Working in Publishing: An interview with Ed Wood

June 8, 2015, Article by Mr Book in Careers


This week we’re taking a look at the world of publishing and, more specifically, careers in the industry. We’ll have interviews with experts, tips for getting a foot in the door and insights into the many different roles involved in the life of a book.

We’re kicking off with an interview with Ed Wood, a Senior Editor at Sphere (an imprint of Little, Brown UK), who’s here to tell us more about life working in editorial…

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Hello there Ed. Can you tell us a little bit about the publisher you work for, and the authors you look after?

I am senior editor at Sphere, which is the commercial imprint at Little, Brown, and I especially look after men’s commercial fiction – in other words, books for a mass-market male readership. To mention a few authors, I edit leading crime writers such as Mark Billingham, Chris Brookmyre, and Richard Montanari; thriller bestseller Tom Wood; highly acclaimed new spy novelist Adam Brookes; and medieval adventure expert Angus Donald. And I have plenty more new authors coming through – look out for a phenomenal thriller called The Father by Anton Svensson in August, which is inspired by real events.

And how did you end up working at Sphere? Have you always worked in publishing?

No, not at all. I spent quite some time doing other things, from TV – including working on Big Brother series 2, which WAS an education – to journalism and, most of all, being a magazine editor. But everything I’ve done has in one way or another revolved around books, film or videogames: not only things I love, but things men love in general too, so it was ideal preparation for my role. Most recently, I edited a book magazine for Waterstones for nearly six years, then worked at The Bookseller launching their consumer brand, and three years ago was invited to apply for the Sphere job.

When a manuscript lands on your desk, what is it that you’re looking for? And what makes you think ‘this is the one’?

Voice and concept: it has to have a killer hook, an idea that’s so clever or original it makes you wonder why no one has thought of it before; and then the writing or narrative voice must speak to me personally. It should drag you by the gut from page to page so that before you know it, you’ve finished the book and you’re raving about it to other people.

Jeremy from Peep Show once famously said that ‘Publishers are just spellcheckers who take you out for lunch’. How accurate is that assessment?

Jez also said, “£20,000! I’ll be a millionaire!” so perhaps we need to take his wisdom with a pinch of salt. The main thing we do is to help an author turn their book into the very best version of it that it can possibly be, working with them on story, character, pace and plotting. Then we work with other departments on transforming that into a product readers will want to pick up and take home. But in fairness, we are quite adept at Word and we do like a lunch now and again.

What would you say are the best parts of your job? And, dare we ask, the worst?

An editor is the author’s support through the publishing process, so we have to be honest, transparent and constructive, and each book is very personal to us, so the worst is reporting when sales haven’t gone as well as we’d hoped. The best is working with a really creative author on the editing process and coming up with a result that is better through that collaborative process. Or sharing a book that only you, the author and agent have probably read so far and finding that the rest of the world loves it as much as you do.

If an aspiring editor came to you looking for advice on getting into the industry, what tips would you give them?

Find your area of interest and target the publishers that do that really well. If you love crime novels, heavyweight history books or children’s picture books, look at who publishes the authors you are most passionate about, learn about those publishers lists and research all you can about that area in general. Just saying you love reading isn’t enough; you must be clear about the kinds of books you want to publish and what you would bring to a publisher who does those kind of books. What’s special about you and your experience? Hundreds if not thousands of people apply to each editing job, so make yourself stand out in terms of what you have to offer and your knowledge level. 

And finally, if you could describe the life of an editor in just 3 words, what would they be?

Varied, all-consuming, fun!

Thank you Ed!

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If you’re interested in a career in publishing, why not apply to attend the latest Hachette UK Insight Into Publishing event? It’s on the 1st July, and applications close on June 14th. Apply here!

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