In a bid to play its part in “opening the industry up” and improving diversity in publishing, Newbury-based independent Holland House has launched a new project to help aspiring publishing employees gain experience in the trade.
Overseen by senior editor and founder Robert Peett, The Novella Project offers interns the opportunity to publish novellas by new authors. The interns will receive “high-quality” training and supervision throughout the project and will gain experience in “all aspects” of publishing, from bibliographic data through to editing, publicity and marketing.
Two interns, who are paid the minimum wage plus expenses, began recently at the publisher and the first six novellas will be published in October 2016. While the two interns work together to promote all of the books, both have overall responsibility for one novella. Peett and the interns work together to select which novellas to pursue from the submissions, although the final decision is Peett’s. He said that next year he would like the interns to be “even more involved in finding, encouraging and reading submissions”.
The six novellas to be published by Holland House in October are, from left: Affliction by Kasim, a Birmingham-born London-based writer; Dear Henry by Connor Wray, from Liverpool; It is Something to Have Been by Carly Schabowski, Oxford; See Me Now by Reading’s Samantha Morrish; McTavish Manor by Inés Gregory Labarta from Lancaster; and The Murder of Miss O by Issara Simone Edwards, who is from Bristol.
For Peett, the “key word” of the project will be “diversity”, as one of its main aims is to “make all aspects [of the project] available to as many groups and communities as possible”. He added: “It is increasingly recognised that there is an imbalance within the publishing and literary worlds; it is predominantly white, middle-class. There are many good schemes developing to change that: Creative Access [a charity that provides opportunities for paid internships for Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic candidates]; Leila Rasheed’s Megaphone project which encourages BAME writers to write children’s books; and author Kit de Waal’s creative writing scholarship at Birkbeck , University of London, for people from a low-income or marginalised background.
“This is part of that and it is unique: the aims here are to give authors an outlet for their first work, to open the industry up to talented people and to increase the diversity of people in all aspects of publishing—from publishers to agents, to writers and artists.”
The publisher wants to provide opportunities for writers and young people from groups that are underrepresented in the book trade and those from “outside the educational mainstream” who are keen on pursuing careers in publishing. One of the interns for the 2015/16 project, Catherine Hall, told The Bookseller: “[As the project intends] to make space for people who are often sidelined by the industry, we’re going to send flyers to places such as the Black Cultural Archives and various literary festivals aimed at minorities, such as the one currently being hosted by Asia House. We are advertising for both authors and interns in this way, and are hoping that the informal approach may interest people who either feel intimidated or alienated by the publishing world. With any luck this will also widen our search beyond people who are already well-informed about the industry and therefore know where to look for job adverts.”
Hall has so far had experience in publicising the novellas and the project, and also content and copy-editing. “It’s been very helpful for me already and I’ve only been doing this for a month”, she said. “I’ve had a chance to gain an overview of the publishing business as well as specific experience in editing and publicity, and I think other people would benefit from working on the project just as much as I have.”
Fellow intern Natasha Robson, who has been able to attend the Impress Festival of Publishing and London Book Fair as a result of her work with the project, added that the initiative is “really positive” and “really benefits the people involved”. She said: “My involvement has given me fantastic insight into the industry. I am ever so grateful to Robert for giving me the chance to really understand every single step, beginning with choosing from submissions, to liaising with authors, sorting out bibliographic data, finding artists and beginning a PR campaign so that the books actually sell.
“I think it’s a fantastic project and it gives some really brilliant people a step up that will hopefully help them in future. It’s been incredible for me. I do hope that we can get funding, so that it can continue in years to come.”
For Peett the project has “already been a wonderful experience” and he hopes to secure funding from the Arts Council to continue the initiative next year. “It is inspiring working with the interns and the authors,” he said. “Of course, sales of books is one measure, but for me the most important measures are related to what the people involved do afterwards; we want the authors to get agents, the interns—and authors, if they want to—to get places in publishing.”
The publisher is hopeful for the development of its authors and interns, with Peett adding: “There will be an important focus on getting interns and authors noticed and taken seriously by the various parts of the publishing industry. Already one of the authors has a contract with an agent for a full-length novel, and another author, who had not even considered publishing before working with the project, has secured a full-time job.”
The submission period for novellas to be published in 2017 will open shortly. Those interested in being involved in the project can email firstname.lastname@example.org.