On 16 March 2018, the inaugural Business Book Awards ceremony took place in London. It was an extraordinary occasion, bringing together the top names in books and business in the UK and beyond, and with shortlists including books from the biggest traditional publishers to the smallest independent presses and even self-published authors.
This was the culmination of founder Lucy McCarraher’s vision, and as Head Judge I was closely involved in the journey. In this week’s episode I talk to Lucy about how she turned the idea into reality in partnership with ThinkFest, the details of the judging process, how it all turned out alright on the night, and the lessons we learned along the way.
The 2019 awards will be even bigger and glitzier, so if you’re planning to publish your business book in 2018, find out more and maybe next time we’ll be talking about you…
And following the launch of This Book Means Business, I’ve updated the show artwork – I hope you like it!
The Business Book Awards: https://www.businessbookawards.co.uk/
Lucy on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LucyMcCarraher
Alison on Twitter: https://twitter.com/bookstothesky
The Extraordinary Business Book Club on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1447064765612358/
Alison Jones: Hello and welcome to the Extraordinary Business Book Club. I’m here again today with Lucy McCarraher. We’re going to be talking about the Business Book Awards, which at the time that we’re recording this happened last week, so it’s still very fresh in our minds. Wasn’t it a great party, Lucy?
Lucy McCarraher: Oh it was amazing, it really was. I knew, thought, hoped it would all go fantastically well, but I have to say, the actual event really exceeded my expectations, so I was extremely happy with it and I think you were too.
Alison Jones: Oh it was amazing. One of the people that was there, one of my authors who were there, they were short listed, said it was like being at the Oscars. I thought that just summed it up. That’s what you want to hear isn’t it?
I’m not going to give you the full introduction because you’ve been on the podcast before, but obviously you head up Rethink Press, and you are the founder of the Business Book Awards, which is the thing we’re talking about today. So just tell us a little bit about why you set up the awards in the first place, and what it was that you hoped to achieve with them?
Lucy McCarraher: Well over the last few years, I suppose … We set up Rethink Press seven years ago, and I’ve also been working with the entrepreneurs who go on the Key Person of Influence programme, and I mentor them through planning, writing, and publishing their books. I’ve been really been working closely with actually hundreds of entrepreneurs over the last few years, and noticing that they have got better at doing what they do, at running their business, and also writing their books.
I really sort of began to feel that there was a virtuous circle going on here. Small business, and not so small businesses were becoming better. Business books were raising their quality, raising their game. The authors were getting better. I felt it was all part of the same process that business were learning from other people who had published really good information and experience about so many areas of business, and also noticing too, as you will have, that the business book publishing industry was changing in response to the new readers, the new authors, the new market that they were catering for.
Different ways of publishing, like self publishing, obviously like hybrid publishing, and traditional publishing too was having to sort of shift and pivot a bit. In a way, everything was getting better and coming together. I thought for two or three years now, I’ve discussed with Joe Gregory my business partner. “Could we do some awards for bus books? Should we just do it for all our authors that we think press? Could we make it a key person of influence award?”
I didn’t have the wherewithal to be able to anything bigger. Then Thinkfest, who are a terrific events and awards organisation who I didn’t know about before, came and said, “We’ve had the same idea. Can we work together?” It just was the perfect combination really. They had the wherewithal to do national campaign event, and put this sort of machinery of awards in place.
Lucy McCarraher: I immediately wanted to work with you to help get the industry on board, and the judging process. I suppose what the ultimate aim was, was to say, “Look, business book publishing is a really important part of the publishing market. The authors are strong, the books are great. The publishers and all the people that authors work with, so there’s much more coaching going on, mentoring. Great design, editing. All those people need to be celebrated.” That’s what I wanted to do.
Alison Jones: Brilliant, yes, I couldn’t agree more with all of that. You totally achieved that, which is fantastic. Obviously as you say, it was a big job. It wasn’t a one-man job, and Thinkfest, I have to say I agree. The mechanics, the logistics involved in putting on an event like that are incredible. I had no idea what was involved, they did an amazing job.
Lucy McCarraher: No, no, me neither. I’m not an events producer, so it was amazing to see how much work went into it and how well they did it.
Alison Jones: Yes, it was incredible. Tell us who else was involved and what they brought to the party.
Lucy McCarraher: Oh, okay. Well obviously the first person I came to was you to be our head judge, because I knew that what you would bring to the party would be your amazing background in publishing because you have spanned the self publishing, the hybrid, the traditional publishing world, and the business books that you publish are superb.
Alison Jones: Thank you.
Lucy McCarraher: So the first partnership I wanted to make sure of was that you were on board with this Alison.
Alison Jones: And if I could interrupt just to let people know, it’s very funny, because she rang me on my mobile and we were on holiday in France at the time. I remember I was sitting in the back of our car wedged in between my two children trying to hear over the noise and you told me what it was and I was like, “I am absolutely in.”
Lucy McCarraher: Yeah, no. That was the first … Having spoken to you first, it was an unreal kind of, okay, this is going to work. If Alison thinks it’s a good thing, then I think other people will too.
Alison Jones: “We’re on.”
Lucy McCarraher: So that was a huge step forward. But after that, the next thing really was getting the judges on board. We both worked together on that, and we needed, we decided on six categories of entries for the book. We wanted three judges for each category to ensure absolute fairness and reading by enough people to make a firm decision on shortlists, and then winners.
It was about approaching the right people. We wanted authors. We wanted publishers. We wanted experts in business. We had some academics. There were really … We wanted a really good range of people to be the judges with massive experience and integrity and knowledge to do justice to the entrants, and also to make sure that the awards were well thought of.
My next job was then to ring around and find these people, and actually again, I was really heartened to find that everybody I spoke to was really enthusiastic about the idea of the awards, and everybody who was able to do … I mean the judging process wasn’t a light task, so I had to say, “You have to be here on this day. You have to read this many books. We really want you to come to the award ceremony.”
So there were some people who said, “I just can’t do it this year, I’m too busy, whatever, but please let me do it next year.” 18 people were pretty quickly lined up. Again it was … I felt very confident when we got those 18 judges that we were going to do a really good job.
Then further to that we wanted some ambassadors for the awards. I spoke to Daniel Priestley of Dent, Shaa Wasmund, and a number of other people, Bridget from the IPG, Heather Townsend, we got Tony Robinson… We had some really strong people, well-known faces in the business and the writing/publishing/entrepreneur market who were out there putting the word about, and supporting the awards for us.
Those were the main people who were in my area of responsibility to get the awards going.
Alison Jones: And you’re right, one of the most striking things I think about that group is the way it represents not just the book business, but the business business. That combination was so important, wasn’t it, to get the … Not just these as good books, you know, judged as books by publishers, but also actually really interesting business ideas, changing people’s attitudes, really helping the people that they were designed for in the business world.
Lucy McCarraher: Yes, absolutely. It was a great range. We had some writing coaches. We had, yeah, just such a good range of people. I really felt that it was going to be a very fair judging process.
Alison Jones: Let’s talk about that, the judging process itself was really fascinating, wasn’t it? I remember going on the judging day, and I think everybody did the same, walked into the room and sort of reeled back, because I was just confronted by a wall of books.
Lucy McCarraher: That’s right, yes. It was quite daunting really. We took a room in a hotel in early January. The deadline had been the 31st of December. Just before Christmas we were up to a hundred entries, and we thought, “That’s great. That’s a really good amount.” We’ve got enough entries in every category to more than sort of sift through and create a strong short list. When we checked again at the end of the year, 31st of December, we’d actually got another 50 books
Alison Jones: People wait for deadlines, don’t they?
Lucy McCarraher: We were slightly thinking, “Gosh, that is a lot of work for the judges.” But it was really well organised. Again, Kasim Choudhry at Thinkfest had really thought this through. So we had six tables of each of the, one for each of the entry categories, with three identical piles of each. One for each of the judges. Plus a pile of the entry forms, which are also very important because the authors or their publishers had to fill in a detailed entry form to talk about the book and the author and why they thought it should be in the Business Book Awards.
Lucy McCarraher: There was a lot of work to do. There are some great pictures of the piles of books and the judges coming in and working their way through them.
Alison Jones: I remember Tom Evans standing there by a pile that was taller than he was.
Lucy McCarraher: Yes. Exactly. I know. You gave a very detailed explanation at the beginning of the day of the process, which was great and really clear. Then we let the judges get to work. What was great to see was that each table kind of created its own system. Some of them worked very quickly, well as quickly as you can do with 30 odd books to go through. We walked around. We were in the kind of happy position of not actually having to do that work, you and I. It was fascinating to listen to the conversations that the judges were having.
Nobody came to blows, but there were quite strong discussions about whether a book should be in shortlisted or whether another one should. I don’t know what you thought, but I thought it was very interesting. They got through it. By the end of the day they had got each category had got its … I think we were going to have five at the beginning, weren’t we?
Alison Jones: That’s right. Not could anybody manage that.
Lucy McCarraher: No. So we allowed some of them to have, I think a couple of them, we ended up with six in the shortlist, because they just couldn’t decide between two of them. Also we ended up with an extra category, which we hadn’t actually planned for, but there were some books that didn’t quite tick all the boxes of the criteria for the entry category that they had gone in for, but they were such good books that the judges really wanted them to be considered.
We created a Judge’s Choice category, and that had another four shortlisted in it. At the end of that day, that’s what we had.
Alison Jones: It’s an interesting question about the category, isn’t it, because you and I have talked a lot about this. You have to set your categories, but there’s always going to be books that fall outside them, and that is really difficult, so I was very pleased. I thought the Judges Choice award was a good solution to that.
Lucy McCarraher: Yes, yes. No that worked really well, because there were … Yes. The four books that were in that definitely needed to be acknowledged because they were very, very strong entrants, but they, yeah, didn’t quite work in the categories. I think we’re going to talk about categories for next year, and they won’t be identical to this year. It’ll be interesting to see where we go from here.
Alison Jones: Absolutely.
Lucy McCarraher: Then after that, the judges all took away their own little pile of books to read. They had six weeks basically to read their shortlist. To confer. We had an online system where they had to fill in a form for every book they read. They had to give numerical marks on each of the criteria, and they had to give an overall comment. Their group, each group had a head judge within their category. Some of them met up. Some of them Skyped. Some of them emailed, and they decided within the six weeks for our deadline, which was the winning one, which was the winning book for each category.
Then we were very interested to see the winners, but we had to be very circumspect and keep our mouths shut about that until the award night.
Alison Jones: Oh I know, it was so hard, wasn’t it?
Lucy McCarraher: Yes. I really wanted to tell some of the authors.
Alison Jones: Really hard.
Lucy McCarraher: I actually wanted to say to a few of them, “Look, you haven’t won, but don’t worry.” But I held back.
Alison Jones: Even on the evening of the awards before they were announced I found myself trying to avoid eye contact with people. It’s so hard.
Lucy McCarraher: Yeah, exactly. Exactly.
Alison Jones: In case I gave it away just by my transparent face. The range of the books that were there was what I found really interesting, and you’re right, going around the tables and listening to the robust discussion that was going on… There were just a really remarkable selection of books there. The quality, I think, surprised … It certainly surprised me, I think you said the same, didn’t you? It was just a really invigorating experience, because you realised just how robust and how important, as you say, the business book publishing sector is today.
What was great as well was it was at range across the big publishers. We had lots from Pearson, and Wiley, and Kogan Page, Bloomsbury, the big publishers. Quite a few self published books, many of which were absolutely brilliant, and lots from more niche independent publishers as well. I thought that was a really great demonstration of how vibrant the sector is.
Lucy McCarraher: Yes, no. It was really, it was just a such a pleasure to see all those books on judging day piled up, and the range of them, and all, as you say, great quality. Such great cover designs. The whole kind of look of them, the feel of them.
Alison Jones: The smell of them.
Lucy McCarraher: Oh the smell them, indeed yes. Books aimed at broad business market. Some aimed at bigger business. Some aimed at really niche markets, but still huge quality in value to the readership they were aimed at. It was fascinating.
Alison Jones: It does make it hard to judge because you’re not really comparing apple with apples, so it was a hard job for the judges. But they got there, and they got their winners. Then my work began because I had to judge, get the overall winner from all those short isted titles. And that takes us to awards night, which we sort off talking about. Just tell us, for you, what were the highlights of that night, and did anything go disastrously wrong? Have you got any good backstage stories for us?
Lucy McCarraher: Well actually I don’t really think I do have any. I mean it just went so smoothly, that was the amazing thing really, that it did go extremely smoothly. I really want to thank our two hosts, our presenters, Nadine Dereza and Simon de Cintra because they really held the evening together beautifully.
Alison Jones: They were terrific, weren’t they?
Lucy McCarraher: Yeah, they’re wonderful. I would say that, they’re both authors of mine, but they’ve both written on speaking and presenting.
I asked them if they would do it together. They had never met each other before a couple of hours before the evening started. Yet they worked together incredibly synergistically, and as if they’d been doing this double act forever I thought. That just went really well.
Lucy McCarraher: I suppose what I wasn’t … Perhaps one of the things that wasn’t completely finished before the evening started was the script for the evening, but Nadine is incredibly experienced at running this sort of thing, so she just took the script that we had. I was blissfully unaware that it needed to be as detailed as it did. She took the script for the evening and knocked it into shape and practised it with Simon and asked the right questions about who was coming from where, and what was happening here and there.
Really, once they were on stage, I just felt, “We’re in safe hands, it’s gonna be fine.”
Alison Jones: You can sit back and relax and enjoy a drink at that point.
Lucy McCarraher: Yeah, exactly. Well I didn’t have a drink until after I delivered my little sort of profound speech at the beginning, but yes. Then definitely. And then you …
Alison Jones: What was very unfair was that you had your little speech at the beginning, then you could sit back and have your drink. Mine, because I obviously presented the last award, I had to spend the whole dinner going, “Must not drink, must stay sober. Must not drink.” Very unfair.
Lucy McCarraher: I know. I really was aware that that was really unfair. I even said to Kasim can we move Alison’s speech so she can have a drink or three.
Alison Jones: Oh did you? So funny. I had a nice big glass of wine after I got and sat down, so that was good. Now one thing that was really interesting about the results, we did the whole thing totally focused on the books. I can vouch for this, for the complete integrity of the process. We got to the end and we looked at the short list and we looked at the winners in categories and so on, and we went, “Oh my goodness, it’s all white men.”
Lucy McCarraher: Yes. Yes that was a shocker.
Alison Jones: It genuinely was, wasn’t it? Maybe we were naïve not to think that, but we …
Lucy McCarraher: No, exactly. We hadn’t said anything to the judges about gender or asked them to do anything other than follow the objective, as we thought, criteria. I have to say, the winners are brilliant.
Alison Jones: Quite.
Lucy McCarraher: The winners were fantastic, so I’m not in any way denigrating our seven male winners. They’ve written excellent, excellent books. It was a surprise. Actually when I looked at the entries, we had twice as many entries from male authors than we did from female authors.
That actually, that fact I then went and checked our list of titles at Rethink Press, and I found to my surprise, because I’ve never checked that before, that actually we have published twice as many books by men as we have by women. I don’t know if you’ve looked at your own list.
Alison Jones: I’m probably the other way to be honest with you.
Lucy McCarraher: Yes, I think you really focus on books by women, which is wonderful.
Alison Jones: I don’t explicitly, and that’s the interesting thing. I actually really enjoy working with blokes, so it’s funny isn’t it? One of the reasons that this podcast is called the Extraordinary Business Book Club, you know, it’s extraordinary in lots of ways obviously, but one of the extraordinary things about it is that it has a gender balance. Probably people don’t notice this, but I try and alternate the genders every week. It’s quite important to me.
I think there is a more fundamental issue about who writes business books and who reads them, and who publishes them as well actually.
Lucy McCarraher: Yes, absolutely. I think that we all have this dreadful unconscious bias whether we’re men or women. We do see authority, I think, still as male predominately. I think we need to look at the different kinds of business books that women write, and whether they’re more skewed towards… I wouldn’t say just self help, but whether it’s less about business processes perhaps sometimes and more about personal sort of strategy in business?
I don’t even know that yet, and I think that’s a piece of research that you and I need to do more generally and ask some of the publishers who submitted entries to tell us about their lists and how they specify, and what kinds of, you know what are the differences between books written by men and women, if you can categorise it on that basis at all, so that actually we can create categories and criteria for next year’s awards that are more balanced and produce a more balanced result.
Alison Jones: Yes. And of course we’re talking primarily about gender here, but the minority representation generally was just not there at all. There’s a much bigger question there.
It’s not just these awards of course as you say, it’s an endemic thing. I love that we’re having the conversation. We don’t have the answers yet and we probably won’t get the answers, it’s a big, big complicated conversation, but it’s really important I think that we use this platform to start that conversation and get people thinking about these issues.
Lucy McCarraher: Yes. I completely agree. I don’t want to shy away from it at all because when we did announce the winners several people on social media went, “Oh, white men, eh?”
Alison Jones: Yeah.
Lucy McCarraher: We have to address that. Do something to perhaps make next year’s awards fairer in some … We thought we were being extremely fair. There’s no criticism of the judges or the entrants or the authors or the publishers or anything. It’s just a really interesting and unresearched area that we can throw some light on and usefully do something about it.
Alison Jones: Absolutely. Let’s start here by saying if you’re a woman and you’ve written a business book, please submit it for the coming awards, for next year’s awards. So tell us about that. How can people do that? Obviously if you’re a bloke and you should want to, you’re very, very welcome, but I particularly encourage women…
Lucy McCarraher: Oh yes of course. If you’re a white man you’re welcome, yes.
Alison Jones: How many people … exactly. Whatever gender you identify as, whatever ethnicity you are, but particularly, yes, if you want to get the book out on the platform… how do people enter for this year’s awards if they’ve maybe just heard about this year’s Book Awards, they missed it last year, or if they’ve just published a book this year in 2018?
Lucy McCarraher: Yes, absolutely. The entries are not open yet, and they will be open in the second half of the year. I can’t give you an exact date as yet. I’m thinking probably it will be around September, October. We have the website, www.businessbookawards.co.uk, and as soon as we … Well, we’ll have to do some work in the meantime obviously about deciding on the new criteria and categories and all that sort of thing, but that will be up on the website after the Summer. We will be making a big song and dance on social media and getting in touch with everybody to say, “Please do submit your books.”
The deadlines will be around the same, so the awards will … The final entry date will be the 31st of December this year for the 2019 Business Book Awards. I hope that we’ll get just as many, possibly more entries for the coming year. Anybody who has published a book in the year, the publication date needs to be 2018.
Yes, so we will welcome everybody who has written a business book, and do check, when you do, check the categories that we will have, so ‘business book’ we take as a fairly wide brief, and we will decide on how we categorise those in the next few months.
Alison Jones: Yup. Learning all the lessons from the last time. Brilliant thank you so much, and I’ll put that link up on the show notes as well, at extraordinarybusinessbooks.com. And of course I’ll be shouting about … When we take the first submissions, I’ll be shouting about that too, so follow me @bookstothesky. Lucy, what’s your Twitter handle again?
Lucy McCarraher: I’m @LucyMcCarraher. My name is a nightmare to spell and pronounce, but it’s M-C-
Alison Jones: Don’t worry. I’ll put it up on the show notes as well.
Lucy McCarraher: I’ll take that.
Alison Jones: Wonderful. Now obviously everybody knows what my personal favourite was, because I as head judge was responsible for choosing the overall winner, which was Cameron Macpherson, The Change Catalyst, which is absolutely brilliant book if you haven’t read it. I thoroughly recommend it to you. Nobody knows what your favourite book was though, does it?
Alison Jones: You have this opportunity now. What was your favourite book of the awards?
Lucy McCarraher: Well I ended up judging the Judges Choice.
Alison Jones: How was that, Lucy?
Lucy McCarraher: You were supposed to judge it but two of your authors had a book in the Judges Choice. It was a superb book.
Alison Jones: Yes, this was Trusted by Lyn Bromley and Donna Whitbrook.
Lucy McCarraher: It was excellent. The problem is that they were all excellent. I ended up reading the four finalists in the judges choice and judging that. I think I can say, because I didn’t read completely all the other books – that was your job, I didn’t have time to read all of them – but I chose as the winner of the Judges Choice, a book called Client Earth by James Thorton and Martin Goodman, which is just … I mean it’s an unusual business book because its message is a campaigning one, and it’s about the environment, but what it tells is the story of a group of lawyers who have created this not-for-profit business, and it is a business, called Client Earth where they get the philanthropists to be the investors, and they use the business of law to take governments and big business to task, and to law about their environmental depredations and dreadful practices, and things that you wouldn’t believe are happening.
It’s really quite a scary book, but also a very reassuring one, that people like that are working to preserve the environment in the face of some really dreadful practises that are happening.
Alison Jones: Brilliant. Yeah, what a terrific book. I thoroughly enjoyed it too. Fantastic. Again, we’ll put those links to those two books up on the show notes. I think for now that’s it Lucy. Will you come back again and talk about next year’s awards?
Lucy McCarraher: Oh I’d love to, of course. When we launch it that will be absolutely great. We want to get the word out to as many business book authors as possible.
Alison Jones: Yes, brilliant, and we can talk about the decisions that we took then and how we responded to what we learned this year.
Brilliant, well thank you again Lucy, just for having the vision and the tenacity, and the grit to see this through, because I know it was a really huge job. I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed being involved in it, and I think you’ve done a real service to the industry and to business and to books in general.
Lucy McCarraher: Oh thank you Alison, it’s been great working with you.
Alison Jones: Goodbye for now.