We speak to Marina about bookselling, her love of science fiction and fantasy and the joys of working with Audio.
I’m Marina Stavropoulou and I’m an Editor in the Audio Department of Bonnier Books UK. I’m in charge of the children’s and young adult audiobook list, as well as our new music imprint and digital first imprint that are both launching in 2021. Our work could be described as product managing – taking a book from acquisitions, all the way through adapting a manuscript for recording, casting, producing, post-producing and even marketing.
How did you get into the publishing industry?
I used to work in bookstores for many years, trying to find a way in the industry but it was extremely difficult. I did a two-week work experience placement at Walker Books at some point, which I don’t think helped in any way – there’s a lot of pressure in making a positive impression in such a short time. Then I started looking at job ads and trying to figure out which skills looked particularly relevant to publishing; I started doing courses every chance I got – courses in InDesign, Photoshop and Illustrator, Social Media Marketing, Creative Writing etc. I also enrolled in the MA in Publishing, a long distance programme from Oxford-Brookes, which also gave me access to The Bookseller – a great resource for a budding publishing professional but too expensive when you’re just starting out. I can’t be certain if the MA did the trick or if it was a combination of everything else I’d been doing but I suddenly started getting more interviews and interest from publishers. It took me about two years of systematic ‘work’ before I got my first publishing role.
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?
That’s a difficult question, as my whole working life I’ve been working with books – first in bookselling and later in publishing. I’ve been lucky enough to have access to many free books – although I have spent many salaries on books I can’t possibly find the time to read! I believe books have lost that mystical power they held over me while I was growing up, but again I’m not sure if this a result of being a long-term voracious reader or a publishing effect. You certainly demystify authors and the writing process and you find out – the hard way – that having a good, or even excellent, book at hand doesn’t necessarily mean it’ll be successful. As readers, we have that romantic notion of worthy books making it into our hands and on bestseller lists and winning awards. That’s certainly the case sometimes, but more often than not it’s marketing, PR and capturing the zeitgeist that makes a book successful.
Is there a project or book that you have worked on that you are particularly proud of?
There are so many! In my brief time in Audiobook Publishing – almost two years now – I’ve been lucky enough to work on so many wonderful books. You’ll excuse me if I mention two, as I can’t choose between them for different reasons.
The first one is Raybearer by Jordan Ifueko, a West-African inspired epic full of magic, intrigue, struggle and love! This book was one of my big ‘book loves’ of last year and it was a privilege to work on it. I found the most amazing narrator, the inimitable Weruche Opia, who brightly shone in this tale. This was my first big project, where I was deeply involved even during the recording process, being at the studio to provide assistance to both the narrator and the producer – epic fantasy is very challenging, in terms of difficult ‘made-up’ words and perhaps even in explaining character motivation and drive to non-fantasy readers. It would be fair to say, I was in my element.
The second one was Ink Tales: Bedtime Stories for the End of the World by Helen Mort, Amandeep Singh, Joelle Taylor, Will Harris, Malika Booker, Inua Ellams, Kayo Chingonyi. This is a collection of six traditional tales retold in verse by six ground-breaking poets. The physical edition of this work is beautifully illustrated throughout by Inkquisitive (Amandeep Singh) in his vibrant signature Indian inks, and when creating the audiobook edition, I wanted to ‘translate’ those images into sound. Our thoughtfully chosen sound effects – used sparingly in the audiobook, at key moments of the plot – and music combined with Will’s storytelling performance create an almost meditative experience. An audiobook that you can listen to, over and over again.
Where do you buy or access your books?
I have amassed a huge quantity of books from my years in bookselling and later on from all the publishing houses I’ve worked in, and that takes care of all my print needs – I almost never buy physical books anymore apart from graphic novels in trade paperback format. I used to buy ebooks from Amazon to read on my Kindle but I’ve now moved away from this retailer to more independent solutions, although I have kept my Audible subscription for my audiobook needs. When I was living in Greece, I used Scribd and Playster as they offered audiobooks, ebooks and graphic novels all in one subscription model but since moving to the UK I haven’t been able to make good use of them due to all the market geo-restrictions that are in place here. Nowadays, I’m using library services like BorrowBox and Libby and the occasional a-la-carte buy from the Apple Bookstore. I really enjoy trying out new digital services all the time, and I’m almost exclusively digital at this point – there’s no more room in my house for books unfortunately. At least not until I have that library room all readers dream about.
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?
My genres of preference are science fiction and fantasy, edgy contemporary fiction and lots and lots of YA reads (contemporary or otherwise). I do a lot of reading for my job so my pleasure reading consists of listening to audiobooks mostly. In audio, I have different tastes as I listen to more memoirs and crime fiction, which I never do in print. During lockdown my reading has gone down dramatically as I used to read on my commute to work every day, but my listening time has gone up so things are balanced again. I can’t say I’ve changed taste during this time, aside from a craving for darker, sharper reads.
What is your most beautiful book?
How the King of Elfhame Learned to Hate Stories by Holly Black and illustrated by Rovina Cai. I loved the audio editions of The Folk of the Air series, but this companion collection of stories is such a wonderful and beautifully illustrated book. I just can’t get enough of flipping through it!
What surprises you about your bookshelves? Is there a book that you were surprised to love as much as you did?
Yes! Although I don’t think it’s on my bookshelves anymore, I believe I gave it away, Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code was a surprise. I never expected to like something like this but I tore through it in a day and had a lot of fun reading it. I tried picking up other books by him but they just didn’t hit the same mark for me. I remember I was reading Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose during the same period – I think I was sixteen or seventeen – and these books, although completely different scratched the same itch for me; that of the uncovering of ancient secrets that still have repercussions in modern day life. To anyone who thinks a whole genre isn’t for them all I can say is, try it first; you never know what you’ll discover.
What are your most anticipated reads for 2021 and do you have any reading goals?
I’m waiting for the next instalment in the comic book series Saga by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples – there’s been a hiatus of more than a year and I honestly can’t wait! They promised us something for this year, so I’m hoping to be able to read the next trade paperback issue in the summer. My reading goals have been unchanged for the last few years, I aim to read (or listen to) at least 80 books in a year. I used to have more specific goals and targets, to make my reading shelf more diverse but I believe I’m in a good place right now. This is a constant fight against the ‘over-exposed’ titles, but my corner of the internet is very vibrant and full of wonderful recommendations, so I’m not worried on that front. It used to be that my shelves were full of middle-aged white dudes but it’s a wholly different landscape now.
What are your ultimate book recommendations?
Oh gods, this question! Well, I would definitely have to recommend Fledgling, the Xenogenesis and Patternmaster series by Octavia Butler – she is the ultimate sci-fi writer, in my honest opinion.
Then The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin, The Power, The Picture of Dorian Gray, Clap When You Land and The Poet X by Elizabeth Acevedo and all of the Elderlings series by Robin Hobb, Gideon the Ninth, The Sandman (the whole comic books series plus the new original audio by Audible), Jane Eyre, The Perfume, House of Hollow, Saga, Locke and Key, all the Discworld novels by the loveliest Sir Terry Prachett, the Millennium trilogy, To Write Like a Woman, Curse Workers, Poe: Illustrated Tales of Mystery and Imagination (this is a brilliant collection and so beautifully illustrated), The Hate U Give, Über Realismus, Sarah's Scribbles, Monstress, Ernesto Guevara, nomade dell'utopia by Eduardo Galeano, The Beekeeper of Aleppo, Invisible Women. I can’t recommend J.K. Rowling or Margaret Atwood anymore, unfortunately.
Where can readers find you online?
You can find me on Twitter and Instagram. I used to keep a blog of reviews and recommendations, but it has been left in its quiet little corner for some time now: https://bringoutthewords.wordpress.com/