Lockdown diaries: the trade publisher

Lockdown is not something that is at all suited to my personality – I miss my friends, I miss my life and perhaps most importantly - I miss Bancone. Publishing is such a social business and I’ve been finding it incredibly hard to cope without that side of it. Having said that Orion have really stepped up to try and ease the pain: Orion Fiction hosts film nights, quiz nights and games afternoons to keep us all going; Katie Espiner sends us amazing daily email updates, and although I now have to source my own warm white wine, the virtual launch parties are a treat after working at home all day.

I do miss the buzz of Carmelite House and the ability to discuss and debate publication plans with my colleagues but I am finding a real sense of clarity in what I need to do for the books I have coming up. Working alone at home forces you to get your head down and focus on what really matters: the authors, their books and how to get them to readers. And there has been a real ‘all hands on deck’ mentality across Hachette with the teams working all hours to make sure this is still the case. Although I think I’ll always be someone who wants to primarily be in the London office, this experience has shown that great publishing can be done from anywhere – as long as you have the right teams in place and colleagues can really trust each other.

This very much extends beyond direct colleagues: it's also been a joy to have so many virtual breakfasts and coffees with agents, scouts and foreign publishers – and to hear that there are lots of submissions coming our way. 2021 and beyond is going to look very different to what we thought it would and the need for a strong and varied publication schedule is more important now than ever before: we need to bring new authors to the list, whilst continuing to focus and publish our current authors brilliantly and innovatively.

In many ways, it’s our amazing authors that are getting me through the adjustment to working at home. Celebrating good news with them feels particularly special during this time: sharing Steve Cavanagh’s highest Australian sales ever just as the country entered lockdown was a welcome piece of news, as was seeing the amazing social media reaction to the proofs of Araminta Hall’s Imperfect Women.  And the response to Mari Hannah’s inspired NHS initiative was just overwhelming. When Mari first shared the note she got from an NHS worker with me and I shared around the company, the first question was ‘What more can we do?’ and within days this lead to Hachette offering free ebooks for NHS workers, with support from some fantastic writers. It made me feel very proud to work for a publisher who wanted to action something on such a big scale as quickly as possible and was truly an incredible experience for us all to share together.

It has also made me even more appreciative for the expertise of our authors. Not only does that mean they write the best books (and they really do!), it also means their advice during a pandemic has helped me get through: I’ve learned about how vets dealt with the swine flu epidemic and the parallels with our current situation thanks to Ben Kane; I have my very own trauma psychologist in Dr Emma Kavanagh; and Elle Croft is always there for the Beyoncé news and memes.

So in a wholly unshocking twist – the people who are helping me cope with the absence of the social side of publishing are the very people who make it up, and I couldn’t be more grateful to them for that. I don’t think I took my old life for granted so if anything lockdown has cemented how much I loved it. And so I can only hope that when we return and ‘the new normal’ begins, it will still be with people from the industry discussing great books, sharing exciting news, and concocting innovative publishing plans – all over a plate of the best cacio e pepe in town.