Industry Insights: Mo Hafeez
Mo Hafeez is an editorial assistant at Faber and Faber. He previously worked at Granta Publications and talked to us here about working in editorial.
How did you get into publishing?
I had no idea what I wanted to pursue after university. I studied International Relations, and publishing wasn’t on my radar. My initial applications were for creative advertising and social media positions, but after a few interviews, I became less convinced that these were for me. I freelanced a little with a number of small magazines, mostly writing music reviews and interviews and undertaking administrative work. I did that for about six months until I chanced upon Creative Access, who were listing a position with Granta. I applied and somehow ended up with a six-month traineeship. During that traineeship, I decided I wanted to pursue a career in editorial.
What was the Faber application process like? Did you have any unexpected interview questions?
After being longlisted for the position, I was asked to complete some short tasks via email, and then later had a video interview with the editors who I’m now assisting. This was followed by an interview with them at Faber’s offices. I think the main question that caught me off guard was “which artist would you commission a book on?” Since I was applying for an assistant role, the thought of commissioning hadn’t remotely crossed my mind, and I had to improvise on the spot; I went with Arthur Russell, as I’d recently gone on a deep-dive of his music and was infatuated by him at the time.
What does a typical day in the office look like?
My day mostly consists of submissions reading and intermittent administrative work. In the morning, I’ll prioritise a number of submissions to read, make notes of my evaluations and send them on to my line managers if I think they’re worth taking a look at. Throughout the day, I’ll also be responding to information requests from agents, authors, and my colleagues at Faber, alongside tasks such as drafting jacket design briefings and copy for books, organising mailing lists for publicity quotes and updating metadata on our database, all to move current titles along their critical path towards publication. In parallel to this, I read delivered manuscripts and relay my thoughts on them back to my line managers. Throughout the week, I also attend various meetings to discuss circulated submissions, covers, scheduling, and so on.
What are your thoughts about diversity in publishing? What are some changes you would like to see in editorial specifically?
The “Rethinking ‘Diversity’ in Publishing” report from Dr Anamik Saha and Dr Sandra van Lente is a great resource on the future direction of publishing with regards to diversity. One idea I support whole-heartedly are editorial department reading audits: seeing what your team reads and where the gaps in knowledge are would be an effective initial step to understanding where books and authors are currently being drawn from (or where they aren’t being drawn from), and addressing such gaps would develop a better understanding of writers of colour. Ensuring a comprehensive understanding of non-white, non-middle-class audiences could further help in this respect - this could be achieved via more diverse hiring and developing strategic links with writer development programmes, to give two examples.
Are there any skills to highlight when applying for editorial roles?
Everyone applying will profess their love of books, so I think showing that you’re organised, meticulous, and able to work on multiple parallel projects is vital. Think about a time which really used your organisational skills and keep that in mind when writing your CV and cover letter or heading in for an interview. Office experience is always a plus, but definitely not a necessity. Beyond this, show that you have interests outside of books and reading; I think demonstrating that you’re bringing new perspectives to a publishing house is a strong idea.
Do you have any suggestions for publishing hopefuls who want to work in editorial, but have no previous experience?
I think it’s key to establish that your first job doesn’t have to be the one that will define your career and interdepartmental moves are possible. Conduct research about different roles and ask people in publishing about their jobs via Twitter or LinkedIn – most people are very open to having a chat with people looking to get into the industry (including myself!).
Starting a blog or podcast is a great way to show that you’re proactive and can work independently. Don’t be afraid to pursue things that aren’t directly related to publishing or books – transferable skills can be found in esoteric places.
Tell us about a book you’ve worked on that you think deserves more attention.
I’m very much looking forward to “The Science of Hate”. It’s one of the first trade books to analyse the tipping point between prejudice and hate crime and is written by Professor Matthew Williams, a world-leading criminologist. There are some truly astonishing narratives and facts within it, and, at a time when hate crimes are spiralling to an-all time high, it couldn’t be a more timely work.
Who is your inspiration in the industry?
Anne Meadows, who was my line manager during my time at Granta. She was (and still is) unbelievably supportive, and I consider myself very lucky to have had her as my mentor. I’d also like to give a small mention to Nikesh Shukla, who I haven’t actually had the pleasure of meeting, but whose work bolsters my faith in publishing time and time again.
Lastly, what are you reading at the moment?
“Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead” by Olga Tokarczuk (Fitzcarraldo Editions).