A couple of weeks ago on the 28th March I had the rare opportunity of attending a workshop at Faber & Faber publishing house where representatives from various departments took the time to tell us a little bit about what their jobs entailed.
The whole day trip to London was run by New Writing North which is a group based in Newcastle that supports writing and reading across the north of England. I already knew about some of the work New Writing North does but this was the first time I’ve had the chance to take part in one of their events. It was a great experience.
Faber & Faber has been publishing books of all kinds for 90 years and they have a great reputation as a large independent publisher. All of that talent and experience really showed when they spoke to us.
So, here are a few bits of information that I picked up during the workshop.
After we were led up to the event space we were introduced to one of the editors who had some great advice about what she looks for in a book that she’s publishing. One of the big things that she’s looking for is whether the book is working as hard as it can. If so, is it working for that particular publisher? Editing is about a lot more than a structural edit when a writer and an editor work together to chop and change the content around. Editing is about encouraging and working hard to turn the material into the best version of itself. Most people don’t think of editing as a group effort but it was clear that editing involves a lot of people skills as much as anything else. She was a really nice, interesting speaker and editing is clearly about more than reading a lot of books.
The editor suggested that she had a lot of books that she works on each year including the book which the workshop was loosely built around. Before we went to Faber & Faber we were given an early copy of a new book by Louise Doughty (I think someone said it’s due to be published around August) and they used that book as a good example of how the publishing process is applied.
So, after we met the editor we were then greeted by someone from design and another person from production. Both men were interesting but they have very different roles in the process.
First of all, design. Using the example of Louise’s new book he explained that research into books of a similar genre is usually where his process starts before he moves onto picture research using a brief the editorial team puts together for the design team. What I found really interesting was how much collaboration goes into choosing the final design as he explained how many opinions were sought before the final designs were taken to the author. Yes, haha, the author does get a say in the design of her book but the design team have definitely got a good eye for aesthetics. Oh, and he promised that you don’t necessarily have to be amazing at using photoshop if you’d like a job in that particular sector.
I was slightly surprised but delighted by what came next. It turns out that production sounds super interesting and it’s not all about margins and paper types. Although, he actually made choosing the right kind of paper sound fascinating. Production’s role actually involves a lot of external and internal collaboration between all departments and high quality is just as important as managing the budget. So, if you’re a people person but you also love small details you might want to check it out.
After they said goodbye and we had lunch the marketing and publicity department spoke to us. They started with the question, what is the difference between marketing and publicity? Of course, a few answers were given but what I noted down from that exchange is the publicity is connecting to readers via media and marketing is about paid promotion. It might not be entirely that simple but I thought it was interesting to see two sides of a department that has one ultimate goal: promote the book. The women who represented their team were really nice and they gave us a bit of an insight into the many different kinds of promotion methods that they work on. To think that each book has a promotion campaign is kind of crazy but it was lovely to meet the people who are focused on trying to give the readers what they want.
Following on from marketing and promotion was two women from the sales team. They were absolutely delightful and I am not just saying that because they brought cinnamon buns for us (they were delicious). They were bright and cheerful and they really embodied the idea that sales is the social part of publishing. Like the production team they do a lot of collaboration both internally and externally but they also run the numbers for when a particular book should be published during the year and the numbers for acquisitions, ect. One of them works with international markets and had just come back from a work trip to Iceland which was very exciting to hear about. So, although I don’t know if that particular job would ever be for me I loved hearing about the obvious joy they have for their work.
Then, it was time for another perspective as Louise Doughty came to speak to us as a published author. As well as talking a little bit about her new book and kindly answering our questions there was one particular thing that I took away from Louise. From a writer’s standpoint publishing is all about persistence. Whether you’re trying to get your first book published or your book is going through the process you have to be patient but determined that your book will finally be out there. Even then, persistence will see you through as you wait for one of your novels to be the one that really grabs an audience. So, keep going and play the long game.
Of course, I only wish that we’d had more time to talk and explore but a whole day spent talking about books and writing was an absolute treat. It was also nice to receive a goody bag of books which we were given at the end.
I met some really interesting people who had applied for the trip with New Writing North. There were people who were eager to publish their novel. Some who were still in the process of writing theirs. Others really want to work at a publishing house and then there were people who just like writing and the opportunities that come with it. It’s a delightful thing to talk to people who love similar things.
Everything about the day was interesting and fun. What slightly surprised me was how I felt the day after. That one day left me feeling really motivated and positive about writing. Honestly, much more positive than I have felt in a while. So, I considered what I wanted to do next.
For the first time in over a year I’ve started looking at poetry competitions again and I’ve already found a couple that sound really exciting. I’ve been making plans about what new things I can do with this blog and spoken to someone who I’d love to have as a guest blogger in the near future. I’m looking more carefully for new opportunities in the areas of publishing, writing, etc. and overall, I’m happy to be doing all of this.