Ruth Warburton is a job-sharing publicity manager for the Vintage imprints Chatto & Windus and Square Peg at Random House. Having won PPC awards for her campaigns, she now mixes her role as a successful publicist with being a young adult author – The Winter Trilogy is published by Hodder Children’s Books. We catch up with Ruth to find out if variety really is the spice of life in publishing…
1. You job-share and juggle the busy life of a publicity manager and a published writer – just how do you manage to switch between it all?
In some ways it all meshes brilliantly well – I can spend 3 days staring at a screen and worrying about my own writing, and then two days in a busy office where I don’t have time to obsess, concentrating on the careers of other people. But there are times when it’s a juggling act – when I’m on deadline for my own writing and then something major comes up at work and everything collides. I think I’m fortunate that the books I work with are very different to the ones I write. It means there’s very little crossover and reading for work becomes a break rather than a distraction.
The great thing about a job share – rather than simply going part-time or cutting down hours – is that I know that when I’m out of the office everything is being taken care of fantastically well. I don’t need to feel guilty about stuff piling up or authors feeling neglected because I know that my jobsharer (visual artist/painter Kate Bland –www.katebland.com ) is on the case.
2. Do you find there are benefits (or disadvantages) to experiencing both sides of the publishing process?
Both probably. I think the main factor (which falls into both camps) is knowing how high the bar is set and how difficult it is to get published (and maintain a career once you are published). I wrote for years without doing anything about it because I was convinced I’d never make it. It’s very hard to sit in editorial meetings watching fantastic manuscripts get regretfully rejected, and then take a punt on your own work, especially when you’re not at all sure it’s fantastic at all. But on the other hand, having seen it from the inside I knew a lot of the pit-falls to avoid, and I think once you’re published it helps that you know how the industry works. A lot of decisions which seem frustrating or contrary or inexplicable to writers make a lot more sense when you know how the industry works from the inside.
3. Considering you’ve worked on high profile campaigns such as The Hare with Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal, Peyton & Byrne’s British Baking and Anne Tyler’s The Beginner’s Goodbye, could you share some of your highlights with us?
I’ve been in publicity for nearly 12 years (gulp!) so I have a lot of favourite campaigns. The ones above are all ones I worked on recently as a jobsharer. Prior to that I won PPC awards for my campaigns for French Women Don’t Get Fat and Suite Francaise as a solo publicist. I think the biggest thrill is finding a book you absolutely love – and then discovering other people love it too and watching the response snowball and snowball. And you think – a year ago that book was just a pile of manuscript pages that only a dozen or so people had read. And now people all over the country have read it – and I was a small part of that process.
4. You’re also the author of the young adult Winter Trilogy, with The Bookseller hailing your debut as ‘a great read, steeped in witchcraft, with a steamy romance, feisty leads and a brooding coastal setting’ (watch the trailer here). Can you tell us about where you get your inspiration for writing?
Prior to writing the Winter books, I had always written adult realist fiction, much closer to the kind of thing I deal with at work. But in 2008 I was on maternity leave with my second child and spending a lot of time in the library, in the children’s section. My toddler would be playing with the toy oven and my baby was still of the age to sleep in a sling, and I quite often ended up browsing through titles in the YA section. I rarely had time to read more than a few pages of any of them, but I suppose it reminded me about a whole section of the bookshop I hadn’t ventured into for years.
Then around the same time I was listening to a radio programme about romance and the commentator was saying that the key to a compelling romance is lots of obstacles; giving the main characters convincing reasons not to fall into each others’ arms. I listened to it thinking that for me the most compelling reason not to fall into someone’s arms would be if I wasn’t sure how they really felt about me – and suddenly the seed for the first book came into my head: a girl casts a love spell on a boy that she fancies, but the price she pays is never being completely certain how he really feels about her. It was quite different from my usual work, but I suppose the two things came together and the book came out as YA fantasy. In a way it was the best thing I could have done, as it gave me the freedom to sub to editors and agents I’d never heard of, without feeling like I was muddying the waters of my day job.
5. If you had to pick, would you rather be starring in your own publicity tour or managing a mega-name author’s’?
Well I suppose that’s the great thing about my current setup – I don’t have to choose – I can have my cake and eat it.