By Samantha L.
This issue we speak with Emily D’Souza, founder of the Hopefuls Book Club, to talk about the project. This coffee-drinking reader from Cardiff balances a role with the Jericho Writers and working in a disco-themed bar on top of her commitment to this community of publishing hopefuls and their literary explorations.
Emily states she was inspired to create the book club after continually being reminded that “publishing is a very competitive industry,” especially with how the job market shrank during the pandemic. To distract herself from the stress of applications and rejections following her graduation with an English BA, Emily decided to set up her own community “in the form of a book club for others in a similar position, where we could discuss new reads and gain commercial awareness for those applications, as well as supporting each other through such a difficult time.” So, in October 2020, the Hopefuls Book Club launched. Their recent anniversary was the second in-person event, but the group has already developed a strong identity that’s recognisable to publishers as large as PRH.
The Hopefuls Book Club originally ran fortnightly during lockdown, but has since scaled back to monthly now that people have reinstated their regular commitments. Twenty five people come together to choose and read books chosen by Facebook poll. The genre changes, and the recent implementation of a favourites list has allowed members to share their top books. “This has been great as I’ve read genres and books I probably wouldn’t have picked up if it wasn’t for the book club.” Efforts are made at every level, from author to genre to publishing house, to be as diverse and inclusive as possible. “We’ve read everything from novels-in-verse to murder mystery and fantasy!” Sources of inspiration for those books and the club have included the Radio 2 Book Club, The Bookseller, podcasts, general bookish news – anything and everything.
Though the book club is now running strong with over twenty members in their meetings, Emily confesses she had difficulties earlier in the process. There were three main concerns: first was a worry over a lack of interest. However, despite this and despite the barriers Zoom created to genuine and comfortable interaction, the group has fostered friendships that have gone beyond the meetings.
Next came branding – in the beginning the group didn’t even have a name. Everyone got involved in choosing a name that Emily took to create the logo and Instagram account, carving their niche in the crowd of book clubs. For Emily, time commitments do make it difficult to keep up with the myriad of tasks involved. Hosting, meeting, writing reviews, posting content on top of employment and participation has meant she’s begun to delegate.
Finally, there is the impossibility of pleasing everyone at once. Timing and book choices are the biggest issues, but Emily states “I’ve learned that I’m doing more than enough and can ask for help from the other members when I need it.”
Emily says she has cultivated a number of skills along the way and that schedule management boosted organisational skills. Multi-tasking has allowed for “simultaneously hosting and planning meetings, writing notes and then writing-up reviews” and “the biggest skills that I have developed are my people skills.” Emily has united twenty five total strangers and “chaired meetings across a lot of different and potentially sensitive topics” leading to “really meaningful discussions” that have allowed the sharing of perspectives and opinions while maintaining a safe space. This also helped develop the connections that allowed the group to be a collaborative space. The “book club was created as a support network through difficult times” for those in similar positions to Emily, i.e. publishing hopefuls working to enter the industry with an interest in reading communally. “Ultimately, in doing this, I have created a supportive and inclusive space that I’m so proud of. We have helped each other through really difficult days, celebrated each other’s successes and it has been such a pleasure to see everyone develop. I’ve watched people get their dream jobs after facing adversity and been really touched to see people grow in confidence, from chatting more in meetings to having a go at writing reviews and even opening up about their disabilities, which they hadn’t before.”
The Hopefuls Book Club is currently unable to accept new members due to its structure and in-depth discussion of the books, as well as to make those only comfortable speaking in smaller groups as content as possible. “However, if you message to show interest, I’ll keep it in mind!”
Thank you to Emily for speaking with us about The Hopefuls Book Club this issue! Follow them over on @hopefulsbookclub on Instagram, and Emily’s posts on Twitter by @emily_dsouza_ .