Industry Insights: Mia Oakley (@miainthemargins)
By Aimee Whittle, Leyla Mehmet, Elizabeth Guess and Chloe Francis
For this issue we interviewed Mia Oakley to learn more about her role as Editorial Assistant and PA at Ebury and position as Co-Chair of Colour[Full], Penguin Random House (PRH).
What drew you towards a career in publishing and what was your journey into the industry like?
People and storytelling. What I love most about storytelling is that it’s a medium of communication, a conversation between people. It allows us to connect with one another, to feel seen and listened to and understood. I wanted to contribute to this conversation.
My journey into the industry started with studying an English Literature degree. After graduating from Cardiff University in 2018, I decided to take a break from the books and ended up in Events Management. A year and a half later I realised I missed the world of books. So, I left my job in order to focus on applying to publishing. Cue global pandemic and 9 months of unemployment filled with various applications, publishing events and getting close and yet so far, I finally landed an internship at indie publisher September Publishing. A few months later I started at Ebury.
What is the biggest challenge you have faced during your career and how did you overcome it?
Getting into the industry. More specifically getting past the written application. The major turning point for me was getting feedback on my CV and cover letter from someone in publishing. I reached out to the wonderful Clem (@itsclembrulee) after she tweeted about offering free feedback on publishing applications for BAME people. Clem helped me drastically improve my CV and cover letter by supplying in-depth editorial and structural feedback. My main takeaway was to focus on transferable skills in cover letters, especially as I had worked in three industries before publishing. Also, to be very specific about how you can apply these skills learned to the job you are applying for.
What does your typical day look like as an Editorial Assistant and PA at Ebury?
I don’t really know what a typical day looks like. The two sides of my role demand different amounts of my time at different points. As the PA to the MD of Ebury, I generally assist our publishing house of around 60 people. This could be anything from organising meetings, designing presentations and arranging events such as author talks.
On the editorial side I work in brand publishing at Ebury Partnerships. This means I, along with my small team, work with brands and authors to publish a wide range of illustrated and narrative non-fiction. My main responsibilities are briefing freelancers such as food stylists, designers and proof-readers, offering editorial feedback as well as liaising with authors. There is a lot of admin involved including, but not limited to, contract requests, invoice payments and freelancer paperwork. I have also started to write book proposals and approach talent and writers.
Tell us more about your inclusivity work and role as the Co-Chair of Colour[Full].
My focus is to demystify publishing and make it a safe space for marginalised people; to ensure the entry into publishing is an open door and not a revolving one. Even though I studied a Literature degree, I was clueless on how books ended up in peoples’ hands. I also wasn’t sure if there was a space for me mainly due to having dyslexia. It wasn’t until I started to talk with publishing people that I realised that there was.
My work with Colour[full], Penguin Random House’s largest employee network for people of colour, is an extension of this. Fellow Co-Chair Hana Teraie-Wood (@hanateraiewood) and I have been working to make the network a fun, safe and intersectional space.
What advice would you give to publishing hopefuls from underrepresented backgrounds? Are there any good resources and/or groups to join?
To reach out to publishing people, connect with the industry and get feedback on your CV and cover letters. Twitter is a great place to connect with bookish people and places. Attend events such as the ones run by the Society of Young Publishers, Creative Access and Bad Form. Join the Publishing Hopefuls Facebook group to connect with other applicants. Also, sign up to mentorship schemes such as the ones run by Creative Access and the Black Agents & Editors’ Group (BAE).
How do you feel representation within the industry and within books could be improved?
Representation from all marginalised communities needs to be improved in all areas of the book industry. From the in-house publishing staff to the freelance pool to the school syllabus. I do feel the tide finally changing though, with the help of programmes and initiatives such as Lit in Colour, Ellie Drewry’s and Cat Mitchell’s Publishing Disability network and Bad Form’s WTF is Publishing? series.
What are you currently reading?
On the train: Intimations by Zadie Smith (PRH) and Why Solange Matters by Stephanie Phillips (Faber & Faber). On the sofa and in bed: Misfits by Michaela Coel (Ebury Press) and The Upper World by Femi Fadugba (PRH).