In Conversation with Sade Omeje

Posted in Neem Tree Blog on May 27, 2021

Sade Omeje is an Editorial and Publisher’s Assistant at HarperCollins, working across the William Collins and 4th Estate divisions. A proud Mancunian, Sade completed her degree at the University of Manchester before coming to London to pursue publishing. We connected through a virtual open day at HarperCollins, a new initiative providing publishing hopefuls with a glimpse into the industry. Sade spearheaded this scheme, an impressive and admirable feat for her first year in publishing.

Lisa: How did your role in publishing come about and when did your interest in the industry develop?

Sade: I got my degree in English Literature and American Studies at the University of Manchester and it was only in my second year that I learned about publishing as a job. Anna Kelly, Editorial Director at 4th Estate, gave a talk at my university. I proceeded to research the industry, realised it was something I wanted to pursue, and eventually did a two-week work experience placement at Penguin. Through this placement, I discovered how much I loved the culture and the people in the industry. I started to apply for open-ended jobs across various departments and after lots of ups and downs (and far too many train tickets to London!), I finally got my current job at HarperCollins.

L: Particularly as someone who was coming from a completely different industry and who started off with no connections in publishing (or in London more generally), I was thrilled to discover the virtual work experience scheme at HarperCollins, and I hope other publishers follow your lead. How did you come up with the idea for it?

S: I take part in the SYP mentoring scheme and one of the mentees was talking about how helpful it is to use work experience as a jumping off point. This made me reflect on the value of networking and of welcoming a wider range of voices and ideas into the industry. When the Black Lives Matter movement emerged last summer, there was a lot of talk about diversity in publishing. As a division, we were thinking about what we could do internally to bring in more people from different backgrounds, and the idea for the virtual open days came about through those conversations. We wanted to make sure we were offering experience to people with a range of backgrounds and ideas, and also, for example, to those who might be in their thirties and forties wanting a career change. It can be difficult to open up the bubble and make the industry accessible to those people. I wanted to ensure we did our very best to do so.

L: What do you love most about working in editorial? Was it a department you knew a lot about beforehand? Have you been surprised by what the day-to-day entails?

S: I didn’t know anything about editorial when I came into this role! A lot of people think of editorial first when imagining a career in publishing; it sounds fun and exciting and very author-focused. For me, the first few months mainly involved figuring out how our editors operate. As I work across two imprints, I’m exposed to such a spread of authors and genres, from commercial to literary fiction to political non-fiction, and more. What I love most about my role is the ability to dip into different submissions and speak to editors about their process: how they communicate with authors, how they pre-empt and reject books, how they handle relationships in the industry. I’ve discovered just how relationship-based the publishing industry is and it has been such a unique experience getting to see how each editor navigates this.

L: How were you able to excel in your role in the first few months? What are some things to keep in mind for someone starting out in their first publishing role?

S: What helped me most was building connections. I would advise anyone to speak to as many people as you can and don’t be afraid to ask loads of questions. You’ll feel far more confident in meetings once you’ve taken the time to network and get on people’s radars. It can be hard when you’re first starting out if you don’t already know people in the industry, as this is such a small industry in which everyone knows each other. There is so much value in building connections with people in junior roles, as you’re all in the same boat, so you can develop more natural relationships and friendships. One of the biggest issues in publishing is retention and I think it’s important to feel the passion to stay in it. Feeling well-connected to others helps massively with this.

Thank you so much for speaking with Neem Tree Press, Sade!