Industry Insights: Clare Gordon
By Avneet Bains, Leyla Mehmet, Chloe Francis and Elizabeth Guess
For this issue, we spoke to Clare Gordon to learn more about her role as Fiction Editor at Head of Zeus...
How did you get into publishing? Was editorial the department you always wanted to be in?
Like a lot of people, I applied to assistant jobs while I was finishing my degree (I did French and Spanish – English lit is definitely not essential!) but got nowhere. After taking a bit of a break to work as a translator for an aid project in Nicaragua, I was lucky enough to get a month-long internship at an agency. When that finished, a contact through that led to an internship at Head of Zeus, where I ended up taking on a temp contract while a member of the marketing team went on sabbatical which led to a permanent job when she returned. So I had a lot of being in the right place at the right time and luck, plus being open to working outside of my dream department really helped.
What does your typical day look like, if there is such a thing?
My days can vary a lot but they pretty much all involve writing some kind of copy (for covers, online listings, catalogues, marketing materials – you name it, I write it!), proofreading, speaking with the production and sales/marketing/publicity departments to make sure we’re on track with everything. Otherwise I might do a structural edit, check copyedits or proofs, discuss covers with the art department or have meetings with authors and agents.
Did you always want to specialise in fiction?
Not at all. In marketing/PR where I started out I worked across the whole spectrum of books we publish, then once I moved into editorial I worked across adult fiction and non-fiction. I edited a few non-fiction books, including one I commissioned on socialism in Latin America, before realising I wanted to specialise in fiction.
What makes a book stand out? Any tips for budding writers?
Eek! This 100% varies from reader to reader, but I’m looking for strong characters I can connect with and an interesting world. Obviously, I’d like to see a good plot too, but the main things that grip me are the characters and setting.
As an editor, what is the editing process like? Can you give us a snapshot?
As far as I can tell, this totally varies from person to person. For me, I’ll read the full manuscript through once as if it’s any other book, taking no notes. Once I’ve finished, I’ll jot down all my first impressions and questions that arose during that first read. Then I’ll read again with the full story in mind, keeping a note of characters and main events, as well as anything that stands out to me as particularly working or not working with the full story in mind. Then another read for the nitty gritty points that need work. Finally, I’ll form it all into a document of questions and ideas for the author, which I’ll share with them and discuss as much as they’d like.
How do editors liaise with literary agents and authors? Any tips for hopefuls on what skills would be useful to have?
My main tips would be to be polite and conscientious. If you’re having a stressful day and somebody’s questions are adding to that, consider that they might be in exactly the same position and really need the information you can give them to resolve an issue they’re having. With authors, it’s important to remember that while you might work across a lot of books, they only have one at a time (usually) so it is a big deal. That means making sure to be gentle if they ask questions that might be obvious to you or bigging them up when you love their work. They’re not embedded in the processes like we are, so a kind hand on the road can make all the difference.
What advice would you give to someone looking for or just starting their first role in publishing? What would you like to have known before working in editorial?
Be nice! Everyone you meet is trying their best – whether they’re an intern or the CEO – so a positive approach makes all the difference. You never know who is having a really difficult day that might be lifted by your kindness, and you never know who might make an opportunity for you further down the line because they remember how easy you were to get on with.
What are you currently reading?
Daddy by Emma Cline. I loved The Girls so I was excited to get my hands on this collection of stories.