Welcome to the tenth (and final) Foyle Friday feature! You can find links to all the Foyle Friday features below. Today we hear from Rachel Hard, who was a commended Foyle Young Poet in 2009 and now works in publishing as an Assistant Editor in the picture books and partnerships team at Penguin Random House Children’s. She tells us what it’s like to work in publishing, offers some tips on how to get into the sector, and speaks about how being commended in the Foyle Award changed the course of her life.
My route into publishing was a bit of a haphazard one. After I finished university, I spent some time travelling and working for the Hay Festival before getting a job in an advertising agency. I finally made the move into publishing a couple of years later, after spotting a job advert on Twitter and deciding it was now or never! My time in advertising and working for Hay gave me enough to talk about in the job interview, despite my lack of publishing experience. Any time spent working in an office and gaining administration skills is useful for so many publishing roles, and hopefully meant I’d bring a different perspective to my team.
Being a picture book editor is exactly as much fun as I’d imagined, although there are unique challenges too – telling a compelling story in just 32 pages is no mean feat. But I absolutely love it, and can’t imagine doing anything else – it’s the biggest privilege to work on books that hopefully set children up for a lifetime love of reading.
I work in a busy team that publishes a whole range of books for young children, from standalone picture books to illustrated non-fiction and well-loved classics like Spot and Peter Rabbit. We also publish books in partnership with the V&A and Imperial War Museum. It’s a very collaborative, creative process – as editors, we work closely with designers as well as with our brilliant authors and illustrators. On a typical day, I could be meeting with colleagues to discuss marketing and publicity plans for an upcoming title, checking proofs to make sure there are no last-minute errors before a book goes to print, or responding to submissions. There is inevitably a lot of admin, as there are so many stages involved in getting a book through production, but it’s so satisfying when you see finished copies and realise all the work was worth it. One thing that still surprises me is the number of people involved in each book – it’s truly a team effort with colleagues from all departments pitching in, and as an editor, your job is to champion the book at every stage. We work closely with our Design, Finance, Marketing & Publicity teams; Production, who work on all the logistics of getting our books made; the Rights team, who sell our books around the world; as well as Sales, who help get the books out to as many people as possible.
I use my writing skills at work constantly. From persuasive emails to back-cover copy, it’s the foundation of so much of what I do. There’s a misconception that an editor is someone who just sits at a desk and works closely on text all day, but in reality, we’re more like project managers – we have to liaise with so many different people to make a book happen, and strong communication is at the heart of all of that. I think poetry in particular is great training for an editor – so much of writing poetry is editing and learning to write succinctly, as well as revising and re-drafting. There’s also something instinctive about poetry; it’s about learning to trust yourself and your work, and that’s an important hurdle to overcome if you’re going to put your writing out there. I’d like to think that I understand how it feels to get feedback on your writing and for someone to work with you on it.
My memories of being commended in the Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award are mostly shock and surprise. I’d always written, but Foyle was the first time I had entered a competition or shown my work to anyone other than my teachers. The biggest thing it did was make me take myself seriously as a writer. Being given that little bit of validation gave me the confidence to go on and keep writing, and reading the other winning poems made me realise that I wasn’t on my own.
It also changed the course of my life – I was 17 and about to apply to university, and switched my degree choices to include an English & Creative Writing course after getting the news about Foyle. I ended up studying that course at Warwick, which gave me three invaluable years of writing, workshopping, reading, editing, experimenting with different forms and genres, and meeting other writers who were all doing the same.
My biggest tip for young writers is very unoriginal, but it’s the best advice I’ve ever had for writing – read. Read more than you think you need to, read from genres you’ll never write in, read when you feel like never writing again!
I would also advise finding a community of writers, whatever that might look like – it could be a formal workshop or an online group, but all that really matters is that you get the chance to read each other’s work and talk about it. Not only will the other writers be a great support network, but you’ll learn so much about what works and doesn’t work in your own writing by workshopping other people’s.
For aspiring editors, the reading advice still stands, and I’d also suggest applying for work experience in a publishing house to get a better idea of what the job involves. Plenty of the big publishers now offer paid work experience including help with travel and accommodation costs for those living outside of London, and the Society of Young Publishers also offers free events around the country.
If you can’t get work experience, there are so many other routes into publishing. Some of the bigger publishers offer paid internships and traineeships (Penguin Random House’s runs once a year and is called The Scheme). You could also look at roles in literary agencies or at literary festivals – these can be a great way to meet people in the publishing world and get a taste of what it’s like. Alternatively, keep an eye out for entry-level roles in different departments. It’s common to move into a different area of publishing early in your career, and you might find you prefer the department you start in. I’d also recommend keeping an eye on Twitter for job vacancies – the @pubinterns account is particularly great at publicising entry level opportunities.
Above all, never be afraid to apply because you think it’s too competitive. And that’s the case for the Foyle Young Poets of the Year, too – the most important thing is just to go for it! Pressing send is the scariest bit, but I promise it’s so worth it.
Rachel Hard is a writer and editor currently based in London. She grew up in Worcestershire and is a graduate of the Warwick Writing Programme.
The Foyle Young Poets of the Year Award is an opportunity for any young poet aged 11-17 to accelerate their writing career. Since it was founded in 1998 the Award has kick-started the career of some of today’s most exciting new voices. This year the Award celebrates its 20th anniversary, with lots of exciting activity throughout 2018.
Each year 100 winners (85 Commendations and 15 Overall Winners) are selected by a team of high profile judges, this year Caroline Bird (herself a former winner) and Daljit Nagra. There are loads of exciting prizes up for grabs, including publication, mentoring, poetry books and long-term support from The Poetry Society. Teachers can also access free teaching resources. Find out more at foyleyoungpoets.org
Don’t miss the other features in our Foyle Friday series…
- 2017 FYP Andrew Pettigrew interviews 2008 judge Ian McMillan
- We speak to former winners Helen Mort, Ankita Saxena and Richard O’Brien
- We interview FYPs Jade Cuttle, Richard Osmond and Laura Potts
- We catch up with former FYPs Amanda Chong and Phoebe Stuckes
- FYPs and novelists Michael Donkor and Anbara Salam speak to YPN
- YPN interviews literary agent Hattie Grunewald and once YPN editor Phoebe Walker
- Margot Armbruster interviews fellow FYP Peter LaBerge, founder of The Adroit Journal, in an American special
- FYP Meredith LeMaître interviews Sarah Howe
- Jay Bernard, Phoebe Power and Imogen Cassels reflect on winning the Foyle Award