Tuesday, 13 February 2018

MY PUBLISHING LIFE with Jemima Forrester

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 


Literary Agent
David Higham Associates

What and when was your first job in publishing?
My first job in publishing was straight out of uni (about seven or eight years ago) when I did a stint of work experience with a freelance publicist. Aside from not being paid, it was a fantastic first job. I worked with some big-name authors, got to go to lots of publishing parties (where you can network like mad) and, while it was hard work, I did get to do at least 50% at home in my PJs! My first paid job in publishing was as an editorial assistant at Headline assisting three senior editors. I loved it, though as an editorial assistant I was rarely invited to the parties anymore!

How long have you been working in your current job/role?
I’m now a literary agent at David Higham Associates and I’ve been here since September 2016. Between Headline and here, I spent five years working my way up the ladder at Orion Books where I was commissioning crime and thriller and reading group fiction.

Which books have you worked on recently/are you working on?
As an agent, I have a much broader list than I had as an editor. I’m currently working on a historical novel about Heathcliff, a Swedish-set thriller, a really exciting commercial fantasy novel and a non-fiction book about fashion and feminism. One of the first books I sold as an agent, a quirky upmarket mystery called The Colour of Bee Larkham’s Murder by Sarah J. Harris, is coming out in May this year and it’s getting so much great attention. I can’t wait to see it published and will probably be pressing it into people’s hands all year!  

Which qualifications/life skills/experience have helped you get to where you are today?
Being passionate about reading and reading really widely across multiple genres is probably the key qualification you need to work in publishing. You won’t get far in this industry if books aren’t your bag! The other quality I think really helps is being a people person and getting on well with people. Publishing thrives on personal connections and it’s crucial to have good working relationships with your authors and colleagues if you want to succeed. 

How do you relax after a busy working day?
I am very fond of relaxing! I like to keep fit so I run and go to the gym. I also make clothes and love losing myself in a sewing project for hours at a time. And I’m a huge bubble bath addict. If I could have one every day I would!

What was the last book you read for pleasure?
I actually reread (what an indulgence) Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. I read it a few years ago and remembered how much I loved it. She’s such a wonderful writer. It was most definitely a pleasure.

Describe your job in 15 words or less...
Finding and developing talented writers and helping them to get their books published.

What have been the highlights of your publishing life so far?
There have been lots. Probably signing up my first author when I was at Orion and selling my first book as an agent were key highlights. I also had an author who, having struggled with relatively small advances for several years, got a bit of a windfall last year and bought her dream house. Knowing I’d helped make that happen felt really special. Finally, it hasn’t happened yet, but when I have an author who hits number one on the charts, that will be a really big moment.

If you could try out any other job for one day (with no limits on money, travel etc.), what would you choose?
No one has asked me this question before! I feel like I want more time to ponder… But off the cuff I think being a seamstress would be amazing because I love sewing so I don’t think it would feel like work (I bet that’s what book lovers say about publishing!). And I always harboured a strange desire to be a florist.

If your publishing life was a book, what would the title be?
Ha! I’d like more time with this one too, but given I’m writing this last thing on a Friday I’m going to plump for Nevertheless She Persisted. People outside the industry think publishing is glamorous and all we do all day is read books. Actually it’s tough, it can be very stressful and high-pressure and you deal with a lot of rejection, especially on the agenting side. I’ve considered giving up in the past (before I was an agent), but I’ve persisted and it’s been worth it for the successes when they come, the wonderful authors I work with and my love of working on books.

Thanks so much for taking part, Jemima!

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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