Debbie Stier: Publishing’s Optimist Prime
By Marian Schembari, Contributing Editor, Digital Book World
“This decade has been about the advent of easy to use free blogging platforms, online communities and how we get our information. I don’t think most of our industry has fully grasped how big that shift is.”
My favorite thing about Debbie Stier is the fact that she’s been in publishing for over 20 years, but no one would ever accuse her of being a dinosaur.
“When I started in book publishing,” Stier notes, “computers existed, but for some reason the industry didn’t use them. I worked for a literary agent and had to type submission letters on a typewriter with carbon paper. One letter would take me a week.”
By the late 1980s, Stier was working at Ballantine Books where one computer was shared by the entire publicity department and there was a signup sheet.
“Your turn on the computer meant that you’d go to the middle of the floor to type your press release during your one hour slot.”
In 1990, at Warner Books, Stier says each employee had their own desktop computer, and “a year or two later, we got email, and that really moved things along. A few years after that, I remember a bunch of us hovering over Larry Kirshbaum‘s desk, checking out the internet for the first time. Little did we know how much that would change our daily lives. When I think back, it seems like we must have gotten so little done.”
Besides the introduction of computers to the workplace, Stier loves the potential that all technology brings to the industry, especially the ability to connect directly with readers.
“I love that word-of-mouth is scalable. I love that anybody can share, and connect, and spread the word about great books and ideas without ever having to get permission.”
It’s the permission part that gets her down: “I’m allergic to bureaucracy. Publishing is full of protocols; I find it frustrating when people see their role as putting up barriers and looking for problems. I’d rather make something great happen.”
While some authors grumble about how they’re expected to do so much more than write nowadays, Stier quite likes that specific change. The ability to fully participate is what makes publishing so exciting!
“It’s liberating to know that you are in control of your own destiny and don’t have to hope that the gatekeepers allow you to be recognized.”
Stier credits Jane Friedman, former CEO of HarperCollins and now co-founder and CEO of Open Road Media, as both an inspiration and the source of her most useful career advice; effectively: “Don’t look for a job that exists. Make it up.”
Anyone in publishing who you really admire; whose creativity you want to emulate?
“Jane Friedman from Open Road Media is an inspiration to me because she’s a fearless woman who’s gotten where she is by forging new paths. I’m inspired by Guy LeCharles Gonzalez because it feels like he created a flourishing community, seemingly out of thin air. (I can’t even remember life before DBW.) I admire Susan Danziger because she’s not afraid to try something new, and for being bold and introducing thought leaders from other industries to share new ideas with the publishing community.”
“I like people who think differently, aren’t afraid to try new things, and go beyond crossing the t’s and dotting the i’s of ‘the job.’ I am inspired by people who make stuff happen.”
Future of publishing: Half full or half empty?
“Half full, definitely. With books available on so many devices, I read more than ever, and I know I’m not alone in that. This is definitely an exciting time. I think it’s going to look very different in five years.”
NOTE: Writing this profile was all sorts of fun for me because Debbie Stier is pretty much who I want to be. Every time I see something new she’s doing, I am 100% in awe.
Debbie Stier is the Director of Digital Marketing for HarperCollins, where she is responsible for educating and evangelizing digital trends throughout the company. The trends encompass how people communicate, what technologies they are using, how other industries are using technology, and how this all applies to book publishing.
Marian Schembari digs social media and books. Usually at the same time.