By Avneet Bains, Leyla Mehmet, Chloe Francis and Alessia De Silva
In this issue we talk to Millie Guille about her journey into publishing and in her role of Sales Assistant at Faber...
Tell us about your journey into publishing.
I’ve always been drawn to poetry and the visual arts, so I had a sense that publishing was the industry in which I’d best thrive in. After graduating, I was offered a Sales Assistant role at Oxford University Press (OUP) and spent three years there before deciding to move to trade publishing. The relative ease with which I landed my first publishing role did not prepare me for the fifteen-month ordeal of applying to and being rejected from at least sixty trade publishing positions. When a sales role at Faber came up, I just thought ‘this is it - this is your job’. I remember being in a state of mild hysteria during the interview, but they offered me the role and it’s now been a year and a half since I joined the team!
Did you always want to work in sales?
In all honesty, I was initially seduced by the mythology of the Editorial Assistant role. I would picture myself furiously copy-editing the next Rachel Cusk, with red ink splattered up my wrist and a look of wild abandon in my eyes. But, of course, that’s not how it works. To my delight, through its fusion of the creative and commercial, sales proved the perfect fit. It tends to get overshadowed by publishing’s more glamorous departments, but the sales team is at the centre of the whole operation. You can’t acquire the next hot manuscript if you don’t have money in the bank from selling the last hot manuscript.
You have a background in both academic and trade publishing. What would you say are the biggest differences between them in relation to your role?
Forgive me if I’m painting academic publishing as trade publishing’s austere older sister, but my role at OUP was definitely more administrative. As Faber is an independent publisher, my responsibilities are far greater, and the fact that it’s the sales force behind the Independent Alliance means I also get to work with stellar publishers such as Granta, Europa Editions and Swift Press.
What does your typical day look like, if there is such a thing?
I’ll share a day in the life before the pandemic, because that’s a much more interesting account than one of me being sequestered in my “home office”. On a typical day, I’d head to Faber and distribute proofs to the sales team before firing up my work emails. Faber has an incredible drama list, and as the sales contact for theatre enquiries I’d spend a few hours liaising with production companies and theatre directors about stocking our upcoming plays. I provide support for the export market as well as a handful of UK key accounts, so I’d also assist the sales managers by running reports, placing orders and compiling retailer presentations. My favourite role, however, is orchestrating the in-house author signings where I get to meet my literary heroes, such as Simon Armitage.
Has there been anything you’ve found particularly challenging about your role or starting out in the publishing industry?
I remember being overwhelmed when I started at Faber and spent the first month combating severe imposter syndrome, but all of my colleagues were so welcoming. Eighteen months later, I still draw inspiration from their industriousness and their passion for the written word. The greatest challenge was breaking into the industry. I’d book annual leave to travel to London for 40 minute interviews, paying for the train fare out of my own pocket, only to receive swift rejections and start the process all over again. I didn’t realise there were philanthropic organisations, such as the Society of Young Publishers, who offer support to publishing hopefuls.
What advice would you have for publishing hopefuls who would specifically like to go into Sales?
My advice would be to keep an open mind. You might initially think that digital sales is the arm for you, but all of a sudden you’ve had a day out with a sales rep visiting independent bookshops and you’re besotted with a whole new route to market. It’s easy to miss out on opportunities if your initial scope is too narrow, so be hungry for everything. Additionally, seek out sales contacts and departments on Twitter and follow them to gain a flavour of their roles, because in all likelihood, they could be interviewing you one day.
And finally, what are you currently reading?
I treated myself to a copy of Frank Wynne’s Queer: LGBTQ Writing from Ancient Times to Yesterday, and it’s a triumph of an anthology. I tend to dip into it in the evenings and I’m discovering so many writers. The book is a glorious celebration of underrepresented voices, and at 600 pages with my glacial reading pace, I’m sure I’ll be celebrating them for some time!
You can find Millie on Twitter @MillieGuillie