Career progression: Interview with Alexa von Hirschberg

Alexa von Hirschberg is a Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Publishing. Norah Myers interviews her here. 

1) You’ve progressed from editorial assistant all the way to senior commissioning editor. What was the biggest change in your responsibilities as you moved from one role to the next?

When you are an assistant or a desk editor/managing editor you are responsible for one or two (crucial) parts of the chain. When you have your own list you oversee every aspect of the publishing process – from contract to cover design to marketing and publicity strategy. Your responsibility is not only to get the book into the best possible shape editorially, but to be the author’s biggest champion in house and to ensure everyone shares the same vision from acquisition all the way to publication, and beyond. It’s a responsibility I take very seriously.

2) Which tools do you use to help you manage the changing responsibilities that a promotion entails?

Sometimes the job is a high-wire act. You are constantly spinning plates and changing hats. I’m not a spreadsheet junkie (in fact I think they are overrated) but being organised is crucial. And given I read proposals and manuscripts every day I couldn’t do anything without my Kindle. But really it’s all about people in my world. Having a passionate, engaged and motivated team is essential. Though I wouldn’t normally describe them as tools…

3) How have you learned to trust your judgement and your decision-making?

Aside from reading widely and engaging in the industry, the real answer is experience. I have made some pretty terrible decisions in the past but failure is just as valuable as success. It’s a process of constant refinement. It’s also worth remembering that this business is messy and unpredictable. You can have the best book in the world and a brilliant, creative campaign, but sometimes the stars just don’t align. It’s all about putting your faith in incredible people, working hard and praying it all pans out.

4) What’s the best advice you’ve been given when it comes to managing others?

Lead by example. Listen.

5) What career advice would you give your younger self?

Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Trust your instincts. Talk to people, even if they look scary and intimidating.

Alexa began her career in 2007 at Canongate Books. In 2008 she joined Bloomsbury as an Editorial Assistant, working with authors including Colum McCann, Lawrence Norfolk, Margaret Atwood and William Boyd. Her list of authors include Kate Tempest, Melissa Harrison, Reni Eddo-Lodge, PJ Harvey, Aminatta Forna, Samantha Shannon, Damian Barr, Laurie Penny and Natasha Pulley.

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