Monday, 30 October 2017

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with Jonathan Ruppin

Welcome to my latest MY PUBLISHING LIFE feature, an interview with a literary agent, publisher, publicist or editor about their publishing career to date. Some serious questions, and some just for fun!

Today I'm delighted to welcome 


Founder (& Literary Agent)
The Ruppin Agency

What and when was your first job in publishing?
A Christmas temp at Dillons – a chain swallowed by Waterstones at the end of the 90s, for those too young to remember it. I got called up for jury service the week I was supposed to start, but the manager was patient enough to let me start a few days late, and I loved it. I was running the Fiction section by New Year.
Booksellers are wonderful people. It’s the only job – apart from perhaps librarian or primary school teacher – where people can ask you a question about literally anything and expect you to know what they’re talking about.
How long have you been working in your current job/role?
The agency launched at the beginning of September although it was in the works for a long time before. 

I am sure your inbox is overflowing with submissions. What is most likely to grab your attention at present?
The submissions that have stood out for me so far have had scope, ambition, boldness of imagination. I want something that resonates, that lives beyond the page. I don’t just want novels with plot and character or non-fiction that’s well-informed – I want a perspective on life, on the world around us.
I’d really like to find fiction that has something to say about the state of society today. British fiction can be very stuck in the past, and at a time when Brexit has shown many of us that we live alongside people whose lives we know little about, there’s an opportunity to take advantage of the fact that people do explore the world vicariously through fiction. Non-fiction projects that put their topic in the context of the human experience would be very welcome too.
I’m building contacts to try to find more writing from underrepresented voices – working-class, BAME, LGBT, writers with disabilities, writers from beyond the book world’s south-east bubble – many of whom can offer new perspectives, although I certainly wouldn’t turn down a talented writer who happened to come from a background similar to my own. 

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
I’ve done a lot of different things in the book world. My retail experience covers the shopfloor, head office and online for indies and chains. I’ve bought for just about every adult trade category and I’ve done events and marketing and social media. I’ve worked for agents and a publisher and a digital publishing start-up. I’ve interviewed authors on the stage and the page, stood on committees for a whole range of literary organisations, written and edited, judged awards, consulted hither and yon, popped up all over the trade and national press.
But most of all, I’ve spent over two decades reading new titles constantly and watching the way every category of trade publishing had ebbed and flowed, flourished, folded and reinvented itself anew. That and the inspiration of working with and learning from so many other passionate book-lovers who’ve managed to turn their passion into a career, especially my partner, Emma. 

How do you relax after a busy working day?
Music. I don’t stream – I still believe in albums and I seem to buy as many as ever. My taste is pretty catholic, but the 70s is the decade I couldn’t do without; David Bowie is my guiding star.

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
Croatian War Nocturnal by Spomenka Štimec, translated by Sebastian Schulman. Its Croatian author is a major figure in Esperanto literature and the novella consists of poignant fictional sketches of the devastation and trauma caused by the Balkan Wars.
I’m also making my way through Know Your Place, a crowdfunded anthology of essays on British working-class life and identity by working-class writers, including Kit de Waal, Catherine O’Flynn and Andrew McMillan. 

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
Reading, networking, research, editing, email, communication, negotiation, pedantry, tea and more reading. 

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far
The best part of my job at Foyles was looking after all the authors who came into sign their books, so I met thousands of them. I’ve also had the chance to interview a few of my favourites on stage: talking with David Mitchell about The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet was about as much fun as I’ve ever had at work. Being a literary prize judge has also always been fun: it’s a chance to read dozens of new books and recommend the best to loads of people at once. 

If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
This question seems to have brought out my inner five-year-old: a train driver. Looking out of the front window while the train races past goods yards, through valleys and over bridges would be a thrill. 

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?
Have You Read This? I’m always interested in what people are reading and which books they especially love, and it always gets me wondering what I can recommend. Once a bookseller, always a bookseller.

Thanks so much for taking part, Jonathan!

Look out for more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features coming soon.

Click here to read more MY PUBLISHING LIFE features.

If any literary agents, publishers, publicists or editors would like to take part, please contact me through my blog or Twitter for the full list of questions.

1 comment:

  1. Oh very interesting. I may be mistaken but I think this might be the same agent I had contact with many years ago. He was very helpful and interested in my work. Great to see he now has his own agency (if it is indeed the same Jonathon!)