We speak to Emmanuel about his first year working in the publishing industry, and his favourite book, Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon.
My name is Emmanuel and I am an editorial assistant at John Murray Press, mostly working on the John Murray and Basic Books imprints.
How did you get into publishing?
I didn't go to university with a career in publishing in mind. I studied both English Literature and Film but after a reading slump during my A-Levels, my passion leaned towards film. I also didn't know much about the publishing industry. But after failing to land an internship in the film industry for a planned placement year I changed track and decided to look into publishing. I'm not sure it was that much of a conscious choice. But what really spurred me on was listening to the Mostly Lit podcast (a literature and pop culture podcast hosted by Black British Millenials) which grew up my passion for literature again and using Twitter, people in the publishing industry had started to pop up on my radar.
After attending a few literary events and festivals and meeting more people in the industry, I started applying for jobs and internships towards the end of my final year of undergrad. I was still unsure about a career in publishing but I knew I wanted work experience so before carrying on to do a master's in English and American Literature I emailed, had an informal interview and landed a paid two-month internship with the indie publisher, Peepal Tree Press, the only publisher in Leeds where I grew up. It was a small taste of publishing and I really enjoyed it but kept being drawn towards a more practical career in academia. Towards the end of my master's I finally committed to a career in publishing and started applying again for both internships and permanent jobs, I had more success with interviews and landed two internship offers and a permanent job offer at the same time! I eventually started a four-month marketing internship last December at 4th Estate and William Collins at HarperCollins which I loved and got my foot firmly in the door!
What does a typical day in your current role look like?
It's really varied! I have two managers, an editorial director and a publishing director. So my job really entails supporting them in whichever way they need and increasingly learning to anticipate and being proactive about their needs. So I've had really different tasks for each manager. One of my managers is new to the company and is launching a new imprint so they've been acquiring a lot of books. My tasks for her have involved doing a costing which is basically using Biblio (a management system) to input things such as sales numbers, advances and other details about a book to determine whether it's financially worth publishing. Each book is different and there are lots of different factors to consider. I've also been helping them prepare contracts packs for books, so once we've acquired the rights to publish a book we have to then get all the paperwork in order and set the title up properly on our system and begin the process of publishing them.
My other manager has been at the company for a few years so I'm doing a lot of work updating metadata for his existing titles to increase their visibility. So I do things like add keywords and edit copy and other metadata for their titles on Biblio which feeds out to Amazon but I've also been working a lot of cover briefs and cover copy for his titles, reading manuscripts and proposals for books they're considering pursuing and are working on. And finally, I also work closely with the managing editor on handling things such as proofreading pages and liaising with production. Every week I attend an editorial meeting where the editors decide on titles they're considering bringing to acquisitions and want thoughts on. I do a lot of that reading in my evenings though.
How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
My attitude to reading has changed slightly but not significantly. There's definitely less time to always read what I want so I prioritise some books over others. But I knew that from being at HarperCollins and how busy it was. I really enjoy being challenged anyway and my tastes have broadened a lot. I was a huge fiction reader and other than the odd essay collection, I didn't read a lot of non-fiction. So now I'm working at division which publishes more non-fiction than fiction I'm reading a lot more non-fiction and loving a lot what I'm reading. So I think going forward I'll probably read a more equal split of fiction and non-fiction.
Is there a book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of? Why is that?
I haven't had much experience working directly on a book and I'm still looking forward to the opportunity to take a book from acquisition to publication but in my time at 4th Estate and William Collins, I did a lot of work on the marketing campaign for Conjure Women by Afia Atakora including designing the digital assets and co-ordinating a blog tour and I think it all turned out well! I was especially proud because she is a debut author and an author of African descent so it was great to see the positive reception to the book!
Where do you buy or access your books?
Either Amazon or Waterstones usually (although I'm trying to rely less on Amazon). I've been back home in Leeds during lockdown and we don't have a lot of indies here but we have a huge Waterstones which is one of my favourite places to go to. 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?
I've read a lot of non-fiction books more recently including Mask Off by JJ Bola and What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami. But at the start of lockdown, I read a ton of great literary fiction novels especially a lot of classics I have been wanting to read for a while. My favourite was Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison which is now my favourite book ever. I also loved Go Tell It on the Mountain by James Baldwin. My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Mosfegh was the first book I read during lockdown, which was a strangely comforting book in a period of (relative) isolation. The last book I finished was Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson, which is a gorgeous debut novel about an artsy Black British couple in South East London. Although the specifics are different from my life, I have never seen my experiences of love so closely mirrored. I devoured it in two sittings and I'm still thinking a lot about it. I can't wait for it to be published next February by Viking. It also has the best cover I've seen in a while. What’s the best book you’ve received as a gift?
Someone I care very much about has given so many books over the time we've known each other. One I do remember being most excited about was receiving Black Leopard, Red Wolf by Marlon James. I have yet to read it but only because I want to dedicate a lot of time to it and it's an epic African-set fantasy. I'm really looking forward to when I finally dive in though!
What is your most beautiful book?
I think I would say Black Leopard, Red Wolf it's a big hardback with gorgeous foil finishes and a mesmerising cover. What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you own that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
I'm surprised at how much my taste has broadened in the last few years from mostly reading fantasy and sci-fi YA novels as a teenager. I have poetry collections, short story collections, plays, novels, memoirs, historical fiction, fantasy, sci-fi, history books etc. I love the variety. Which authors or genres do you look forward to reading more of in the future?
I see myself reading a lot of non-fiction for the foreseeable future. I'd love to better understand the non-fiction publishing landscape. I will always try to read at least one or two fiction books a month and sprinkle some poetry in there but the world of non-fiction is exciting. What are the best books you've read in 2020 so far?
Song of Solomon is now my all-time favourite book, but The Vanishing Half, actually published in 2020, is a future classic I think. What are your most anticipated reads for the rest of the year?
I'm been desperate to read some fantasy and sci-fi again. I've had The Old Drift by Namwali Serpell and Exhalation by Ted Chiang for a while so I'm looking forward to hopefully finally catching with those. Which books should everybody read?
Toni Morrison and James Baldwin are my two all-time favourite authors. Read anything and everything by them. My picks to start with would be The Bluest Eye, Beloved and Song of Solomon for Toni Morrison and Another Country, Go Tell It on the Moutain and If Beale Street Could Talk for James Baldwin. Where can readers find you online?