By Sarah Ernestine
The majority of professionals currently working in the UK publishing industry are women. In celebration of International Women’s Day, this article features several of the trail-blazing women currently shaping the future of our industry. Each of these women have answered several questions, sharing their expertise, advice, and experiences with young publishing hopefuls.
Katy Catell is a Group Marketing and Communications Director for Hachette Children’s Group.
During your career, have you seen a change in the role of women in the industry or their treatment?
“I joined publishing sixteen years ago, and have been lucky enough to work with and be mentored by many brilliant women who have had a significant impact on me and supported and encouraged my development. This includes my current manager and mentor, Hilary Murray Hill, CEO of Hachette Children’s Group.
I have been pleased to see improvements in recent years in the representation of women at senior levels in publishing companies. There’s a way to go, of course, but it’s great to see inspirational women thriving at a senior level. I know, for example, that woman are in the majority on the board at Hachette UK, led by the impressive David Shelley.
It is worth noting, that the biggest publishing companies are all led my men and in the future it would be good to see a woman leading one of the big corporates.”
What advice would you give to young women looking for their first role in publishing?
“My advice to young women looking for their first role in publishing is to establish a network of people who can support you, be a neutral sounding board and challenge you in equal measure. Surround yourself with people who will lift you higher.
I think building your contacts as broadly as you can and not being afraid to email someone in a senior role and ask to have a coffee and a chat should be encouraged.
There are a lot of transferable skills, so being open to taking new experiences which you may not have previously considered, when thinking about working in publishing, can definitely help you secure a role.
If you have time and the means to enable this, do engage as widely as possible at industry events, literary organisations, or join in with relevant conversations online. Don’t be afraid to find and use your voice to build your profile and your own personal brand – whether that’s asking questions at events, joining an industry group which aligns with your values or passions, or connecting with others on social media.”
In your opinion, what actions can individuals make to help create a more positive, diverse workplace?
“I think that listening to understand is the most important action everyone can take to help foster an open and inclusive workplace. Making time for self-reflection so that we can get to know what we don’t know, check our privileges and catch any unconscious biases is important too. We can all support a culture of respect, curiosity and consideration of other people, other experiences and other points of view.”
Laura Summers is the Director and Co-founder of BookMachine Community and BookMachine Creative Agency.
What is the best piece of advice you were given when you started in the industry?
“I actually don’t remember anyone giving me general advice when I started in the industry. Either I really am quite old, and it’s now a distant memory – or no one gave me any! I do remember identifying senior people who I respected, though, and emulating what they did and how they treated people and behaved. Over the years these influences have helped to shape who I am, what I value and how I conduct myself.”
What is the most important thing you have learned during your time in the industry?
“This isn’t really specific to publishing, but to professional life in general – I’ve learned that soft skills really count. Empathising with others, making an effort to build rapport, having good listening skills, not gossiping, and generally being a nice person will serve you well. Good manners (coupled with great skills) will get you far.”
What tools and resources have you found that would be helpful to young women starting their careers in publishing?
“If you’re in a big company then you will have a lot of resources at your fingertips and you should make the most of all of them. From the socials to the training, committees and general support – sign up for everything and get involved. Even if you don’t realise the immediate value in this, it’s amazing how both your contacts, and also the skills you develop early on in your career, will serve you later on.
I am naturally a big advocate of signing up for BookMachine and attending our events, interviews, training courses, and socials – everything we do is designed to help publishing professionals succeed. Aside from that – join the SYP, read The Bookseller, find a mentor and don’t forget to read your fortnightly edition of The Publishing Post. I’ve been blown away by the quality of the articles – you will learn so much from the tips, interviews, and resources the team provide.”
Megan Amato is an Acquisitions Director and Commissioning Editor for SmashBear Publishing and author.
Do you feel there is still a gender disparity in the way people are treated in our industry?
“I am very lucky that the publishing house I work for is owned and mostly run by women. I know that in the big publishers, women hold the majority of roles. Many of the women and femmes I know, including myself, hold multiple roles across the industry, and I wonder if the reason there are more women in publishing is that we are more willing to take more on and exhaust ourselves for an industry we are passionate about and those at the top may be keen to use this passion until the well runs dry.
The bigger issue, in my opinion, is that while there may be more women in the industry than men, it's mostly white women. There is still a huge disparity in hiring practices of women of colour, queer people and those who are disabled. I think if we address these disparities first, other issues will begin to be resolved in the process.”
What representation do you think we need more of in today’s book market?
“As I primarily read and work with adult and YA fantasy, I can only speak to those markets. While there has been more of an influx of stores written by people of Colour and from ethnic minorities, featuring cultures that we don't traditionally see, I would like to see more and I would like to see them better supported by the publishing industry. As an indie publisher, one of the things I've noticed is the majority of manuscripts we receive are from white authors, and I hope that as a small press, we continue to build trust with different communities so we can support authors and help bring diverse stories out into the world.
Also, I would like to see more sapphic books! Books featuring m/m have been popular over the years, but I think f/f books need more representation, especially those with identities that intersect with other marginalized identities. Disabled bi disasters? Yes. Neurodivergent lesbians battling dragons? Nods enthusiastically. Trans woman Fae who fall in love with a forest nymph? Please.”
As a writer, are there any choices you make intentionally when writing female characters?
“As a writer and a reader, one of the things I love is an angry woman. And not the ball-busting shrew blank slate type of angry woman that has been portrayed in media, and especially in male-dominated fantasy. I'm talking angry at society, the patriarchy and imperialism and uses her rage to destroy the plans of those who would thwart her, oppress her, limit her. Give me Judith's destroying their Holofernes, give me Xiran Jay Zhao's Zetian toppling a violently patriarchal society in revenge. Give me female rage and make it proactively destructive.”
Were there any women, whether they were authors, educators, or industry professionals, that influenced your decision to enter the industry?
"I didn't think I liked reading until I was in my late teens and discovered paranormal romance books, the majority of which were written by women. Even now, most of the authors I read are women or queer folk, and more and more women of colour, and that completely influences the way I read, the stories I want to be told, whether I'm writing them or commissioning them.”
Eleanor Marie Rose
Eleanor Marie Rose is a booktuber and a Marketing and PR Assistant for Bonnier Books.
Are there any specific, trailblazing women in publishing that inspire you?
"Emma Quick: For inspiring me since my first day at Bonnier Books UK. Emma successfully started and maintains the Hot Key TikTok channel; generating sales and building a community. Emma is continually innovative and is the perfect example of everything a line manager should be.
Ain Chiara: For being open about taboo topics such as negotiating a salary and earning a second income. Ain has also always been such a friendly face in the industry.
Chelsea Graham: The Publishing Post is such an admiral achievement that Chelsea founded, covering everything to know in modern publishing. For publishing hopefuls and employees alike, it’s packed full of wealth thanks to Chelsea.
Sam Missingham: For the lack of reluctance when speaking out and shedding light on important issues within the publishing industry.
Perminder Mann: For being an approachable and friendly CEO, passionate about diversity and sustainability which ultimately refines the publishing industry."
Are there any changes you would like to see for women in the UK’s publishing industry in the next 5 years?
“I want to see more women in senior positions and more discussions and transparency with less taboo around menstruation, time off and maternity leave… There is a lot of work to do from the industry as a whole.”
For more Publishing Industry advice from Eleanor Marie Rose, find her BookTube videos here.