Lisa Edwards from Templar Publishing talks about her journey from the world of retail into publishing and how the knowledge that she gained helped her become the commercial publishing director that she is today.
Describe your career before moving into publishing.
After I left sixth form I honestly thought university wasn’t for me, never mind publishing. I loved ballet and went to a really good school in North Wales that is still going strong. I taught for them for four years (with a range of supporting jobs including chambermaiding, waitressing and retail) and then one day I had an epiphany. I felt my brain start whirring into gear, telling me I needed to go and study something. I really don’t know what prompted it, other than my brain’s own needs. I loved my ballet teaching, but I think I needed to see what life was like outside North Wales. Four years after leaving school I studied Dance and English at Roehampton University, and quickly realised I was much better at English so I majored in it. Then I started an Arts Review magazine with a group of friends and the idea of publishing sprang into my mind. After university, I tried sending out copies of the Arts Review with my CV and didn’t get a single interview. I’m not sure what I did wrong but I fell back into retail – and ended up as assistant buyer for the Liberty Bath House in Regent Street.
How did working in another industry help you into publishing?
I’m so glad that I did that retail buying job for three years. It taught me everything about finding new creative talent (that’s what Liberty do), consumers, and the commerciality of the product. Because I didn’t get an instant ‘in’ to publishing I think I quickly realised I wasn’t the be-all and end-all because I had a first in English and had made a magazine. I think my experience there worked positively on my CV when I finally did get into publishing because I knew about buying-in products that people wanted to buy and how mark-ups and profit margins worked. Lots of elements of retail buying are transferable to publishing.
What was your first role in publishing and how did you get the job?
I got my first job in publishing by walking in off the street and asking for it! I’d moved to Brighton to do an MA in English at Sussex University (my fall-back career after publishing was academia) but I hated it. I’d loved my busy, social, retail life and I couldn’t bear the thought of being stuck in a library on my own for years on end. After eight weeks of my MA I enrolled myself in a business college and learned how to use Microsoft Office and type. I’ll never forget living on the biscuits those college ladies provided me with – they were like my fairy godmothers! I went to a library (pre-internet) and looked up publishers in the area and the biggest one was Wayland in Hove. I walked in and asked them if they needed someone, and Steve White-Thomson, the then md, offered me a job on the spot, for £5 an hour. They’d just bought MacDonald Young Books from Hemel Hempstead and needed someone to help unpack boxes. Hurrah! I was in and it wasn’t long before I became a project editor.
What would you say are the pros and cons are of coming into publishing from another industry?
Pro: it gives you greater insight into the real world. Publishing can sometimes feel very rarified, where we make decisions based on instinct and virtually no commercial factors. At least back then, anyway. Nowadays everyone is expected to think more commercially so my stint in retail definitely gave me an advantage. Con: I don’t think there are any. My career hasn’t suffered because of it. Maybe the only downside was starting so late (28) so I had to move faster to get up the ladder. I had a helping hand when Hodder bought Wayland back in the ‘90s and I was catapulted to senior commissioning editor after only a couple of years in the business.
What skills do you use in your current role that you gained earlier in your career and that have helped you progress?
Liberty helped to think about what customers want, customer service, how to deal with suppliers, how goods got shipped around the world, how pricing worked, and how special sales worked. I think this knowledge gave me a headstart and has definitely helped me become the commercial publishing director I am today.
Why is publishing a great place to be?
For me, children’s publishing is the best place to be. I had a brief stint in adult and came running back to children’s fairly swiftly. It’s partly because I love illustrated books and working with artists as well as authors, but also because the people in it have a shared passion for what they’re doing. It’s great to be in an industry where people are doing something they love.
This is the first in a new series profiling professionals working in publishing who started their careers in different industries and diverse ways.