Posted 12.01.16 by prhcareers
“I think I’ve had the most unorthodox route in publishing of anyone I’ve met.”
Hello, Kim. First up, what is your job title and what does that mean?
I work as an Editor for Michael Joseph’s fiction team – one of the biggest commercial publishing lists at Penguin Random House. As a division, Michael Joseph publishes a huge range of bestselling fiction and non-fiction titles from authors including Marian Keyes, Jojo Moyes, Dawn French, Stephen Fry and Jamie Oliver.
Specifically in my role, I commission and publish general fiction and commercial women’s fiction, the latter of which is a strange and broad term that encompasses fiction that’s largely enjoyed by women readers of all ages (literary agent Lizzy Kremer wrote a great article about it here). I’m particularly on the lookout for new authors whose writing will appeal to readers in their twenties or with crossover appeal to a Young Adult audience. Or anything with a great love story – I’m a real romantic and can’t resist a story that tugs on the heartstrings.
What is the best thing about your job?
It’s hard to pinpoint a single thing as the joy of editorial is that it is hugely varied. On any given day I could be meeting agents, reading manuscript submissions, working with an author to shape their next novel idea, editing a book that we’ve bought, briefing our designers on a new book jacket or writing back cover copy.
Editorial requires the perfect blend of creativity and decision making. As the editor you essentially project manage a title from acquisition to publication (and beyond!) so it’s important to be able to see the bigger picture and be decisive when necessary, but there’s also lots of scope to innovate along the way.
I love working with authors and building personal relationships with them while working on a book. Ever since I can remember I’ve been passionate about reading (I’m the girl who was always at the limit of her library card allowance) and encouraging others to experience and enjoy the books I’ve loved. Essentially that’s what drew me to the publishing industry and to editorial specifically. Albeit on a larger scale, it’s a real privilege to get to find these amazing novels and then to work with the talented people who wrote them, helping their stories reach an audience.
What is the biggest challenge to your job?
Time. There’s always a lot going on and frequently it gets to 5.30pm and I find myself marvelling where the day disappeared to. It’s really important to be able to prioritise between multiple projects and deadlines, and you have to be quite detail-oriented. You also have to be willing to read a lot around your work hours (luckily for me something that has never felt like a chore) but something that can certainly be a struggle when you have multiple new submissions to look at, and coincidentally three authors have all delivered the new draft of their manuscripts on the same day…
What were you doing 3 years ago?
I was working at Michael Joseph, but in the Marketing team. In truth I think I’ve had the most unorthodox route in publishing of anyone I’ve met!
When I graduated from university in 2009, I had a plan that I ultimately wanted to become an Editor, but I had no real idea how to get there. At the time I was told the best move was to take any job in publishing you can, as a means to getting your foot in the door. My first job was as a Marketing Assistant at Palgrave Macmillan, an academic publisher in Basingstoke. Our office was next to the warehouse on an industrial estate. I worked on Politics, Economics and Business Studies textbooks for undergraduate students and had a lovely time with brilliant colleagues. However, I quickly knew it wasn’t quite the publishing job I’d been imagining, and I left after a year for a job at HarperCollins working for the Collins Education imprint. Based in London I thought that being in the same building as their trade publishing team would be a step in the right direction! I was the Marketing Executive on their secondary schools English and Humanities list for the next two and a half years. Marketing for education and academic publishing largely relies on direct mail so I got very familiar with creating catalogues and brochures for the products and mailing them to all the schools in the UK.
I then started applying for trade jobs, still in marketing, and was lucky enough to get the role of Marketing Executive at Michael Joseph. It was a huge change (and a bit of a baptism by fire having never marketed books that most people would read out of choice before), but the most incredible experience with a hugely collaborative and creative team. After a year I was promoted to Marketing Manager, but increasingly found myself drawn to the tasks that crossed over with editorial, such as copywriting or pitching for new authors. When an opening came up with the fiction team in editorial I knew I had to go for it, and happily I made the move across in January this year. The last year has been another huge learning curve but I’ve loved every day and haven’t looked back once!
What are the things that have shaped how you’ve progressed since that time?
So many things, but the crucial one that can’t be taught is a genuine passion for commercial publishing. In both marketing and editorial it’s so important to not only understand the book market, but also other markets that are influencing cultural trends. In the last seven years I’ve tried to absorb as much as I can about the publishing industry from articles in The Bookseller and the press, visiting bookstores and literary agencies and talking to as many different people as I can from all over the industry. Luckily everyone in publishing is very friendly and approachable and I owe a lot to the people who’ve given up their time to explain how things work.
What is the best career advice you’ve ever had?
Be persistent and enthusiastic. Publishing is hugely competitive, and it’s hard not to get disheartened if you’ve had a few job rejections. But stick with it. My first manager from Palgrave (one of my favourite people on the planet) has always encouraged me to keep trying for the job I wanted and that perseverance and determination eventually paid off. And enthusiasm for every task you do is just great general advice, as even seemingly menial jobs like stuffing envelopes are contributing towards something bigger. Always say yes if someone asks for your help – it’s that positive attitude that will impress rather than the actual job itself.
What advice would you give to somebody looking to make the next step in their career?
Speak to someone who is already doing that job. Social media, particularly Twitter, offers everyone insight and access to a huge range of industry experts and in my experience if you have a question, most people will be very happy to try and answer it. Learn as much as you can about what the role you are applying for requires and also what the roles further up the ladder look like. Also, remember to look to other industries for creative inspiration – don’t just focus on publishing. Finally, read widely. The relationship people have with books is unlike any other product. And the best way to remember that is to always be a reader yourself.