Interview with Jo de Vries: commissioning editor, literary agent and lecturer

Jo de Vries

Jo de Vries is a commissioning editor and literary agent; her role is all about finding and developing books that will spark the imagination, and striving to increase diversity and innovation in all content areas is at the heart of her work. Jo also lectures in Publishing & Journalism at Bath Spa University. Find Jo on Twitter at @JodeVries1.

1) What skills do you need to be a good at your job?

Juggling! I need to be able to hold a lot of things in my head at once, as I’m often working on many projects at various stages. It’s important to be enthusiastic and communicate with energy and diplomacy with everyone I work with. I need a range of skills that span across having good attention to detail and coming up with creative ideas for marketing, copywriting and proofreading. I’d say that having financial awareness, time management and team playing skills are also very important in what I do.

Essentially, as a commissioning editor and publishing consultant you need all the core publishing skills combined with the core entrepreneur skills to run your business. I wouldn’t claim I have all of these by any means! I am always learning as I go and that willingness and desire to learn is vital in publishing.

The job involves a lot of hard work, but anyone with determination and creativity can do this, and from anywhere. As Chair of the Society of Young Publishers, Southwest, I really want people to know that there are huge opportunities both in and outside of London and Oxford. Some of the most vibrant and dynamic publishing in magazine, books and digital is happening here in the Southwest with creative hubs in Bath, Bristol, Cardiff, Aberystwyth, Plymouth and Exeter, and many places in between. It’s all here, people just don’t always realise it and I hope that @SYP_Southwest will help to open up those opportunities.

2) What does a normal working day look like to you?

No one working day is the same. I would say a lot of my day is spent communicating with people: authors, other publishers, colleagues in other departments. As a lecturer, a lot of it is spent talking and listening to my inspirational publishing students – I think I learn more from them than they do from me!

At Bath Spa University, I work with the wonderful members of the Publishing Futures Lab team, including Katharine Reeve, Laura Little, Caroline Harris, Neil Baber and Jason Bennett. I am also incredibly lucky to work with one of my oldest and closest friends, Emma Parkin, who I set Conker House up with over three years ago. Working with one of your best friends in a job you love is pretty much as good as it gets. We’re also very blessed that our skill sets and personalities never clash – we complement and, occasionally, challenge each other in the best possible way. That working partnership is probably one of the things I’m most proud of. When we started Conker House as a publishing consultancy, I worried we’d end up working as a silo, but actually we spend all of our time collaborating with editorial, design, print and marketing departments across a wide range of publishers, charities and not-for-profits. That collaboration is one of the things that makes publishing so special – you always feel part of something bigger.

I also get to work with some really amazing authors, including the inspirational Fiona Murden, who we represent and whose debut book Defining You (Nicholas Brealey, 2018) is now shortlisted for the Business Book of the Year 2018 – Self-Development. My authors always enrich my life and add new perspectives to my job and the way I think and work generally.

3) How did you get into publishing?

I had a place to study Classics at university, but on my gap year I did two internships at local publishing companies: one in PR & Marketing at Gaia Books and one in Editorial at Tempus Publishing. I had this very clear vision from the age of 16 that I wanted to work in publishing and I immediately felt at home. Towards the end of my editorial internship, they offered me a job as an Editor, which I took, to the surprise of all my friends and family at the time (especially because I’d hitherto been very geeky and academic, so everyone was convinced university was the route for me). I have never regretted that; publishing is more than a second or third education and I’ve learned/am learning so much.

I went on to take my degree through the Open University while working full-time and having my daughter – not something I’d necessarily recommend as it involved a lot of very late nights and tearful weekends. Nevertheless, I love the fact that I get to pass on my passion for publishing now to the students at Bath Spa University, and watching their entrepreneurship and innovation makes me really excited for the future of the industry. When recruiting now, I look for enthusiasm, dedication and a willingness to learn and ask questions.

Jo de Vries is a Publishing Ambassador for The Publishers Association. The Publishing Ambassadors Programme is a volunteer scheme for publishing professionals consisting of a network of publishing professionals who are passionate about their jobs and interested in opportunities to promote careers in publishing. The Publishers Association receives a lot of interest from people trying to get into the publishing industry, and questions on what specific roles in publishing consist of. By making routes into the industry more transparent, and by putting people and their careers at the heart of this, the Publishers Association hopes to attract a wider variety of people and skill sets to the publishing industry. To become a Publishing Ambassador click here.

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