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On being an assistant editor: Kate Ellis interview

Kate Ellis is Assistant Editor at Avon, HarperCollins’ commercial fiction arm. Before emigrating over the border to London, Kate had a crash course in publishing at three Independent Welsh publishers and spent 18 months dabbling in education books in Athens, Greece (with lots of hilarious stories to tell). Here Norah Myers interviews her on the step up from Editorial Assistant.

1) How have your responsibilities increased since you became an assistant editor?

My responsibilities have changed enormously. I’ve taken on authors of my own which means I’m now not only co-ordinating copyedits, I’m editing myself. I’m briefing my own covers (EEK) – seeing an idea that you have in your head come to life and actually look good is such a rush. I now have the opportunity to acquire books (I’ve recently acquired my first title), build relationships with authors and agents, do cover research and briefs, write social media campaigns, and actually have a say in what we publish and say things to authors like, ‘this is going to sound crazy, but go with me…’ (hopefully they do). It has been really challenging managing my own work, while also assisting and taking on work from others. I’ve earned the privilege of pushing back and saying ‘no’ to extra work. I’ve just got to learn how to say it…!

2) What is decision-making like in your new role, and how have you learned to trust your decisions as part of your new responsibilities?

It’s the scariest thing I’ve ever done. Ever. But also the most liberating. For the first few months, I kind of sat back and allowed the people around me to guide me and give me ideas to work from. I adopted the ‘I’m just an assistant, what do I know?’ attitude. Multiple heads are certainly better than one (especially when they’re experienced heads), but I’ve learned that I have to trust my instincts. When you’re working on something, you’re the closest person to it and you know it better than anyone. So why shouldn’t you have a say? You’re not going to get very far in publishing if you don’t have a voice. I recently had to brief the cover for my first acquisition. I thought I had sussed out what it needed to look like, but it just wasn’t translating onto the page. It wasn’t until a few rounds of designs, and a very deflated me, that I really took charge. I did a load of research and said exactly what route we needed to go down. When the covers came in for the third time, I knew instantly which one it was and, luckily, everyone else agreed. Being bold, taking charge and owning something is the only way to do it, as scary as it seems. It also made me think, wow, I’m actually okay at this. It’s incredibly encouraging to work in an environment where, no matter what you say, your opinion is heard. And with people who hold their hands up and admit ‘so, I know this is going to sound stupid, but…’ and say it anyway!

3) What do you look forward to as your role progresses?

I’m most looking forward to tasks taking less time and becoming second nature. Everyday I’m still learning all the things I have to do that I didn’t know about. I can’t wait to have all the knowledge that my team around me has. When I first started, they were talking about covers and authors that I had no idea about. Now, I’m able to join in and bring my own ideas to the table. So I’m looking forward to just rolling names off my tongue and not having to say, ‘you know, that one with the rolling hills and flowers on it?’. I’m also really excited about the editing possibilities. It’s every editor’s dream to have bestsellers and to have played a part in the book that’s on everyone’s lips. So what I’m most looking forward to is being the lead (as scary as the prospect seems) on a big hitter. The next 50 Shades. I’d happily be that person who inflicts the next big thing on the world… (sorry in advance).

4) What’s the most interesting thing you have learned about yourself as you have grown into your role?

I’ve learned that I’m actually quite strong. It’s a tough industry and a very fast paced one. You’ve got to be right for it, otherwise you’ll totally crumble. I’ve gone through quite a few highs and lows already and, although the lows were pretty tough, and sometimes totally deflating, they’ve only helped me develop. It’s great to be at the top, flying high, but it’s the lows that you really learn from.

5) What advice do you have for current editorial assistants looking to progress into their next positions?

Be honest with your manager about what you want to do. Ask for more responsibility, ask if you can shadow an edit or two. The more you get editorially involved, the better. It’ll show that you’re eager to progress and it’ll also give you more to put on your CV (hey, if they don’t recognise your talent, someone else will!). I learned very quickly that you’ve got to take charge of your own career and progression. If you don’t ask to do more, someone else will. So make sure you’re the person who doesn’t miss out because someone else got in there first. No one is going to run your career but you.

assistant editor, Avon, Editorial Assistant, HarperCollins, Kate Ellis, Norah Myers, Publishing careers

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