We speak to Audrey from HQ about her first job in publishing and her favourite books of 2021 - so far!
Hello! I’m Audrey, the Editorial Assistant at HQ Digital, part of HarperCollins.
How did you get into the publishing industry?
I’d say my journey into publishing was a more traditional one – back in September 2019, I’d landed a part-time internship at a small indie publisher for a few months, which introduced me to the more editorial side on the industry. After that, I did a two-week placement at Penguin Random House in February 2020, again in their editorial department. Like most people, my job hunt was put on hold due to lockdown, so I helped out with volunteer projects like The Publishing Post and Ta Voix, which kept me busy and allowed me to still feel pro-active whilst not being able to apply for jobs. Then in September 2020 I landed my current role, which was initially an internship, but became an assistant role as of January this year!
Has your attitude to reading changed since working in publishing? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
Back when I was intensely job hunting, I tried to read as broad a range of books as possible, mainly because I’d be applying to all sorts of different imprints and companies, so it was important to read across the spectrum. I still have a similar attitude in terms of the genres I read, but I can now focus more on commercial fiction, as that’s what I work with day to day. I’ve always preferred commercial over literary fiction, so it’s a good thing I’ve ended up working with these kinds of books! But as we publish all genres of commercial fiction, from romance, to thrillers and historical fiction, I still try and incorporate all of this into what I read during my spare time, and not just stick with the usual crime/thriller books I’m always tempted by (easier said than done).
Is there a project that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of?
One ongoing project that I’m really happy to be a part of is helping to manage our diverse submissions inbox at HQ Digital. This inbox was created specifically for people from underrepresented backgrounds to submit to us, as we’re always looking to expand and diversify our pool of authors. It’s been particularly fun, as it means we’ve received manuscripts discussing all sorts of themes and topics that we may not have seen had the inbox not been opened up. Reading submissions is one of my favourite parts of my role, so it’s always exciting seeing a new sub come through!
Where do you buy or access your books?
I’m mainly a kindle user, so mostly through that (although boo Amazon). If I ever buy physical books, I try using Bookshop.org or other places like Hive Books, which work directly with independent book shops. I always justify that I’m supporting smaller businesses, which makes me feel less guilty about breaking my book buying ban!
I’ve also just started using Audible, but I don’t think it’ll become my go-to book shop. Just another excuse to get free books I guess…
What books have you been reading in lockdown? Do these books typify your usual reading taste, or have you found yourself reading other genres and authors?
Looking back, I realise I’ve read some super depressing/dark books over the last year… I read The Kite Runner by Khaleed Housseini for the first time during the first lockdown, which was a huge mistake, as I was emotionally scarred for weeks after (but it was worth it). I’ve also been loving books with unreliable narrators, like Boy Parts by Eliza Clarke or Girl A by Abigail Dean, which have been giving me my dark and disturbing fix.
But then on the flip side, I’ve alternated these kinds of books with much happier and more escapist reading, like Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwam or Last Tang Standing by Lauren Ho, which were much more merry and upbeat!
I’m definitely more of a mood reader in general, and I guess my reading habits over the last year have shown that as much as I love a dark and spooky novel, I definitely need to break it up a bit with something happier, or it all gets too intense.
I’ve also been reading less non-fiction than usual – again, might be to do with the escapism thing, but I’ve been trying to incorporate more of it into my reading, even if it’s something super light-hearted and easy.
What is your most beautiful book?
One of my favourite books to look at is The Little Book of Hygge by Meik Wiking. Not only is it really beautifully put together (it has really lovely drawings and images within the text which I love), but it was such a lovely thing to read during the cold winter months! It gave me such a warm and cosy feeling as I was reading it, which is what hygge is all about. It’s the perfect coffee table book, even if people just pick it up to admire the cover.
What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
I’ve honestly learnt to keep an open mind about books, as it’s always the ones you’re not convinced by that you end up loving the most! I really really enjoyed Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola, which took me by surprise! I’ve always thought myself as not much of a romance reader, and combining that with short stories and a hint of mythology, Love in Colour felt quite out of my comfort zone. But I loved it! Babalola writes so well, and she’s showed me that I do enjoy romances and made me question my whole life essentially. I’m interested in mythology, but find that books about it are often really daunting and dense, so it was so refreshing to read her anthology, which felt a whole lot more accessible to read.
What are your most anticipated reads for 2021 and do you have any reading goals?
Ah there are so many! I’m really looking forward to Steve Cavanagh’s newest book, which I think is out this summer – I don’t usually read multiple books by one author, but I have to make an exception for his books! Love me a good legal thriller.
In general though, there are so many books from this past year that I’ve been wanting to read, that I’ve barely had a chance to look ahead to 2021! At the very top of my list is The Vanishing Half by Britt Bennett, which I am desperate to read, just waiting for it to come out in paperback now. I’m also quite intrigued by The Thursday Murder Club by Richard Osman, so might treat myself to a copy of it when it’s out in paperback as well. I’ve got so much catching up to do! I also don’t really tend to plan which books I’m going to read in advance, I just go with what intrigues me at that moment in time.
In terms of goals, I have set myself a reading challenge of 22 books this year, but I’m trying not to be harsh with myself if I don’t hit that number. Life happens, so don’t beat yourself up about how many books you do or don’t read. My ultimate goal is to just read some darn good books – that’s all I can hope for!
What are your ultimate book recommendations?
That’s the toughest question ever! I will always recommend Educated by Tara Westover – another book which blew my mind when I read it. It’s a memoir, but her life feels so unbelievable that it reads like a fiction book. That’s been my recent go-to recommendation, so go read it if you haven’t yet!
I will also say that I think everyone should at least read one thing by Khaleed Housseini – his stories are so moving and so well written that it makes all the heart-break worth it.
Some of my other top reads from last year were A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles, The Girl with the Louding Voice by Abi Daré, My Dark Vanessa by Kate Elizabeth Russell and The Five by Hallie Rubenhold. All very different books, but equally thought-provoking, gripping, and truly well written! Would recommend all of them to anyone who hasn’t read them yet.
Where can readers find you online?