Monday, July 24, 2023

The MuseInks Interview with Publishing Operations Consultant Vi La Bianca

I am beyond thrilled to introduce you to the incomparable Vi La Bianca! 

A writer, editor, and publishing operations consultant ("What is that?" you may be asking? Read on!), Vi lives in Portland, Oregon with their partner and one-eyed rescue cat. Vi holds a BA in Journalism and has a Master's degree in Writing and Book Publishing from Portland State University.

Vi is the founder of Media Alchemy Guild, a one-stop shop for industry experts in content creation, writing, and publishing. They are also an Associate Editor at SAGE, a global academic publisher. I've had the great good fortune to work on numerous projects that Vi spearheaded, and their drive, organization, and project management skills are second to none.

Go to ViRoseLaBianca on LinkedIn to learn more about their services. I'm so grateful to Vi for taking the time to answer my questions. 


Ami: How long have you worked in the publishing industry? What are some of the positions you’ve held?

Vi: I’ve worked in publishing since 2014. I’ve worked in trade publishing, indie publishing, hybrid publishing, even headed up the content publishing division of an SEO marketing firm. Most recently, I’ve picked up an editorial position with an academic publisher. So I’ve seen this industry from just about every angle.

As far as positions I’ve held, I’ve pretty consistently gravitated to content. I’ve got over a decade of writing and editing experience, but in the last five years I moved into the operations and management side of things. Turns out, I love it! I served as Head of Content at First Page Sage and Content Operations Manager at Scribe Media. Now I’m back in the editorial world with Sage Publishing and doing growth and operations consulting for small to medium-sized publishers as a passion project. 

Ami: You include “process refinement” as one of your specialties. What does that entail? What kind of client benefits most from it?

Vi: Process refinement can look very different based on where you are as a company and what your services are, but basically it looks at how you do what you do. Can you do it more efficiently or effectively? Is it scalable? Is it agile?

The pre-process refinement publishing company.

Pretty consistently, I’ve seen small to medium-sized publishers grappling with implementing a technology stack that may have served them in the past, but is struggling under the weight of their new goals. It could also look like not having an up-to-date playbook or resource library that effectively trains new hires and maintain quality assurance. Process refinement identifies and repairs the holes in how things work to save time and money. 


Ami: What role does a publishing operations consultant play in a startup company’s growth and development? How do you find a good publishing operations consultant?

Vi: In general, a publishing operations consultant is an industry expert who can provide guidance to startups who are hoping to avoid pitfalls and take advantage of market trends. Want to know what kinds of structural stressors stop hybrid publishers from scaling successfully? Hire a publishing operations consultant! Curious about what services authors or other clients want and how to build those services into your process? You guessed it: publishing operations consultant!

Finding the right consultant is going to depend on what you’re looking for, and that individual’s background. Some consultants are going to be much more attuned to the trends happening in the trade publishing universe. Some are going to get down and dirty in your technology and CRM architecture, others are going to be more high-level and offer more holistic growth and development coaching.

Personally, I offer both one-on-one consulting for company founders and CEOs as well as what I call “strategic integration,” which allows me to get deeper into the inner workings of the company and do the hands-on process refinement and resource creation many of these publishing startups need during that first big growth phase.

Ami: What is your favorite part of the publishing process?

Vi: Whether you’re talking to me as an editor or an operations specialist, my favorite thing is taking something with a lot of potential and polishing it into an impactful, shiny final product.

If you think about it, a startup is very similar to a manuscript: lots of time and attention has gone into it, it’s someone’s baby. The best ones are a perfect blend of creativity and technical skill. The most successful ones understand it’s all about audience building, whether you’re talking about a readership or client base.

That moment--where you’ve got a tangible, functional, and exciting thing you’ve built with blood, sweat, and tears, and you need someone to help you get it to the next level so you can share it with others--that moment is where the magic lives. And I thrive in that space. It’s the thing that makes publishing a uniquely exciting industry, whether you’re talking about the books or the companies that make them.

Ami: What is one of your favorite (or most memorable, or most rewarding) projects that you’ve worked on?

Vi: One hybrid publisher I worked with had a problem with author experience when it came to their editing-only offering. They noticed that across their services, most of the dissatisfied clients had signed up for this one service. The internal teams were the same, the editors themselves were exceptional, and it was a substantially less expensive option than their higher-end, full-service offerings. So what could the problem be?

My job was to answer that question and propose a solution.

After speaking with the teams on the ground, picking the brains of the subject matter experts on staff, and doing a deep dive into their process of delivering an edit, it became immediately clear: this offering was unique in three ways:

  • wait time between contract signing and first deliverable 

  • level of additional contractual negotiation before beginning their project 
number of people the authors talked to prior to seeing any return on investment 

Once I had identified what was going wrong, I was able to propose a streamlined process that not only eliminated these pain points but also saved the company weeks of work hours and thousands in expenses per project.

Ami: You have worked “behind the scenes” of publishing for some time. What sort of future do you envision for the industry?

Vi: Many of the folks I’ve talked with have asked: “Is the publishing industry oversaturated?” and I genuinely don’t think it is. 

Humans are storytellers first and foremost. We will always want to tell our own stories and read other people’s stories. It’s as close to a renewable resource as we will ever get. There will always be content and a market for content.

That said, for the publishing industry to hold onto their positions as valuable team members in this universal collective storytelling endeavor, they will need to care about quality and long-term sustainability. Use AI, but know how and when. Conserve costs, but know when investment is nonnegotiable. Branch into tangential markets, but don’t lose focus on the core of what you do.

There will be many flashes in the pan in the next ten years, but what will come out of it is a new ecosystem of established gatekeepers and changemakers, even as corporate publishing begins to falter and lose relevance. Only the publishers who focus on quality and long-term sustainability will be able to claim their place at that table.

Ami: What advice would you give to someone who is considering starting a publishing company?

Vi: Be realistic about your goals and don’t go too fast. What will set you apart is not how flashy you are, or how many ancillary services you offer, or how fast you can fill up a backlist. In fact, focusing on those things will ensure you don’t make it past your first big restructure.

Focus on doing one or two things really well. Make access to those one or two things so irresistible that you build a waitlist. And then make them wait for it. Take your time making sure that you’re set up for success from a structural, operational, and process standpoint so that when you do scale, you can do so seamlessly and sustainably.

And if you want help doing that--or if you suspect that you haven’t done that and want to correct it as soon as possible--invest in an industry expert who knows the terrain and can guide you on that journey. 

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