IBPA Member Spotlight: Shaun Randol
Thursday, September 20, 2018
Posted by: Christopher Locke
Shaun Randol Lands Publishers Weekly Feature by Turning Lemons Into Lemonade
|The Mantle Editor In Chief Shaun Randol is featured in Publishers Weekly
Persistence is the key to success. IBPA member Shaun Randol proved this when his tenacity recently landed his independent publishing company, The Mantle, a feature in Publishers Weekly.
The story started when Shaun applied for the IBPA scholarship to the Yale Publishing Course but didn’t make the final cut. Instead of letting that deter him, Shaun came up with an idea. “I noticed that nine of the speakers are in the NYC area, where I'm located, so I started reaching out to them through Twitter, email forms, and email addresses. I figured that if I couldn't attend the Publishing Course, I'd bring the course to me. I asked each of them if they'd be willing to share their course content with me in one-on-one meetings at their office, or over a beer or coffee. Of the nine I tried to reach, I connected with three of them. One of them was Ed Nawotka at Publishers Weekly who turned our hour-long phone call into an interview of me rather than the other way around, as originally planned. That's how the PW article came about.”
Shaun says this type of strategy is key to succeeding as an independent publisher. “As a struggling small press, it is imperative that we are creative with every single opportunity. Don't waste time ‘thinking outside the box.’ Rather, ‘think inside the cube.’ There is space to maneuver in every situation—you just need to shift your perspective and come at it from a different angle.”
|The Mantle's latest release, Sweden, by Matthew Turner
Shaun started The Mantle in 2009 as an online magazine and then began the publishing arm in 2014—both with a very specific goal in mind. “After leaving graduate school I did not see a place where international voices were regularly invited to speak on international topics. Typically, the conversation or ‘debate’ was led by elites in NYC or DC, especially around elite American and British universities and think tanks. Call it the ‘old white male’ syndrome of the leftist intellectual journals I read. So, I started a space for these global voices. The idea is to provide a platform for the next generation of writers, thinkers, journalists, and critics to get a foothold in the debates that matter most today. It's a moral mission—only through increased dialogue can we better understand the differences and similarities between our gloriously varied cultures.”
Shaun goes on to say, “Cameroon and Ethiopia and Rwanda are as unique and different from each other as France and Iceland and Moldova. There are 1.2 billion stories from the African continent waiting to be told. I see the same opportunity in South and Southeast Asia, where [The Mantle is] also looking to expand.”
Some of The Mantle’s titles include: Forbidden Fruit by Stanley Gazemba from Kenya, The Sound of Things to Come by Emmanuel Iduma from Nigeria, and their most recent release is Sweden by Matthew Turner from New Zealand.
Three Questions with The Mantle Editor in Chief & Founder Shaun Randol
IBPA: Informational interviews are a helpful way to network, but it can be nerve-racking reaching out to busy and notable people to ask them for their time. Do you have any tips for other indie publishers about best practices for asking for an informational interview?
Shaun Randol (SR): I've had some hard lessons while trying to build my book business. Though it seems obvious now, one of the most important things I've learned is that it doesn't hurt to ask. A variation on that is that it's okay to ask for help. So my number one piece of advice is to just do it—put yourself out there. You can't win the lottery if you don't play. That said, here are three pieces of advice I have for getting that precious one-on-one time:
- People love to talk about themselves and about their work, so make the conversation as much about them as it is about helping you. Make it clear that you are the grasshopper learning from the guru. Flattery gets you far.
- Be prepared and be specific. Tell them exactly what you want and why they're the perfect person to share with you. If you're having trouble with marketing, point to one of their recent programs as a model you'd like to learn from and why it applies to your business. And be prepared—overly prepared. If you have five questions you want answered, go into the meeting with ten questions.
- Lastly, make it super convenient for the person. They're busy! So work around their schedule. Offer to meet for lunch or coffee or happy hour. If they're going on a trip, ask to have a call while they're in the taxi on the way to LAX. If they're at a conference, ask for fifteen minutes after their panel discussion. Make it hard for them to say no.
IBPA: As a follow-up question, what is appropriate to discuss during those meetings?
SR: An informational interview should be just that—informational. Do not go in with an ulterior motive to make a sale or gain an endorsement. You are there to learn. Your host does not want to feel like they're being played so you can increase a profit margin. If they get that sense, you're not getting a return call next time around. Make nice with them. If you really do want their business or need their assistance, ask for a follow-up meeting to discuss the matter.
IBPA: Can you list three key lessons you’ve learned about how one can succeed as an independent publisher?
- You are not alone. Don't be afraid to ask for help. The indie press world is very open and forthcoming. I wish I would have learned that lesson four years ago.
- Starting an indie press without a millionaire aunt backing you means that you are entering a very long, grueling game. You better be willing to go the distance, because it's as fun as it is demanding and difficult. If you don't absolutely love it, quit.
- Don't worry about how you compare to other publishers. Do your own thing. Focus and get very good at knowing your authors, products, readers, and business. Eventually upstarts will be comparing themselves to you!
IBPA: Thank you, Shaun, for sharing your story and insight with the IBPA community!
Learn more about The Mantle here.
Share your own publishing news with the IBPA community! Send news about events or accomplishments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Keep in mind that we reserve Spotlights for major news (you’re a cookbook author who won a national cooking competition), unique news (you wrote a book about cycling and now you’re riding a bike across the U.S. for your book tour), or human interest stories (you visit shelters every weekend to read books to the dogs and cats there).
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