The book world is not just for wordsmiths, publishing executives tell Roehampton students | Fiza Hussain

Sarah Farmer and Alfie Kimmins address UR students. Photo by Fiza Hussain.

Working in publishing is not all about poring over manuscripts in search of the next Booker Prize winner.

From running events to managing the media to producing the most marketable book cover, the world of publishing has a wide and varied roster of roles for anyone thinking about what career to choose, according to two publishing executives who are both University of Roehampton alumni.

The publishing industry is much more diverse than “sitting at your desk with a pencil and paper and a red pen, crossing spelling errors,” said Sarah Farmer, a publicity executive at Hachette Children’s Group.

Farmer and fellow UR alumnus Alfie Kimmins met with students as part of the university’s Employability Week series of talks in late October.

While Farmer focuses on getting the word out about Hachette’s latest children’s books, Kimmins has a particular role for Thames & Hudson known as a cover controller. A cover controller is responsible for seeing through book covers from concept to production. The wide difference in their roles illustrated the point they both made about the diverse range of jobs on offer.

Farmer suggested most people do think of the pen-wielding bookworm when they think about publishing. She recalled a moment from her time at UR. “On our first day, our lecturer asked us, ‘Who thinks they’re going into editorial?’ And every hand in the room went up,” Farmer said.

Apart from the roles that she and Kimmins have, there are also literary agents, commissioning editors, developmental editors, rights teams, marketing teams, and a raft of other jobs.

Both Farmer and Kimmins are focused on visibility, although in very different ways.

“I do all the events, I work with all media outlets, I work with journalists every week to kind of get books in front of consumers and make it as visible as possible on publication and relevant moments throughout the year,” Farmer said.

Kimmins, meanwhile, has a job that, as he put it, is “effectively a project manager”, one with both pressure and responsibility. He needs to ensure that all parties are happy with the outcome when a book cover is being produced.

Kimmins said he and his team are always on a tight schedule. “We have about 16 weeks to design a cover from pre-production, which might sound like a lot but we’re not just working on that one cover for that whole 16 weeks. We’re doing about 100 covers at the same time,” he said. Any spanner in the works can become a major issue

Despite the pressure, Kimmins gets a lot of satisfaction from knowing he and his team have developed a cover that will help the book find the right market. We may be told not to judge a book by its cover, but marketing executives at publishing firms know that it does happen.

Farmer and Kimmins advised attendees to be open to all the possible opportunities that are out there. They both volunteered and networked with small companies in the industry before they had graduated in order to get a foot in the door. Kimmins said it was difficult at times, but definitely worth it in the end.

By Fiza Hussain

The University of Roehampton changes lives by helping our students to develop the confidence, knowledge and values they need for a successful and fulfilling life. We produce world-class research that helps us understand the world and change it for the better.

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