by Ada Igwegbu
From the outside, and when I say outside I mean the furthest corners of the non-literary world (namely the oil-centric city of Aberdeen, Scotland), publishing appears impossibly closed. The stories that enshrine the industry, paradoxically, shield it from the public. One of those stories is that to participate in publishing—to be an editor, because we are told that this is the one, shining trophy of publishing jobs—you must already belong to the privileged class. If Daddy cannot get you the job, you simply cannot do it. If you do not have relatives in publishing, if you are not middle class and Oxbridge-educated, if you are not London-bred, publishing simply is not for you. However, one thing that we often forget about stories is that they do not always reflect all facets of the truth. Somewhere along the line, the truth gets twisted, skewed and repeated and twisted and skewed and repeated and repeated, and so on. When I first, seriously, considered a career in publishing earlier this year, these stories were the substance of my largest fear. With no literary connections, a pending-geology degree and nowhere to live in London, how could I work in publishing?
Fast forward to now—June, roughly half way through 2017—and I realise that that fear is not strictly necessary. If I had to give one word to describe my experience on the Carole Blake Open Doors Programme, I would have to use “comforting”. It was a comforting experience. Not the most obvious choice of words maybe, but what struck me most while at Blake Friedmann was how haphazardly everyone sort of tumbled into their careers. Tens of interesting, different people in different corners of the industry from publishing houses to literary agents from all over the UK, and in some cases all over Europe, getting a job on the back of chance, and becoming associate agents, editors, publicists, sales managers, marketers. Altogether, there was a lot of failure, a lot of rejections but a lot of hard work and a lot of hope. For me, this is extremely comforting. The message is clear: try, try and try again. Apply, apply, apply. Get your foot in the door, even if that means working for your dream company in a less-than-dreamy role. Mobility is common: people come, go, swap round and come back again, so that first job, whatever it is, may be the ticket to the gold. We often talk about the publishing ‘industry’ when really there should be more mention of the publishing ‘community’. People within the community recognise how difficult it can be, particularly when you are first starting out, and if you work well, there will be always be a myriad of people to support you and guide you in your career. Publishing really is the most friendly of industries.
Interning at Blake Friedmann solidified the vision of friendliness within publishing. Everyone at Blake Friedmann was incredibly generous with their time and willing to explain what foreign rights involved, the negotiation process for new books, what contracts look like and try to do for authors but also, what is next for them and how they hope to grow in their careers. The Carole Blake Open Doors Programme gives interns the opportunity to meet and speak with people involved at different parts of the publishing process, many of whom started off their careers as interns at Blake Friedmann. Over the course of the fortnight, I shadowed literary agents, met authors, spoke to publicists, marketers, editors, sales managers from independent organisations like Jacaranda Publishing and Allen & Unwin to imprints of larger publishers, such as Picador, Two Roads, Hodder, and even Amazon. On more sedentary days at the agency, I read submissions and wrote copy for their website. I was even fortunate enough to go down to Brighton for the Peter James launch party! The experience covered everything I could possibly hope for, and it was made even more accessible through the kindness of David Hicks and The Book Trade Charity, who were so wonderful and provided accommodation during my time in London.
All in all, the Carole Blake Open Doors Programme was a whirlwind of a time—a real door-flinging-wide experience, one which I thoroughly enjoyed and would encourage anyone and everyone to get involved with. Forget Daddy’s connections or an Oxbridge degree; what you really need is a fervent desire to press books into readers’ palms and the drive to work to make that happen.
If you are passionate about good books and want to get into publishing, apply to the Carole Blake Open Doors Programme, join the Society of Young Publishers, scour the Bookseller for jobs. Your publishing story starts with you.