Industry Insights: Elliot Ramsey and Harriet Hirshman from Heroic Books
For this issue, we spoke to Sales and Marketing Manager Elliot Ramsey and Editorial and Production Manager Harriet Hirshman who both work for Heroic Books, a publisher specialising in fantasy and science fiction.
Did you always know you wanted to work in publishing? Can you tell us about your journey to become a part of Heroic Books?
Elliot: I’ve always been a creative and ambitious person, but I’ve never had a clear, unwavering vision of the job I wanted. Before joining Heroic Books this year, I spent a couple of years at a magazine publisher across editorial and advertising and before that worked in various other roles. This breadth of experience has been really valuable in my role at Heroic - applying my skills to a new challenge.
Harriet: The publishing industry was this mystifying thing that I didn't really know much about other than what I'd learned from repeated viewings of Bridget Jones's Diary. Working at Edge Hill University Press whilst at uni gave me the opportunity to work on a book from initial concept to something that I could hold in my hands and I found that absolutely magical.
Whilst doing my MA in Creative Writing, I threw myself into every opportunity that I could. I was Editor-in-Chief of my uni's literary journal, an intern on The Edge Hill Short Story Prize, and completed work experience with Comma Press. After I finished studying, I got a job as a Publishing Assistant at a small non-fiction publisher. As an assistant to a small team, I found myself helping with everything from sales to packing books in the warehouse. It was chaotic at times, but meant that I was able to learn all different aspects of the industry. I was unfortunately made redundant from that job in 2020, but Heroic came to the rescue!
Can you tell us a bit about Heroic Books and your #Heroic100 campaign?
Elliot: Heroic Books is a transmedia publisher across the genres of fantasy and sci-fi. As well as seeking to discover the very best manuscripts in these genres, we’re also committed to developing our authors’ work beyond the page. Our founders and board members have experience spanning film, TV, gaming and audio, so we’re keen to develop our titles across multiple platforms and reach as wide an audience as possible.
Heroic100 is our inaugural campaign to find one hundred of the world’s greatest fantasy artists, publish their work in an upcoming book, and exhibit their work at a London gallery exhibition later in the year. It’s really symbolic of Heroic’s commitment not only to championing great literature, but also working with brilliant creatives across fantasy and sci-fi.
You have an open call for submissions. What does a submission need to have to get your attention?
Elliot: I want to read manuscripts set in worlds that feel rich, fully fleshed out, with characters that are developed and three-dimensional. I want to feel empathy, to explore their universes alongside them, and to become instantaneously invested in their stories.
Harriet: I love to read a manuscript that offers something a little different. I'm particularly interested in encouraging diverse representation and reading manuscripts from people who may be underrepresented in fantasy and sci-fi. On a more personal level, I like things that are spooky and weird; bonus points for aliens and ghosts!
What advice would you give someone looking for or just starting their first role in publishing?
Elliot: Take every opportunity you can to learn and develop. Seek out internships or work experience, network with people on social media, put yourself out there. Lots of publishing opportunities are advertised through LinkedIn and Twitter, as well as trade publications like The Bookseller. For those starting out in publishing, learn as much as you can, whenever you can. In the long run it’s going to equip you with a great, diverse set of skills.
Harriet: Put yourself out there, whether that be applying for work experience and internships, or getting to know others on Twitter. Keep up with the industry through social media and by subscribing to your favourite publishers' newsletters. And don't get too disheartened if you don't seem to be getting anywhere; sometimes things take time and an amazing job could be right around the corner.
Elliot, what is it like being both a Sales and Marketing Manager? What does your typical day look like, if there is such a thing?
Elliot: Sales and marketing go hand-in-hand; you can’t sell anything without first marketing it. I really enjoy this role because I like thinking strategically. I like trying to understand audiences, including what they want and where they go to find it.
At the moment, a typical day consists of managing and developing strategies for our social media accounts, planning and writing our newsletters, working with our design team to develop our branding, and trying to share the work that Heroic does as widely as possible.
Alongside this, I’m currently working on marketing plans for our forthcoming 2021 releases, so that’s a really exciting and challenging aspect of my role right now. Keep your eyes on our socials for upcoming announcements (and the end of this article!).
What factors influence your decision when deciding how best to promote a book?
Elliot: This is a really difficult question, especially considering the difficulties that the pandemic poses with regard to events and public appearances for authors. There’s never going to be a one-size-fits-all approach to marketing a book, which is why our strategies are developed in collaboration with our authors.
Some arrive at Heroic with bigger social followings and are already savvy in how they promote themselves, others are relatively new to any form of marketing. But the key is to nail down their desired reader, get those all-important reviews, and build a community of readers that value what they do.
Does the US market for sci-fi and fantasy differ from the UK and the international? Are there any trends you think will emerge in 2021?
Elliot: Genres such as sci-fi and fantasy really do have a global appeal, and I think the trends that we’re going to see in 2021 and beyond will reflect that universal outlook. I’m expecting that literature across the board will be responding to the effects of the pandemic, however directly or indirectly that may be. The past year has no doubt turned lots of readers into writers, and I think we’ll be seeing some really compelling debuts reacting to the trials of the last year, on both sides of the Atlantic.
What key transferable skills do you think hopefuls who want to work in either Sales or Marketing (or both) should have?
Elliot: The most important thing — to my mind, far more important than any skill — is being a good, effective communicator. Talking to people, asking questions, learning from those around you, and having the confidence to have conviction in your thoughts and ideas. These all rank above qualifications and technical know-how in my book.
And Harriet, what is it like being both an Editorial and Production Manager? What does your typical day look like, if there is such a thing?
Harriet: I really love working on both the editorial and the production side of operations because it means that I get to stay with a book for the whole journey. Having only worked for small presses, it's all I really know - I think if I went to work at a Big 5 publisher I'd be quite surprised at how the roles are divided.
I usually work through my emails and then I make a list of what I need to do and what my priorities are. The books that I'm working on are all at different stages, so I could be discussing a contract with one author; working on the developmental edit of another author's manuscript; arranging a copy-editor to work on another manuscript; working with a cover designer to get a book cover ready; and devising and keeping on top of various schedules.
What three qualities do you think an Editorial and Production Manager needs to possess?
Harriet: 1. Organisational skills are a big one. I make a lot of lists and spreadsheets; they may not mean a lot to anyone else looking at them, but they really help me keep track of where each project is up to and what I need to be doing next.
2. Patience is also very important. There are times where everything is moving like a whirlwind and you have to triple-check everything that is happening to make sure that nothing is missed. But then there are times when you're waiting for designers and editors and authors to get back to you and hoping that nothing catastrophic happens to throw off the schedule.
3. Roll with the punches. I used to get really stressed when things didn't work out - I'm not saying that I don't still get stressed, but I'm definitely better at taking a deep breath and saying “Okay, what can we do to fix this?”.
For publishing hopefuls who are curious about production, are there any useful terms or resources that hopefuls should look out for when looking at how a book is constructed?
Harriet: Working in book production really changes the way that you interact with books in the wild. The first thing I do when I pick up a book in a bookshop is look at who it's published by, before flipping to the title verso page and seeing where it was printed. I then usually find myself feeling the paper, inspecting the spine and running my fingers over any embossing or spot UV. Rock and roll, I know. I'd encourage people who are interested in production to be active in the way they look at books. Think about what it takes to achieve the final product. Think about what works and why.
You can find Heroic books on Twitter @HeroicBooks and on their website.
Exciting opportunity for lovers of sci-fi and fantasy!
Heroic Books are currently looking for advance readers to provide feedback on their books out in 2021 and want YOU, our amazing readers, to take part! If you would like to get involved, then please fill out this form.