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Journalist Spotlight | Interview with Rowena Morcom, Founder, Publisher and Editor of Good Reading Magazine

21 February, 2024

spotlightFor this Spotlight Interview, Medianet is joined by Rowena Morcom, the Founder, Publisher and Editor of Good Reading Magazine. Here, Rowena shares her odyssey not just into the book and publishing industry but also her personal history with literature. 


Can you tell me about your initial experience as a bookseller and how that influenced you in starting Good Reading Magazine?

I was a bookseller for 20 years, starting at the tender age of 18. This was a job I loved as I was allowed to put great books in people's hands. Then they would come back, and we'd talk about them, and I'd put more books in their hands. Doesn't get better than that.

After managing various stores, I helped design and open Collins Booksellers’ first superstore in Broadway, Sydney. This was a massive store with a myriad of books. Although a wonderful place, customers would arrive and be a tad overwhelmed with the huge choice on offer. Many customers were shy in coming forward to ask for help. So, I thought, what customers need is a magazine that helped them find their next great read. One that includes independent book reviews and features and interviews. A magazine that doesn't judge what they read and gives them the confidence to buy or borrow a book.

So, I quit my passion job for a new passion job and started up the magazine. And here I am 22 years later to the day.

What are some of the books that have impacted you the most/led you to a career in publishing and literature?

I didn't go to uni, leaving school at the end of year 11. I flitted from job to job.  I was a meat packer, worked in a service station, had a brief flutter with secretarial school, and even worked in a brake and clutch centre. When a job was advertised for a bookshop, I knew this was where I should be. It was an industry I would never leave.

I was actually not a big reader as a child. Although I did read some books, it wasn't until my teens when I really discovered how books could make me feel. As with many teens it was fantasy novels that hooked me. The Lord of the RingsThe Magician by Raymond Feist, the Thomas Covenant Chronicles by Stephen Donaldson. From there I moved to true mainstream fiction like Sydney Sheldon (remember it was the '80s!) and Robert Ludlum. I started on biographies, reading Gorillas in the Mist by Diane Fossey and especially loving the hilarious Unreliable Memoirs by Clive James. Then on to more fiction which have always been at the top of my favourites list, like The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini or The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon. 

History opens up to you when you read. One book that I still can't stop talking about is The Madness at the End of the World by Julian Sancton. The publisher puts it perfectly when they say that it's a 'classic of extreme endurance – Into Thin Air meets The Perfect Storm in 19th century Antarctica.’ 

The advent of social media is rapidly changing the book review/recommendation culture. What has been the biggest challenge for you and Good Reading Magazine and how have you overcome it/adapted to the changes?

Over the past year we have rebuilt our website from the bottom up. We have rebranded and increased the amount of content we offer readers by 100 per cent.

Social media does make it more challenging. This is a crowded space. How do you stand out? We have to be a part of that landscape, but for us, we hone in and focus on our passion, books and reading. We stick to staying on brand, and on our message about who we are. It’s about trust and independence. It’s about offering curated content focused on our shared passion of books and reading with our followers. 

The most important thing when reading book reviews is that they come from a trusted source. There have recently been some issues around a few authors ‘review bombing’ other authors by writing poor reviews of their books. There are fake reviews and some authors paying for a review of their own book, which raises all sorts of questions around conflict of interest. 

The publishing and book industry is dominated by American literature. How has Good Reading promoted local writers and the Australian literary scene? What role do you hope for Good Reading Magazine to play within the Australian literary zeitgeist?

I still believe the publishing landscape is dominated more from the UK than the US. 

But over the last 20 years there has been the rise of Australian publishing. If I think back to before 2000, there were only a small number of Australian authors getting published. Now publishers have dedicated programs for local publishing and they are committed to swinging their weight behind the Australian book and author with resources. Australian books are now bestsellers overseas, think Liane Moriarty just for one. A terrific result all around.

Good Reading has always championed Australian writers and books. Every month we highlight books that are written by Australian or New Zealand writers. We will continue to do so with focused features and reviews, bringing readers attention to them. 

Is there any upcoming work that we should look out for both in Good Reading Magazine and Good Reading Podcast?

We will soon be providing new video and podcast content for books, with a special focus on kids and young adult books and authors. Plus, we have a new book subscription service that will be expanding. The best gift you can give is the gift of reading.

What have you learned about yourself through your career and industry experience?

I think, over time at Good Reading, I have learned how patient and resilient I am, as well as how stubborn I can be, for better or worse. After all this time I have realised that I can do anything. There’s hardly a job you could ask me to do that would scare me anymore.

And lastly, what do you look for in content pitching?

I'm always looking for something completely different to what we might be able to write in-house. We take on a very limited amount of freelance writing, so it has to be out of the box!

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