Thursday, 21 December 2017

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with Helena Sheffield

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 


Marketing and Communications Manager
Penguin Random House Audio

What and when was your first job in publishing?
I started working at HarperCollins as a Sales Assistant in October 2013, supporting the team who sell to independent bookshops. It was my first job out of University and I absolutely loved it. Working in Sales was not something I’d expected to start out doing, but it completely changed my perspective of the publishing industry and taught me a huge amount of valuable information about our relationships with booksellers which I still use today. I always make sure that my marketing is as sales-focused as possible, and I still love working with retailers.
After a year in that role I became a Sales Executive, working with bigger retailers, and then I made the jump into Marketing as Avon Books’ Digital Marketing Manager. I’m currently Marketing and Communications Manager for Penguin Random House Audio. 

How long have you been working in your current job/role?

I’ve only been in my current role for around six months and it’s been brilliant. I’ve always listened to audiobooks, ever since I was very young, so being on the other side is fascinating. Audiobook production is a whole different area of expertise to book publishing, and I’ve had to change the way I approach marketing to ensure everything is about listening, rather than reading. 

Which books have you worked on recently/are you working on?
As I work across all audiobooks published by Penguin Random House and the BBC, there’s quite a lot going on. I’ve recently put together campaigns for Philip Pullman’s The Book of Dust and Eddie Izzard’s autobiography, Believe Me (and trust me, you need to listen to that one), and Doctor Who audiobooks. Coming up in 2018 there’s some seriously exciting publishing that I can’t wait to start talking about very soon. There’s also a huge amount of much variety which makes marketing all these books a lot of fun. 

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
I studied English Literature at University but I certainly don’t think that’s a ‘requirement’ for working in publishing. Where I really developed was through pushing myself out of my comfort zone and doing things outside of study or work. I was Secretary of my University’s Creative Writing Society which forced me to lead a team, I worked in a library which meant I developed a good background knowledge of popular books and I’ve always striven to keep up hobbies such as dancing, making hats or learning Italian as I think that, certainly in marketing, anything you do to keep learning and trying new things might filter through into a great idea.
Essentially, experience doesn’t have to come from an office job: if you say ‘yes’ to new opportunities you can draw as much experience as you need from those, and you’ll develop that unique approach to working that employers will be looking for!

How do you relax after a busy working day?
I do try! I’ve always done dance and I still do Ballroom and Latin dancing every week – I’m currently preparing for an exam, so whether you call that relaxing I’m not sure…
I also like to try as many classes as possible so that I keep learning – I’ve done Italian, cooking and hat making so far, and have just started yoga. I also happen to have a small obsession with hats, which led to my book, The Art of Wearing Hats, publishing in 2016. I’ve just started working with a hat magazine that will launch in 2018, and I’ll be writing the odd piece for them as well. 

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I read Sarah Waters’ The Night Watch. I love historical fiction, and a lot of her books are set in London during the 20th century. The level of detail in them is extraordinary; I honestly suspect her of having a time machine because she makes a forgotten London feel like you’ve been there. This book works backwards through WW2 and is visceral, unforgettable, perfect. 

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
I get people listening. 

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far
While it wasn’t officially my publishing career, writing and releasing The Art of Wearing Hats with HarperCollins has to be the best moment. It’s not something I’d ever expected to do, and it’s something I’m very proud of.
Other than that, when I was still at Avon we were nominated for Imprint of the Year in the 2017 Nibbies – this felt like a huge team effort as we’d all worked so hard to make the imprint the best it had ever been, and to be rewarded in that way was a wonderful outcome. I was on my own when I found out, and never have I wanted to speak to strangers more than that day… 

If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
Without question I’d want to try being a milliner. I follow so many of them on Instagram and while I can only imagine how difficult it must be, it looks like the perfect life. Surrounded by hats all day … Being able to make your own … Never having to worry about presents again?  Ideal.
I also know from my few hat-making classes that I would not be very successful. 

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?

If You Want to Get Ahead, Wear a Hat
This may sound like a push, but I do think hats have helped me out from time to time… I first applied to the HarperCollins Graduate Scheme and was in a room with 100 other people, hoping desperately to be noticed. As I had nothing to lose, I kept my pale pink cloche hat on, and two years later I ran into someone from HR who remembered me from that day – purely because of the hat.
So my ultimate tip? Hats are your secret weapon. Go forth and conquer.

Thanks so much for taking part, Helena!

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.

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