University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

Jennifer Smith

This marketing whiz made a smart call on the Dummies books

When people think of Jennifer Smith, they often think “dummy.” Not because of any intellectual shortcoming – far from it – but because Smith, 36, has built a wildly successful marketing career on the “For Dummies” series of instructional books. “When the first book was published, the immediate response was, ‘Why would you insult your reader by calling them dummies?’ But we meant it affectionately, in a self-deprecating way,” she says. Consumers responded to the series’ friendly, humorous style, and there are now more than 120 million Dummies books in print.

Unsure of what to do after graduating with a major in English literature, Smith (BA 1990 Innis) took a job as a court reporter in civil litigation – “the underbelly of the law,” she says. But it wasn’t long before she returned to the independent bookstore where she’d worked while at U of T.

Publishers took note of her enthusiasm, and by age 25 she’d been hired as the national sales manager for the Canadian subsidiary of a British publishing company. That led her to the newly formed CDG Books, where she handled the sales and marketing for a wide range of titles, including the “For Dummies” series. She says her most gratifying achievements have been expanding the line to include Canadian books and working with author and humorist Will Ferguson.

When John Wiley & Sons acquired CDG in 2002, Smith was appointed director of sales and marketing. Today, she oversees the launch of 1,000 new books a year, about 50 to 60 of which are Canadian. “It’s great,” she says. “I’m fortunate to have a job that’s tied to my passion for reading.”

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