CEO of Vivat publishing house, public figure,
member of the women's delegation from Ukraine to the UN
What is your life's business and mission? What is your purpose?
I'm lucky because I can answer this question. I don't meet many people who can give a definite answer.
For over 25 years I have been publishing books, and it seems to me that my mission is to discover new authors, publish books for children and adults, and I am truly passionate about this process. The whole Vivat team is passionate about this process. It is not easy, and as it is already known from the book about Stus, it is not always calm and not always predictable. Almost always unpredictable. Moreover, this is not exclusively related to business in Ukraine. Every publisher, like every composer or singer, wants to make some hit piece, but it is what it is. Therefore, whatever your experience, every time is like a first time, and unexpected publications are a shot. This is probably the drive — you can never say that work for you has turned into some kind of routine. For me personally, this is important. “Groundhog Day” for me simply does not exist.
Happiness for every person, probably, means having an interesting life. What is this interest — this is a secondary question, but while you are interested, while you are burning, then you yourself are interesting.
Ilnitsky named Vivat, Rodovid and ABABAGALAMAGA among the TOP publishing houses known to him. How did you manage to bring the publishing house to the TOPs and stay there for 7 years?
You see, top is a loose concept. First, everyone has their own top. There is also a top, which is declared to us from the Book Chambe. This is the number of titles that the publishing house made in a year and the total circulation. But they absolutely do not consider the quality of the books. You can make several really iconic books, and you will not be at the top from the point of view of the Book Chamber, but from the point of view of your contribution to the development of Ukrainian society, you will be a top publisher.
There is also such a criterion for evaluating a publishing house as mentioned in the media space, but there are also two sides to this: there are concepts such as black PR, white PR. Of course, we don't use black PR at all.
I was repeatedly told that the trial of “Vasyl Stus Сase” is such a PR. Even the word “hype” was used, which, in my opinion, has a negative connotation. Hype is a resonance that does not meet reality, and it seems to me that the book about Stus by Vakhtang Kipiani has a resonance in civil society; this is not akin to the word “hype”.
But returning to your question — what helps us to be a top publishing house: we follow the trends very much and try to offer important topics for the Ukrainian reader. For example, now in connection with the coronavirus, a lot of attention is paid to the problems of depression. And we are now looking for a good author who could write a book about it. Another criterion is quality. This is the quality of translations, editing, scientific editing, polygraph materials, and covers. Now the book is not the source of knowledge that it was before. Now it is more of an emotional purchase that will satisfy the needs of the reader at this particular moment. And this emotion is very important for us, and it is important that it is positive. Brand should be in everything: both in the paper you use, and in the presentation of material, advertising campaigns, how the secretary communicates with you, in the site interface. You either meet a human company that loves people and their work, or vice versa.
And what is the criterion of success for you personally? When do you realize that you are absolutely satisfied with your work and results right now?
I have never been satisfied. I always find points of growth for myself, both personally and as a head of the company, and for the company as a whole. Here I have a completely different task: at least on all those mistakes that we have done — all together, including myself — not to concentrate.
Traditionally, a book is perceived as an attribute of the offline, physical world. However, now more and more in all areas of life everything is going online. Or at least is trying. How is online and offline correlated with each other in the world of the publishing business?
We will not stop digitalization and online development. Therefore, the question here is more about how to accept this development. You need to be flexible in order to figure out how everyone can survive. The mission of any publishing house, including ours, is to popularize reading. Therefore, whether it is an electronic book or a paper one does not play a special role. But in Ukraine, unlike European states, electronic media is absolutely not protected from piracy, and this is precisely the problem: as soon as the electronic version enters the Internet space, no one can predict its fate.
To talk about online sales: After the first wave of coronavirus and in the run-up of the second lockdown, the first results can already be summed up. Online market research and online sales research suggests that consumer demand has grown in key segments such as sports, home improvement, alcohol and books. And books by 30%. Is this so in your specific example?
I am a member of the board of the Ukrainian Association of Book Publishers and Book Distributors, and we conduct internal closed polls - how and to what extent certain indicators have changed. Of course, we monitor the issues of falling or increasing sales. Indeed, sales on the Internet have increased, and indeed it is about 30%. But this did nothing to help publishers that do not specialize in online sales. We also have a low percentage of online, so even the increase in online did not cover the losses that we have offline due to the bookstores' closure. And I know that in other countries the situation is approximately the same. According to the Frankfurt Book Fair, which is the largest trade fair in the world, in 2018, the average online sales in each of the publishers that do not specialize in online sales were 15%. That is, even if there is now a 30% increase in sales, this still will not cover losses offline.
During the quarantine, many of my friends — book and not very bookpeople — all as one said that now is the time when you want to read great prose or some good novel. Did the reading preferences of Ukrainians change during the quarantine? Specifically I’m talking about fiction — what is its place now?
In any case, children's literature still takes the first position. The second place is now really fiction, although there used to be business and non-fiction, but now people are either so tired or have no desire to do business. In any case, interest in fiction has grown. I’m very pleased about this fact, because all over the world fiction is in greater demand than non-fiction, and only in Ukraine the situation is different.
I heard that your publishing house is preparing a series about dissidents with Vakhtang Kipiani.
There will be many personalities; the book will be voluminous. Vakhtang, of course, did a great job: he met with all the dissidents and conducted interviews with them. We have now deciphered all of them, and it was also a difficult job: due to their age, the individuals’ speech is often very quiet, some fragments of the text disappeared, and it is very difficult to restore them later. These are very honest, human, clean interviews: the stories of the dissident movement recorded by Vakhtang.
When can the book be expected to be on sale?
Apparently in the first quarter of 2021. We publish 370 books a year, which is basically a book a day. At this volume, I cannot remember when a particular publication comes out.
An incredible book trailer: “(IN)visible”. Tell me about the project and how it came to you.
This is an exciting project. When Ivan told me about it, I thought that he would not write it. Of course, I didn't want to cut off his wings right away. I said,“write”, but I didn't even imagine that he would write because it takes a lot of courage to talk about your problems, your illness, find people, and negotiate with them so that they also tell their stories. Moreover, this should not be a book with the message “pity me”, there should also be delicacy, and an incredible level of revelation. And it seemed to me that such a book is very difficult to write, and it is also difficult to be its compiler. But Ivan wrote it. The book turned out to be very touching. You know, there are books that you just need to read. Just because it has to be done. It doesn't take long to read it, but when you turn over the last page, you become a little different. You understand how richly God has gifted you, you begin to appreciate it and begin to relate with much more empathy to the people around you.
Here I immediately want to ask — how do you find authors or how do they find you?
More often this is completely accidental. Of course, I would like to say that we somehow think over this process, but no. There are some authors with whom I really want to work, but they are not with me.
Why do you think so?
I don’t know, for some reason they chose another publishing house. My task is to make our publishing house so recognizable, mentioned, and with an excellent reputation, so that these authors understand that it is good to publish here. This is the kind of publishing house I am building.
What specific authors are you talking about now?
Of course I would like to publish Kidruk and Zhadan. But in fairness, it should be noted that the publishers that work with those authors are quite large and highly professional, which means that today the competitive advantage is simply with those publishers, not with me, and I need to develop and work further.
Your standard working day.
I am in the office every day. There are a lot of conversations every day. But I don't like meetings, so I try to keep them as fast and efficient as possible. These are mainly negotiations, analytics, and task control. The hardest day is probably when there are a lot of negotiations and when decisions regarding human resources need to be made.
How do you choose translators, designers, and illustrators?
As for designers, we do not have many of them on our staff - 8 people. Also, about two hundred people work for us on outsourcing. Our translators are divided according to the types of literature where it is more comfortable for them to work. There are translators who do not take on fiction. On the contrary there are those who work only with fiction, but do not work with non-fiction. In general, we already have a publishing plan, which has been formed for 2021. We have six editions at the moment. Each edition understands what it will do over the next year.
That is, there is no chance of getting to you with a book for next year?
All plans exist to be disrupted. Of course, there are projects with which we break our plans. For example, we bought the rights to Bolton's book “The Room Where It Happened”. It is a bestselling hit in the US, selling millions of copies. Therefore, we want to release it as quickly as possible. To do this, several translators are working on the book at the same time, so the editor pays a lot of effort to ensure that the book is kept in the same style. And the translation there is quite complicated — there are a lot of professional terms and idioms. Even professional translators do not all take on this book.
For 2021, what other foreign authors have signed contracts with you?
This is about 340 books. I really want to see Bolton's book as soon as possible, and also to see May Musk's book — this book is already on its way out. It seems to me that this will be a very interesting book. Firstly, May Musk herself is interesting; her path, her attitude towards men, raising children, and herself as a woman is interesting. The book is very trendy. She changes consciousness because the woman herself is extraordinary, and her approach is extraordinary, and the actions that she performed during her life require courage. And this is what women really lack in our lives.
Also a very interesting project that we bought is called "Invisible Women". This is a selection of interesting studies that tell us that our entire world is essentially built for men, not women. For example, telephones are anatomically made for a man's hand. Or life jackets — they are absolutely not designed for a woman's chest and, accordingly, do not fit snugly. Therefore, the mortality rate among women during various kinds of accidents is higher than the mortality rate among men for this very reason. The book makes you wonder how our world is built and how we do a bunch of things without noticing. For example, in family relationships, it seems natural to us that a woman should think about when to wash and what to buy. We even have a saying that no marketing specialist will argue with the list written by his wife. But this is a certain volume of tasks that you constantly carry in your head, and it seems that it sounds simple, but when you are chronically busy with this, then there is not enough space in your head because you simply cannot rest. While still working, in parallel, inspiring children and a man, you need to have a sufficiently strong energy resource.
My goal is just to pay attention to both men and women. If I manage to publish a book that somehow changes the world or one’s life for the better, it’s a victory. In fact, this is the mission of any publishing house.
In 2019, you were a member of the Ukrainian delegation of women to the UN — a speaker. What did this trip give you personally and what does it mean on a global scale?
This is a forum that brings together women's delegations from all over the world in order to exchange experiences. It is dedicated to gender inequality and is generally very useful; it finds out how active women are when we support each other. And it is such an interesting thing — after all, men support and help each other with much greater inspiration and desire than women. This is a fact and it is inexplicable. Therefore, if there is such a community where you can discuss problems and their solutions in the women's team, then it's great.
Secondly, we are so used to thinking that everything is not very good in Ukraine. We do not value the country so much that when I listened to the stories of gender inequality in other countries and the position of women in general there, I realized that we live well.
The word of 2020 will definitely be covid, pandemic and so on, but as a trend, you can also call such a word mindfulness. Probably my task, we are already finishing the interview, and I keep returning to your first question, this is mindfulness. Probably one of the main criteria for selecting a book for a publishing plan is to make a person take something for themselves and think about something. About such things that will improve his/her mental and moral condition and make his/her life easier.
My trip to the UN was also about inspiration. About where to get strength, what you are worth, and what you can do. And the most important thing is how to take the first step, which is often the most complicated thing. But when you feel supported, nothing is scary.
Where else do you get your strength? What gives you strength and inspiration?
There are exactly two things that give me inspiration. The first is travel, which is currently not available. It makes it possible to clear your head and switch consciousness; then a lot of new amazing ideas come, which you then manage to bring to life. And the second thing that replenishes my energy resource is when something has turned out great — when you do something, do it all right, and the result is a worthwhile project. It is also very important for me to be on the team. It is very important for all of us to be on a team.
What book do you dream of publishing?
There is such a book. This is a dream that is already being realized: we have signed an agreement with a very famous Kyiv gynecologist-endocrinologist, Natalia Silina. She leads a lot of webinars and often speaks on YouTube. In my opinion, the topic of women's health is extremely important. It was difficult to find an expert, of course. The book has a great educational role, and I understand for myself that it will be relevant for five or ten years and beyond. The second book we are making is History of the World. We have been working on it for more than six months now because it is very factual. It will be a big, nice gift book. We are also preparing a large encyclopedia for adults. It is called “A Brief History of the United States”. I believe that to talk about America, you need to know a little more about the country than we know now.
What changes do you see in the cultural sphere of Ukraine from your position?
Perhaps now I should have complained that Ukrainians read little. Indeed, we read less than in other European countries: 57% of Ukrainians, in principle, do not take a book in their hands. But at the same time, we also sell and buy books. Our target audience is people from 30 to 45 years old. This is a young audience and it is growing. Many book communities are emerging and podcasts are being recorded. Interest in the book is growing. An interesting fact is that, for example, in the US, the most popular genre is a woman's novel about knights and princesses. In Ukraine, such books are not particularly sold. We have a fairly reasonable, intelligent readership, and I am very glad that we have it.
CEO of Vivat publishing house, public figure,
member of the women's delegation from Ukraine to the UN