We speak to Ellie about publishing books that can change the way you think about the world.
I’m Ellie and I’m currently the deputy publicity manager in Harvard University Press’ London office. I’ve been here for almost 5 years, part of this time I spent on secondment working for our main US office in Cambridge, MA, so I’ve been really lucky to get a chance to work on publicity on both sides of the Atlantic! Along with our international publicity director, I now look after the publicity for our books for anywhere that isn’t in the Americas, working with our authors to get reviews, interviews and sorting out events, as well as helping them out with the myriad issues that crop up. As our books are non-fiction and many of our authors are academics, I get to work on an incredible variety of topics: from economics, to literary theory to books on space and learn from some of the leading figures in each field. The books we publish are full of ideas which can change the way you think about the world and I think that’s such an incredible thing to be involved with. (It’s also helped me gain a lot of good pub quiz knowledge!)
How did you get into publishing?
I grew up in Lincolnshire, and didn’t know much about publishing as an industry but I did an English Literature degree at the University of Sheffield and one of my friends there encouraged me to join them in volunteering at the Cheltenham Literature Festival where I was able to chat to a couple of publicists who made me realise that this might be my dream career! When I was starting out it felt like I had to move to London to work in publishing so I’m really happy to see how that attitude is changing now. I did a variety of internships and got my first job working at Turnaround Publisher Services where I got to work with an amazing variety of indie publishers as well as learning a lot of helpful things about fixing the back end of Amazon feeds! I then had a year working abroad before landing my current role.
Has your role in publishing widened your reading taste, and how has it changed your attitude to different genres of books?
It definitely has! I’m ashamed to say I didn’t read that much non-fiction in the past and this job has made me realise that actually it’s so fascinating to be able to learn about so many different topics this way. My time at Turnaround also gave me the chance to read genres I hadn’t considered – like graphic novels and much more fiction in translation. It’s also opened my eyes to the amazingness of small presses – who take big risks and bring us incredible books – Galley Beggar Press is a shining example of this!
What reading formats do you prefer? Do you prefer hardbacks, paperbacks, eBooks, audiobooks, library books, or a mixture?
I am a massive library book fan – growing up in a small village meant that we always looked forward to the arrival of the library van and I still love going now that I can go to the actual library instead of waiting for the bus to come every two weeks! As I normally like to carry books around to read on the tube or train– paperbacks are generally a bit easier for me.
Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
I think this would have to be the chance to work on one of Toni Morrison’s lecture collections we published: The Origin of Others – she was a literary icon and it was an amazing honour to be involved in the publicity. One of the first books I worked on at HUP was Branko Milanovic’s Global Inequalities, his ideas contributed massively to the debates about inequality worldwide – he’s very smart and also very kind and easy to work with (always helpful for a publicist!). One of the favourite moments of my job is when a review comes, and the great ones he got in places like the FT and Prospect were a reassuring start to my career in academic publishing. I’ve also loved seeing the success of Tony Jack’s The Privileged Poor, which talks about the difficulties students from poor backgrounds face at elite universities. He talks so honestly about his own experiences, his book is so clear and filled with passion about the need for change and how it can be achieved, to open up higher education to all students.
What is your most-read genre?
Probably fiction, authors like Sarah Waters, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Rachel Cusk and Hilary Mantel I would read anything they write. I’ve also been working my way through both Penelope Fitzgerald and Penelope Lively’s books. Kamila Shamsie’s Home Fires is still stuck in my head a year after I read it so I’ve been going back and reading her previous books too. So books by women!
Where do you buy or access your books?
The UK has such a wide variety of indie bookshops and I love being able to search them out in new towns! Our office is just around the corner from the London Review Bookshop so that’s a constant temptation and then further afield I love the Lighthouse bookshop in Edinburgh, also a special shout out to The Rabbit Hole bookshop in Lincolnshire and Liznojan bookshop in Devon – two little indies in small towns I know well that do such an amazing job of catering to the local community.
What childhood books have you kept on your shelves?
I still have my collection of Paddington books as well as an old copy of Little Women which I think our childhood pet guinea pig nibbled the edges off! My favourite two books as a teenager (and probably still now) were Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle and Jerome K. Jerome’s Three Men in a Boat so I have old copies of those too.
What is the oldest book on your shelf?
I have a beautiful hardback of Bleak House which I bought in Oxfam for a uni module but then realised this edition was actually published 100 years, to the day, before I was born. I’ve also got my mum’s collection of Jane Austen she was given as a teenager.
What are your favourite books of 2020 so far?
I’m currently reading Colson Whitehead’s The Nickel Boys which just came out in paperback and love it – his previous book The Underground Railroad is one I recommended to a lot of people and this is equally good. I read Valeria Luiselli’s Lost Children Archive and thought it was extraordinary. Also the rightfully award winning Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo. Then, both Naoise Dolan’s Exciting Times and Polly Samson’s Theatre for Dreamers made me feel like I was on holiday even in the middle of lockdown.
What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of 2020?
Ali Smith’s Summer, Daisy Johnson’s Sisters and Sarah Moss’ Summerwater – I loved their previous books so can’t wait to read these. A friend in the states told me that Saeed Jones’ How We Fight For Our Lives got her out of lockdown reading slump so I’m looking forward to that coming out in paperback here in the summer. Then this is actually 2021 but I’m already excited for the new Kazuo Ishiguro – his writing is beautiful so I’m very much looking forward to this.
What book should everyone read?
Reni Eddo-Lodge’s Why I’m No longer Talking to White People About Race and Cheryl Strayed’s Wild are both books that made me think and I would recommend to anyone.
My twitter is @ellijandro – always happy to talk all things books or publishing!