Hey guys! Today I have something exciting and different for you all! I was very lucky to have been given the opportunity to interview Rachel Singleton, the commissioning Editor for Impress Books for all of you that are interested in careers in publishing. There are also details about the Impress Prize for new writers-if you’re an unpublished writer with hopes of getting a publishing contract, then you can check the prize out here for more information.
Hi Rachel, thank you for agreeing to this interview. Could you tell us a little about yourself and how you got into publishing?
I am a Commissioning Editor for Impress Books and I’ve been working for them for almost three years. I mostly read the submissions for the crime and thriller list but I also work on some historical fiction and literary fiction as well.
My entry into publishing was a little unorthodox. I was never able to get any formal work experience with a renowned publishing company, so by the time I got to the end of my second year of university my publishing-specific experience was a little thin. However the University of Exeter had won some funding to start a publishing house which would be led by its students and later came to be known as Penryn Press. I was the Director of Production and Distribution and later the Editorial department too. We produced a children’s anthology of short stories and poems called Did You Know There Are Dragons in Cornwall? Starting Penryn Press was a crash course in both publishing and business and I will admit that I got the majority of my knowledge from a book called The Professional’s Guide to Publishing (which for anyone looking to get into publishing is an excellent guide on what the different departments do). As for the book itself, looking back on it now there are so many things I would have done differently, but at the time it was a very big achievement! Once I had finished my English Literature degree, I then found a job with Impress.
What, in your opinion, is the best thing about working in publishing?
When you work for a small publishing company like Impress, you get involved in all aspects of the job, from a proposal being submitted right the way through to deciding what materials to use to print the books and then seeing them printed and sent out into the world. I know when I’ve got a winning manuscript when not only has the writing and plot have compelled me to finish the manuscript in one sitting, but also when I can envisage a marketing plan and cover ideas. Of course, those ideas don’t always see the light of day in favour of better ideas, but they indicate a bright and shiny new book to commission. I also love opening a box of books fresh from the printer and seeing the finished product in all its glory!
I also love doing structural edits with my authors and more generally working with authors. Structural edits means the development of the manuscript in terms of plot and characterisation and can mean you end up having some rather bizarre conversations. I once had to consult someone during the structural edit of He’s Gone about what a dead body would look like under certain conditions. I find it fascinating to see how authors approach their writing differently and the rules that they have in place for their manuscripts.
What advice would you give for someone looking to start a career in publishing?
In my experience, a career in publishing starts with a lot of people saying no. My advice is to persist and be resilient. Someone one day will say yes so it’s very important to remember that although people are saying no now, you’ll find the right role for you eventually.
If you can, then getting publishing-specific work experience is a plus and does make you stand out, but if it’s an entry level position such as an editorial assistant, you just need to show that you fulfill what the job description states (as well as showing why you really want to work for that specific company.
In my experience, most students who say they want to work in publishing will simply say ‘editorial’. My advice is to really do your research into the different types of publishing. For instance do you want to work in trade, academic, STM, Educational? Have you considered that there are other departments such as Sales, Marketing, PR, Production? The more specific you are, the more focused your job hunt will be. I’d say cast the net wide when you apply for jobs but don’t apply for ones that you know you don’t want just for the sake of applying.
Could you tell us a little about the Impress Prize?
The Impress Prize for New Writers is a competition for all writers who have not been published by a traditional publishing company where the prize is a publishing contract with Impress Books in both print and ebook. Unpublished writers submit a 6,000 word sample of their manuscript, a synopsis, publishing rationale and author biography to Impress. The entry is then read and marked by 2 people within Impress and a shortlist is created. The shortlist is then send to a panel of external judges who decide on a winner.
The prize has been running for 11 years and we have seen a lot of success in that time. Roshi Fernando, author of Homesick went on to the published by Bloomsbury in the UK and Knopf in America. Our 2015 winner Annabel Abbs had her novel The Joyce Girl published in the UK, Australia and New Zealand, Germany, Turkey, Spain and Latin America and Russia – and it all started with her winning the prize!
The prize means that every year I get to work with a new author on an idea that I have never seen before. It’s a very exciting process and I’m really looking forward to introducing readers to Magdalena McGuire’s new book Home Is Nearby in November, as well as starting work with the next winner for this year.
What kind of writers would you encourage to submit their novel?
Any writer who thinks they have a brilliant idea should consider entering. The prize is open to both fiction and non-fiction and there are no limits in terms of genre.
What do you like to read in your spare time?
I read a lot of crime, mostly thrillers and police procedurals. My favourite crime author is Jo Nesbo with the Harry Hole series and possibly Clare Macintosh for her twisty plots.
I do also enjoy literary fiction. All the Light We Cannot See is one of my all-time favourites and I continually shove it under the nose of anyone who hasn’t yet read it. I’m also a big Margaret Atwood fan. I did my undergrad dissertation on The Handmaid’s Tale and I love the Oryx and Crake series.
As I have a lot of aspiring writers reading this blog, is there any advice you’d like to offer them?
Do your homework. By this I mean read as much as you can both inside and outside the genre you are writing in. You need to know what ingredients go into making a novel a work of art, but equally you need to know what new ingredients you can bring to the pot. When you’re writing, ask yourself what is different about this.
I strongly advise critical distance. In my experience, writing something down and assuming that it’s right the first time is probably not the best approach. Write it down, walk away for a few weeks and then come back to your manuscript with fresh eyes. If by the time you’ve finished your book there is a sentence that has never been tweaked, polished and edited then there is probably something wrong with it.
Give your manuscript to other people. The constructive criticism of others is essential as they are the reader and therefore the most important person in this process. There will be people who have conflicting opinions but there’s always a way to find a balance.
What’s your favourite way to unwind and switch off from work?
I tend to spend my time going from work to a variety of different activities. I do yoga, I climb, I run at least twice a week, and I dance. However when I’m not doing these things, I’ve usually got my head in a book or glued to Netflix.
Thank you all for reading and a big thank you to Rachel and Natalie from Impress Books for organising this interview!
Are any of you guys interested in a career in publishing? Is anyone going to be entering the Impress Prize?