Many of you are participating in our #testingtimes postcard game. If you playing, watch out for round 4 which is coming out next week. You will be able to explore your preferred influencing style, according to the RECIPE model. Meanwhile, round 3 was all about the different types of strategic adviser, and here are some reflections from one of our participants, Charlie Mounter.
My adviser archetype is Salma the Sommelier (with a dash of Martha the Maître d’ and a soupçon of Christiane, the Chef). I have ‘a strong sense of client focus’ and my approach balances ‘expertise and relationship building’. I recognise that such exercises can help us think through the more nebulous aspects of our work lives and give us something to chew over. After I met my deadline this week, I did just that – with a glass of wine, naturally.
In the advisory part of my work as an editor, I can be a lot like a sommelier. The first thing I do is to listen, as carefully as I can, to the clients (who tend to be the author and the publisher). I need to stay approachable and really concentrate to learn all I can about their project, but also their styles, preferences, and to what extent they want to take the lead or follow mine. Some clients are certain of their taste, they know exactly what they want and will entertain no deviation. If that’s the case, I serve their vision – after all, it’s their wine. With others, there’s more opportunity to innovate. This can change along the way – one has to stay open minded and adaptable.
The chief concern as editor or sommelier is that the readers or guests understand and enjoy the result. There might be dozens of people at the table, each with their individual wants and needs, and they can disagree vehemently. When I bring together the content for a complex book (which might have maps, photography, illustrations, captions, peer reviews, etc.) I have to work within limitations. Ultimately, whoever is paying has the upper hand, but the best way to mollify concerns is to give sound, evidence-based advice that I have already adapted for the client. Both editor and sommelier deal with complex products but we don’t bring the entire wine list, or content, to bear at once, or it would be overwhelming. The introduction and conclusion – or aperitif and digestif – can carry a lot of this weight by framing the experience. Everything in between is just as important, but people remember bookends. So, like the sommelier, I’m a mediator realising the qualities of the wine and its terroir, communicating the relevant parts of what I’ve learned and the context of the ideas and their implications, and trying to please the end consumer – if I lose sight of that, all is lost!
Editorial projects, and especially books, can take yonks to come to market. Just as a sommelier needs to manage the fluctuations of guests eating a meal, I have to maintain energy and spark inspiration along the critical path. An author must keep sight of the story they’re telling, but some want to learn all the editorial nuts and bolts, too. Giving that advice is as much an experiential process as a results-driven one. Like a sommelier, I explore in order to discover; I judge when to interrupt, when to step back. The proof might be in the pudding but, as my Archetypical feedback noted, I can become demotivated if metrics outweigh all other concerns. Editorial margins and mark-ups don’t only apply to budgets.
Just as in the world of wine, independent study and research forms the basis of my trade. There’s always so much more to learn. Augustus, the virtual restaurant we advisers work for, might be closed for the pandemic, but that’s my takeaway.