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What is the best role in publishing to suit a writer?

Kesia Lupo is Senior Editor at Chicken House Books and is also a YA author published by Bloomsbury Children's Books, so she is perfectly placed to answer this question that came in from one of our readers. Thank you for taking the time to share your experiences and thoughts with us, Kesia! So, what is the best role in publishing to suit a writer?

Great question, and one I wrestled with as I completed my Creative Writing MA and started to search for roles in the publishing industry alongside seeking a publishing contract.

I eventually landed that contract and ended up in perhaps the obvious instinctive choice: Editorial. Nearly all of us start out thinking we’ll work in Editorial, whether we’re writers or not – it’s perhaps the best known and most glamorized department. But that’s particularly true for the many writers who are keen to work in publishing – it seems like a natural fit. And there are good reasons for that. As an editor, you use many of the skills you use as a writer, such as:

  • Seeking and identifying strong and commercial ideas

  • Grappling with the structure of stories

  • Honing and strengthening writing

  • Attempting to develop a novel into the very best it can be

  • Writing itself – you will most likely have to draft copy for the books you work on

Being an editor, with all the skills you develop on the job, will definitely help you as a writer too. Improving other people’s work; learning from great editors and the writers you work with; simply living and breathing books… you’ll end up with a whole bag of tricks you can apply to your own writing endeavours, which is kind of amazing. Plus, you can really empathise with what your authors are going through – and you can genuinely play the “I’m not asking you to do anything that I haven’t done myself” card!

However, there are downsides to working in Editorial as a writer. You have to ask yourself if you are happy spending a lot of your creative energy on other people’s ideas rather than your own, for instance. By the time you’ve spent a whole day thinking about how to develop someone else’s concept into a brilliant, compelling novel, you might not have much left in the tank for yourself. (Sometimes, though, it works the other way – you might find that you are inspired and energised by this kind of creative work… everyone is different!) Similarly, editorial jobs are often a real time drain – you’re expected not only to put in your regular working hours, but to read submissions outside of work. That has an impact on your writing time. And if you do get a publishing contract and a deadline alongside working full time, say goodbye to proper days off!

Lastly, you have to be comfortable with the idea of quite a lot of crossover between your own work and your professional life. In publishing we have to be nimble and, for me, this has ended up moving from working in adult fiction to children’s at the same time as my first novel evolved, bizarrely, from adult fantasy to YA. So, I now both edit and write YA books, which was not something I intended. I personally haven’t found this to be an issue but it’s certainly something to bear in mind. Would you be comfortable, for instance, knowing that one of your authors, writing for the same age group and genre as you, was selling more copies? Or would that feel weird?

With all of this in mind, I think writers who want to work in publishing focus far too much on Editorial. It’s the obvious choice, yes, but there are huge potential downsides. For anyone looking for balance, there are less obvious publishing career opportunities you could explore.

One option is Marketing and Publicity. If I wasn’t working in Editorial, this is probably what I’d try. Here, you’ll potentially make better use of your creative skills in fresh ways – for instance, in writing press releases, developing copy (a job that Publicity and Editorial often share), or dreaming up great campaigns to promote your authors. You still work directly with authors (probably more so than any other department!) and will likely make some brilliant contacts in the industry which may come in handy in your own writing future. Of course, you’ll still be expected to read the books you’re working on and there are definitely out-of-hours commitments – such as attending events – but you won’t necessarily have the burden of submissions reading, unless you want to.

Another couple of departments to consider are Rights and Sales. Selling translation rights to international publishers (Rights) or selling books into retailers (Sales) are both creative jobs in their own way; how do you make your titles stand out from the crowd? As a rights professional, you’ll have more opportunities to travel than most – to the book fairs in London and Frankfurt, and maybe Bologna if you work in children’s publishing, and beyond – which I think presents wonderful opportunities for a writer (I am always energised by travelling, even if I’m just popping to London on the train – I write far more words in transit than I do at home). And how useful to have a sense of what it actually takes to get a book on the shelves, home and abroad!

And perhaps you might consider Production, the department which handles the physical product. It might sound unglamorous, but if you like books as objects, and want a job that – while offering plenty of bookish delights – doesn’t impact on your writing life, maybe this could be for you. And have you ever seen a foil book? If the idea of a huge bible of fancy coloured foils makes you feel weak at the knees, a job in production might be the perfect way to complement your writerly skills without stepping on their toes in the slightest.

And this is the tip of the iceberg. Different companies offer different structures and even within departments your role could be quite varied – it’s all about what kind of a person you are, and what kind of relationship you’re comfortable with between your writing and publishing lives. My advice? Go for a broad range of jobs and see what sticks – don’t be wedded to editorial or any other department from the get-go. I hope this gives you a bit of insight into (a) why editorial may or may not be right for you and (b) why other areas of publishing may just be perfect, in the end...

Kesia Lupo on Twitter.

Chicken House Books on Twitter.

Chicken House Books website.

Bloomsbury Children's Books website.


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