Let's Meet... Miranda West from 'DO' Books

Posted: May 11 2016


 

We meet London based Miranda West, publisher of DO Books, to ask her about a day in the life and how DO Books came to be.  

 

Tell us a bit about yourself, your background and how DO books came about:

I had been working in book publishing – mostly commissioning and editorial – for around 15 years when I felt I was ready for a new challenge. This coincided with a forced break from my job at a major publishing house when we moved abroad for a couple of years with my husband’s job (we always knew we’d come back to London though!) and two small children. During this time I was playing around with ideas for my own business when I was sent a link to a Do Lecture by a friend. It was about the future of the book in the era of the iPad and chimed with what I was reading up on at the time.  I spent some time on the Do Lectures website as hadn’t come across them before and by the afternoon had emailed the info@ address asking if they had considered publishing books by their speakers.

What's the 'philosophy’ behind the DO books?

The books, like the lectures, are based around the idea of positive change. For me, the physical book remains the perfect vehicle – in terms of design and practicality - to get ideas, information and inspiration into people’s hands, and lives. Our books are written by some pretty incredible individuals who have pushed boundaries, brought about change, and have gone on to share their story at the Do Lectures. Our readers are those who have attended, or might love to one day. They are creative with a love of new ideas, innovation, new technology, sustainable living and the environment - and they appreciate good design and a well-crafted product. They are smart, fun, engaged, entrepreneurial and naturally curious. The books have to challenge them – or at least intrigue them. If that ever stops, we’ll have lost something valuable.  

For us it’s about producing genuinely useful books. They are small format paperbacks, affordable and don’t compromise on design and quality. It doesn’t cost much more to work with really good designers, photographers and illustrators.

Where do you find inspiration for new titles?

Hard to say. I may come up with a title or concept then create a book around that – for example, Do Smoke. I have now commissioned an author (an amazing chef who has a smokehouse). Similarly I knew I wanted to have a photography book on the list and came up with Do Capture. Again, I’ve found the perfect author – he just needs to stop going on location all the time so he can write it! Other times, I’ll listen to a Do Lecture – I attend the event in Wales each year – and a sentence within a talk might resonate or spark an idea. It’s a fairly organic process and I realise now it’s not something you can really force. Before I sign up a new book I run the idea past David Hieatt, co-founder of the Do Lectures (and Hiut Denim). He’s a good barometer, plus the Do Lecture receive a royalty from each copy sold.

What is your studio/office like?

I work in a shared office space on Redchurch Street at the back of a vintage designer sunglasses shop. What it lacks in large windows and views, it makes up for in location and great coffee shops.

What’s coming up next for DO books?

More books and more events! We have 3-4 new titles in the pipeline – all at embryonic stages. Our problem is that all our authors are ‘Doers’ not writers, and generally time poor. So we try and make it as easy as possible by doing lots of upfront work at proposal stage so the task of writing isn’t quite so onerous. Plus the books are fairly short, 20-30k words (about 100 pages) as they focus on the doing, not the background theory.

Describe a typical day in the life of you…

I’m more lark than owl, so wake around 6-6.30am and tend to get up soon after. If things are super busy, especially with editorial work, this quieter time can be perfect for a coffee and some editorial work. Mornings can be a quite full on with two children to get up and out; plus we have a small dog called Nimbus who requires walking. If it’s my turn, it can be a nice way to start the day as we live in Clapton and are only 10 minutes from the river Lea. We walk to school at 9am then I cycle on to the office in Shoreditch – about a 15 minute bike ride through Hackney, London Fields, Broadway Market and Columbia Ride. It’s a good route, popular with cyclists and avoids the really busy roads. Tuesdays I stop off at a morning yoga class on Broadway Market – mostly for exercise but my favourite part is the relaxation at the end.

The office is shared between a number of small (1-2 people) creative businesses – an interior designer, three architects, a digital publishing consultancy and Do Books. I like working alongside other ‘industries’ and it’s always impressive to see these so-called small businesses working with major clients and making a real impact. Productivity is high - we’re all busy so it’s generally heads down. That said, I like the ebb and flow of morning chat then periods of quiet - and we often have music playing. It’s a nice environment and three of us there have been friends for 20 years! (the long tenancy explains how we can still afford to be on Redchurch Street!). I try and work from home on Thursdays. It breaks up the week and allows me to catch up on non-work things. I don’t have a lunch break – but do eat! – as I often have to leave by 3pm to pick up the children. Having your working day condensed into a few hours makes you insanely productive. As the business grows, there is far more admin and logistical things to do, rather than creative dreaming about how we could be doing things more innovatively or brilliant ideas for new books. My normal day might involve arranging for books to be shipped to the US, filling mail order. But also the time of year dictates what we prioritise. Spring is often for PR and marketing ahead of the new title releases in May; summer for author appearances at festivals and checking in with new authors starting to write their books – we do a lot of title development work together around structure and content; delivery of manuscripts is around October then editorial work begins – we use freelance copy-editors and proofreaders. Around Christmas the focus shifts to sales of existing books – this is the case throughout the year too! – and fun events like Christmas markets. Design of the new titles happens around January-February. Then it’s off to print and a nervous wait until the finished copies arrive!