After six years as an editor at Palgrave, Andrew James moved to Jessica Kingsley in 2016 to head a new transgender-themed list. He began signing prominent trans and non-binary authors, commissioning a list that since launch has generated £250,000 in sales across 14 titles in its launch year. The list will grow to 35 titles by the end of 2018.
One of James’ recent acquisitions, Queer Sex by Juno Roche, has been hailed as a groundbreaking text within the trans community, while other British publishing firsts on James’ list include Sabrina Symington’s groundbreaking trans graphic novel, First Year Out, and the first in-depth HR manual, Transgender Employees in the Workplace. As co-chair of the Hachette Pride Network, James has helped boost what he says is Hachette’s “leading ally status for the queer community” in the industry.
He was also named one of the Bookseller's 2018 Rising Stars. Here he shares five things inspiring him to think and work differently right now.
Hardware: I’m going to sound very old-fashioned, but my work telephone on my desk. I’ve always preferred having a chat on the phone to writing an unnecessarily long email as it’s more personal, and some great book ideas have stemmed from these catch-ups. A lot of my authors are based in the US, or can’t afford to come to London, or are unable to travel due to a physical or mental health condition. My telephone is my lifeline to these authors and has enabled me to build lasting relationships. I’m also always ringing up people in the office to ask what they think about a title, a book idea or a marketing lead, and it’s so much nicer and productive to have a friendly chat than another email in your inbox.
Software: We receive hundreds of solicited and unsolicited proposals every month and we’ve recently started using Submittable – a cloud-based submission management platform – to help streamline our submission process, which was previously very time-consuming and not environmentally friendly. Benefits include automatic acknowledgement emails to authors; a labelling system whereby we can easily assign proposals to various editors; transparency across the editorial team as to what everyone is working on and the projects we’re receiving; an author portal so they can check on the status of their proposal; and, dare I say, a bulk-rejection function for all of the proposals that don’t make the cut.
Book: Rather than a book, I’d like to choose an entire form: poetry. As an editor and a reader, I find the contemporary poetry scene to be incredibly exciting as regards what literature can do. There are so many poets who are throwing the rule book out of the window and experimenting with form, genre, production, language and the ways we can reach readers, and it’s a form at the forefront of representing marginalised voices. Though I don’t commission poetry, the creative insights I gain from reading poems informs the projects I commission, and how I can develop a book.
Idea: Our ethos at JKP is to publish ‘books that make a difference’, and this mantra is what inspires me whenever I’m seeking out a new project or author, or when I’m editing a manuscript. When a reader gets in touch to say one of our books has literally saved their life, it really hits home how important our publishing is. Following this philosophy also makes you listen and respond to what the market needs and fuels creative commissioning, rather than latching onto tired trends or books that don’t reflect our diverse society and audiences.
Person: James Withey, mental health campaigner and founder of The Recovery Letters. James conceived The Recovery Letters – online letters written by people recovering from depression, addressed to those currently affected by a mental health condition – after staying at a psychiatric hospital, and the website (and subsequent book published by JKP) has helped support thousands of people. I find James’ work to be incredibly motivating and that such a simple concept can be so powerful. There are so many great ideas and potential books like James’ out there waiting to be published, and yet the path is often closed as they can’t find an agent, or don’t have a big enough platform, or don’t fit the right criteria. That’s where a publisher like JKP can step in and I’m inspired by James’ project to find other life-affirming and necessary books that make a difference to people’s lives.