Moving into Publishing: Editorial with Lemara

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Moving into publishing: Editorial 
Work in Publishing
Photo by Edi Whitehead

To celebrate Work in Publishing week we spoke to Lemara Lindsay-Prince, Senior Commissioning Editor at #MerkyBooks (Penguin Random House), about her decision to move into the publishing industry.

Hello! First up can you tell us a little about your current role at Penguin Random House? What does it involve?

Hi! My name’s Lemara and I’m Senior Commissioning Editor at #Merky Books. Being Senior Commissioning Editor means that I’m involved in the whole lifecycle of a book – from proposal to publication and long after. Editorial is the driving force of publishing – if I was an animal, I’d see myself as an Octopus with my tentacles across all teams from marketing, publicity, sales, art and production. You have to have a 360 approach, a balance of creativity, culture, commercial acumen and most of all empathy to bring a book to life.

Where were you working before you moved into publishing?

I was a proud retail warrior – I worked at Cubitts in Borough Market part time, and on the side, I co-ran an independent publication with two mates called Plantain Papers and was writing my novel through the Penguin Random House #WriteNow scheme.

Which transferrable skills from your previous role overlap with your current role?

Pitching and being a people person. I used to always say that working at Cubitts was all about ‘meeting people where they’re at’ i.e. making good, organic connections and getting to know them, their style and what they want, in a brief moment in time. Then selling their own vision back to them by recommending the right pair of frames.

Working in Editorial is similar as it’s all about being a passionate advocate for an author and their work at a singular point in time, making an organic connection with them and then rallying everyone on board internally to ‘sell’ your perfect vision for their success. A simpler way of saying it – you’re the hype person!

So my advice would be: know yourself as best as you can, what you want out of a role and what support and success looks like to you, and then consider what that means for the kind of role within publishing that would suit you best.

Why did you want to move into publishing?

I didn’t! In a previous life, I worked in the creative industries and was significantly let down by their approach to inclusivity and basic empathetic care for staff of colour. So, I didn’t willingly want to go back into a similar set up. However, a friend of mine – Cara Conquest – who works for Penguin Random House, sent me the job advert for the role at #Merky Books. She knew I was a writer and had some good ideas, so said I should apply. I resisted a bit until I saw what #Merky Books was about at their live event at the Barbican – if it wasn’t for the promise of #Merky Books, what Stormzy represents, and the chance to publish bold voices I’m not sure if I’d have thought publishing was for me.

Did you find that you brought a different perspective, having worked in another industry?

I 100% brought a different perspective, energy, and world view to everything, which is an advantage. Publishing is an extremely traditional and established industry but there is space and opportunity for a cultural shake up, for a variety of people with lived experiences to exist in the industry and be a driving force for creativity, change and culture.

How easy was it to adapt to working in publishing, were there any surprises?

There were a lot of surprises as I learned about the book process. I came into the industry innocently as a writer/reader so joining Editorial was like pulling back the Wizard of Oz curtain and seeing the entire process, minutiae and detail of how we made a physical book. It was fascinating and frightening.

Coming into the industry with no publishing experience wasn’t easy, to be honest. I was supported to an extent but there were definitely gaps in how to successfully transition me or someone like me with no direct publishing experience into my role. Truthfully, I’m still adapting because people are always iterative.

What would you say to anyone reading this who is considering a career change and is interested in working in publishing?

Publishing is a rollercoaster of emotions and experiences. So my advice would be: know yourself as best as you can, what you want out of a role and what support and success looks like to you, and then consider what that means for the kind of role within publishing that would suit you best.

My second piece of advice is that there are more roles than just Editorial. Editorial is often perceived as the only creative role that makes a difference however we need inclusivity and new perspectives across every touchpoint – Sales, Publicity, Marketing, Production, Art. So do your research, ask questions, have as many conversations with people within the industry as you can, and get their honest opinions on what it’s like to work there so you can understand where your skills would best fit. Only you can make that value judgment.

This interview with Lemara Lindsay-Prince was written for Work in Publishing week for