Aki Schilz is director of editorial assessment company The Literary Consultancy. She's a tireless champion for writers, literature and literary values—from empowering Open Access events to her #BookJobTransparency campaign, and this year she was named one of the FutureBook 40 top publishing innovators in the UK.
Here, she shares five things inspiring her to think and work differently right now.
Hardware: I actually lead a pretty gadget-free life, and have never been all that interested in the latest digital toys. I am currently on the look-out for a pocket sized power bar that allows me to charge my phone on the move as I do a lot of live-tweeting - recommendations welcome! I did however learn about Yoto for the first time at FutureBook, and was extremely impressed by the idea of a clever (rather than ‘smart’) speaker for kids, something that avoids the creep of surveillance by foregoing microphone-based data gathering, instead focussing on inputting via a range of cards, empowering children to choose how to play, creatively, in the real world. Tech-supported rather than tech-controlled reality feels very much the future.
Software: Trello is a brilliant task management tool that sorts your tasks into columns. You can shift cards in each column according to priority, set deadlines, assign tasks to team members on shared decks, and archive cards when the task has been completed – it’s just as satisfying as ticking a to-do list item off, except this way, they’re not all scattered between various notebooks. I have tried fiddling around with other platforms, but haven’t found one that beats Trello for simplicity. There’s probably a more sophisticated version for those who are incredibly serious about time management (this list is a good starter for ten) but for me and my small team at The Literary Consultancy, this works fine.
Book: Kamila Shamsie famously issued a provocation to publishers to make 2018 the year of publishing women. (As far as I can tell, only And Other Stories took up the challenge - highlights from their list for me include Sorry to Disturb the Peace by Patty Yumi Cottrell and The Proof by Cesar Aira). I decided to make 2018 the year I read only books by women, with more books in translation and by women of colour. Of these, The Leavers by Lisa Ko was a stand-out for me in 2018. Intelligent, gripping, topical, knotty. It's a powerful look at the reality of life as an undocumented immigrant (Polly) and as the child of an immigrant caught between cultures (Deming/Daniel), as well as a stark reminder of how easily we walk through life not knowing, or wilfully ignorant to, the lives of those who have struggled for simple opportunities we take for granted, often at terrible, life-altering cost.
Idea: The idea that each of us has it in us to be leaders, to fight together for change instead of yelling more loudly than others demanding change, has been one I've been inspired by the last year and a half since taking up post as director at The Literary Consultancy. We've always been a company that facilitates conversations and thrives on collaboration, but to be completely candid, I simply didn't have the confidence I could make things happen myself and found it difficult to understand what my place was in this strange literary world, even though I had never had any doubts about TLC’s place in the literary ecosystem: we believe all writers deserve good editors, because we believe all writers’ voices are valid. In this mix, who am I to Make Change Happen and ‘lead’ (lead what? lead whom?) That was much less clear. But it isn't about me. It's about what we're here for. Everyone I've been brave enough to ask for help, has been willing to talk to me, and anyone who's asked me, I've tried to help however I can. It's not novel, but for me it's been a real and empowering shift to step into this, and I'm excited about the possibilities.
Person: I'm not sure there's a single person who's inspired me 'most', but there have certainly been some amazing people who have contributed enormously at critical times. Peter McKay at Publishing Training Centre took a punt on the glimmer of an idea for an editorial training partnership, understanding that I felt it was important we looked at training access rather than focussing solely on headhunting 'diverse editors' (though still a good thing to do) and ignoring the barriers to entry for those from marginalised backgrounds. Speaking of editors, our professional reader pool at TLC has really been a huge inspiration. They're our lifeblood, and without them, we couldn't do what we do. We recently put to them the possibility of a regional TLC Reader-Ambassadors scheme, and with 58% of our readers based outside of London, the take-up has been amazing. We're also developing a new mini ebook guide series with them, so there's lots to look forward to as we continue to think about how best to support writers and literature, now and into the future.