Ask An Industry Expert – Isobel Akenhead.
25 January 2019
Today I’m delighted to interview Isobel Akenhead, my fabulous editor and Associate Publisher at Bookouture. Hi Isobel, welcome to the RNA blog. Can you start off by telling us about a typical day in your working life, please?
No two days are exactly the same of course, but first thing every day, after I get in to our office in King’s Cross, I check my current books’ bestseller positions, and then yesterday’s sales figures. With an eye on those figures, I then look at the way we are publishing these titles, and analyse whether there are changes that could be made which might have a positive impact on their sales. For example – would giving more information about the heroine’s romantic history early on in the description engage us with her story better? Then – after checking in with colleagues and the author – I’ll make those changes happen! I’ll also look at other recent changes and if they had any positive impact.
I will then usually work through any additional questions asked by other members of the team to do with my authors/books. I will follow up with designers on forthcoming covers, write (or re-write!) some cover copy, and check in with members of my team.
Then I’ll probably have my head down editing for most of the rest of the day – usually with big headphones on, as I work best listening to music. I mostly listen to slightly old-school music that I know really well, so I can focus and I’m not distracted. This tends to mean a lot of Fleetwood Mac, and 90s Britpop, though today I’m mostly listening to Dolly Parton!
What a busy day, Isobel! Can you tell us a bit about Bookouture and how you came to join the company?
I have worked in publishing for over 15 years– as an editor at Hodder & Stoughton working with a wide variety of women’s fiction and crime writers; subsequently in digital sales for Hachette UK, and then running the UK eBook store for Kobo. But when I went back to Kobo after my maternity leave, I had a strong urge to return to the editorial side. I missed editing, working with authors, and the creative side of the role. But at the same time I wasn’t sure that I wanted to return to traditional publishing – in fact, I said to a friend at the time “basically I just want to work at Bookouture”! This was partly down to having met Oliver Rhodes [our CEO] several years before and been impressed by his drive, but also having seen the amazing digital-led publishing they were doing from a retailer standpoint. There was no question in my mind that they were doing it better than everyone else. Luckily the friend I was talking to worked at [Hachette sister company] Orion and pointed out there was a job going at Bookouture right at that moment. So with my baby sitting on my knee, I tapped out a job application, and the rest is history.
What’s the best part of your job?
I am going to cheat and say my two favourite things. Firstly: working with some of the most brilliant, innovative, lovely people in the entire business is absolutely uplifting. We always talk about the ‘Bookouture Family’ which I think other people might think is said in jest, but the truth is that I’ve never experienced (or even heard of!) a team offering such insight and support on a daily basis. I feel very lucky to work with each and every one of them. And secondly: very simply, I absolutely love editing itself. I genuinely get such a thrill reading a book for the first time, and then puzzling over which areas of the story could be strengthened, and how to make that happen. It’s then so rewarding when the next draft comes back, and you know you’ve helped the author get to the heart of their story.
And the worst?
Ha ha. I’m very lucky in that I really love almost every aspect of my job. However, I think that the thing I find hardest is when a brilliant book gets an inexplicably negative review, or most infuriatingly “1 star – this didn’t download properly”. It can be so personal and hurtful to the author, and while I know all reviewers are entitled to their opinions, I wish they’d remember writers are people with feelings!
What makes a submission stand out for you?
It sounds really obvious, but a really smart, original plot, with a great hook, interesting characters and emotionally-intelligent writing.
What would you like to find on the slush pile?
We actually accept (and love!) direct submissions, so would categorically never refer to it as slush. All the best writers have to start somewhere, and many of ours come to us directly. I am always on the lookout for powerful voices, and unique stories told in original ways.
What do you enjoy reading? What are you reading at the moment?
I’m listening to Michelle Obama’s BECOMING which is incredibly inspiring. I’m also reading several novels, including THE WILDFLOWERS by Harriet Evans, whose writing I adore.
Thanks so much for talking to us, Isobel. More about Bookouture and their submission guidelines can be found here: Bookouture
Isobel was talking to Karen King. Karen writes sassy, heart-warming romance and edgy YA with a heart. You can find out more about her here: Website
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