Abbie Headon is a self-employed editor and writer based in Portsmouth, in the south of England. She has strong views about the geography of publishing – and the question of whether publishing is too London-centric was one of the first we were asked to answer on here, so huge thanks to Abbie for giving us these insights. You can share your thoughts with Abbie on Twitter, or just watch her being silly on TikTok instead.
Picture a scene
It doesn’t matter exactly what the setting looks like, as this has happened to me far too many times to bother being specific. The key thing is that you’re talking about publishing and what an interesting industry it is.
Then, before you have time to prepare yourself, the person you’re talking to says, “But isn’t all publishing in London?”
I have to confess that the last time this happened, I was among friends and I threw myself on the floor and pounded my fists (because I’m overdramatic and to be frank I needed the exercise). There really IS publishing life outside London, and it’s my life’s mission to tell this to anyone who’ll listen. So when I saw Fiz’s call-out for articles for People of Publishing, I was quick to volunteer.
So, is there actually any publishing beyond the M25?
If you know the answer already, you’re allowed to skip this article. But for anyone who has any doubts about this, or if you need some ammunition for the next time somebody asks you, the quick answer is YES! There really is.
If you’re job-hunting, or you just want to broaden your horizons, try googling “[placename] publishers” and see what happens.
For example, when I google “Yorkshire publishers”, I immediately find these publishing houses:
All of that took me less than a minute. With the smallest of internet efforts, you can unearth publishing companies of all types, focusing on a huge variety of genres.
Then there are other places you can look, especially if you’re job-hunting or just fancy a change from the Big Smoke:
Twitter: hunt around your publishing connections, and their publishing connections, to find out who is doing new interesting work in the industry, and where they’re based. Twitter is a great place to spot job adverts.
The Bookseller website (of course).
The Guardian jobs site (another obvious place – but remember some companies will only advertise on their website and social media, for budgetary reasons).
Word of mouth: ask around! People you already know in the industry will have tips, and there are lots of nice people on Twitter who’ll let you slide into their DMs with a question or two.
If you find a publisher you’re interested in working for, drop them a line! The worst that can happen is that they don’t reply (we’re all busy, it happens sometimes). The best is that they might be looking for someone just like you, either for a specific vacancy, or possibly for a vacancy that hasn’t even arisen yet, but you seem like a brilliant all-rounder they’d want on the team.
Are there downsides to living outside London?
I’m not the best-qualified person to write about this, as the only capital city I’ve lived in is Berlin, but it seems to me the most obvious downside is being far away from all the cool stuff, which for me would be theatres, museums and great places to eat and drink.
My two arguments here are:
(a) If you’re living in London and have a long commute to and from work, and hardly any spare cash because of high rent and other costs of living, how much time and money would you have left to do everything that London offers? (I know it’s possible to do it all – it just isn’t always as straightforward as it might seem).
(b) If you’re living outside London, the chances are that within an hour or so of your home there will be other amazingly cool things to do and see: local venues with travelling national productions and exhibitions, really cool bars and restaurants, interesting street markets, whatever you enjoy the most. Your choices won’t match those of London in number, but if you keep your eyes open to all the opportunities you’ll still have a culturally fulfilling life. On top of this, lockdown has taught us all just how much creativity we can access from our own homes.
So, living outside the capital doesn’t automatically condemn you to a boring life. Also, remember that the majority of readers in the UK don’t live in London – so how can it make sense to say their views and cultural choices are less relevant than those of Londoners?
Be wary of people who tell you that living in London is the only way to keep in touch with the zeitgeist. It’s frankly offensive to say that only one, relatively small, geographically defined group of people have their finger on the pulse. And yes, I’ll stand by “relatively small”: 9 million people is less than 15% of the UK population. The other 85% of us are valuable too.
What are the benefits to living outside of London?
It hardly needs saying, but the main benefit of finding a life outside the capital is that your chance of finding an affordable place to rent will be much higher. With a few notable exceptions (I’m looking at you, Oxford), almost everywhere is cheaper than London.
And, while you may miss out on some of the inputs and thoughts your London colleagues are having… well, you’ll be having different ones. You can still follow all the trends from London while being open to inspiration from elsewhere, from where you are right now.
Finally, and more prosaically, it may also be easier for you to make your application stand out when you’re applying for regional jobs, as there are likely to be fewer candidates for a regional job than a central-London one.
Life after Covid-19
If there’s one good thing about the arrival of Covid-19, it’s the fact that employers have realised that remote working is possible, and even beneficial in some ways. This means that all of us in the publishing industry have more scope to ask to work from home, either full-time or with a mix of home- and office-based work.
That means you could find a balance of living outside London and working for a London publisher, or you could live wherever you want and work for a publisher literally anywhere else. It’s good to see colleagues in the office sometimes, but for the time being it looks like we’ll all have a lot more flexibility when it comes to commuting – so why not make the most of it?
A final thought: seriously, if someone tells you they’re afraid they’ll be out of the loop if they dare to work outside London, just ask them: are Galley Beggar Press uncool? Comma Press? Influx? Dead Ink? NO. That question doesn’t even make sense.
So, do yourself – and your job search – a favour, and give the rest of the UK a chance when you are job-hunting.
Let me know what you think on Twitter, or drop a question into my DMs if you need any tips or encouragement.