by Connor Faulkner
In the deepest, darkest reaches of the North, where an industrial smog still layers the landscape, a young boy sat looking out of his window, his gaze searching for a faintly-glowing beacon in the distance. That young boy was me. The glowing beacon was a nearby dustbin fire. The apparently up-and-coming city of Sheffield always seemed impossibly far from London, and this manifested in a self-perpetuated stubbornness to go below the North/South divide, but thanks to a bit of luck, I found myself in The Retreat at Kings Langley, ready to hastily commute myself into the lovely offices of Blake Friedmann, right in the middle of Camden. A big, big cheers to David Hicks of The Book Trade Charity for sheltering me in this alien sprawl, where everyone pronounces ‘the’ properly.
Upon applying to the Carole Blake Open Doors Project just before the dawn of the New Year, I never thought that I’d find myself swanning around the capital a few months later. Even then, I expected to have been glued to the printer, and practicing my best receptionist phone voice. So, you’ll understand my delight when I was thrown in at the deep end, once I arrived at the Agency and a plethora of submissions and meetings awaited me. But there was much more, too: I was told the ins and outs of foreign rights, I mercilessly shadowed agents (and pestered them relentlessly; apologies to Hattie, Tom and Juliet), and even tried my hand at reading the odd contract, (apologies to Resham and Sam if I land Blake Friedmann in a legal palaver sometime in the near future).
I delved into the heart of the industry for a jam-packed fortnight: I had things to do, I had responsibilities, and my opinion mattered. I even got to embarrass myself at the book launch of the wonderful Sonya Lalli’s equally wonderful feel-good novel, The Arrangement.
I took in as much as humanly possible at meetings with lovely people from publishers such as Allen & Unwin and Jacaranda, to the giants of Hachette and Amazon. This array of experience really kicked me into gear. Previously, I’d assumed that publishing simply wasn’t for me purely due to my location, but the Open Doors Project taught me that this isn’t the case. My time at Blake Friedmann was certainly no guarantee that I’ll one day sneak my way into the industry, but it gave me all the tools and invaluable information I need to stand a much, much better chance of grabbing that dream job.
Another thing that the Open Doors Project taught me, is that you need a very realistic world-view when gazing upon your dream job and the industry which encapsulates it. Aside from also making me aware of my tendency to ramble and make slightly inappropriate comments under a guise of northern ‘charm’, my rapid two-week stint at Blake Friedmann was incredibly enlightening: I learnt that there are vast complexities and intricacies within the industry, which can only be discovered through experience. It turns out that there’s much more to publishing than whacking out books left, right and centre…
In terms of advice for any lucky individual who gets chosen for the project: I can tell you that David Hicks doesn’t like rhubarb, to go steady on book-launch wine, and you had better be prepared to carry three tote-bags of books back home with you. Thankfully, bags filled with literature make for a great self-defence weapon when someone takes your seat on the journey home, so make sure you get as many books as your shoulders can handle.
So no, you don’t need to be born in the right place to one day make your mark in publishing. You just need to have enough drive and determination to make it happen. And you need to read. A lot. Get looking for jobs at every publishing house you know of. Expand your list of people you follow on Twitter, you unsociable sod. Join the Society of Young Publishers, get on The Bookseller website, pester anyone and everyone in the industry until you’re blocked from contacting them. Well, maybe not to that degree. The Carole Blake Open Doors Project is the best chance you’ve got at getting a foot in the very heavy, possibly mahogany door into publishing. Just make sure you’ve got sturdy shoes on. Or, even better, bring a Blake Friedmann-shaped door-stop.