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Friday Five: Holly Harley, Editorial Director at Little, Brown


Answering the #FridayFive today is the brilliant Holly Harley, Editorial Director at Little, Brown. 


Tell us a bit about your job?

I’m editorial director at Little, Brown, where I publish books for two lists: Piatkus and The Bridge Street Press. I commission across a spectrum of non-fiction, including popular psychology and health for Piatkus, and science and history for Bridge Street. Editorial director is a senior commissioning role that combines the skills of an editor with being a project manager and head cheerleader for your books. It can be demanding and requires a lot of organisation, but I love how my job allows me to meet and work with so many smart and inspiring people – industry colleagues and authors alike.


What are the key ingredients for success?

At its best, publishing is a collaborative endeavour – my favourite part of the job is when we are operating as a team. For that to work, I think the essentials are open communication, honesty and the judicious application of good humour. I also think curiosity is a keystone quality in an editor, for exploring new ideas and problem-solving.

Could you describe a normal day?

Like most jobs in publishing, ‘normal’ days in editorial are defined by how eclectic they are. I work from the Hachette office most days and I’ll spend that doing a lot of emails (the majority of an editor’s job is comms); preparing for acquisitions or cover meetings; writing copy for covers, TIs, etc.; checking up on sales and gathering data; meeting with colleagues, agents or authors; pitching or presenting new projects or forthcoming books. Or, if I’m editing, that’s usually done at home. I try to keep reading submissions and less structured research to within work hours but that doesn’t always go to plan…


For those trying to break into the industry, could you explain how you got to where you are today?

My path was fairly old school. I studied Classics and English at university and did about 9 months of work experience and internships after I graduated. I had the privilege of being able to do a mix of work experience in journalism and publishing while working part time, as I had family in London I could stay with while I applied for jobs. (A highlight was working at goop for 3 months.) My first job was as an editorial assistant at Weidenfeld & Nicolson, where I worked my way up to senior editor before getting a commissioning editor role at Little, Brown.

For anyone trying to get into the industry now, things are different for better and worse. It’s much harder to get the sort of work experience I had, but that system only benefitted those who could work for free. Paid experience can be hideously competitive, and I don’t know to what extent someone trying to find their way in feels the pressure to make their social media all about books – another kind of unpaid work in some ways. For anyone with their sights on an editorial job, the thing I look for above all else is the quality of an application. Find out about the books published by the list you are applying to and please mention them! Showing that you’ve done your research makes an application more impressive to me than experience.


What are you reading, watching and listening to now?

I’m currently reading Ray Nayler’s The Mountain in the Sea, a very on-brand speculative novel that explores how we might treat non-human intelligence in a sort of Other Minds-meets-Annihilation manner, and have just started The Magick of Matter by Felix Flicker, a wicked smart book I have been waiting for since I lost out on it at auction that explores the enchanted world of condensed matter physics. I’m between TV shows so I have mostly been getting into the spooky season spirit and watching horror films – X was a recent, bloodthirsty highlight. And in terms of listening, yes it has been two weeks, but I am still playing Midnights at least once a day.

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