Next up in our Day in the Life feature, Craig Lye – who studied at St Andrews and interned at Edinburgh’s own Barrington Stoke – takes us through working in fiction in London.
I work as an Editorial Assistant in the fiction arm of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, an imprint of the Orion Publishing Group, which forms part of Hachette UK.
In larger publishing houses, the lines between various departments (marketing, publicity, and rights for example) are more clearly defined than in smaller houses. The roles within each department are therefore more focused.
For editorial assistant read editorial juggler. In any one week at W&N there might be: books being bought and going through the acquisitions process; manuscripts and proofs out of house with freelance copy editors and proof-readers; book covers to proof-read; typeset proofs going through final checks; finished copies arriving in the office; books being released on publication day, and books being reprinted. With my colleagues, I am responsible for ensuring that our various titles make it through these respective stages in a timely fashion.
Communication is also an integral daily function. As an editorial assistant at W&N you might liaise with: the production department to provide or receive updates on manuscripts at the typesetters, or books at the printers; the art department to provide corrections to book covers; or marketing and publicity departments to discuss promotional materials being sent outside of the publishing house. You will also talk to members of your own department to provide updates on the status of various projects – and all of that’s just internal communication. Externally, you might liaise with colleagues at the distribution centre, authors and agents, representatives of literary prizes or readers via social media channels.
And the day doesn’t end with the bell at 5:30, either. Publishing is a very social industry that revolves around the making and maintaining of strong professional friendships. It also revolves around the reading of manuscripts from agents, the next one of which might be the new Gillian Flynn, the successor to Rebus’s Edinburgh, or the literary lovechild of Sliding Doors and One Day. So, on any given evening, you might be networking with other assistants (both editorial and agents’) in the industry, attending a book launch or, on rare occasions, frequenting something really glitzy, such as a pre-screening of a movie, or an awards ceremony. Equally, you might be sitting down to a manuscript that is kicking up a rights storm across Europe. Or one that isn’t.
There is, of course, the ‘less glamorous’ side of the role. On a day-to-day basis, I send post, photocopy, enter data into our systems, update publishing schedules and make the tea. But these tasks teach the nuts and bolts of publishing, and must be understood before forward movement is possible.
In the early stages of any editorial assistant role, you will spend weeks and months simply learning how to do the job. When I arrived, still wet behind the ears, my colleagues might have been speaking double-Dutch for all I understood of what they said, and I needed to use software that I had never even heard of before. It is very easy to feel overwhelmed. But no one expects a greenhorn to enter the revolving door at the building’s entrance and emerge as SuperEditorialAssistant. Your colleagues will bring you up to speed, correct your mistakes, and help you to stand on your own two feet. Once on your pins, however, your first baby steps are thrilling.
Working in editorial in a large publishing house also affords you the opportunity to see, and learn from, how some of the biggest books come into being across a variety of imprints, from the latest James Bond novel, to Chris Evans’s new book, to debut fiction that is hitting the charts like a breath of fresh air.
So: daily life as an editorial assistant in Weidenfeld & Nicolson Fiction? It’s going to work every day with friends. It’s doing and contributing to something I love and believe in. It’s an education. It’s London publishing at its best. It’s different every day. It’s awesome.