12 questions to:

Katarzyna Drewnowska

Kasia, thank you so much for taking part in 12on12 project.

You run your own publishing house and publish books. Like me, you love reading and are up to date when it comes to reading novelties. Tell us how you got the idea to publish books?

Here the answer will not be surprising – the idea came from passion, love for good literature and roots. I grew up in a house full of books. My parents, mathematicians by education, loved books and effectively passed this love on to me. So successfully, in fact, that I was the only one in my family who did not pursue a career in mathematics, but focused on literature. However, I didn’t immediately set up my own publishing house and make a career out of it. For several years I worked in large corporations and dealt with investor relations and public relations. In 2006, parallel to my work in „corpo”, I founded Filo Publishing House, but I treated it more as a hobby, publishing one book a year. I loved working in public relations, the contact with people and constant changes. On the other hand, publishing was taking up more and more of my time and I finally had to make a choice: a stable and well-liked corporate job or working on my own – full of uncertainty, in an unstable market with low readership rates, but driven by passion and true love. Despite appearances, the choice was simple. Since 2014, I have only been involved in book publishing, although I still draw on my corporate experience in my day-to-day activities.

How does readership look like in Poland? Do Poles really not read books? Has the pandemic changed anything?

Unfortunately, readership surveys leave no illusions. Poles do not read books. But, very romantically, they are starting up lots of new publishing houses. Such a paradox. Has the pandemic changed anything? I can say from my own perspective. I specialise in publishing culinary and guide books. The pandemic has certainly made Poles more willing to buy books online. In the initial period of constant lockdowns, the interest in good culinary books certainly increased. Buying such books by Filo as „Jerusalem”, „Palestine” or „Cook yourself happy”, you could go on a culinary journey without getting up from the table. This is what I want to give to the readers of my books – not only great, tasty recipes, but also open the door to the world, to other cultures or interesting history. And through food you can do it brilliantly. „Palestine. A Cookbook” was chosen as one of the most important books published during the pandemic, precisely for this reason.

You have such hits as Nigella or Perfect Housewife on your account. Which books sell best in Poland?

Books by domestic writers, especially crime fiction, are still the best sellers, but there has definitely been an increased interest in guide or culinary books in recent years. When I started in 2006 with my first book „Nigella bites”, hardly any publishing house was interested in culinary literature by foreign authors. It was the year when Pascal Brodnicki book „Pascal just cook” triumphed. On the bookstore shelves, you could find either Pascal or my Nigella, as well as classics such as „Polish Cuisine”. Over the years, the situation has changed dramatically. Now, almost every publishing house offers culinary titles. Every month, a few cookbooks are published, and now, during the pre-Christmas period, there will be several a week. On the one hand, I am glad that in Poland you can buy so many culinary books published all over the world, but on the other hand, unfortunately, I have to say that many of them are of poor quality because of the translation, so the market is flooded with mediocre publications. The Polish reader, however, is becoming more and more sophisticated in the field of culinary literature and can also choose valuable titles.

You have already mentioned that your publishing house Filo has a very interesting niche – you specialize in culinary books and guides for women. Why such a choice?

Filo is a small boutique publishing house. We publish 4 or 5 books a year, but we prepare them very carefully. We spend a lot of time on translation, editing, working with the text. We choose the highest quality paper – all this so that the reader, when he or she picks up a Filo book, is sure that he or she has a work of the highest quality. I like to compare Filo books to a box of chocolates – beautiful on the outside, tasty on the inside. Also, and I think this is the most important thing, I choose my titles very carefully. There is a story behind each book. Nigella in 2006 was a kind of phenomenon, not culinary but cultural. The fact that you could be a „domestic goddess ” and turn cooking into an art while fully accepting your non-ideal body was something groundbreaking – let’s remember that we’re talking about something that took place 15 years ago. „Jerusalem” by Yotam Ottolenghi tamed Poles with Middle Eastern cuisine, and did it through amazing stories connected with this city. Nigel Slater’s books, apart from recipes, provide very valuable literature – the author is erudite, and his autobiographical book is the basis of a play performed in London’s West End. Our advice books, on the other hand, also carry something more. For example, the first book dealing with the subject of ‘self-care’ was published by Filo. Not to mention Filo’s biggest publishing success, 'The Perfect Housewife’, which readers took very seriously, based on the assumption that if we clean our house we bring order into our lives.

The ordinary reader comes to a bookshop or buys a book in an online shop. He/she does not realise how long and complicated the process of publishing a book is. So let’s start from the very beginning. Where do you get ideas for publishing books?

Indeed, many people think that a book is just made and put on the shelf. And this is a complicated process, requiring care and precision. I get ideas for my titles from several sources – directly from foreign publishers with whom I am in touch (I publish most of my books under licence), from literary agencies, of which we have several very good ones in Poland. The agents know what titles I am interested in and send me proposals. I also search for them myself and here I simply spend a lot of time browsing the internet. But in fact, among dozens of titles, often very good, published successfully all over the world, there is one that makes my heart beat faster. Why? Often I don’t know myself, but I try to trust my intuition, which I have gained in 15 years of experience in book publishing.

So let’s take the next step, you decide on a book, you now have to fight to be able to publish it. What is the process of getting a licence to publish a book?

Here the story will not be exciting. Just like in other industries. An offer and negotiations. Then the contract and the whole process of publishing the book.

You already have an idea for a book and the rights to publish it, what next?

Then the whole process of preparing the Polish edition. Finding a good translator (not only linguistically, but also well versed in the subject the book is about. Then the translation will be good and true), a great editor and proofreader. This is in the verbal layer. In the visual layer, buying the rights to the layout and photos in the book, working with an artist when we change something in the appearance of the book or a great graphic designer and preparing the book in the visual layer. In the meantime the process of negotiating with printers, the choice of paper and finishing. Last but not least, there is the matter of distribution and promotion. I am lucky that Filo is represented by Dressler, the biggest book distributor in Poland.

Do you distribute the books yourself or do you use distributors?

It all depends on the strategy of the publishing house. Big publishing houses usually have their own distribution, smaller publishers use the so-called exclusive distribution, which means that the whole print run goes to a chosen distributor and that company takes care of all the issues related to the availability of books on shelves. This is the case with Filo. Some authors decide to publish their books themselves (also culinary books). Then the model is different – before ordering the printing of the book, orders are collected from readers and then the printing is ordered for the number of books already sold and sent directly to the recipients.

How long is the lead time, i.e. time from idea to publication of a book?

It all depends, of course, on the title and on the publisher – its size and scale of operation. Filo prepares books over a long time. I like to have the comfort of not being in a hurry to work on a given title. On average, I like to have about a year to work on a book, so that the translator has time to translate, the editor to work on the text, the graphic designer to do the typesetting, and then we don’t have to rush to get the publication ready for print. But as I wrote earlier – Filo is a kind of manufactory, a small boutique. Additionally, I am lucky to be surrounded by people full of passion and commitment, who at every stage feel fully responsible for the result and treat the finished book as their child.

Filo Publishing House has already published almost 60 books. Has every book been a hit? What is done with books that do not appeal to readers?

Of course, I’ve published a few titles that, despite the hope I had in them, didn’t catch on with readers. I think I published some of them simply too early for the Polish market. I’m referring, for example, to Phil Stutz and Barry Michels’s „Methods”, which I published just as Polish readers were raving about Ronda Byrne’s „Secret”. For a publisher, a print run that doesn’t sell is the biggest business risk. Everything from promotional activities to discount offers is tried.

Before starting your career as an entrepreneur, you were a great PR (public relations) and IR (investor relations) professional. How long did you prepare for your role as an entrepreneur?

I was fortunate that for eight years I worked in a large listed company and at the same time I ran a publishing business, obviously on a smaller scale than now. Being in charge of investor relations and PR, I worked at the interface of many aspects of a company’s operation, and I could learn good standards from finance, reporting and business. Of course, the scale of operations is incomparable. It is like putting an ant and an elephant next to each other. But if in nearly 10 years of working for a listed company I have learnt its operating standards, then in a sense I can translate them to my small backyard. For example, each of my books has a separate P&L. This makes it easy for me to observe which title is profitable and to react fairly quickly.

Would you recommend women to be entrepreneurs?

Oh yes! If they feel the desire and have the dream. In general, I think that people are divided into employers and employees. Some people feel more comfortable in the first role, others in the second. It’s important to follow your personality type in your career path. I meet many women entrepreneurs. They are wonderful, well-organised women who have often had to prove themselves many times more than men on their way to success. Women are consistent, dynamic, swift in decision-making. And they can reconcile several worlds. I am very impressed by many female entrepreneurs and hope that they will be an inspiration to those who hesitate to take the first step in business.

Kasia, thank you very much for the interview and I wish you continued success!

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