Ben undertook the Helen Fraser Fellowship, a 6-month positive action editorial traineeship for black and minority ethnic candidates.
Hello, Ben. Tell us a bit about the Fellowship – what were you doing over the 6 months you were with Hamish Hamilton?
I assisted Simon and Hermione (the Hamish Hamilton team) with all sorts of tasks related to the day-to-day of editorial work. This ranged from sending out advance copies of forthcoming books to reading all manner of fiction and non-fiction submissions, or chewing the fat with the lovely Ali Smith while she signed a very hefty pile of “tip-ins” (pages to be glued into the final bound book). I also wrote lots of material for the HH and Penguin websites, and I co-curated the Instagram account for Five Dials, Hamish Hamilton’s brilliant literary magazine, run by Craig Taylor.
What was the project you worked on that you most enjoyed, and why?
I enjoyed writing for the websites and curating Instagram mini-series, as it provided a chance to think creatively about how to engage readers and generate a buzz around different titles, new and old. But the highlight was being among the first readers to get a look at early drafts by Zadie Smith, Mohsin Hamid and Hari Kunzru- all brilliant, and very different, forthcoming novels about race, migration, modern-day identity and its traumas.
What was your biggest surprise about working in publishing?
There really were a lot of surprises in finding out how the various departments come together in the purchase, production and sale of authors’ work. Marketing and publicity, and the more commercial and sales-driven aspects were very new to me, so lots of the ‘basics’ had never occurred to me before. I got a real insight into the kinds of books that are hugely successful from a sales point of view, and those which are sadly harder to sell in this market than I had anticipated. But it was also great to see how imprints like HH can and do work through different avenues to fight for a richer, more diverse offering.
What did you learn or what were the things you took away from the experience?
I got a very good oversight of the whole publishing machine, a lot of which came from attending meetings and just listening to what went on around me. I took the opportunity to meet informally and make friends with people from different imprints and departments- so it would be hard to list everything that I soaked up! Many people repeat the line, but you really are left with a sense that ‘publishing’ incorporates a huge number of formats, genres and, above all, tastes. I hope that I can be part of a new generation pushing to further diversify publishing and reflect experiences that remain marginalized by the mainstream culture industries.
And most importantly… what are you doing now?
I am now working with the lovely team at Aitken Alexander, a literary agency. I am assisting the agents both in Film and TV rights– that is, getting books adapted for the big and small screen– and on the book side, getting new and established writers published. It is great to work with a small and very experienced team with a huge and varied list and to learn how writers are supported through their careers by their agents.
This interview originally appeared on the Penguin Random House careers blog in May 2016.