Omara Elling-Hwang is Editorial Assistant for Non-Fiction at HarperCollins. Here, she talks about her entry to the industry via a remote internship and the HarperCollins BAME Traineeship. Thanks so much for taking the time to talk to us, Omara!
What was your route to getting your job as an Editorial Assistant for Non-Fiction at HarperCollins?
I actually studied Politics and International Relations at university, which I don’t think is that typical for publishing. At some point in my final year, I realised that publishing was definitely the industry for me despite the fact that I had been told that I would never get a job in trade publishing without an English degree…
I did a remote, part-time internship with Folio Literary Management for a year (the agent I worked for lived in London) and really enjoyed it. I also did some work experience at Bloomsbury in the Children’s Marketing & Publicity team.
I was then offered a place on the HarperCollins BAME Traineeship in October 2018 where I completed rotations in three different Editorial teams, and Communications. About 10 months in, HarperNonFiction was starting a new team working specifically on Gift and IP titles. I applied for the Editorial Assistant job and that’s where I’ve been since. I have a fantastic team who encourage me to take on responsibility, commission titles and be creative – I really love my job!
I can’t believe someone told you that you’d never get into publishing without an English degree – that seems bizarre to me! So, what inspired or encouraged you to seek out a publishing role?
Like everyone who works in publishing, I have always loved books and reading. As a child, it was very rare for me not to have my nose in a book, and I have distinct memories of summer holidays spent with a stack of books to my left (TBR) and a stack of books to my right (already read) and just working my way through them.
That being said, I think my real love for publishing came as a teenager. I realised how difficult it was to get people to take my ideas, and my friends’ ideas, seriously and I wanted to do something to change that. I founded a charity, WriteUnite, which creates opportunities for young people around the world to have their thoughts and feelings about global issues seen and heard by publishing their creative work. It was my first real experience of publishing (though I didn’t really know what I was doing at 16 and just tried my best!) and it’s finally relaunching this summer after a hiatus so watch this space!
WriteUnite published two books, The Perfect World and I Believe I Can… with submissions from over 2000 children in 22 different countries. Running the charity really showed me the positive change that can come from helping people find their voice and creating space for them to express themselves, which ultimately is what publishing is all about.
You mentioned that you were on a BAME traineeship at HarperCollins. Did you find it helpful?
The BAME Traineeship was hugely helpful and I am so grateful that I did it!
As I mentioned before, I completed rotations in three different Editorial teams (Non-Fiction, HQ and Children’s) and Communications. Those 10 months introduced me to people across the business and taught me how different teams commission books in different ways. My responsibilities varied hugely depending on the department, so I never got bored! I did a lot of editorial work, helped out at London Book Fair and also had the opportunity to work on a strategic project for the Executive Committee.
I came out of the traineeship with an invaluable understanding of how a large commercial publisher operates and it provided a great foundation from which I could grow.
Did your internship at a literary agency provide you with any transferable skills?
I worked mainly on commercial fiction and mass-market non-fiction (for the American market) and the internship really helped me understand how an agency works, taught me invaluable editorial and storytelling skills and, most importantly, improved my commercial awareness.
Having now gone through the process, is there one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to get into publishing?
There are many support systems in place (like this website!) to help people to break into the industry but also, don’t be afraid to cold email people! Everyone in publishing is so lovely and willing to help but it is hard to get specific advice if you don’t ask. My DMs are open if you ever want to get in touch.
What positive change would you like to bring to the publishing industry?
Publishing knows that it has a problem with diversity and even though this is shifting, there is still a long way to go. There are so many wonderful people doing absolutely amazing things to push for change and inclusivity and I really hope that I can help with this too. I am actively trying to build a list that reflects our society and hope to be a champion to all writers as they bring their ideas to life and get their work published.
Omara Elling-Hwang on Twitter.
HarperCollins Non-Fiction on Twitter.