By Leyla Mehmet, Elizabeth Guess, Kathryn Smith and Aimee Whittle
For this issue, we interviewed Jenna Gordon, Editor at VERVE Books, who provided some great insights into the role of an editor…
Could you tell us more about working as an editor – what’s your favourite part of the job?
I knew I wanted to be an editor from a very young age. I’ve always been an avid reader of novels and liked creative writing at school, but have since realised I find it much more fun to read and advise on other people’s writing and work collaboratively. Editorial is the perfect line of work for anyone who loves to read with their analytical brain switched on, who enjoys delving into and playing around with language, and who’s interested in helping to achieve effective communication between authors and readers and bringing an author’s vision to its full potential.
My favourite part of the job is submission reading. I love having the opportunity to read a vast range of manuscripts and give authors a home for their novels. There’s nothing like the immediate gut reaction you experience when you adore a piece of writing and know it’s right for your list, and then actually being able to get it. It’s a part of the job that requires a great deal of thought as well as passion, but brings a lot of excitement when it all goes well!
The thing that might be most surprising is that the role of editor, at least within a book publisher, is by no means solitary. Yes, there are parts of the job that need to be done independently and quietly, but the role itself is highly sociable. An editor must be in constant communication with authors, agents and their publishing colleagues and, especially within a small indie press, is involved in most, if not all, stages of the process, right up to publication.
We would love to know more about your experience of developing a new imprint. What were some of the challenges you faced and what did they teach you?
VERVE Books was launched in 2018 by Claire Quinlivan and Katherine Sunderland, around the time I started interning for Oldcastle Books (VERVE’s older sister publisher). It was originally set up as a digital-first women’s fiction imprint but, as we’ve begun to expand the list, we’ve adopted a traditional print publishing model as this suited our vision for the list.
We’re still in the process of growing the list and currently publish 10–12 books per year. Being part of a new, young imprint has been an amazing experience as there’s room to experiment, learn and adapt, and to expand the type of books we publish. In our fourth year, and especially in light of the pandemic, we are still learning what works for us. However, one notable challenge is trying not to do too much too soon – we’re a young, energetic team with a lot of ideas, but I think developing a successful, sustainable imprint is a process that involves a lot of steps, patience and the ability to determine when the time is right. Something I have become skilled at is listening to my gut – if I don’t love a book, or know it’s ultimately not right for us, I can identify this quickly and am confident in my decision-making.
How important is it for you to build relationships with authors and agents of the books you work on, what do you look for in these relationships?
This is something that’s crucial to me, in every project. A collaborative approach, where the author and their agent (if they have one) is involved at every stage of the publication process – from writing the blurbs to giving input on cover designs and choosing where review copies need to be sent – does, I think, give a book its best chance. I particularly like working with agents as they have chosen to represent a book and have therefore seen its potential before sending it to me. So, they will have lots of helpful insights that can be crucial in helping me to envision the possibilities for a project.
What advice would you have for publishing hopefuls, particularly those hoping to get into editorial?
Read lots, immerse yourself in publishing/book-related social media, do internships, look into training opportunities beyond university and view all book-related opportunities, no matter how big or small, as helpful. Working or volunteering at local libraries or bookshops can be a good first step into the industry as it’s invaluable to be on the ground, witnessing current trends and reading habits and developing a wide-ranging knowledge of books.
What worked for me is starting as a Publishing Assistant at a small, independent press, gaining knowledge and experience of the whole publication process. Editorial is one of the more widely known paths within the industry, but there are other publishing roles that require similar skills, that you might not know about until you start to work within the industry.