The Publishing Post
Industry Insights: Serena Arthur
Serena Arthur works as an Editorial Assistant for Wildfire Books, an imprint of Headline Books. She can be found @serena_arthur on Twitter and @girl_of_books_and_torchlight on Instagram.
How did you get into publishing?
I did the typical thing of studying English Language and Literature at university but I didn’t have a solid career in mind. In my first year, a fellow student came up with the idea of a new magazine, Onyx, which would platform the work and voices of students of African and Caribbean descent. I became Onyx’s Deputy Editor and co-creator and it was my first taste of publishing on a small scale.
By the time I moved on from Onyx I knew I wanted to be in publishing. I attended Oxford SYP events and gained a place on their ‘Into Mentoring Scheme’, and began applying for publishing work experience and internships. I graduated in July 2019 and started as a Publishing Trainee at Hachette UK, after some very short work experience at Walker Books and Usborne Books. I then secured a permanent role which officially started on 1 July 2020.
Why did you want to go into Editorial?
I initially considered Editorial and Publicity. The former because you get to work so closely to the text, and the latter because you get to chat to lots of people - then I found out that editors do both and my mind was made up! One thing I didn’t realise before the traineeship was how much of the book buying process was up to Editorial. Editors don’t just need to be able to edit, they need to know the market to have an eye for what will be successful and also be able to handle the negotiation of financial and contractual details.
You worked as an Editorial Trainee at Headline Fiction before transitioning to Editorial Assistant at Wildfire. What appealed to you about working within these imprints?
I actually didn’t choose the department for my traineeship placement. Luckily, I loved where I was placed and jumped at the opportunity to stay within Headline as an Editorial Assistant. I read so widely, that I wasn’t sure if I would only want to work on the commercial women’s fiction and thrillers that the Headline Fiction team specialise in. Wildfire has a much broader list that includes fiction and non-fiction and it’s a great place to be as someone who doesn’t yet know where they might want to specialise as a commissioning editor.
Describe your typical working day.
One of the things I appreciate most about my job is that each day is so different, but generally there are always 1) lots of emails, 2) discussions on current, upcoming and potential books for our list, 3) filling in information on spreadsheets and Biblio, 4) logging submissions (some of which I will dip into after work or on the weekends) and 5) liaising with the other departments (particularly production to get the book from initial files to publication).
Some days there are also meetings, for example with Marketing and Publicity or with authors and agents. I also work on the Wildfire twitter page.
How did the Trainee and Assistant application processes differ?
Both were quite rigorous, but the Assistant application was more specific to Editorial.
The traineeship I did included: the usual CV/cover letter/questions, a shortlisting session with Creative Access, a recorded video interview, and then an Applicant Day where I did an in-person interview and a panel presentation with questions afterwards.
The Assistant application process included: CV/cover letter/questions, a couple of editorial-based tasks and two interviews (a longer more formal interview and then a more relaxed second interview – though both were pretty chatty and informal as this is how the Wildfire team work).
Do you think Hachette applicants are expected to have an in-depth understanding of the imprint they are applying to and, if so, to what extent?
I think Editorial applications definitely need to be tailored to the imprint. Other departments tend to work on a divisional level (so could work on any book published by any of the Headline imprints), whereas in Editorial, you usually stay within your imprint.
The Hachette website separately lists each imprint and I would suggest reading what is available about the division (e.g. Headline) and imprint (e.g. Wildfire). You can find information on the Hachette website, on social media pages and by checking for any news/announcements on the Bookseller. However, they only expect you to know information that is readily available.
Wildfire is known for publishing ‘gripping page-turners’. Are there any releases you are particularly excited for this year?
The Lies You Told by Harriet Tyce! I am also really looking forward to the publication of Ariadne by Jennifer Saint in early 2021, which is a retelling of the Greek myth of Theseus and the Minotaur from the perspectives of Ariadne and her younger sister.
Who is your inspiration in the industry?
I can’t imagine picking just one person. All of the other members of BAE (the Black Agents and Editors’ Group), all of the people of colour in the industry and all of the Headline editors that I have had the pleasure of working with and learning from. I do want to give a special shout out to Katie Packer, the editor of Love in Colour by Bolu Babalola. She was kind enough to let me help with the Love in Colour edit and talk me through progression in Editorial – she is a huge inspiration and one of my constant supporters.
What are you reading at the moment?
I’m reading Exciting Times by Naoise Dolan and will likely start reading Clap When You Land by Elizabeth Acevedo soon – I’ve heard such great things about both!