What does your day-to-day entail?
My job sees me working across Scribe’s amazing publishing list, in close cooperation with the production and metadata managers, to ensure that our books are both highly professional and running on time. My part in this ranges from overseeing text and cover schedules – both chasing people and being chased by people – to booking freelancers, wrangling content management systems, and notifying all departments of significant updates. The role is made more complex by the fact that Scribe publishes most of its titles simultaneously in Australia and the UK, increasingly followed by the US too, and our distributors in each of these territories have different deadlines for sales covers, marketing materials, and getting printed copies into various warehouses. To address this, I maintain a spreadsheet that tracks all of our titles’ key stages, and I run weekly reports to inform me of our upcoming editorial and production deadlines.
As well as having this oversight function, I roll up my sleeves and perform some of the company’s recurring editorial and production tasks. On any given day, I might be producing the company’s sales catalogues, printing advance reading copies, formatting complex manuscripts, editing an index, or taking rounds of changes into proofs. I love the variety of this — no two days are the same, and I get to be both a hub and a lone wolf, either roaming the office to discuss schedules with my colleagues (as the hub; not the wolf!) or hunkering down at my desk to work on a Word or InDesign file.
What was your favourite book to work on?
As I perform scheduling and spot jobs across the list rather than taking any single title through the whole editorial–production process, this question is quite hard for me to answer. And it’s compounded by the fact that I genuinely love so many of Scribe’s books.
One that stands out, though, is our recently published biography of Billy McMahon, Australia’s least popular prime minister, which is memorably titled Tiberius with a Telephone. (Its acronym is even more memorable.) At 784 pages, and prodigiously well researched, this book was a mammoth undertaking for everyone involved, and the whole process went amazingly smoothly from start to finish. I did the initial typeset, took in a round or two of changes and carried out the final text checks before printing, but my contribution is vastly overshadowed by that of its author, editor, chief typesetter, proofreaders, indexer, and cover designer. Mainly I was watching the title meet each of its editorial deadlines and feeling delighted. It really was a great team effort, which we are all proud of. And the book is a great read, too, with the author using the struggles of McMahon’s tortured and eventually overwhelmed ghost writers (for his never completed autobiography) as an ingenious and compelling motif.
What’s your all-time favourite life-changing book that’s too precious to lend out?
Hangover Square, by Patrick Hamilton (1941) — a black comedy of obsession and unrequited love set in the grimy pubs of London’s Earl’s Court in 1939. It changed my life, but it didn’t stop me having hangovers.
Tell us about your journey from school to Scribe
My favourite subject in school was English. Based on this, and on my desire to read more books, I did an English Literature degree at Sheffield University, in the UK. When that finished, I realised that, with my Arts degree and my great love of books, I was basically unemployable. That’s when I struck on publishing as a great way of getting paid to do the thing I loved. (And this holds true today.)
I knew that I would need some specific, demonstrable publishing skills, so I moved to Exeter to do a postgrad diploma in Publishing and Book Production. I also knew that the role I was most interested in was editor, as I loved to correct the grammatical errors of my friends and family. (I later found out that editing is much more than this, and I eased off on my friends … but not my family.) The last semester of the course required us to do work placements at publishing houses, so I did internships at Penguin and Picador in London.
I stayed on in London to seek paid, full-time work as an editor, but it took me about a year to get my first publishing job. During this time I did many temping jobs, including some that required editing skills, but my favourite was working as a postman. My first break — as an editor for the legal publisher Butterworths — grounded me in a lot of the technical and technological editing skills I now have, while a company called Mainstream in Edinburgh gave me my first taste of trade publishing.
From there, I moved to Sydney (after falling in love with an Australian who’s now my wife) and worked as a senior editor at Random House for five years. This was followed by another five years as a freelance editor in the Adelaide Hills, and in early 2018 I moved to Melbourne and started as managing editor here at Scribe.
What advice would you give to someone aspiring to work in publishing?
Because of the high number of applicants for any publishing position, this can be a challenging industry to get into, and the hours can be long, so it definitely helps if you have a vocational calling. It also helps if you have some sort of formal publishing qualification. Although it’s not essential, it demonstrates that you’re serious about getting into the profession — which is especially useful if you don’t yet have any professional publishing experience. And of course it can give you a valuable foundation of practical knowledge and skills to build on.
The traditional path into becoming an editor (as that’s the area of publishing that I know best) is to apply for in-house jobs as an editorial assistant or editor, and/or to send out your CV to publishers on spec. When applying for that first job, any experience of editing you’ve had will help, so do offer to edit your friends’ academic essays or creative writing pieces for them, as well as editing your own pieces of writing.
The other route is to establish yourself as a freelancer. This can be tricky when you’re unknown, so it might be worth taking the accreditation exam from the Institute of Professional Editors (IPEd), which allows you to put the letters ‘AE’ after your name (provided you pass it). If it interests you, you could try to get onto the books of one of the national academic editing services who employ freelancers, such as Elite Editing or Capstone Editing, both of which have an entrance test. Or you could offer your services as a manuscript assessor for one of the country’s excellent writers’ centres. If you don’t already have a substantial client base, you’ll probably also need a decent website.
Finally, if you want to be an editor, double-, triple- and quadruple-check your CV for typos and inconsistencies!*
*Having said that, Muphry’s Law dictates that there will be typos and inconsistencies in this blog piece. That’s fine — I’m writing this on my day off.