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An animated evening for a Publishing Masterclass in Bristol…

Creative Access hit the road for the first of three events in partnership with The Publishers Association. Aimed at encouraging under-represented audiences to pursue a career in publishing, we were thrilled to be hosted by Aardman Animations in Bristol for our first Publishing Masterclass of the year…

Set in the offices of the Academy Award winning animation studio responsible for Wallace & Gromit and Shaun The Sheep we were joined by some of the best in the publishing business.

First up was Sharmaine Lovegrove, Publisher of Dialogue Books and former literary editor of ELLE. Prior to this, she set up her own bookshop and creative agency when living in Berlin; “when Net Book agreement stopped, we saw the demise of the bookshop because it was cheaper to buy books in a supermarket than a bookshop, so I moved to Germany to start my own bookshop there.”

Talking of her current role with Dialogue Books, she said: “My obsession is working with books and how they connect to readers. One of the things that I really want to do is find people from diverse backgrounds that are experts in something in the world, be it the history of art or economics or politics.”

Speaking about diverse recruitment and the practice of issuing blind CVs, she said “if you have a problem with my name then you have a problem with my story and if you don’t care about the story, then you’re in the wrong place because this industry is about storytelling.”

Of the current financial climate and challenges facing the publishing industry as a whole, she said: “we’re at this tipping point where publishers can’t really afford to be in London, and their employees can’t afford it either. Once we start opening up to different parts of the country then different types of people will come to us.”. On the subject of independent bookshops she urged people, that ” if you love a book, you buy it at full price otherwise you’re telling publishers that you don’t really want it to exist.”

Next up was Tom Sharp, Associate Editor at IOP Publishing, which is the publishing division of the Institute of Physics. 

Tom completed his degree in Natural Science from the University of Bristol, focusing on biology and chemistry, in particular genetics and genomics. After his graduation, he started a PhD in Lifecourse Epidemiology, before switching fields to scientific publishing. Speaking of diversity in scientific publishing, he said:

“Female debut authors and people from developing nations are more likely to be rejected for the same piece of work.” In response to this he said that IOP Publishing has published a report on diversity in their peer review process; “We are now expanding the pool of reviewers so it’s not just the same old white men judging the quality of the work.”

“Degrees aren’t the be all and end all,” said Tom, “as a publisher, my role is more about interacting with authors and quantum mechanics doesn’t really come into it.

Following on was Niki Chang, former Creative Access intern at Aitken Alexander and now a literary agent at The Good Literary Agency where she represents writers of fiction and non-fiction from underrepresented backgrounds; “I was always very much interested in the intersection between film and books as different forms of storytelling.”

She urged people not to be intimidated by the industry; “it does sometimes have a whiff of snobbism and elitism but if you just ignore that and focus on the creativity then that will see you through.”

Speaking of her role as an agent, she said: “You work really closely with the author and are often their first reader so you have to have a relationship filled with trust. The agent’s job is to work really closely with the author on the tone and voice and query things that aren’t clear in the text to a general reader”.

The final panellist was Jo Greig, who heads the sales and marketing team at Bristol University Press. With nearly 20 years’ experience across educational and scholarly publishing, Jo shed some light on how to start out in the areas of both sales and marketing.

“I love the creativity – it’s a really creative industry, which means if you’ve got an idea, nothing should be a barrier to that idea.” Jo started in education and then moved to academic publishing – a move that she never anticipated but was perfect for her love of teaching.

The panel were asked for their advice for those entering the publishing industry. “Be open minded about what you apply for,” advised Jo “if you’re a creative thinker then show the creative projects you’ve worked on. If you’re interested in production, show your attention to detail.”

Tom said: “You don’t need to have all of the skills to apply for a job. Don’t be afraid to try something a little bit out there. We want you for your ideas and creativity rather than a checklist of skills.”

“There’s a role in academic publishing for everyone – you just have to find your niche. The required skillset is one you don’t realise you have until you try it. You need to be really passionate about the topic and be able to engage with people on a human level,”

Giving advice to those who want to write, Sharmaine said: “Find the books that are similar to what you’re doing and then work out who the publisher and agent were. Exercise agile inquisitiveness!” She also confirmed that Hachette UK have launched the inaugural Mo Siewcharran Prize to help discover unpublished fiction writers from BAME backgrounds.

A massive thank you to our inspirational panellists and to Aardman Animations for hosting us. Stay up to date on our website to hear about our events taking place later in the year in  conjunction with the Publishers Association.