspaper mediums across the country, and have played a small part in helping up-and-coming children’s authors to build their profiles and become household names.
Ultimately though, I’m most proud that I have been able to turn my love of books and reading into a career! It’s such a privilege to contribute and support a love of literacy in our next generation of readers.
And what are you hopeful for or excited about?
I’m excited about witnessing first hand my son develop a love for reading as he grows. I’m looking forward to watching him discover the world of imagination that storytelling can bring, both through physical books and online resources such as Story Box Library.