Carole Blake Open Doors Project: "Bring a Blake Friedmann-shaped door-stop"

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.



Carole Blake Open Doors Programme: Live that Publishing Dream

by Ada Igwegbu

Ada on the Hachette rooftop, at the Kim Scott Walwyn Awards

Ada on the Hachette rooftop, at the Kim Scott Walwyn Awards

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.

Carole Blake Open Doors Project

Blake Friedmann has decided to offer two places on their inaugural Carole Blake Open Doors Project, as well as a further three-month paid internship to a third applicant.

Ada Igwegbu, from Aberdeen, will take the first placement, from 8th to 19th May 2017. She said: ‘At the risk of resurrecting clichéd words, I am terribly excited to be part of the Carole Blake Open Doors Project. I heard about the programme by complete accident: a friend mentioned it in passing, I applied and here I am. I am thrilled.’

Connor Faulkner, from Doncaster, has been offered a second placement from 31st July to 11th August. He writes: 'I'm incredibly excited to be chosen as a candidate for the Carole Blake Open Doors Project. It's not very often that you're presented with such a brilliant opportunity, and I can't wait to get stuck into an industry which has eluded me for so long.'

Grace Kabeya, from Zimbabwe by way of University of Exeter, will take up a 3-month paid internship from May to July 2017. ‘A chance. A platform. An opportunity to learn more about the industry in one of the best possible ways. I could not be more grateful and excited. It is all I can talk about and I cannot wait to begin.’

Isobel Dixon added: 'All of us at the agency - and many of our internship alumni now working across the book trade - are looking forwar‎d to welcoming the first Open Door candidates to Mandela Street and sharing insights into this brilliant industry. We're very grateful to David Hicks and The Book Trade Charity (BTBS) for their generous support of this initiative, and to others who have offered to help in many ways including, crucially, with their time and experience. It's this generosity and energy that makes ours one of the great creative industries, one we seek to make even more varied, dynamic and inclusive.' 

The Carole Blake Open Doors Project is a programme specifically aimed at encouraging candidates from a diverse range of backgrounds to enter the publishing industry. Applications will re-open in July for a placement in late autumn 2017 – details of how to apply will be published on the Blake Friedmann website.

The Carole Blake Open Doors Project offers 10 days of work shadowing to selected applicants over a two-week period, including funding for travel and up to twelve nights’ accommodation in London. The programme, which will run twice a year, will include close mentorship with Blake Friedmann’s book agents, the opportunity to attend selected meetings with authors and others working in the publishing industry, and the chance to be involved in every aspect of day-to-day life as an agent. It is intended that candidates will come away from the project with varied knowledge of working for a leading literary agency, the beginnings of new and essential relationships in the publishing industry, and some excellent experience to include on their CVs.

Carole Blake and the Blake Friedmann team have always placed great value on diversity and openness, in the company's client list as well as its hiring practices. We aim to build on this foundation and be proactive about drawing from a wider pool of talented applicants who are passionate about books and ambitious about getting a job in publishing.

For more details on how to get involved with the project please contact Hattie Grunewald