8 questions for Ella Kahn of the Society of Young Publishers [Interview]
First of all, tell us a bit about you..
I have always been a bookworm, but it was only while I was at university that I realized that there were careers to be had in making books! I studied at Cambridge University before going on to take an MA Publishing. I had done a couple of internships including one at Andrew Nurnberg Associates International Literary Agency. They offered me a full time position, and I’ve been an Assistant Agent for the UK here for a year now.
You’ve got a full-time job that keeps you pretty busy, what made you want to give up the spare time you have and get involved with the SYP committee?
I joined as Events Co-ordinator when I was doing the MA, having been a member for a couple of years already. I have personally found the information I gained through their events, and the friends and contacts I made – not to mention finding my second internship on their jobs page! – invaluable. It was wonderful to discover this community of people interested in the same things I was, with the same goals. I have learnt so much and met so many lovely and interesting people, which makes it worth the time and energy you have to put into it!
You’re coming towards the end of your time as SYP chair – of which achievement are you most proud?
I’m very excited about the launch of our new North and Midlands branch, though that is more down to the efforts of our Vice-Chair, Naomi Holt. I’m personally very proud of the partnerships with other industry organizations that we have established this year, and of our efforts to build on our existing relationships. In particular, the relaunch of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize (administered by BookTrust) to recognize new talent amongst women in publishing. Also, the not-to-be-missed event on Knowledge vs Practice in Publishing on the 11th November; and the SYP’s involvement in Skillset’s project to update the National Occupational Standards for Publishing.
What do you see as the future of the SYP and, given the current economic and digital changes across the industry, do you see its role changing at all?
I feel very strongly that the SYP has an important part to play in representing the voice of young people in publishing on a wider industry stage. Without wanting to sound too clichéd, our members will be the future of the publishing industry, so it is vital that we have a role in shaping that future. For me, building on the partnerships the SYP has with other industry bodies is a way to ensure that the SYP develops its reputation in the industry and establishes itself as an organization that can and should be involved in discussions about the future of the industry!
When you’re given your lifetime achievement award, what will it be for?
Goodness, who knows! I’m still at a pretty early stage in my career so who knows where I’ll end up, but it would be lovely to think that I might one day be recognized for having worked with some wonderful authors and having helped them achieve the publication of many successful books! After all, the magic of a good book is why we’re all in this industry, isn’t it?
If you were at some sort of magic drinks reception full of current and past legends, who would you want to have a chat with?
It may be an obvious answer, but it would be fantastic to meet some of the authors I loved growing up – Tamora Pierce (Song of the Lioness quartet and other Tortall series), Susan Cooper (The Dark is Rising quintet) and Ursula le Guin (Earthsea quartet). I was lucky enough to meet Helen Fraser at the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize event this May, and it would be wonderful to chat to her again – and to some of the other women who head up some of the biggest publishing companies in the UK – Gail Rebuck and Victoria Barnsley. There are hundreds more people I’d love to meet, but I’ll leave it there!
Where would you be without Twitter and how important is it for organisations like the SYP?
Twitter is a brilliant way of meeting people and keeping yourself up to date with what’s going on. The publishing community on twitter is both very large and very small – there’s a huge number of companies and individuals on there but everyone is friendly and it’s easy to make connections and get involved in conversations about all things book-related! When I was doing my MA publishing dissertation, I found it a great source of information as you discover people linking to fascinating and useful articles and opinion pieces that you would never have come across otherwise!
If you weren’t doing all this publishing malarkey, what else would you be doing?
I’m fascinated by early medieval history, literature, linguistics and manuscript studies – of the Anglo-Saxons in particular, so I might well have continued down the academic route and be studying for a PhD in Anglo-Saxon ‘publishing’ by now! Alternatively, I’ve always been very interested in architecture, and I have quite a few architects in my family, so that could have been another option – I have a secret ambition to be on Grand Designs!