I’m very happy to be able to welcome Sarah Odedina to the blog today, talking about her new job at One World Publishing.
You’ve been a part of the publishing industry for a long time now. What first drew you to editing, and how do you view your role?
Before I started work as an editor I worked in the rights department of a couple of publishers. My job was basically to sell books to foreign publishers who would publish them in translation. I loved meeting people from lots of different places and finding out not only what they liked but what they thought would work for their market in terms of foreign books published in translation. I wasn’t a particularly avid reader as a child (actually that is probably an understatement) but when I was a teenager and later went to University I really got bitten by the reading bug and began to read voraciously. I wanted to work in publishing because I thought – quite rightly – that it would give me access to lots of books to read. After working selling children’s rights for a few years I realised that books for young readers were not the dry and rather ‘vitamin enriched good for you’ texts that I had to read when I was young. The area was really growing and writers like Jean Ure and Jacqueline Wilson, Debi Gliori and Jane Ray were revolutionising what was available for young people to read. When the opportunity came up to work at Bloomsbury looking after the children’s list there, which did mean starting my commissioning life in publishing, I leapt at the chance. I was pretty nervous as I had never actually edited a book before but I felt I knew and still know what makes a book work. I felt that as a reader I could tell if a character didn’t ring true or the dialogue was slow or the plot wasn’t logical and in the end that is basically what an editor does – they point out things like that to authors who have a think about the comments and then decide how they are going to respond. It is an exciting role. I have the best job in publishing. I get to talk to authors, listen to their ideas and then help bring those ideas to life. I also get to work with designers on jackets and create a look for the book which we hope will attract and entice readers, with sales on making sure that booksellers know the best points of the book to help them sell the book, and with rights who will be showing the book to foreign publishers. It is quite a pivotal role in terms of the business, but basically the publishing business is a commercial game of pass the parcel from the author all the way to the hands of the reader.
Reading is obviously a passion of yours. How does it feel to be part of the process from manuscript to finished book?
I do love reading. I think a lot about why it is so important to human beings to hear stories, to share stories and to tell stories. It is a visceral thing that gives us so much pleasure and satisfaction even when the story is incredibly sad or tragic. Phillip Pullman said that stories are like food and water to human beings – we need them on a fundamental level and I completely agree. It is wonderful to be so intimately involved in the creative process and to see something as an idea from an author that you can work with them on until it is a finished book which can enrich and enhance a readers life – a reader locally or internationally as I am still interested in rights. I love to travel and see foreign language editions of books I have worked on in bookshops abroad. I feel that my role is both creative and commercial because while I am hugely motivated to find a wonderful and abiding story not all of them survive as well as we would like. While some like HOLES will be being read by young people 20, 30, 50 and more years from now others sadly don’t quite have that longevity. But I hope that in the main they give pleasure to people.
Something we often hear is how children are reading less. What do you think we can do as an industry to make sure a passion of reading lives on?
The best way to feel excited about reading is to see other people who are excited about reading and to hear them talk about it. It is an infectious pleasure. We have to do more to advocate it as a pleasurable pass-time and stop talking about it as something that is good for you, something that improves your life chances, something that will give you an edge in life. All those things while being very true are not exactly selling points to your average young person. It sounds a little like home work! Authors are fantastic too at promoting their books and reading in general. They are doing so much on social media and doing events that talk directly to their audience and I think if we read one book by an author and love it we all want to go on and read everything else they have written. We have to be open and generous and positive about what we do for a living and share as much of our passion in a genuine way. C.S. Lewis said “We read to know we are not alone” and I think talking about reading also reinforces that huge sense of community and belonging. The publishing industry needs to take part in the conversation.
How important do you think bloggers are in the publishing world, and how do you think their influence has changed the way books are published and marketed?
I think Bloggers have completely changed the way in which we as publishers can market our books. In the past, at the simplest level, publishers used to put a poster in the window of a bookshop and hope for a good review in a newspaper and hope that bookbuyers would see one or other of those things and go in to a bookshop to buy a book. Now because of social media and accessibility to all the information that exists there we are able to talk directly to other readers about reading. But, readers don’t want publishers just banging on about ‘by this book which is out on Wednesday’ They want real opinion, impartial opinion and personal taste. Bloggers are the people who provide those things. They are the advocates. They are the people who champion and applaud books and writers. They are the community builders. We have all been in conversations with three or four friends when we rave about an author and our friends agree or disagree and a wonderful exciting conversation ensues. What a blogger does is just that. Have a conversation. But on a much much bigger scale. They are part of a community of readers and are largely responsible for coalescing that community and giving it a voice. Because Bloggers are completely part of the readership that our authors are writing for, who better to tell another young person that a book or author is exciting. Not matter how passionate and committed we are as publishers we are a different generation and have different references and ultimately not as trusted in terms of our recommendations. We can make wonderful books working with fabulous authors but having bloggers to talk about those books in the reading community is the most effective way of having the writers and their books heard about.
What are you most excited for in your new role at One World?
I am excited to be working at Oneworld because of the wonderful profile of the company. It is small, independent, and publishes a truly inclusive range of diverse voices on the adult list and the vision for the list for young readers is to mirror those values. I will be publishing a very boutique list of about 15 books a year which will mean that each and every book will be incredibly focussed on. I shall commission, edit, publish and indeed help promote each of the books and I will know everything about those books from the author vision right through to the way in which they will sit on the shelves in bookshops. It really is a publishing dream job.
Can you give us a sneak peek at any must-read authors on the One World lists?
Two sneak peeks. ILLUMINAE by Jay Kristoff and Amie Kaufman coming in October this year is a truly original book. I have never read anything that so originally combines format and content. The book is set in space. Am 18 year old boy on one space craft and a 17 year old girl on another and they split up just before the story begins. Within the story they have to work together to uncover a horrible conspiracy and their previous relationship adds a really nice tension to the story . Both space craft are fleeing an attack on the space station that the inhabitants lived on and their journey back to home base should be about six months. But peril and danger lie ahead. So far so good. It is the way in which the story is told that really makes this book stand out. Through emails, stolen and hacked files, drawings, graphs and interview transcripts the story is revealed and the varied narrative voices and ways in which they are shown to us make the book uniquely lively and fresh. The plot is about uncovering a truth and the format perfectly mirrors that in the way in which the reader has to piece all the various bits of information together with different points of view and different voices. I absolutely love its unique nature. We are working on a jacket now but here is a link to the authors being interviewed. I have attached a really nice video of the authors for you.
And now for something completely different. NEST by Esther Ehrlich is a rich and lyrical novel about a girl and her friend and their idyllic life running free in the countryside. But life holds a deeper sadness for Chirp Orenstein and she can’t avoid dealing with it forever. This is a really beautiful piece of writing. The authors wonderful voice is just mesmerising and the cadence of the voice just grab you from the first page and it feels a little like being sung to. I would be interested to know if anyone can get through it without shedding a tear or two.