The art of story-selling with former Penguin President Cynthia Good

Cynthia Good hasn’t just rubbed elbows with iconic Canadian writers—as former president and publisher of Penguin Books, she’s helped shape the literary landscape, curating, packaging and delivering some of our favourite stories over the past twenty years. Cynthia joins Pilot this week to discuss the fast-changing business of story-selling—and the territory PR people and publishers increasingly share.

You must be a voracious reader. With so many mediums to choose from, how do you read your stories? 

I read any way I can! I still love to curl up with a good, physical book that I can hold in my hand, see the pages, move back and forth, smell the ink – I adore that process.  That said, I also have an IPad, IPhone, Kobo and Kindle and use all of them for different circumstances. For me, it’s about the physical act of reading—but it’s also about where I keep my library.

You’ve been in the publishing industry for more than 30 years, what are the most significant changes to happen to the business?

The most significant change is the relationship with the reader. There used to be a big space between publishers, writers and readers, and now that relationship is much more intimate. The digital market has certainly changed as well in terms of the way we edit books, produce them, sell them and, most importantly, market them.

Stories never really change, the archetypes are familiar. Business models though are constantly changing. It’s become a very open world in that publishing and storytelling used to be elitist, it’s much more democratized now.

So what do you think it takes to get your story noticed today? 

It’s called Discoverability. Publishers have not yet exploited the concept of brand sufficiently. The majority of my students can’t name an independent publishing house for example. I think it’s really important for writers and publishing houses to brand themselves, figure out what it is they are and what they can offer a reader that will differentiate themselves.

Digital tools such as video, interactive layouts and links can be used to enhance a story, but is there a point at which these tools actually get in the way?

Great question! To me it’s all about choice—we need to look at the alternatives as separate, creative acts. Take the novel “Bleak House” for instance, Dickens’ original content. It could be a hardcover, paperback, e-book, or read to us aloud, but it’s still exactly what the author created.  But, if you want more, you can now have an enhanced e-book that gives you more information, like the recipe and ingredients for the meal that’s described in the story. It’s the abundance of choice, which is why I find this time so exciting.

PR professionals and publishers have some things in common, like the way we both broker relationships in order to make sure a story is heard.  What can we learn from each other as we confront the so-called “digital revolution”?  

No doubt both industries can recognize the power of the individual story – that’s what PR pros tweak out, finding that storyline, finding the way to present something with a compelling story. We each understand the way we look upon a brand as the manifestation of the story behind it.

You direct the Creative Book Publishing Program at Humber College, what sort of attitudes do young people have about stories and storytelling that surprise you? How are they different from 5, 10, 15 years ago?

The difference has to do with the fact that they are of this time. They know now they can consume the story in various ways like Twitter, blogs, and that everybody’s story is worth something. So there’s more story out there.  There is still and always the same challenge as there’s always been: Is it a good enough story, one that is going to be financially viable?

This week, Pilot is pleased to welcome Cynthia Good to the office to speak about the evolution of storytelling in today’s hyper-connected world.