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Interview with Suzanne Collier

Careers consultant Suzanne Collier specialises in publishing, helping her clients get even the most coveted editorial roles. Having joined Andre Deutsch Ltd at the age of 16, she’s never looked back, working for Random House, Orion, Aurum Press, Ian Allan and Elsevier among others. She is the founder of Book Careers. Here’s her advice for anyone aiming to do the same.

Did you always want to work in publishing?

I loved books and writing but no one ever told me that I could work in publishing. This is why I am so passionate about helping people within the industry. I started giving careers advice about the industry in 1989 and founded in 1999.

How did you get started in publishing?

I started at Andre Deutsch Ltd when it was still owned and run by the late Andre Deutsch CBE. I spent seven years there, working my way up and being involved with every department. For the first 16 years of my career I worked for four publishers, for the next four years I must have worked for 16 publishers in short-term and freelance roles before I ended up at a publishers’ sales agency where we represented over 100 publishers (and had 300 books to sell every month – scary!).

Who has inspired you along the way?

The people who inspired me the most were those who I met at Andre Deutsch Ltd. Andre Deutsch CBE, Diana Athill OBE, Pamela Royds, Esther Whitby, Sheila McIlwraith, Sara Menguc and Penny Buckland and latterly Tom Rosenthal. All of them found the time to talk me, encourage me and gave me opportunities that I wouldn’t have had in another company. I was a 16-year-old kid from the local comprehensive when I joined. When I left I was of graduate calibre with a seven-year grounding in book publishing.

Did everything turn out how you expected?

I would say that my career has turned out far better than I had expected. The advice when I left school was “do you want to work in an office/shop/factory/ indoors/outdoors?” To work in an industry which has allowed me to have creative input, variety and work with books – fabulous.

Biggest career decision you’ve ever had to make?

Probably cancelling the original contract on my book. I was commissioned to write a careers guide about publishing for Kogan Page, but my life at the time was so one-sided – I worked in publishing, gave careers advice about publishing, and all my friends and social network are in publishing – so to sit down in my spare time and write about publishing was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I had what could only be described as a severe case of writer’s block and drastic action was called for. Thankfully now, my life is much more balanced and my writing skills have returned.

Best bits of the job?

The best bits are when someone you have helped tells you they have got a job or signed a contract with a publisher, or completed a large sale of books or obtained some major publicity. The excitement and joy are so contagious I wish I could bottle it up and pass it on to others.

…and the worst?

Helping people learn to cope with rejection. In fact my best piece of advice to anyone in the publishing industry – be they author, publisher or employee – is to write a lot of letters and learn to cope with rejection.

Best career advice you’ve received yourself?

“A job is what you make of it” – given to me at the start of my second week at Andre Deutsch. To others I was the office junior, but to me, I was the lynchpin of the company, in charge of the post, local errands, photocopying and doing most of the departments’ filing. I felt I knew more about what was going on in the company than anyone else there.

What career in publishing is the most sought after?

It has to be Editorial and the role of commissioning editor or publisher. I think most people are under the illusion that you will have sole decisions on what is published and how it is published, and probably spend your time with authors and creative people. More often than not I am seeing clients who have reached their career goal of being a commissioning editor and are completely disillusioned – too much bureaucracy, too many internal meetings and not enough editorial freedom, leaving little time for them to spend with their authors.

Is every editor a frustrated writer at heart?

No, I don’t believe so. If you go into editing with a view to developing your own writing career you are probably committing career suicide. To spend all day working on someone else’s writing, and yet not write anything more than a jacket blurb or advance information sheet yourself, is no place for someone who wants to develop their writing skills. I admit that in publishing you will probably meet many interesting characters who’ll be useful for future novels, but in my experience true editors and publishers are far more committed to developing other people’s writing than their own.

Success as a writer: inspiration or perspiration?

Neither, it takes determination. No one is in this business for the money.

What does a new writer need to know?

Know your market. Just because your children/great aunty Maud/your cat finds your writing interesting it doesn’t mean that it is worthy of publication.

Impact of digital media on the careers market?

There are a couple of new jobs emerging, such as digital content manager, but traditional job functions are also changing and modifying to new technology. For example, editorial jobs are still there, but the way in which the editing is completed (on screen rather than on paper) is different; production jobs are still present, but now you are dealing with producing different media formats and a different production process; rights and sales, both their sales processes have changed slightly but so has their customer base, in that they may be selling to content aggregators.

How multimedia are you?

I would rate myself 8/10 for being up to date with technology. I’m on Twitter (@suzannecollier) and a number of other social networks (for how long for I do not know – it all seems very dull). I have tested a Sony eBook Reader but as I suffer from migraine prefer to stick to printed books.

What’s next for you?

Aside from working with more clients (people in publishing, publishers, authors) my aim is to write a book, not necessarily the one I was originally commissioned to do. I am planning a ‘sex and shopping’ novel. The research will be so much more fun!