We speak to Malissa about Creative Access, the HarperCollins Elevate network, and supporting indie bookshops.
Hi, my name is Malissa and I am the Senior Key Account Manager at William Collins & Fourth Estate with HarperCollins.
How did you get into the publishing industry?
I started in publishing through Creative Access, a wonderful organisation that is focused on getting more people from under-represented backgrounds into the creative arts industry, including publishing. I can very much say, hand on heart, that I would not have gotten into publishing without them and the help they gave me with through the whole interview process and after once I got the job. Through them, I got an internship with Vintage at Random House which I did for almost a year, and learnt all about Sales and how integral it is to the publishing process. After this, I got a permanent job as an International Sales Executive at HarperCollins and have been here ever since! I moved from International Sales to Children’s UK Sales for a couple of years, before ending up where I am now working with William Collins & Fourth Estate. Before all of this though, I worked as a bookseller at Waterstones when I was a teenager, and a big part of that job is recommending books to customers - Sales is just an extension of that! With a few more Excel spreadsheets and numbers involved…
Has your attitude to reading changed since working in the publishing industry? How has it changed your reading taste or the genre of books you usually read?
My attitude towards reading has definitely changed, in the sense that I now read far more widely but also I am a lost harsher if something isn’t really gripping me from the get go. There is so much to read and so little time, so if I am not enjoying something I have to let it go and start something else. I used to read everything to the bitter end so this has changed completely!
Is there a project or book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of?
One of this things I am most proud of in my publishing career is being part of the committee for Elevate, the network for people of colour working for HarperCollins. When I first started in publishing, there were not many of us around but since then there has been a definite growth in members of staff from under represented backgrounds. I didn’t realise how much I need a network and how important it could be to my working life until one was founded at HarperCollins. Being part of the committee and supporting all my wonderful colleagues and talent coming into the business has been the highlight of my career so far.
Where do you buy or access your books?
I read physical books mainly – I am pretty traditional like that! I love the feel of a book in my hands and nerdily observing what finishes other publishers have given their titles. I like to support Waterstones and my local Independent (shout out to Queen’s Parks Books!) – bookshops are a vital part of the high street and I'll do anything I can to support them. We need bookshops and our talented booksellers to spread the word of all the amazing books coming out, now more than ever.
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 author?
Unsurprisingly, my reading habits during lockdown has undergone a fair amount of change! Books that I know end happily have been key (Love In Colour has been a light this most recent lockdown!), but it has also been a great time to revisit old classics and favourites. One Hundred Years of Solitude has been one I have picked up recently to reread – still in my top 10 all time favourites!
What is your most beautiful book?
A colleague of mine brought me a copy of the special edition of Hamnet for Christmas last year after hearing my lamenting about how my first copy got damaged. Now not only do I own a beautiful copy thanks to her, but I can leave it in pristine condition on my shelf!
What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
I am surprised how much more non fiction I am reading nowadays compared to a few years ago. Having done a lot of non-fiction reading at university, I never thought I could ever read any again for pleasure but in the past couple of years I have found my love for the breadth and depth of stories that non-fiction can tell again. One book I particularly loved recently was I Am I Am I Am by Maggie O’Farrell – I don’t usually cry when reading books but this one made me sob for an hour after I finished reading it. She truly is the most beautiful writer.
What are your most anticipated reads for 2021 and do you have any reading goals?
So many reads to look forward to and so little time! I’m particularly looking forward to Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, The Galaxy and the Ground Within by Becky Chambers, Rule of Wolves by Leigh Bardugo, Open Water by Caleb Azumah Nelson, Endgame by Malorie Blackman, Animal from Lisa Taddeo and Transcendent Kingdom by Yaa Gyasi. There are many, MANY more but I don’t want to bore everyone with an endless list! The desire to read has really ebbed and flowed over lockdown so there have been weeks I have really struggled with it. That means for my reading goal, any book I finish this year is a win for me. It’s no pressure 2021!
What are your ultimate book recommendations?
Three books/authors I have read over the past year that I am in love with and will recommend to everyone are: The Emperor’s Babe by Bernardine Evaristo (sharp, witty, entertaining), anything by Leigh Bardugo (just excellent YA) and anything by David Mitchell (endless inventive and wonderful).
Where can readers find you online?
You can find me on Twitter, mainly tweeting about my chin hairs and inability to end Zoom calls without waving. I do tweet about books though as well.