Previously in this series: Agent | Ghostwriter | Editor | Library Assistant | Publicity Assistant | Typesetter | Cover Designer | Foreign Rights Manager | Blogger |Scout |Translators | Book charity | Copyeditor | Journalist
Today I’m delighted to be interviewing Anna James, media editor at The Bookseller, for what is probably the penultimate interview in this series! (If you work in an area of publishing I haven’t yet covered, and would like to be interviewed, please email me at email@example.com. I’d love to hear from you!)
Anna is very active on twitter and at YA events, and if you were at YALC you probably saw her chairing an event (she cosplayed as Eleanor from Eleanor and Park too!). She’s also extremely lovely, and has an especially cool surname.. 😉
What does your job involve?
I’m currently the Book News and Media Editor for The Bookseller, which is the magazine for the publishing industry. For the print magazine I write a spread every week about upcoming trends, interesting books and publishing projects, and small publishers. I also look after our consumer-facing content online at We Love This Book where I commission and write book reviews, author interviews and opinion pieces. I also help with the YA Book Prize.
I also dabble in a bit of freelance journalism and am the literary editor for Elle magazine which involves keeping them up to date on what books are coming out and writing various bits and pieces (I recently got to interview Margaret Atwood for them <3). I’ve also written for The Pool and Soho House. The other bit of my job is hosting events, which I love. This is at bookshops or festivals and either chairing panels or doing one on one interviews with authors.
How did you get started working with The Bookseller? Did you do any work experience?
So I actually did a History degree, not English as everyone assumes, and my first job after uni was at the Warwickshire Archives. I then was a school librarian in a big secondary school near Coventry for nearly five years which I LOVED. It was hard work but incredibly inspiring, I got to work with some amazing teenagers, some of who I’m still in touch with, and nothing beats the feeling of successfully matchmaking books and kids. While there I organised lots of author events and book clubs which meant that I started meeting people in publishing, primarily in children’s publishing.
I also started a blog back at the end of 2010 – at the time I was completely unaware of any blogging community, I started it to keep track of what I was reading and also to get better at writing critically about books. That gradually grew and I got more involved with other bloggers, and built more relationship with publishers and became more active on Twitter. I wasn’t actively looking for another job but I was getting to the point where I felt like I needed a new challenge and so when the job at The Bookseller came up I applied and got it!
When I started mentioning that I was maybe looking to move more directly into publishing a lot of people told me I should apply for work experience and I was always reticent to do that. I felt that as I been working for six years and I’d built up valuable skills and good relationships I didn’t want to pitch myself as an entry level candidate – and so I waited until the right job came up that was looking for the skills that I had. Not that there’s anything wrong with work experience of course but I felt it would have done me more harm than good at the stage of my career I was at and where I wanted to go next.
What’s your favourite part of your job? (apart from all of the delicious BOOK POST!)
The book post is a definite highlight – I get maybe 15 – 20 books every day at the office and it’s lovely getting to pick out the exciting stuff. I would say that really the highlight of my job though is the people I meet – I work with some brilliant people at The Bookseller, most people in publishing are creative wonderful people and of course I’ve been able to meet some of my literary icons.
How important do you think YA books are in teaching teenagers about feminism?
HUGELY important because books are important in showing teenagers, and just generally people, about how big the world is, how many different kinds of people are in it and how differently we all think. I grew up in a pretty strict, traditional church and I massively credit books with giving me a wider perspective and helping me find my own way. Books broaden your horizons in a way that nothing else can, it gives you insight into perspectives you might never have encountered in a creative way, they’re the perfect way to introduce new ideas.
Anyone who knows me or follows me on Twitter will know how ardently I believe in feminism, I think intersectional feminism is one the greatest powers for good in the world at the moment with capacity to effect real change. Books are a wonderful way to get teenagers thinking about ideas of equality and also the importance of finding and protecting your own voice.
What do you hope to see happen in Children’s publishing in the future?
Well I’d like to see it taken more seriously more broadly, it makes so much money for the publishing industry and yet gets so little review space and media coverage. And I don’t think it should be at the expense of adult publishing, I love adult books, but I’d love to see more space for children’s books in the mainstream media.
As with all publishing, I’d actually like to see slightly less books published so that publishers only buy books they really believe in and then can really give the time and attention they deserve to be the best they can be and then help them find readers.
I would like to see us continue talking about equality and diversity and crucially as well as talking I’d like to see things actually happening, both in terms of the content of the books but also the creators – both authors and publishers. I read to see the world and so let’s make sure the whole world is available, and not just geographically speaking.
My favourite books for children and teens publishing this year are: Asking For It by Louise O’Neill, Unbecoming by Jenny Downham, The Big Lie by Julie Mayhew, One by Sarah Crossan, The Wolf Wilder by Katherine Rundell and Goodbye Stranger by Rebecca Stead.
Oh and this great debut called The Next Together 🙂 (But for reals, I loved it).
My favourites from my childhood are Northern Lights by Philip Pullman, The Grey Gentlemen by Michael Ende, anything by Diana Wynne Jones and Eva Ibbotson and Anne of Green Gables. But probably predictably I read voraciously as a child and teenager and loved so many things.
Do you have any advice for anyone looking to get into publishing?
You need to find the balance between working out what you are really good at it but also being totally open to learning the skills you need to supplement that to get where you want to go. Don’t be arrogant but also never sell yourself short. Don’t pretend you love something you don’t, or hate something you loved. Learn to love networking. Be generous and kind. Read widely.
Oh and be patient when important older people in publishing ask you for the millionth time what this YouTube thing is all about.
Has reviewing books changed your reading habits? Does engaging more critically with literature increase the enjoyment you get from reading?
I would say that it’s changed my habits but not my taste. When you’re being paid to do something professionally there will always be changes and I just see it as something I’m happy to do in exchange for being able to do the job I do. So I sometimes have to read things I probably wouldn’t pick up and I have to read more quickly than sometimes I would like, there’s always just the pressure to read a lot and people expect you to read everything. I have to read predominantly contemporary stuff to keep up to date when sometimes I would love nothing more than to read something that’s already out. A nice thing has been that it has forced me to read more widely and this has led to me discovering all sort of books and authors I might not have otherwise found.
As you work on the YA Book Prize, a new award which highlights UKYA, what do you think in particular is unique about the UK publishing industry?
I must admit I don’t really know enough about how things work in other countries to comment in a particularly informed way but I do know that I adore the vast majority of the UK publishing industry, especially the upcoming generation who will be in charge in ten years time – I’m excited to see what’s going to happen then. UK publishing is full of such intelligent, creative, open people (especially women) who, when given the freedom to get on with stuff and try new things, create wonderful things.
What are your all time favourite books?
The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton, The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger, The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro, His Dark Material trilogy by Philip Pullman and I Am An Emotional Creature by Eve Ensler.
Anna James is the Book News and Media Editor for The Bookseller. She is also a freelance journalist, and has written for Elle Magazine, The Pool and Soho House. You can find her on Twitter @acastforbooks and her blog at http://acaseforbooks.com/
In other news: I did an interview with two University of Nottingham student vloggers when I went back recently as an alumni to give a talk.
I also wrote an essay about why I thought I could never be a writer, answered some questions over on Tattooed Mummy’s blog, and found a section of The Next Together I wrote when I was 16…!