Delighted that four Templar titles got shortlisted for these awards – a huge team effort and achievement
Sampler created for Egmont UK, Red Shed Imprint. Book out next August!
If there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2015 it’s the importance of networking. The very mention of this word used to make me shudder. It seemed alien to me – something aggressive, maybe imported from the US along with ‘reaching out’. I saw networking as a situation that forced you into small talk with people you didn’t want to get to know but felt you had to (I still think it is to some extent). No, that isn’t for me, I thought. I’d rather just make friends with people I like and stick with them.
Until I realised that your entire career can be affected by the doing of it or the not doing of it. How people who have reached the peak of their careers are pretty much all skilled networkers who have made it their business to get to know everyone and the information that they can provide. And I’d been oblivious to it until earlier this year. In case you’re like me, and totally unaware of this underbelly of activity in publishing, or indeed in any industry, then this is my gift to you. The gift of knowing about Secret Coffee.
Here’s the thing. I thought I *was* networking when I turned up to industry events like publishing conferences or debate evenings. I’d meet up with colleagues, ex-colleagues and the faces behind the Twitter accounts I’d befriended and socialise with them, maybe adding one or two faces to the group each time I attended one.
There would always be one or two people who would suggest meeting up for a coffee after the conference, and I’d always think, “Why? When we’re standing right here talking now?” It’s because I didn’t know that the thing to do was Secret Coffee. I thought that just by standing there talking to someone in public, that my networking job was done. It wasn’t.
When I was freelancing over the summer I discovered the world of Secret Coffee and how people at all ranks in the publishing industry are more than happy to do it. I had Secret Coffees almost every day, in fact, and listened to people tell me all about the people they’d had Secret Coffee with over the years.
I couldn’t believe I hadn’t noticed it – it’d been going on all around me for years. Nobody talks about it so I’m just putting it out there in case there are other people like me who would benefit from it. I’m naturally an open, shary person who doesn’t enjoy secret behaviour but if I’d known about it years ago, perhaps I’d’ve made myself do it more. It does seem to have fuelled a number of high-rise careers all around me, when I thought that just being good at your job, friendly, sociable and professionally visible would be enough. It’s not. Quite.
I have baulked when a friend has told me that they’re only friendly with a person because of how useful they can be to them, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop baulking at that, but it does seem that successful people don’t have an issue with it – perhaps because they believe their coffee pals feel the same way.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been really grateful to my Secret Coffee drinkers over the past months, as they’ve been incredibly generous with their time and contacts lists. But I’m passing on that generosity by telling you now – if you want to get on in your careers, then start by doing Secret Coffee. It may be the best move you ever make in your career.
This is Sara, a 23-year-old who is working at the hotel I’m staying at in Dahab. She has just completed a BA degree in Mass Communication, majoring in Journalism, from MTI in Cairo and the University of Wales.
She would like to continue studying for an MA Journalism in the UK but needs scholarship or a sponsor. She is prepared to work to support herself but needs to find flights and course fees.
I found Sara’s story fascinating because she is translating Virginia Woolf’s diaries into Arabic for the first time. She doesn’t have a publisher yet, but you can see some of her translation here. She was a reporter at Sharjah Book Fair in her first year, an event I was lucky enough to attend last year – it was clear to me there that we need many more works like this translated into Arabic. Sara doesn’t yet have a publisher for the translation but there are details of translation grants for publishers here.
Sara has a fire and energy that I love to see burning in a young woman. She has clear views on women’s rights and has been interviewed on Egyptian TV about sexual harassment in Cairo. As a follower of the amazing Mona Eltahawy, Egyptian women’s rights campaigner and NYT columnist, I know that we need to hear more female Muslim voices on public platforms and I believe Sara’s is one of them. She tells me of her experience to date and it’s clear that other people are threatened by her intelligence (as a woman) and her decision to forego the veil. I would love to see her thrive and become the journalist she’s clearly meant to be.
If any of you can help in any way – perhaps you know the perfect course or a publishing company/newspaper willing to sponsor Sara – then let me know via my email: lisaedNW10@gmail.com.
I’m in The Bookseller this week, talking about books:
Last night I chaired a panel discussion at Byte the Book, a monthly networking club for authors and people who work in publishing. The debate was focused on the new array of independent publishing houses and the question of the importance of editorial came up. Predictably, the panellist from a marketing and sales background said it was unnecessary, and the panellist from an editorial background said it was central to his company ethos. As an editor by trade myself, I ended up wading in a reminding panellist A that there is more to editorial than correcting commas and typos.
This is an all-too-common misconception about editorial work. People inside and outside the industry think that we just correct spellings, grammar and punctuation, and that’s it. Job done. But these are things that are done at the very END of a book’s editorial life, and they are often outsourced to freelance copy-editors and proofreaders AFTER the big, ‘structural’ edit has been done by the commissioning editor. The bigger companies have a ‘desk editorial’ pool that will complete this work for them, and if the desk editor feels that a bigger change to the text needs to be made, they will discuss it in detail with the commissioning editor and/or directly with the author before making it.
But what of the editorial work that takes place before this part of the life of a book? And why does the world and her partner think it’s so easy that everyone can do it?
Let’s say a commissioning editor has bought a fully written text, they love it, they’ve shared the love with the author, the agent and everyone in-house and persuaded them to acquire it for the list. But, they know it could be EVEN BETTER if the narrative was re-shaped in certain ways – perhaps a character needs to be drawn out or cut completely, maybe more or less dialogue is needed, perhaps the author could magnify a particular event to make it more dramatic or a non-fiction text needs more factual information to make sense of the point it’s trying to make.
It’s our job to let authors know how we think the text they’ve supplied can be improved, and to deliver that information in the way that allows THEM to make the changes successfully. It’s a collaboration, and if the author disagrees with a note, then it’s their right to resist that change, but maybe suggest another one. I’ve watched TV producers give ‘notes’ to actors and crew on set and realised how similar it is to the editorial process. Do the actors or writers think it’s a waste of time? No. They listen carefully and go for another (improved) shot. If they think a scene can be improved by something they’ve thought of, they tell the producer or director and it is discussed. Together.
Most commissioning editors give broadbrush notes to start with, to allow authors the freedom to make the changes in the way they see fit. Then at the next draft stage, because at this stage we’re only talking about a ‘draft’ text, then they’ll go in with an Editorial Letter. There’s an art to these. You’ve got to know the author well during the acquisition process and you learn to flex to their way of working. Some authors only like broadbrush comments, others prefer masses of detail. Some react strongly to red pen all over their text, so you go for blue, or you don’t write on the text at all – it all goes into the letter.
The best editors know that this is the author’s baby and it is important to bring the best out of it. You owe it to them, and nine times out of ten a text needs another close eye on it to really make it sing. And therein lies the joy and why your authors can end up loving you. (This can go wrong if the editor has a strong urge to be an author themselves, as they can transfer their own writerly ambitions onto the text, but I think this is a rare occurrence.)
You may be at draft five or six before the text is ready to be copy-edited (the stage where the grammar, punctuation and typos are corrected) but even then, any significant changes are discussed with author and commissioning editor in case there are stylistic considerations, e.g. not all authors use traditional speech marks during dialogue scenes. Ideally the copy-editor and proofreader are briefed on stylistic notes before they begin, so that they don’t undo all the editorial work done so far during the final stages.
All the way through this process there are phone conversations – fraught and joyous; to-ings and fro-ings re ideas for improving the text; changing the ending, or placing chapter 3 after chapter 10. It’s a constant conversation that never really stops until the book goes to print (and even then corrections can be made on reprint).
In recent years there has been a move away from traditional editing, partly due to the rise in self-publishing. We all know how many red pens have been twitching over the Fifty Shades trilogy – the Inner Goddess would’ve been the first to go if I’d been editing it. And then the near-universal agreement among readers and editors that The Goldfinch could’ve done with a really good chop to make it even more brilliant than it already is. (Sometimes, as authors reach the bestseller heady heights a fear of editing kicks in in the publishing company (in case the author is scared off) and you can track it as their books get bigger and bigger.)
I’ve just finished The Miniaturist and felt so frustrated that this wonderful concept died on its feet 50% into the book – in case you’re interested, my editorial notes would’ve been a) the book tries to cover too many themes at once: black history, female independence, homosexuality so focus in on one or two, and b) either ramp up the significance of the miniature house and its creator or get rid of it all together. The former would be my preference.
Some authors have decided to eschew being edited at all and I await to see what happens when they run free. Only this last week, Cornelia Funke has decided to set up her own publishing company because she objected to Little, Brown US and her UK publisher Chicken House, asking her to move a chapter and change the ending of her latest book.
Her UK publisher Barry Cunningham said, “We had some editorial thoughts about the direction of the last book that she didn’t agree with,” he said. “One of the purposes of a publisher is to edit so if we felt there was a better book to be made and she didn’t then we have reached the best conclusion.”
I think, sadly, we are going to see more of this ‘parting of the ways’ as editorial skills are becoming less and less valued by authors, readers and let’s face it, some publishers (if they’re led by sales people, as most are these days).
I’m always amazed that so many people in my own industry don’t know what my job entails, so how do we bring the value back?
I’ve really noticed a mass exodus in the last couple of years from the publishing workplace – the sheer number of people setting themselves up as freelancers. It’s happening in editorial, in PR, digital, design – pretty much every aspect of the industry – as companies reduce their overheads and seek to outsource as much as possible on a project-by-project basis. In this way, they can bring in expertise as they require it, and not have to pay for it on a salary level, getting the benefit of experience and a fresh-viewpoint injection into their businesses.
If you’re thinking about making the leap, you probably feel like I did six months ago – so tethered to a monthly salary that you can’t see any other way of being. Actually handling your own business finances and structuring your own time may feel too scary to contemplate, but I am going to tell you what I’ve learnt so far.
Decide what you’re best at
There’s probably one core skill that you’ve got that sets you apart from the rest in your bit of the industry. You might think you know what it is but it’s worth asking people what *they* think it is. You might not be fully aware of your biggest strength but the person next to you might. You may also be labouring under an illusion as to what constitutes freelance work and be surprised to find what you can offer to a company. Speak to other experienced freelancers about their experiences.
Don’t under-sell yourself. Consult with other freelancers about the sort of daily rate you can expect for the work you’re offering, and get some financial advice from someone outside the business. Don’t simply take your last salary and aim for that – if you want to come in at the same rate, you need to factor in the cost of running your own business, the fact that you may only be working for up to nine months in a given year, you won’t be receiving any company benefits, such as a pension or healthcare, and if you have your own limited company, you’ll be paying corporation tax. You will need to decide early on if you want to be a limited company or a sole trader. If you’re only going to be freelancing on a short-term basis then setting up a limited company maybe not be worth it, but there are financial benefits to doing so.
Get an accountant and get them to explain the finances clearly
This is the barrier to going freelance for many people – having to manage their own finances. It really isn’t as scary as you think – just keep all of your receipts and invoices. Your accountant can advise which receipts can be set against your tax payments and how to handle your invoicing. If you’ve set up as a limited company you’ll need to set up a business bank account as the accountant will be using your statements at the tax year end.
Organise a workspace for yourself
A clear, uncluttered space will make your head feel uncluttered when it comes to your work. If you can find a space at home to do this, then great, but you may need to find a friendly neighbourhood cafe to hang out in, purely for the buzz of people around you. Even better, get a desk in a local studio with other freelancers. One great bit of advice given to me was to get out and speak to someone every day. Especially during the first few months.
Get out and about
Think about your company name, if you have one, and the brand look. It’s going to be your hallmark for months or years to come so it makes sense to get it right from the off. Get some business cards printed up as soon as possible and get out there, revisiting old contacts and making new ones. You’ll be surprised at how generous people are with their time and contacts – they often know what it’s like to be out there so are only too willing to help. Ideally, you should line up a project to start you off as a freelancer, potentially from your current employer.
Get used to non-standard working hours
Get used to them, and enjoy them. If you’re a morning person you can be up and at ’em at 5.30am well before offices open, or if, like me, you’re better in the afternoon and evening, you can do other things in the morning before you begin work in earnest. Fit in exercise around the work whenever it benefits you – no more having to go to the gym at 6am if you don’t want to.
In the first few months you might wake up hyperventilating, having nightmares about having enough work and money to keep you going, or that you’ve taken on too much. No one’s going to say it’s easy, but my advice is get up, go somewhere, do something. Volunteer for a cause you love and/or write a blog. Go out and network. Just keep getting out there.