Zöe Griffiths is Editorial Director for Fiction at Bloomsbury Children’s Books. Previously she worked at Scholastic and Hodder. Zoe loves working across the age groups – whether on award-winning YA or historical fiction for middle grade – but she’s especially passionate about working on illustrated young fiction and capturing a reader’s imagination from the moment they can independently choose books for themselves.
Thank you for taking the time to talk to us, Zöe! We really appreciate it.
To get the ball rolling, can you tell us about how you became Editorial Director at Bloomsbury Children’s Books?
I was lucky enough to get an Editorial Assistant role at Hodder in 2004, straight out of Uni. I hadn’t even graduated yet! I look back now, at how I wrote to every children’s publisher from the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook, hoping someone would take a chance on me – and Anne McNeil and Margaret Conroy at Hodder did! I hadn’t done work experience, but I'd spent my whole time at Uni temping so I had excellent secretarial skills, and customer service from time in retail too. I think what won them over was my enthusiasm and clear passion for books. I stayed at Hodder for three years then moved to Scholastic to be Junior Editor. Seven years later, I was Senior Commissioning Editor (having been promoted to Editor, then Senior Editor) and made a brave move to Bloomsbury to cover a maternity leave. I thought a year working on a different style of list would be hugely beneficial for me and it absolutely was. I’ve happily been able to stay at Bloomsbury ever since. I was promoted to Editorial Director two years ago.
I love that your experience is spread across three different publishers – so many insights! So, what made you want to seek out a publishing role in the first place?
Honestly, it wasn’t ever something I had thought about or knew much about. I knew what the ‘puffin’ was but not much else about publishing or different companies. I always thought I would be a primary school teacher, but during my degree (Creative Writing) we did a module on writing for children and my lecturer, Martin Riley, who adapted The Worst Witch for television, suggested I think about publishing. He was the one who told me what the Writers’ & Artists’ Yearbook even was – and I just kind of went for it and then completely fell in love once I was in.
Wow – so you didn’t always know that you wanted to get into Editorial?
Absolutely not! I didn’t even know about all the other teams within publishing when I was first applying. I’ve learnt so much on the job and always encourage people to think outside of Editorial. It suits me best, but there are lots of other ways to use your skills and passion for books to work within publishing. Even within Editorial there are different ways to work and I always try to help more junior members of our team discover if they are more suited to the desk editing route or the commissioning route. It’s not always the same for everyone.
That is such a good point, and not something that’s spoken about often – that even within each department there are different types of roles.
As you didn’t always have your sights set on a specific department, I guess you didn’t have any preconceptions about what it would be like to work for a publisher either?
As mentioned, I hadn’t known very much about publishing before I landed in it. I confess I hadn’t realised how exclusive it can be (something else I learned ‘on the job’!) and I’m glad there are lots of initiatives now to change that and to increase the diversity of the workforce. I really recognise that a privilege I had in applying was that I’d grown up in London so was able to live with my parents (until I was 27!). Even though everywhere I’ve worked has always been welcoming, supportive and friendly, I quickly realised how lonely a place London could be for others who didn’t already have a network within the city. I’m pleased the industry is also working to broaden that and I think working remotely this past year has given us all more scope to think differently about where staff need to be to do a brilliant job.
So true – the pandemic has changed our work lives dramatically, and while so much is still up in the air in terms of exactly how we will work longer term I think we’ve all acknowledged that things won’t go back to being just like they were.
Having gone through the process, is there one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to get into publishing?
Be yourself! If books are your passion that will always shine through. Think about what transferrable skills you can offer, not just about what experience you can gain.
And what positive changes would you like to bring to the publishing industry?
There is often a rhetoric that we should all be so grateful to work in publishing or editorial – even if that means giving up your evenings and weekends to read. I would like to see that changing. It’s a wonderful industry to work in but it is still a job and you shouldn’t have to give up the other aspects of who you are (or what makes you who you are) in order to show your passion or to progress. Having a wide range of interests and general knowledge is part of what makes a brilliant commissioner. We publish with a focus on reading for pleasure and the benefits gained from doing just that. That has to be apply to the day-to-day as well. We need to ensure we don’t lose that joy of sharing stories.