1 What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?
I am a commissioning editor for Impress Books, a publisher of crime, historical and contemporary fiction and a selection of non-fiction. We are also building a digital-first list called Watchword. There are eight people at Impress, and we’re all very good at multitasking across different departments! I also run the Impress Prize for New Writers, a competition for unpublished writers who want to win a publishing contract with us.
2 What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?
I’ve been working for Impress since 2014, and it’s my first job in publishing. I graduated with a BA in English Literature and started a publishing house called Penryn Press at the University of Exeter’s Cornwall campus, which was launched with seed capital from the University of Exeter's Annual Fund. It gave me a crash course in basic business skills and how to publish a book. Impress Books has a sister company called Swales & Willis, which produces books for academic publishers, and I started as a production assistant for Swales & Willis and an editorial assistant for Impress Books. Now I’m a senior production editor and commissioning editor for each company.
3 What does your average working day entail?
I’ll usually catch up with the editorial team and then spend most of the day reading proposals. We take both solicited and unsolicited manuscripts, so there’s always a lot of reading to do. We publish between eight and ten books a year, though we are expanding, so this means I usually have one or two books that are anywhere between being written or edited through to being in production. Because we are a small team I get to be involved with everything to do with the publication process, from contract negotiations and structural edits to cover design and deciding what materials to use to print the book and print runs. It’s a varied position with lots of exciting challenges!
4 What do you enjoy most about your job?
Reading a proposal and seeing its potential. I always know when I want to publish something because I can start to see cover ideas coming together, can place it in the market, and know what types of marketing angles would get the book noticed. I also really enjoy working with authors—I find the writing process and the inspiration behind each individual author’s work completely fascinating. No project is ever the same!
5 What achievements are you most proud of?
It’s been a big year for Impress and I’m really pleased with all the books we’ve produced, especially The Joyce Girl by Annabel Abbs (which was also later published by Hachette Australia) and the crime novel He’s Gone by Alex Clare, which features a transgender detective and was regarded by reviewers as groundbreaking. The Joyce Girl was a standout moment because Annabel won the Impress Prize for New Writers in 2015. As a result of that, the number of entries we received for this year’s prize more than doubled. It was also a very hectic project: we did everything from contract negotiations to launching the finished product in six months!
6 What are your biggest challenges?
Getting noticed in such a big industry! We’re a small publisher with big plans, but it takes big retailers like Waterstones and WH Smith to notice our books to succeed.
7 What is the best thing about working for an independent publisher?
The variety! I work in editorial but am also very involved in the production of each book, and I contribute to the marketing as well. At independent publishers you know what is going on with every aspect of a book, and you become really involved with each project, which is really rewarding when advance copies hit your desk! It also means your knowledge isn’t limited to a certain department, which makes for a much more efficient publication process in the long run.
8 How do you switch off from your work?
I do something every day after work: yoga, running, rock climbing, modern jive and the occasional game of badminton. People who work in publishing often get asked whether they can read for fun, and I can! I will read anything, but my favourite genre is crime fiction, and this is what I want to specialize in in the future. So, while I’m building up the Impress crime lists, I’m also absorbing as much as I can in the wider crime market.
9 What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?
It depends on the type of job you want, but the best thing to do is familiarize yourself with the industry. Get a Twitter account and start following key people in publishing and channels like The Bookseller. If you want to go into marketing or publicity then start a book blog, build up a following, get NetGalley and get yourself noticed.
Editorial is a difficult department to get into, so you need to be familiar with key trends in the industry and build up your skillset. It’s fab if you can get previous work experience with publishers, but if not then there will be transferable skills you can apply. I was an administrative assistant for a college for a while and an advisor for essay writing at university, and those things transferred over.
Know the market you want to go into; there is a lot more to publishing than trade fiction, so explore the different areas. Equally, if you want to work in editorial, you need to know what books are currently on the shelves and how the books you want to acquire compare. A lot of this comes with time and learning on the job. And finally: be patient. Have your ambitions but realize that it will take time to build up your skills to achieve them; I remind myself of this on a regular basis!Follow Rachel Singleton on Twitter