Alexa von Hirschberg is a Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Publishing. Norah Myers interviews her here.
Alexa von Hirschberg is a Senior Commissioning Editor at Bloomsbury Publishing. Norah Myers interviews her here.
Out of House Publishing Solutions is a fast-growing publishing services company based in Gloucestershire. We offer a comprehensive project management service for every kind of publishing project, and we are currently looking for a project editor to come and work on our expanding list of educational titles. This exciting and varied new role will be vital to the education team in continuing to ensure the timely delivery of high-quality print and digital projects for our clients.
Print Futures, a Printing Charity Initiative, has a number of grants open to UK residents aged 18-30 years old. If you are intending to study (or are currently studying) for a printing, publishing, packaging or graphic arts qualification then you might be eligible to receive one.
The grants have been set up to help young people pay for recognised training courses in a chosen career or to help to develop workplace skills.
If you would like more information, please email firstname.lastname@example.org – entries close 30th April 2017.
Naomi Peel moved from department store retail management to a MA Publishing degree at Kingston University where she developed an interest in data and the business and market analysis area of publishing. Having gone on to work at Nielsen Book Research as a Sales and Account Executive she is now a Sales Analyst for Abrams & Chronicle Books, the European arm of acclaimed publishing houses Abrams, based in New York, and Chronicle Books, based in San Francisco.
8:00 I leave with my current read in hand to start my commute. Thankfully I live a stone’s throw from my local station and on a good day (South West Trains ensure they’re not all good) I get into Waterloo at around 8:30 and walk to the bus stop to get to Farringdon. I’m really not a morning person and I find the orderly, if very long queue for my bus reassuring.
9:00 I get to the office and check my emails for any that have come in from our American publishers overnight. After categorising or filing them accordingly I head to the kitchen to make my first coffee of the day. We are an office of tea drinkers and I’ll likely pick up a round or two later in the day.
9:05-5:00 – LOTS AND LOTS OF EXCEL SPREADSHEETS – details below:
9:05 Coffee made and now firmly ensconced at my desk I start with the first task of the day. Depending on the day of the week my mornings are usually made up of collecting data from a variety of sources to update our internal sales and stock reporting to circulate to sales and our publishers. I’ll analyse the detail of these reports and add jobs to my list accordingly. These can include comparable title gap analyses or delving a little deeper into specific account or sector to compare year on year data.
10:30 My manager, the Director of Finance & Operations, and I meet to discuss what I’ve been working on and any projects he wants me to start. At this time of year there’s lots of budgeting work to be done and I’ve been supporting with that by analysing backlist and frontlist trends as well as seasonal and title level analysis.
12:30/1:00 Lunchtime varies depending on how hungry I am. I try and bring lunch in every day but when I don’t there is a huge range of delicious options near the office. Within a five minute walk we have 2 food markets with every cuisine you can imagine. I’m a big fan of the local Ghanaian curry and plantain or, now that the cold weather is here, Pieminister is another great choice.
1:30-4:30 I tend to use afternoons to get down to bigger projects. I’m always trying to find the most efficient ways to communicate information to the sales teams which can include building a dashboard, or starting a new report from scratch using the tools and formulas available in Excel to pull in the necessary data into one place. Other days I may help find answers to questions that the sales teams have from how average discounts have changed or the impact of branch closures and openings on sales. I also use BookScan to keep an eye on market trends and as I’ve become the resident specialist on our data warehouse software I may show a colleague how to set up and schedule reports.
5:00 The day is over and I set off on my thirty minute walk back to Waterloo. I find walking in the evening a great way to unwind from the day with either music or a podcast. I’m currently listening to My Dad Wrote a Porno and getting some funny looks when I burst out laughing whilst walking down the street, it is totally worth it though!
James Carey is Director of Publishing Operations, UK for The Quarto Group. Having worked in Production, Sales and Operations roles at Dorling Kindersley, Penguin and Bonnier, he is currently responsible for the Quarto Group’s production, freight, distribution and inventory as well as sales reporting, eBooks and various other aspects of operations within a global illustrated publisher.
06h30*– Alarm sounds. Alarm silenced. Groggily check newsfeeds and personal emails, and generally avoid thinking about too much for 45 minutes or so.
07h15 – Shower, breakfast (if I’m awake enough, otherwise I’ll get something on the way to work), get dressed – which means deciding which of my exclusively navy or grey shirts or jumpers to wear with one of my pairs of Levi 511s.**
08h00 – This is when I begin working. I sit at my desk at home and clear my inbox before I leave the house. I started doing this a few months ago and it has really improved the way I work. It means I can get to the office knowing what I actually have to do, rather than noodling around in my inbox, making coffee, and generally procrastinating. If you’re interested, all emails are parsed into tasks and added to GQueues.com in a bastardised form of GTD that I’ve developed over the last couple of years. It’s important to do this properly, in front of a computer I find, rather than on the iPhone.
I then leave the house feeling clear of mind, ready for the descent to the Northern Line, chest puffed, copy of The Economist in hand.
08h45-09h45 – Depending on the state of aforementioned inbox, I will arrive at work sometimes before eight and sometimes pushing ten. I avoid scheduling meetings before 10h00, and also I do not schedule meetings on Fridays as that is the day that I review the week, tie up any loose ends and plan the coming week’s work. Between now and my first meeting of the day I will review today’s task list and determine which tasks are the most important. I will then, depending on how long I have, try to tick off as many smaller tasks from the list. It gives a false sense of momentum which I long ago tricked myself into believing in.
10h00 – Usually this slot is reserved for a one-on-one with one of my team. I have two Production Directors, a Sales Operations Manager, a Trade Programme Manager and a Business Analyst in my team. It’s my job to make sure their goals are clear, we’re all heading in the same direction, and essentially to ensure they are happy and moving forwards. I enjoy these meetings, as it’s the time that I get to find out what’s going on, what’s working, and what needs fixing (thus giving me something to do).
11h00 – Mid-morning to lunch is when I like to properly tackle the first task of the day. For me, this could be something like drafting a company-wide notice on a change in shipping policy, requiring close reading of trade regulations and guidelines and phone discussions with freight forwarders (stay with me here) in order to ensure the company is doing things correctly and efficiently. Or, it could be reviewing sales and print volumes across the different formats that we publish in order to shape our negotiations with our print suppliers effectively. In general, I am usually looking for ways to make the business more efficient, to help people get things done more quickly, and to help them find time to do the things that in turn help the business be more effective.
13h00 – This is the time that I go for lunch, and as far as I’m concerned, this is the correct time for lunch. I may leave at 12h45 for lunch, and have been know to begrudgingly go at 12h30 if I must, but 12h00 is simply out of the question. This is a deep-seated, irrational belief so do not attempt to argue with me on this point. I am a bit of a foodie,*** so I always look forward to lunch as it’s an opportunity to visit some old favourites (the pizza in the Three Johns is very good, Vietnamese at Little Viet Kitchen comes with about a fiver’s worth of coriander and mint, falafel from Alturath on Chapel Market always a winner), or try out some new places. Either that or I will be fasting. ****
14h00-16h00 – Depending on the day, this will either be a continuation of what I call ‘actual work’ (i.e. completing tasks from my task list), or, as my beloved US colleagues begin to arrive in the office, this is usually the time given over to calls with them. I work closely with a US counterpart (who is of course not ‘Director of Publishing Operations’ but ‘Vice-President of…’) so we might catch up on transatlantic projects we’re working on, or we’ll just check in and let each other know what’s been going on. My boss is also based in the US so I might catch up with him, or some of the Ops and Inventory teams in the US. At the moment I am leading a big project to replace all of our various databases with a single solution that will enable US and UK teams to work together much more closely, so there is a weekly status update on this as well as training and discovery work to be done as we push this project onwards.
16h00-17h30 – I’ll try to do the final check of the inbox for the day and then try to use the last couple of hours of work to ensure that anything that absolutely must be finished today is done, and then I’ll start looking at tomorrow’s task list to see if there’s anything I can take care of today, and if there’s anything huge on the horizon that I’ve forgotten about and I need to go home and worry about while I lie awake in bed that night. It’s good to plan these things. I’ll also print out anything that I might want to read on the tube home – despite being a bit of a technophile, I’ve found over the last few years that to review documents with any level of thoroughness, they need to be printed out, and I need a red pen in my hand.
17h30 – The working day is done, and I will either jump straight on the tube home to cook dinner, or I’ll head to the superb Craft Beer Co. Pub some 300 yards from the office, where I’ll catch up with colleagues from all the other departments and find out what is really going on.
** Sadly this is not a Mark Zuckerberg-esque attempt to reduce decision fatigue and improve productivity. I am just rubbish at buying clothes and have realized while writing this article that I own a lot of very, very similar outfits.
**** Something I started doing about five years ago and have been doing with decreasing regularity since. If it is a fast day, this time table should be updated with a black coffee and a cigarette roughly every 60 minutes.
Emma Barnes taught herself to code after founding her own independent publisher, Snowbooks. She went on to build Bibliocloud, the next-generation publishing system. Now she’s on a mission to promote tech skills within the publishing industry and beyond. Emma is also on the newly-formed BookMachine Editorial Board.
6.50am Wake up, wonder what day it is and remember – great! It’s the one day this week that I can dedicate to programming. I’m the MD of the indie publisher Snowbooks, and I’m CEO of Bibliocloud, responsible for sales, finance, and customer success, so each day is very different. But I reserve at least one day a week for slipping the needle in and luxuriating in single-minded programming. It so happens that it’s a Saturday, but that’s when the emails stop… context switching is my biggest foe.
8am First coffee, and a read through the opening chapters of the new Sandi Metz book about object-oriented programming in Ruby. It’s great when you find a book that directly addresses the real-world problems you’re facing. I click through to a podcast that she’s on to hear more.
11am Tests. Yesterday I discussed a piece of code that needs some attention with my colleague, Andy. The code is a method which returns a collection of external URLs that gets displayed in Bibliocloud. The URLs take you to a book’s Amazon.co.uk page, or Amazon.com page, or Wordery page, or British Library page, and so on — a handy and quick way to check what data is out there in the wild. The method doesn’t have automatic test coverage yet, so I’m going to start by documenting current behaviour. I do this using an integration test which mirrors what a user would do. We use Cucumber which gives us a common language between non-technical team members and programmers. I start by creating a new branch of the code based on our master branch, and create a Cucumber feature which literally reads “When I visit the ‘Autodrome’ page in Bibliocloud, and I click on the Amazon.com link, then I should be taken to the ‘Autodrome’ page on Amazon.com”. I then write some code to translate that into automatic test steps.
1pm The grand refactor. The Sandi Metz book has given me a couple more clues as to how this method could be improved, and I’m trying to hold all the concepts in my head so I can look at the problem squarely. Sandi Metz talks about finding the right level of abstraction, so I’m trying to think about which objects this problem is actually concerned with. Is it the validity of the ISBN that is key? Or the destinations themselves? Or the structure of the URLs? Some are built using the ISBN10, others with the ISBN13. Will there be a future case where the URL is built using an ISSN, or a DOI, or an ASIN, or an ISTC, or an ISNI, or an ORCiD iD? If a book belongs to a series, can we say that the book has an ISSN? If its authors have ORCiD IDs, can we use those to create external links for the book? What about linking to the client’s own website?
Or is this a case of YAGNI (‘you ain’t gonna need it’)? All this matters because I want to put the code in the right place, named properly, so that we can find, and change it easily, later. Maintainability, in a large, active system such as Bibliocloud, is probably the most important thing. I start by working with David to sketch out the problem (see the picture), then create a new Ruby class by adding a text file to my local code repository called external_links.rb.
Like the common language provided by Cucumber, the challenge so far has been approached not with code, but with language, reading, grammar, discussion, and story. I reflect — not for the first time — on how relevant publishers’ skills are for programming.
2pm Lunch and back to the other Sandi Metz book I’m reading: Practical Object-Oriented Design in Ruby. There’s a good bit on page 93 where she talks about duck typing, which I wonder might be relevant. The idea about duck typing is that “if it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s a duck”. So my ExternalLinks class doesn’t need to actually be handed an actual book object in order to build the URL. It only expects to be able to get an answer when it asks “what’s your ISBN?” (even if it’s “nope, I don’t have one”). I could similarly give ExternalLinks a display spinner, or a CD, or a cassette audiobook: just so long as it can say what its ISBN is. I’m going to use this idea to write ExternalLinks so that it’s not tightly coupled to the Book class itself – though I’m a bit worried that this is another case of YAGNI. I commit this code to my local branch, glad that I’ve named it “spike/external_url_refactor” so that I can discuss this approach with my colleagues before considering it for a merge into our production system.
3pm Iteration. I run the test that was passing earlier and it fails. Huh. I abandon the integration test and start unit testing at a deeper level of the code. I realise that there’s a requirement I hadn’t understood: some of the destinations are dependent on format, as well as ISBN type. Writing the tests illuminate some of the nuances of the domain and I jump between revising the tests and revising the code (avoiding doing both at the same time which is a recipe for misery).
4pm Leave to pick up my son, as I do every day of the week. Programming allows for flexible hours. It’s the sort of job that benefits from a bit of percolation, and fitting it around family makes me happy that I can experience life and motherhood as it happens, rather than only working hard for some imaginary future.
8pm Share today’s programming. Bedtime is done, and I look at the code again, but I think I’ve got as far as my brain will take me today, so I push the code to a branch on Bitbucket, our remote code repository, and raise a pull request with my colleagues. I’ll look forward to discussing this approach with them on Monday and seeing if they notice any glaring or subtle errors, and suggest better ways to structure the code. [Postscript from the future: on Monday, we found no errors as such, but we improved the test suite and I got a lot of clarity about separation of concerns from my code review with Andy.]
10pm Bit more of that Sandi Metz book. It really is very moreish.
Hello! We’re Abi and Katie from emc design and we’d like to tell you about a typical day here at work! Abi has been at emc for over three years and is now a Middleweight designer. Katie has just celebrated her one year anniversary as Junior designer. We celebrated with party rings that day! Together we are part of Duncan’s Digital Design Team.
8.00am – 8.15am – As most of us live in the local town of Bedford, we often share lifts into work to save petrol and the environment! It’s good that we all get along which always makes for a happy working atmosphere! The location of our studio is in the scenic village of Oakley, which makes the rush hour commute ideal as the traffic is always travelling in the opposite direction. We’ve been getting some pretty spectacular views recently.
8.15am – Do the first tea and coffee round and check to see if emails have come through overnight!
8.30am – In the morning we have team huddles and discuss the jobs that are being sent out that day and assign jobs to each member of the team. These can include: creation of sample design, proof stage correction work, cover designing, typestyling, realia design, artwork and image placement for the many different jobs we work on for our various publishing clients.
8.40am – The initial stage of a project begins with creating a sample design and having conversations with a client determining how they’d like their book to look, bouncing back and forth ideas and concepts in order to give them what they want. Once this has been finalised and they are satisfied with the sample design produced, we receive the full manuscript for the new book from the editors. We import this text into InDesign ready for typestyling and page layout following the agreed sample design.
11.22am – team biscuits (this is a drawer of biscuits (Katie has just learnt that drawer is spelt drawer not draw)) – our team is partial to shhhnacks (a secret guilt free snack).
11.28am – Duncan realises that four biscuits was not quite enough and comes back for six more. On special days, such as work anniversaries and actual birthdays, we have cake! You may have heard about some of our bake-off competitions, we take cake pretty seriously!
12.30pm – At each stage of a project, our work is checked thoroughly by our magical proof checking pixies, who ensure that our work is precise, correct and ready to send through to our clients in immaculate condition.
In the emc studio, we have two rooms, Designers in one room and the Creative Services team in the other. As designers we work closely with the Creative Services team who oversee the artwork commissioning, photo research and proof checking stages of all jobs. It’s nice to be able to pop round the corner to deliver a job to be checked or discuss an artwork brief in person.
1.00pm – LUNCH! Some like to sit at their desks to eat, however we much prefer to go and sit in the kitchen and have a natter with anyone who’d like to join us. When the weather is nice, we sometimes go out and venture into the idyllic country scenes of Oakley to get some fresh air and clear our heads for the busy working afternoon ahead. The change of scenery is often good if you are feeling a bit bogged down with the heavy workload.
2.00pm – Lunch break ends and a member of the team is designated to make a round of drinks! (We make rounds of tea & coffee within our teams of 4-6 designers, so as to avoid one person making 26 cups of tea at any one time)
2.15pm – All our jobs go through a number of proof stages after the initial creation of a book, which allow for editorial changes to be made, artwork to be drawn and realia created. A large percentage of our daily tasks revolve around this middle stage of design work filling up our afternoon and ensure the book is as accurate as possible.
Keeping organised is a key part of our job, so throughout the day, our team reminders schedule pop up on our screens so that we remember the most urgent jobs for that particular day and we work hard as a team to get everything done. Team work makes the dream work after all! We also have a series of checklists that we go through for each stage of the job. Each project in the studio has a job bag to make sure everything is super organised and we’ve got everything covered.
5.30pm – We hope you’ve enjoyed seeing a little snippet of a typical day here at emc design. With lots of projects going through the studio at the same time there’s always variety in what we do and the chance to learn something new too. After a busy afternoon of designing and emailing clients it’s time to go home for a well earned break! We sometimes organise ‘work socials’ as a way to bond over good GIN and good food. Our last one was in celebration of Roald Dahl’s 100th Birthday where we got to eat more cake!
Claire Maxwell works at Icon Books as their Publicity Manager. She has previously worked in journalism and bookselling, and she blogs at www.ithinkijustbloggedmyself.com. Claire is also on the newly-formed BookMachine Editorial Board.
I should preface this piece by saying that there is no typical day in the life of a book publicist. As with many roles in publishing, some days you’re out and about meeting authors and journalists and scouting out event venues, and some days you’re trawling through email after carefully-worded email, just trying to keep your head above water. What I will also say, though, is that being a book publicist is the best job in the world. I know I may be biased, but what a privilege it is to work with creative and inspiring people day after day, helping in some small way to share their story with the world.
7.30am – My alarm goes off.
7.39am – My alarm goes off again.
7.48am – My alarm goes off again. I should probably get up.
9.30am – I arrive at the office*, make a cup of tea and start going through emails that I didn’t have a chance to deal with yesterday, or that have come in overnight.
10.30am – Meeting time! Once a month everyone in the company gets together for a few hours to go through the finances, the budget for the year, how the PR effort is going, feedback from sales reps and booksellers, and changes that might need to be made to the upcoming catalogue. Coffee is made, biscuits are bought, and we all gather around the table to start.
11.30am – *mid meeting* It’s my turn to give my colleagues an update on how publicity for the current list I’m working on is going. This is a good opportunity to let editors know if I might need text early, to send to interested journalists, or to highlight any issues that have arisen. Mostly though, it’s good news. Just that weekend we’ve had a great review of one of our front list titles in The Guardian so I’m feeling rather jovial.
12.30pm – Meeting finishes and my lunchbreak commences. There are literally no nice places to get food in the nearby area (a Sainburys and a sad looking Costa that always smells like toilets are just not cutting it), so I trudge to a Waitrose about 15 minutes’ walk away for an okay sandwich. Side note: why are there no good sandwich options for vegetarians?
1.15pm – Emails, emails, emails. Mostly authors who want updates or have just had a terrific feature idea.
2pm – Three boxes of books arrive in the office – it’s our latest release. I print out labels and press releases and (politely) ask the intern if they would help me package them up.
3pm – I have a meeting with a journalist at a swanky little café in Kings Cross, so I hop on the tube (grabbing some time for a little read on the way) and then spend an hour talking about our upcoming releases and gleaning which might be of interest to this particular media outlet.
4pm – I head back to the office.
4.30pm – More emails to respond to. I swear between approximately 2pm and 4pm the most emails in the WORLD are sent.
5pm – I have a Skype call with our publicity manager in the US, who looks after the books we’re publishing out there. We chat all things books and launches. I kind of wish I was in New York…
5.45pm – I print out my work credit card statement, just sent to me by our accounts manager, so I can go through my receipts (mostly tasty lunches) when I’m working from home tomorrow.
5.55pm – I’m out the door and heading home to an evening of The Walking Dead and a big bowl of pasta.
*I don’t actually work in the office every day, I quite often work from home, but for the purposes of this exercise I think a day when I’m in the office and out-and-about would be more interesting than one where I’m squirrelling away at my laptop in my pyjamas.
Hattie Grunewald is an agent at Blake Friedmann agency. She assists Carole Blake, handles short fiction and permissions on behalf of Blake Friedmann clients, and has been building her list since the start of 2016. Hattie is looking for women’s fiction, crime and thrillers, and realistic YA and middle-grade fiction. In non-fiction, she is looking for personal development, accessible books about politics, economics and science, and funny and clever narrative non-fiction.
Agents are nothing without writers so when you’re first starting to build your list it’s important to meet as many as possible. I’ve been going to writers’ groups, holding pitching sessions and Q&As and taking every opportunity that comes my way to introduce myself to the writing community. It builds my profile, prompts hundreds of polished, high-quality submissions and broadens my sphere of contacts – and you never know when you’re meeting the next bestseller.
It’s not just important to meet writers – agenting is a relationships business and it’s vital to build contacts in publishing houses, scouting agencies and with your colleagues in agenting. Networking when you’re new to the industry and don’t know anyone can be very daunting, but whether it’s coffee with an editor or a huge summer party, it’s important not to pass up any opportunity that will broaden your network.
It’s vital to follow up with any new contacts via email. Not only is it basic manners to thank people for a party invitation, lunch or half an hour of their time, it also confirms that they have your details and can contact you if they wish, and can reinforce a good impression of you. And it’s not just for the hosts – if you have a great discussion with someone at a party, a follow-up email can take that contact to the next level… and the next time you go to a party, you know you’ll have a friend.
As agents we’re very used to coming up with ‘Elevator Pitches’ for our clients, but often we spend less time thinking about how to pitch ourselves. But agenting is becoming increasingly competitive, with new agents and agencies springing up every week, and it’s important to think about how to make yourself stand out, both to clients and to editors. This is about both the kind of agency you work for – and talking to your colleagues might help clarify this – and your own identity as an agent. Getting a clear idea of your tastes and preferences will not only help you locate new talent, but will also let authors know why they should come to you.
When you’re first starting out as an agent, there can be a lot of disappointment – whether it’s a book that doesn’t get sold or a dream author who chooses another agent. It’s important to stay positive, confident and optimistic. You can often learn more about an editor’s tastes from a rejection than an offer, and either way you have made a new contact. Every setback teaches you lessons you can learn from next time round – and when it comes, your success will be even sweeter for it.
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