By Aimee Whittle, Elizabeth Guess and Leyla Mehmet
In this issue, we chatted to Emily Randle, Founder of Randle Editorial and Literary Consultancy.
Hi Emily. Tell us about your journey into publishing – what made you want to work in rights?
After I finished university, I worked in a warehouse in Northamptonshire for four months whilst I saved enough money to intern (without pay) in London. I went to Latitude music festival and saw a Picador Books stand giving away free modern classics. I tried my luck and asked the staff for an email address for some work experience, then wrote to them and it worked! I did two weeks work experience in the publicity department and loved it. From there, someone recommended I tried applying to Andrew Nurnberg Associates as they had an internship with paid expenses. Nurnberg are mainly a translation rights selling agency. I had no idea what rights was really, but I did the interview and the agent I spoke with made it sound very exciting. I fell in love with rights from the start – meeting editors from all over the world, learning about other cultures, the range of books I had to read, the buzz of an auction and, dare I say it – the book fairs!
What made you want to start Randle Editorial and Literary Consultancy, providing both rights and editing services?
I’d taken a career break after five years at my first job with a reputable literary agency in the rights team and went travelling in summer of 2019. I came back in March 2020, just as the world closed down. There was a hiring freeze across the industry, and I was back living with my parents in the midlands. I approached a local creative writing group and offered to provide some free reader reports to keep me busy. This snowballed and eventually I started charging the market rate and editing for services like Jericho Writers. At the same time, I also received a remote job offer to be a freelance rights agent for an Australian indie; this led me to see a way I could work on both editing and rights. It was a revelation!
I guess, somewhere behind the scenes, I’d had an idea that I’d like to be my own boss one day, but I never really took it seriously until then. Once Randle Ed got started, and I was working with indie authors and publishers, I realised that the London bubble of the industry is a bit of an echo chamber. A lot of talent gets missed by bigger publishers because the industry is inaccessible. I began to realise that I had the skills to create a gateway for this talent, championing all good writing, wherever it comes from, and helping to get it out there in the world.
What has been the toughest challenge you have faced in your career?
Starting a new company in a pandemic from the bottom! Part of this challenge included taking on work where I could; for example, I took on short term contracts where, through a combination of factors, I found myself in positions above my experience with no guidance, and I just had to run with it. You learn a lot about yourself when you get out of your comfort zone.
Editing is a well-documented part of the industry, but rights is less so. For industry hopefuls interested in rights, what are the key skills you need?
You need to enjoy meeting new people and talking about books. You also need to be organised, able to deal with a heavy workload and a fast-paced environment and, ideally, be a relatively fast reader. Additionally, you also need to be open to travelling (the best part of the job for me!).
Is there any advice you wish you’d been told when you started your career in publishing?
Lots, but mainly: It’s okay not to know every author, poet or artist mentioned in a conversation, or who is currently exhibiting at the Barbican. Publishing needs to cater for all sorts of readers, from all types of backgrounds, who are into all sorts of things, so your opinion is always valid. Trust that you will find your publishing crowd. You can go your own way.
Publishing is often seen as quite inaccessible, both for publishing hopefuls and for authors. Do you think enough is being done in the industry to tackle this?
Whilst things have improved, with new schemes, companies and satellite offices opening in other cities, there is a lot more to do. Publishing needs to hire people from all backgrounds across all levels. We absolutely should hire interns and assistants from all backgrounds, but if the publishing culture is unwelcoming, many will leave before they really get to a place of influence. Those at the top set the publishing culture and agenda. Once the industry reflects the diversity of our society, I hope authors will find it easier to access publishers too.
London tends to be the first-place hopefuls look when entering the industry. You’ve worked in many well-respected London-based literary agencies, so what did you learn from your time with them? Do you have any advice for hopefuls trying to enter these types of agencies?
I hope with the advent of flexible working, London won’t be the only place to look for work in the industry. My own company is based in the Midlands, and I go into London twice a month for meetings. I’ve hired part-time staff remotely and it works brilliantly.
However, most well-established agencies are in London, and they will insist on some physical attendance. My advice is to always reference an author from that agency in your covering letter and try to read something from them. If you’re on social media, whether that’s Twitter, Instagram or TikTok, follow and engage with bookish people and, if you’re comfortable, share what you’re reading and enjoying. If you have a book club, Instagram it. Anything that shows you are a voracious reader and have handy social media skills will be to your advantage.
Generally, though, a willingness to do practical things is really appreciated. Also, this may seem obvious, but a smile and an eagerness to read anything you can get your hands on is key!