Industry Insights with Jennifer Shelton
By Georgie Graham, Leyla Mehmet, Karoline Tübben and Aimee Whittle
This week we spoke to Jennifer Shelton, Contracts Assistant at Faber & Faber.
Can you tell us about your journey into publishing?
I’d been working as a legal admin assistant for ten years and was keen for a career change, and wanted to work in an industry I was passionate about. It was just after my thirtieth birthday when I decided to take the leap.
Like all bookworms, I’ve always had a passion for reading. I started researching and getting involved in the industry in January 2022. I engaged with a career consultant, joined The Publishing Hopefuls Facebook group, contributed to The Publishing Post and started #bookstagram/#booktwitter accounts (among other things) in a bid to really connect with the industry and other hopefuls.
Initially, I was interested in production or rights roles. Not being able to relocate to London limited my options and after months of applications, one second round interview and many rejections, I thought I would be better off going freelance. I decided to sign up to the Freelance Package through The Publishing Training Centre as I’d been working as a freelance transcriptionist for a few months.
Just before signing up for the course, I got The Bookseller newsletter and saw the Contracts Assistant position at Faber. This was a role I had neither heard of nor come across in my research. Reading through the job description, I felt I ticked nearly all the boxes, and saw that remote working would be considered. I thought I had no chance of getting it but would feel silly for not even applying! I was astonished when I got the email back inviting me for an interview. The process was very quick from there and despite not always wanting to be a Contracts Assistant, I am so happy I stumbled upon this role. It has enabled me to make a smooth transition with my legal background whilst also introducing me to the wonderful world of publishing.
As Contracts Assistant, what are your main duties?
Lots of emails! I work closely with the rights team to draft sub rights contracts (under supervision of course). Much of my day is spent drafting or approving contracts, liaising with co-agents/foreign publishers, and answering internal and external contract queries. Some other types of documents I deal with are serial agreements, audio reader agreements, podcast agreements and reversion letters for expired licences. I also undertake administrative duties like recordkeeping, updating Biblio and processing contracts. In addition, I assist the Contracts Executive and Acting Head of Contracts with anything they need; this is a great way to learn the more complicated head contracts!
What surprises people most about your job?
The biggest surprise to my friends and family was how much insight into the industry I’ve gained from my position. They are often impressed by how much I’ve learned from a “behind the scenes” role. They had no idea how complicated a book deal could be!
You used to be a member of The Publishing Post team – did this help you to secure your current role?
Becoming a member of The Publishing Post team was the smartest decision I made when starting my publishing journey. It not only shows potential employers that you have an active interest in the industry, but you can develop a lot of the required skills for entry-level roles. Coming from an admin background, I’d already developed those skills but being on the team kept them sharp while I was job hunting. The Publishing Post is a great resource for keeping up with current trends, events and useful tips for interviews and CVs. It’s also a great talking point during interviews.
What is it about Faber & Faber that, above everything else, brings you to work every day?
Without a doubt, the people are what bring me to work every day. I have never worked at a company like Faber before. It’s a larger company but they still maintain the smaller, indie family feel. Everyone goes out of their way to say hello or to help you. The company is extremely supportive and caring as well as continuously challenging itself to be more inclusive and diverse.
What was the best piece of advice you received when starting your journey into the industry?
I wouldn’t say there was one piece of advice that really stuck with me. I spoke to and connected with so many amazing people, both in the industry and outside of it. The best lesson I learned was to not dismiss advice from ANYONE. Every person is an asset and an invaluable resource, from career consultants, to marketing executives who volunteer to run local literature festivals and even your friends. My husband was crucial to me as he had changed careers the year prior and was able to connect me with his career consultant and offer advice/support. So, my advice would be to talk to anyone and everyone you can because you never know what wisdom they may give you!