Neem Tree Blog

In Conversation with Chris Moody

Chris Moody is the founder of Bang the Drum. He has over 35+ years of experience in publishing and has worked with some of the largest UK publishers prior to going freelance and moving to working with smaller publishers which he says, “was a real eye opener.” He set up Bang The Drum to handle sales to UK booksellers on behalf of independent publishers. According to Chris, “sales is a great place to learn about the business of publishing. You are exposed to customers, pricing, scheduling, content, marketing, profitability, the whole ecosystem- and you can use this experience and knowledge to make a real contribution to a publisher.”  Read on to get a further understanding of what it’s really like working in sales for the publishing industry. 

 

What does Bang The Drum do? When and why did you start it? 

Bang The Drum handles sales to UK booksellers on behalf of independent publishers.  I have been freelancing as a sales person for about 5 years and set up Bang The Drum about two years ago 

 

Tell us a bit about yourself, and what drew you to publishing? Do you think the route you took is possible in the current marketplace?  

I have worked in publishing for 35+ years, for the majority of that time in sales. I started at 18 as a publishing trainee at Hodder. This involved spending around 2/3 months in each publishing function within the business – from the warehouse to editorial – and at the end of two years you would be offered a permanent post. A mixture of a love of books and where I lived at the time (I was within walking distance of the offices in Kent) meant publishing seemed a good fit for me. I am sure this route doesn’t exist now– I was able to live at home initially (not London), I didn’t have a degree, and I got a great grounding in how the ecosystem of publishing worked. 

 

What’s been the most challenging part of running this business, before and during Covid?   

To be honest the challenges generally have been the same, getting books into the available customers. During the pandemic there were obviously fewer titles being published and fewer booksellers open. I was able to dip into government support at the beginning of the pandemic and as I sell across a range of different customers it meant I wasn’t exposed to relying on sales through one particular sector being forced to close.  

 

You’ve worked with various independent publishing houses over the years. How do you feel the size of a publishing house impacts your day-to-day at work? What are looming challenges or positives trends we should look out for in the next five years in book sales and distribution.  

I had worked at some of the largest UK publishers prior to going freelance and moving to working with smaller publishers was a real eye opener. When you are carrying an established publisher’s lists your emails get answered quickly and your phone calls returned. Representing smaller publishers has meant a lot of chasing customers and clients, constant following up and thinking about how to use fewer resources effectively. It took me a while to get my head around the change. Selling now means so much revolves around presenting titles at the right time with the right information to the right customers at the right price. Not all smaller publishers have the resources to do this– so part of my challenge is to work with them to maximise the return on their resource. I would hope that one of the positive trends that will emerge is indie publishers working with sales agencies effectively to combine their efforts, giving those sales agencies compelling lists of publishers with which to engage retailers,  

 

What are you most proud of in your publishing career so far? 

Still being here, having good friends in the industry and that people still come to me for advice. 

Favourite book(s) you’ve worked on at Bang The Drum? 

I have had the privilege to work on so many great books during my career both at larger publishers and my indie clients. If you are forcing me to make a choice from my Bang The Drum clients I would say Nature’s Toybox from Storyhouse, Chill With Lil from Ragged Bears and The Most Important Animal Of All from Mama Makes Books. 

 

Do you have any advice for people aspiring to work in the publishing industry and specifically in sales and distribution? 

Sales is a great place to learn about the business of publishing. You are exposed to customers, pricing, scheduling, content, marketing, profitability, the whole ecosystem- and you can use this experience and knowledge to make a real contribution to a publisher. I know many people who have married their knowledge of sales to a creative drive and made their way in corporate publishing or created wonderful indie publishers.  

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights with Neem Tree Press, Chris! 

 

 

 

In Conversation with Rumana Yasmin

Rumana Yasmin is the founder of BokBok Books, an independent book publisher specialising in both English and Bengali children’s books. Starting the company with no industry knowledge, Rumana’s journey into publishing went hand in hand with being a mother. Inspired by the lack of Bengali representation on the bookshelves today, she decided to address the gap in the market by growing a community of authors and illustrators of Bengali heritage to tell their stories to her children and to the next generations.  Although this did not come without its challenges, Rumana shares her advice for new publishing hopefuls – “I would say not to be put off by a lack of the right educational background/work experience. I have found that there are always people who are willing to come forward and help you learn the ropes.” 

To begin with, what do you love most about being a publisher? 

Every project opens up possibilities for new collaborations, a space where a rich exchange of ideas and know-how can take place, and a chance to really fall in love with a book while creating it.  

Tell us a bit about yourself and what inspired you to set up your own publishing company, BokBok Books?  

My journey as a publisher and a mother went hand in hand. One of my strongest urges as a new mother was to become a storyteller for my children and raise them amongst the tales that I had grown up listening to. My mother was an amazing storyteller and I wished to carry on her legacy. Stories were also my way of building a bond between my children and my homeland, Bangladesh, which I had left behind 12 years ago to live in the UK. But I soon realised that my stories, my words, just weren’t enough. I needed to have a whole village to tell them stories – and that’s when I thought of this idea of growing a community of authors and illustrators of Bengali heritage to tell their stories to my children and to the next generations.  

Did you face many challenges doing this? How did you finance the company initially?  

Learning to juggle my babies – my children and my business – is an ongoing process that I know can never be mastered. What I am learning is to have reasonable expectations for myself in all my roles.  

It was tough at the beginning, having to learn all the ropes, since I had no previous experience in publishing, but what I quickly learnt about indie publishers is that we’ve got each other’s backs, and whoever I have asked so far for help or advice has happily provided it. 

I started BokBok Books with very little funding from my own pocket, but now we are stronger, with financial support from Arts Council England and Beximco Bangladesh, who believe in our aim as an organisation to support underrepresented talent in the arts.  

Did your previous educational or work experience help or did you find yourself starting from scratch? 

I started from scratch in terms of my knowledge of the publishing industry. What did come in handy was an immense love for words and stories, which I am lucky enough to have explored through my first degree in literature and linguistics.  

I’d love to know more about BokBok Books! Could you tell us a bit more about your publishing house.  

We are a publishing house focused on representing Bengali authors and illustrators in children’s literature. Anyone who gets involved in creating a book with us shares our passion to bring about positive change, through one children’s book at a time.  

My two children are my constant inspiration for BokBok Books. We love doing bokbok (the word for ‘endless chatter’ in Bengali) in our household, and books contribute greatly towards fuelling the endless chatter. So I always find myself wanting to make books about subjects that I would like to bring up in conversations with my children as they grow up, be it our heritage, equal rights, or environmental justice. No subject of discussion is off limits in our household, and I hope our books too can make way for open conversations amongst all our readers. 

How do you source your books? Are there literary agents that you work with or is it more word-of-mouth and organic? 

People either send in their manuscripts to me, or we develop ideas for in-house projects and then match the right team members with each project. 

What are you most proud of in your publishing journey so far?  

Our village of authors and illustrators already numbers more than thirty, not bad for a fairly new publishing company. I love how we can connect through the process of making books, and it fills me with pride that we can represent them in children’s literature worldwide.  

Favourite book(s) you’ve worked on at BokBok Books? 

I get immensely attached to every book that we work on. Currently, we are developing the content for ‘Sensing Bangladesh – A Children’s Guidebook to Art from Bangladesh.’ We are running a residency with six poets to develop the content for the book, which is going to feature artworks by Bangladeshi artists, accompanied by poetry responses, interactive prompts, guides and facts. Working together as a team, watching this book unfold, is truly a captivating process. This book is my current passion.  

Finally, do you have any advice for people aspiring to work in the publishing industry?  

From my own experience, I would say not to be put off by a lack of the right educational background/work experience. I have found that there are always people who are willing to come forward and help you learn the ropes; and also, there are many roles in the industry, so there is always the potential to transfer skills. I guess what matters most is a love for books, and a hands-on attitude to learning and working collaboratively.  

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights with Neem Tree Press, Rumana! 

 

 

In Conversation with Sanjee de Silva

Sanjee de Silva is a relatively recent addition to the Sweet Cherry team and comes from an amazingly diverse background – from being an accounts manager and brand manager for companies like Ralph Lauren and Selfridges but also as a fashion stylist and as a general manager in the construction industry. He brings a wonderfully varied perspective to the company and values a truly inclusiveness and collaborative management style.  

To start us off, what do you love most about the publishing industry? 

What I love most about the industry is the power to influence young minds through young eyes, and it’s a responsibility I take seriously. I would like Sweet Cherry Publishing to be a supporter of parent and teachers, not only as an educational tool but as a source of inspiration and escapism for every reader we reach. 

Coming from a background outside of the industry, what drew you to publishing, and more specifically, to children’s books? 

I am always looking for a way of leaving a legacy for future generations. We all have responsibility to make the world a better place and children’s book publishing gives me the opportunity to make a difference. 

Congratulations on being named the British Books Awards Small Press of the Year 2021! What do you think makes Sweet Cherry Publishing unique? 

Our Leicester roots make us stand out from the crowd and naturally this makes our workforce so diverse. As it’s Pride Month, we are proud of the fact that we are owned and run by LGBTQ+ individuals. We think it makes a real difference to our creative processes and the books we publish. 

Why do you feel it’s important for there to be diversity within the publishing industry itself?  

Diversity should be natural, like it has been for us. It shouldn’t be about hitting a quota or reaching a statistic. Winning Small Press of the Year 2021 has made us look inwardly to see how we can do any more. There is a lot we can all learn from each other and I would encourage other publishers to do the same. 

Do you have any advice for people aspiring to work in the publishing industry? 

Keep at it, keep going and keep submitting. You only have one life to live and you should live it doing something you love. We support the independent publishers of the future get into publishing and think outside the box when it comes to recruitment. Often we find that by recruiting outside of the industry we not only bring transferable skills but fresh thinking, which is exactly what the industry needs. 

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

 

In Conversation with Divia Kainth

Divia Kainth is Head of Sales and Marketing at independent children’s publisher, Sweet Cherry Publishing. The company recently took home the Small Press of the Year 2021 prize at the British Book Awards. Divia began at Sweet Cherry as an intern in 2018 after graduating from Oxford Brookes University and has gone on to make a huge impact on the company. Divia went from joining as a Sales and Rights Assistant, to Publicity Executive, to Head of Sales and Marketing over the course of just three years.  The company was founded by Abdul Kadir Thadha and prides itself on its Leicester heritage. The team are deeply involved with their local community, working hard to promote reading to a young audience. They are also working hard to promote diversity in children’s literature and within the publishing industry and in this they view their location as a huge advantage. “Being based in Leicester we have only diverse candidates to choose from and we recruit without prejudice…We do not need to fit into a demographic or diversity agenda because we are inherently and organically diverse. Authentically so.”

Tell us a bit about yourself, and what drew you to publishing? 

I was born and raised in Leicester and have loved reading books ever since my childhood. My mum would take my sisters and me on a walk to our local library every weekend and I’d always leave with two or three books. As I grew up, my love for reading turned from a space for imagination to a means of escaping the woes of teenage life – especially A-Level Chemistry! Reading books taught me a lot of life lessons outside of the classroom, but what I didn’t really know then was that there’s a whole world behind making books besides writing or editing them. When it came to making university choices, I fell in love with the campus and Publishing Media course at Oxford Brookes during an Open Day and after that, I couldn’t see myself anywhere else. It was somewhere I could combine my entrepreneurial skills with my passion for books – and suddenly everything fell into place! 

You started working in the industry from a young age, what would you say are some of the most important lessons you’ve learnt during your time at Sweet Cherry Publishing? 

The most important thing I’ve learnt in a busy and fast-paced environment like publishing is to never lose sight of your passion. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a hectic schedule or aching feet at a book fair so sometimes I take a minute to remind myself that I’m here because I’m a reader and a book lover, first and foremost. 

As the Head of Sales and Marketing at Sweet Cherry, what do you feel are some of the key aspects of a successful marketing campaign for a book? 

The key aspect to a successful campaign is to really know the audience. At a small indie publisher, time and resources are limited so it’s important to establish the ins and outs of your target reader and/or who has the spending power.  

What are some of your favourite books you’ve worked on at Sweet Cherry, and are there any upcoming projects you’re particularly excited about? 

My favourite campaign was the 2019 launch for Gill Stewart’s contemporary teen book, Lily’s Just Fine. We took it to YALC in the summer and it was great to be surrounded by a community of fellow YA book lovers. Oh, and celeb-spotting at YALC was a bonus! 

More recently, my favourite publicity campaign has been the launch of Lauren Hoffmeier’s yoga-themed picture book, Mula and the Fly. Lauren is a children’s yoga teacher based in NYC and brings so much energy, passion and enthusiasm to her book launch. We secured coverage in a wide range of yoga and mindfulness publications, including YOGA Magazine, as well as a children’s event in New Jersey and some fun YouTube videos of brand new yoga moves inspired by the characters. 

Do you have any advice for people aspiring to work in the publishing industry? 

We’re all book lovers but it’s important to have commercial awareness, too. Visit bookshops, browse charts and keep an eye on what’s happening on social media. Also, don’t let internship rejections get you down. There are plenty of ways to gain experience without working in a publishing house – tutor English, volunteer at a charity bookshop or offer your services to a self-published author. You’re guaranteed to have something different to talk about during an interview if you think outside of the box. 

Thank you so much for taking the time to share your insights with Neem Tree Press, Divia!

In Conversation with Sade Omeje

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!

 

In Conversation with Taliha Quadri

Taliha Quadri is a British Pakistani freelance editor based in Bedfordshire, England. She has been an editor for over six years and has worked as a proofreader for Hachette, Joffe Books and Bloomsbury. She is also the Events Officer for the Society of Young Publishers (UK). Taliha holds a First Class Honours degree in English Language and Literature from the University of Hertfordshire and a Master’s with Distinction in Creative Writing from The University of Edinburgh.

To start us off, what do you love most about the publishing industry?

I love that it’s incredibly creative and powerful because it influences culture and contemporary thinking, and it also reacts to it. This is an industry where people seek to inspire, bewitch, tug at heartstrings and educate, and that makes it resilient; people turn to books in good times, in bad times and in all the times in between. I also love working with other bookworms and having serious conversations about the need to sniff freshly printed books and how exciting cover reveals are.

How do you find working as a freelancer in the industry? Any advice you would give to someone who is considering going freelance?

I like having control over when and where I work, and which projects I accept. I’ve genuinely enjoyed reading every book I’ve edited!

People in freelancing are lovely too. It’s a lonely gig but I think other freelancers in the industry recognise that and make an effort to connect. I’ve even created a Slack channel called Freelancers Assemble with the sole purpose of it being a friendly space for publishing freelancers to connect – we have a ‘stet’ emoji and a ‘watercooler’ channel for the all-important memes and pictures of pets.

My advice would be to network and invest in training. If possible, begin networking before you train because word-of-mouth recommendations can go a long way.

What does your role as the SYP Events Officer involve?

I organise events such as panels, socials, networking events and conferences for members and non-members across areas of the UK and Ireland not covered by our regional committees. This involves coming up with ideas for event and then identifying potential hosts/speakers and contacting them, writing copy, working with the treasurer to plan event budgets, collaborating with the communications and social media officers, overseeing events officers from regional committees and assisting with some administration tasks related to events and awards. There’s lots to do! I share the role with Sarah Moore, so we get to bounce ideas off each other and divide tasks between us.

I’d love to know more about The Selkie! Could you tell us a bit about this project and how it came about?

The idea for The Selkie came about in 2018 while I was on the MSc Creative Writing course at The University of Edinburgh. My fellow co-founders were also fellow course-mates. All of us were passionate about seeing wider representation in publishing and wanted to help, so we launched a literary magazine to act as a platform to showcase talented writers from under-represented backgrounds.

In 2019, we officially registered The Selkie Publications CIC with a mission to help writers from under-represented backgrounds. Registering as a non-profit community interest company ensured any money we made went back into the company towards helping us fulfil our mission. It also opened us up to grants, so we now run workshops and additional services when we have the funds.

Favourite under the radar book(s)?

Maps for Lost Lovers by Nadeem Aslam. It’s set in a fictional town somewhere in the midlands in England, within a South Asian community. The disappearance of two star-crossed lovers Jugnu and Chanda sends ripples through the community and the story, told through the perspective of Jugnu’s brother Shamas, touches on deeply tragic subjects such as honour killings. It’s a dark tale of love, tradition and customs, and loss. Honestly, this book exhausted all my emotions and was the first book where I connected so strongly to the story because of the representation, so I highly recommend it – but with caution!

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights with Neem Tree Press, Taliha!

Taliha can be found on Twitter @talihawrites. We’d also love to connect with you @neemtreepress.

In Conversation with Amy Wong

This week’s instalment of Publishing Insiders features Amy Wong, production controller at Bloomsbury. Originally from Lincolnshire, Amy has worked at various independent publishing houses and is the former Vice-Chair of the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) UK.

What made you choose a career in publishing?

The obvious answer would be my love of books! However, my involvement with one of the student newspapers at university also led me to publishing. While I soon realised I didn’t want to be a journalist, I really liked the collaboration involved, editing and discussing ideas for articles, laying out pages, and watching each issue come together with the knowledge that it would be read by other people. Publishing seemed like a good way to combine what I enjoyed about the student newspaper, the skills I gained from it and of course, my love of books.

It took me a while to understand what publishing actually is though. Going to industry events (thanks to a New Writing North scheme) and doing various work experience placements and internships helped to demystify it. It was meeting people who already worked in the industry that really convinced me publishing was a viable career option for someone like me.

Did you always want to work in Production? What was your experience finding your first job like?

Not at all! Like a lot of people, I originally thought I wanted to work in Editorial, ideally in academic publishing, but I knew it was important to keep an open mind. As a result, I applied for an Editorial Assistant job at Sweet Cherry Publishing, a children’s publisher based in Leicester. After my interview, I was offered a job as an Editorial and Production Assistant, mainly because of my experience with the student newspaper, which meant I had some basic InDesign skills. (This isn’t necessary for a lot of Production jobs though!)

I often found myself talking about the student newspaper during interviews even though I had publishing experience. I think people often worry that they need to do loads of internships to get a job in publishing, but a lot of the skills you need can be gained in other ways.

Despite not really knowing much about Production at the time, I accepted the job at Sweet Cherry Publishing and it worked out for the best. I ended up enjoying the Production half of my job more than the Editorial side, but found there was a lot of overlap in the skills they required.

What do you love most about working in production? What makes it unique from other publishing departments?

The thing I love most is seeing finished copies of the titles I’ve worked on. I think what makes Production unique is that it really makes you appreciate the physicality of a printed book and the overall package – not just elaborate finishes (although I won’t say no to a bit of foil!) but also the paper, the binding, the text design. I’m sure I’ve attracted many strange looks by inspecting books so closely in public!

You’ve worked at various independent publishing houses. How do you feel the size of a publishing house impacts your day-to-day at work?

I think starting my career at Sweet Cherry Publishing, which was made up of about ten people at the time I joined, really forced me out of my comfort zone. In smaller companies, there’s often less of a distinction between departments so I ended up wearing a few different hats and I was given a lot of responsibility early on due to the size of the team – for example, I ended up managing audiobooks!

I learnt a lot at Sweet Cherry Publishing, but I think moving into a Production-specific role at Bloomsbury allowed me to really focus on developing my print production knowledge. I now handle a greater number of frontlist titles per year – not just for Bloomsbury UK, but also for Bloomsbury USA and Bloomsbury Australia – and I enjoy getting to work on such a wide variety of genres. However, the way I interact with my titles is very different these days. For example, I used to typeset titles myself at Sweet Cherry Publishing whereas typesetting is handled by external suppliers at Bloomsbury.

Working on adult books is also very different to working on children’s books!

What are you most proud of in your publishing career so far?

One of the things I’m proudest of is being UK Vice-Chair of the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) last year. The SYP supports people who are either trying to get into publishing or who are in the early stages of their career. It felt great to be able to make a difference and help people.

Favourite book(s) you’ve worked on at Bloomsbury?

Piranesi by Susanna Clarke will always be one of my career highlights – it was a huge honour to work on such a highly anticipated and special book, and I learnt a lot during the process.

Three Women by Lisa Taddeo is also on my list of favourites because it’s the book I feel best reflects my journey at Bloomsbury. I started off as a Production Assistant working on reprints and it was great to see it take off as more and more copies were requested. The Foyles Non-Fiction Book of the Year edition was the first special edition I handled from the beginning and then later I produced the various paperback editions.

Thank you so much for sharing your experiences and insights with Neem Tree Press, Amy!

Amy can be found on Twitter @_amywong. We’d also love to connect with you @neemtreepress.

 

In Conversation with Katalina Watt

Katalina Watt is an author and publisher based in Edinburgh. She currently works in Audio and Digital for Canongate Books, an award-winning independent publisher, and as Audio Director for khōréō, a quarterly magazine of speculative fiction elevating voices of immigrant and diaspora authors. She received the Literature Alliance Scotland Next Level Award for future leaders in the book industry in 2020. Her fiction was Longlisted for Penguin Write Now 2020 and has been published in various anthologies and magazines including Haunted Voices, Unspeakable, and Extra Teeth.

Hi, Katalina! Thank you so much for speaking with Neem Tree Press. Could you tell us a bit about your journey into publishing?

I graduated from the University of Glasgow in 2015 with an English Lit degree and obtained my first role in publishing through Creative Access working in audio for Little Brown Book Group, part of Hachette. It was an excellent introduction to publishing and I received immense support both from Creative Access and my colleagues at Hachette. After that, I moved to Canada and worked for a couple of years in bookselling and events for an independent children’s bookshop, which gave me valuable insight into the North American market.

When I returned to the UK, I did my MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University. While completing my masters I worked in events and bookselling for local award-winning Golden Hare Books. This was a great opportunity to become immersed in the local literary community and meet generous authors, readers, publishers, and booksellers.

At the tail-end of postgrad degree I was offered a position at Canongate Books in their audio and digital department. I’ve been there since 2019, undertaking my new role as Audio and Digital Executive at the start of 2021. I joined the newly formed khōréō team as Audio Director at the end of 2020 and we launched our first issue in spring 2021.

What do you love most about working in audio? Which elements make it unique from other publishing roles/departments?

Working in audio is a hybrid role which means in a smaller team you get to hone skills across editorial, production, sales, rights, marketing, and design. I really enjoy working closely across departments in-house but also externally with producers at studios, audiobook narrators, literary and talent agents, and of course with authors. Audio is an adaptation and casting the right voice for each project is one of my favourite parts of the role. The performance of the narrator can bring the story to life and make you relate to the text in a new way. At the best of times, it’s like bottled theatre.

Audio is an area of publishing which continues to grow and innovate. As well as audiobooks we have thriving communities around podcasts, audio dramas, and other forms of immersive narratives. I’m hopeful publishing will collaborate more with other industries such as interactive theatre, tech, and video gaming to find new exciting avenues for digital storytelling in the future.

For someone starting out in their first publishing role, what advice/tips would you give them?

– Keep an open mind about your future in the industry and think outside the box. There are many transferrable or overlapping skills for different roles and departments.

– As a former bookseller and event organiser, I’d advise attending and getting involved with events! Many festivals, conventions, and bookshop events are taking place digitally and there may be scope to get involved with aspects such as programming, chairing, and bookselling. It’s a great way to understand the market, network within the industry, and chat directly with readers about what they’re excited for and why.

– Reach out to folk in the industry with specific questions if you’d like to. Social media can be helpful for this and most people are happy to chat or point you in the direction of resources or other connections. However, ensure you’ve read their previous interviews/articles and are asking something specific e.g. if you’re interested in Publicity and are approaching a publicist, find out what authors they’ve worked with and research their campaigns to help you craft specific questions.

– Stay up to date with industry news and learn about different roles and departments to see which may be a good fit for you. Read The Bookseller but also newsletters like The FLIP, In the Read, and podcasts such as Publishing Insight.

– Get involved with networks such as The Society of Young Publishers, Publishing Hopefuls, and BookMachine, and newsletters such as The Indie Insider, The Publishing Post, and The Publishing Planet to name a few. This is an industry built on interpersonal relationships, but there’s more than one way of networking. Find what’s comfortable for you.

As a woman of colour in the publishing industry, what are some of the unique challenges you’ve had to face that your white colleagues have not?

Race is often more visible than other identity markers but my experience in publishing is inherently linked to the intersections of my identity – many aspects of which have also been traditionally marginalised and underrepresented alongside race. My experiences will echo those of other women of colour, but we are not a monolith and I think it’s important when discussing EDI to remember that.

In my time in publishing the conversations around accessibility and representation have become more transparent, more nuanced, and the improvements more tangible. I’m grateful there are more people in positions of power, influence, and decision-making who reflect a wider range of backgrounds and experiences. That being said, we still have a long way to go and there’s plenty of research and resources which break down the data to show us the work we need to do.

What are you most proud of in your publishing and/or writing career so far?

In 2020 I was Longlisted for the Penguin Write Now programme for my fiction, and I was also awarded the Next Level Award for career development by Literature Alliance Scotland. Both these programmes have supported me with growing my creative and professional practice. I’ve worked with talented mentors and industry connections to shape my future career plans and received training to hone and develop my skillset.

As a mentor myself, I’m passionate about sharing knowledge and resources and creating opportunities for emerging writers and publishers, therefore I’m immensely proud and grateful to have received this support and guidance.

Favourite book(s) you’ve worked on at Canongate?

Mrs Death Misses Death by Salena Godden narrated by the author

Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith narrated by Marli Siu

The Living Mountain by Nan Shepherd narrated by Tilda Swinton and Robert MacFarlane

 

Forthcoming titles in production:

Small Bodies of Water by Nina Mingya Powles narrated by the author, winner of the Nan Shepherd Prize for Nature Writing

The Book of Form and Emptiness by Ruth Ozeki

The Startup Wife by Tahmina Anam

 

Finally, I’d love to know which books have had the greatest impact on your life?

This was such a difficult question but here is a selection of books I find often find myself gifting and recommending and certain passages or images have stayed with me years after reading:

 

Beloved by Toni Morrison

Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

The Bloody Chamber and Other Stories by Angela Carter

Her Body and Other Parties by Carmen Maria Machado

The Earthsea Quartet by Ursula Le Guin

Sabriel by Garth Nix

On Earth We’re Briefly Gorgeous by Ocean Vuong

Through the Woods by Emily Carroll

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Never Have I Ever by Isabel Yap

The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath

 

Thank you so much for giving such thoughtful, detailed answers, Katalina. We’re excited to continue following your career!

 

 

Katalina can be found on Twitter @KatalinaWatt. We’d also love to connect with you @neemtreepress.

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Thank you all for reading. Keep an eye on our social media pages for upcoming instalments of Publishing Insiders. We have lots of wonderful interviewees coming up soon!

In Conversation with Tanja Goossens

For our first instalment of Publishing Insiders, a new interview series on the blog, we spoke with Tanja Goossens, TV extraordinaire-turned-publishing professional. I connected with Tanja through Twitter and the Publishing Hopefuls Facebook Group (a wonderful community for those of you trying to break into the industry). We actually both made it to final round interviews for a role at Curtis Brown, where Tanja now works. She kindly connected me with Archna Sharma, founder of Neem Tree Press, and this led to my current position as Publishing Assistant. The value of networking in this industry cannot be understated, nor can the supportive, generous nature of publishing folks. I’m excited to share our interview below.

Hi Tanja! Thank you for doing this interview with Neem Tree Press. First of all, congratulations on your new job at Curtis Brown. Could you tell us a bit about your route into publishing and what inspired you to seek out a role in Rights?

My route into publishing was pretty long. I graduated from my Bachelor’s in Media in The Netherlands in 2012 and worked in television until I moved to London in June 2017. Soon after starting a job as Account Manager, I realised I didn’t want to return to television anymore and decided to change my career path. Being a voracious reader (something you’ll find in many job ads!), I applied for an MA in Publishing and started at Oxford Brookes University in 2018. I studied part-time, in order to work alongside it to pay the bills, so I didn’t apply for internships or work experience at first. Halfway through my second year, I started applying for internships and jobs. I got two interviews for an internship and an assistant role, but then… COVID-19 happened. There were no vacancies for about 4 months. It seemed hopeless. Luckily, from last summer onwards, vacancies appeared again, and I landed another interview in September. I didn’t get the job, was heartbroken, but continued. After dozens of rejections and four more unsuccessful interviews, I reached out to one of my former lecturers, who matched me with Clare and Ruth from Rights Consultancy Rights2. With a lot of transferable skills in my back pocket already, I gained some more applicable experience there. When I was invited for an interview with Curtis Brown shortly after, it turned out to be a great match. I accepted a job there as Translation Rights Executive in early December.

As someone who found the application process for publishing roles absolutely gruelling (and at times honestly a bit soul-destroying), it could be tough finding the drive to keep applying. How difficult was it for you to land a role in publishing? What kept you motivated during your application period?

I must give a lot of credit to my boyfriend here. His positive ‘don’t give up, you’ll get there’ attitude pulled me through. Another thing that helped me a lot was the Publishing Hopeful Facebook Group. I’ve connected with some lovely people, made friends, and most of them have jobs now. I don’t want to sugar-coat it; the publishing industry is highly popular and there aren’t enough jobs, but passion and perseverance do help! Also, don’t beat yourself up for feeling down after a rejection. The only way I could move forward is to allow myself to feel down for a day or two, and then pick up where I left off.

I’m curious now that you’re working in your dream role, what parts of your job have matched your expectations and what parts have perhaps been a bit different from what you expected?

The job absolutely matched my expectations and beyond! I’m very lucky to have a manager that not only lets me do admin tasks (which is a big part of the job), but I also get to sell rights in some territories already. We’re now preparing for the virtual meetings we’re doing at the end of the month as our own Spring Book Fair.

Working remotely has of course been tough for everyone. I would imagine as someone starting out in a role (and not being able to meet new colleagues face-to-face), it must present some unique challenges. How has your experience been so far?

It was very strange at first and getting job training over video calls could be quite draining. However, Curtis Brown started working from home a year ago, so everyone was already used to it and could integrate me easily. The company regularly checks in with everyone, making sure the working conditions at home are good, and there are people to reach out to when you’re not feeling well in the current climate, which I really appreciate. It’s a shame I haven’t met any of my colleagues in real life, but maybe we’ll be lucky enough to meet for a picnic in the park in the spring!

What are some positive changes you would like to see within the publishing world in the next few years?

The biggest silver lining for me is that companies (not just in publishing) are finally seeing that their employees work well from home. In an ideal world – and I think this is very likely to happen – we’ll work part-time in the office and part-time from home. This is not feasible for everyone and I’m confident that companies will make sure the office is always open, but most people will enjoy the time and money saved on their daily commute.

It has also opened up a broader world for people that aren’t able to come to an office, for example, anyone with a disability or impairment that can’t easily travel. Also, we’re not bound to publishing-heavy London anymore. Less commuting means you can live further out and therefore have a much more affordable living situation. I really hope this helps to make our industry much more diverse and inclusive.

Any final words of wisdom/advice for publishing hopefuls out there?

Don’t give up! I know it’s tough out there and I hated people telling me this, but perseverance is really key in getting into this industry. Learn from rejections, try to take any feedback onboard (if any is provided) and learn from each other. We are a very lovely bunch and very happy to help and to advise.

A quick Neem Tree Press-related question to round us off: Which one of our titles stands out to you most as one you’d like to read?

That would definitely be Distant Signs. I recently read two books about post-war Germany and during the iron curtain and am fascinated stories set during that time.

Excellent choice! Thank you so much for answering our questions. Best of luck with everything at Curtis Brown!

Tanja can be found on Twitter @tanjagoossens. We’d also love to connect with you @neemtreepress.

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Keep an eye on the blog for future interviews with publishing professionals from various departments and with an eclectic mix of paths into the industry. We’ve got some excellent ones coming up. Stay tuned!

Amazing Authors, Prize Shortlists, Grants and Testing Democracy

We’ve been mesmerized by the incredulous twists and turns in the 2020 US presidential election saga. It made us appreciate the strength of the US judiciary and brought home how precious democracy is and that it should never be taken for granted.

London is still under lockdown. With darkness setting in close to 5p.m. and with just a few restaurants open for takeout or delivery, the streets are eerily quiet where normally you’d expect a bustling crowd. Weekends still see a huge number of cyclists in the streets due to the relative paucity of cars, one good thing to have come out of the Covid crisis. The recent vaccine announcements are certainly welcome and provide some illumination on the horizon and hopefully, a pathway to normality. As the UK contemplates cutting it’s overseas aid budget, and with economic pressure on all world economies, we wonder what the employment situation will be like in Spring and beyond.

Among all this though, we have a lot to be grateful for. We have been so much in awe of many of our hard-working authors. Phil Bowne has been tireless in seeking out avenues to promote Cows Can’t Jump. His enthusiasm and drive has lead to some wonderful reviews and opportunities for publicity. The book trailer is really quite marvellous Cows Can’t Jump Book Trailer and his podcast on BBC Radio Gloucestershire has landed him a four hour slot on their evening show! The reviews have been wonderful, from Tripfiction “We read a huge number of books throughout the year. Sometimes we get a debut author with a stand out talent and I think this is one such example”; from The Express UK  “A fabulous debut steeped in the wit and prose of a bullish veteran…almost impossible to put down” and many Goodreads reviews note the perfect balance between humour and tragedy, the poignancy in the novel and almost universal connection with the protagonist. As a Waterstones reviewer summed it up, “At times witty and at times profound, at times outright kooky, I’d recommend this to all book lovers.” Phil is already working on this second book.

Hafsa Lodi, author of Modesty: A Fashion Paradox, tireless, steady and always willing to engage with podcasters, reviewers, press. She has systematically continued to promote the book while of course continuing her work as a journalist and being a mother to a high-energy little one. Her IG live interview with @summaiyyabooks was wonderful. Take a listen. Hafsa Lodi’s Interview with IG @sumaiyyabooks

We are also thrilled about our translators Ruth Ahmedzai Kemp and Sue Copeland’s addition to the Saif Ghobash Banipal Prize shortlist for their wonderful translation of Ahlam Bsharat’s Trees for the Absentees. For a (very) small press, to sit next to books by university presses and large publishers, is very exciting indeed! The Banipal Translation Prize 2020 Shortlist And Ahlam is also running a creative writing workshop at the now online inaugural Ahlam Bsharat – Palestine Writes Festival!

Paula Darwish, translator from the Turkish of Children of War by Ahmet Yorulmaz, did a fabulous review with Intralingo on YouTube:  Intralingo Interview  and the interview also features on the Intralingo World Lit Podcast. Of course, the ramifications of the 1923 Treaty of Lausanne and the Treaty of Sèvres, the resolution of territorial divides post WW1 with the break-up of the Ottoman Empire, as well treaties in place after WW2 still keep this history very much in the news. And, of course, a different refugee crisis now rages in the region.

We also know that Keith Carter, author of The Umbrella Men, is hard at work on his second novel and we can’t wait to see the first draft!

And we are really excited to have just learnt that we’ve secured a translation grant from the Romanian Cultural Institute for our translation of The Book of Perilous Dishes by Doina Rusti! This is such a magical and atmospheric book and we can’t wait to publish it in our Autumn list next year!