Answering the #FridayFive today is Ailsa Bathgate, Publisher at Barrington Stoke.
Tell us a bit about your job?
As the publisher at Barrington Stoke, I am responsible for commissioning and editing our list of around 35–40 new titles per year.
One of our main aims is to bring our young readers, who may be struggling with difficulties due to dyslexia or visual stress, works from authors that their peers are already reading, so that they feel included in the world of books with no sense of stigma. So I am constantly reading work from both established and up-and-coming children’s authors to make sure that the list is fresh and exciting, and that we’re offering something for everyone.
I work closely with our designer to select illustrators for the covers and internal designs of our books. It’s really important that they look just as good as anything else out there on the tables in bookshops, so that there’s no sense of stigma associated with reading a dyslexia-friendly book. They are just brilliant books that work for all readers!
What are the key ingredients for success?
The key ingredient for success is working with the very best authors and illustrators in the business. Our books are much shorter than those from mainstream publishers, so they have a lot of work to do in a very limited word count, and it takes great skill to craft an impactful short novella that delivers in terms of plot, characters, themes and world building.
Then it’s important to give authors space to tell the stories that they feel excited about and to ensure that their voices are preserved through our rigorous editing processes. We have an extra editing stage to ensure that our books are accessible but it’s also important to make sure that none of the magic of the story is lost or muted at this point.
Our amazing authors and their support for our mission to ensure that every child has the chance to become a reader are at the heart of everything we do.
Could you describe a normal day?
There is no such thing as a normal day! My role involves strategic planning of the list, commissioning, drafting P&Ls, negotiating and drafting contracts, structural editing, working with our specialist editors, proofreading, writing copy for cover blurbs and AIs, presenting to various sales teams and to stakeholders, researching illustrators, approving titles for print. And these things are all going on at the same time for different projects, driven by various deadlines.
I like the peace of early mornings to get some editing done before the noise of the day starts. Monday and Thursday mornings are then filled with meetings – with the management team, with the wider team, with production – and others are scattered throughout the week. I try to also keep Wednesdays free for editing but it doesn’t often work.
For those trying to break into the industry, could you explain how you got to where you are today?
My first break into publishing came through a maternity-cover position in the religious division at HarperCollins. I’m not religious and it wasn’t an area I was passionate about, but it was a way in, which I think is the most difficult part when starting out. Once you’re in, it’s much easier to make connections and move around.
When that role finished, I got a job in the publicity department, but my heart always belonged in editorial, so I moved back up to Scotland and worked for an independent publisher, Mainstream, for the next fifteen or so years until they were bought by Penguin Random House.
A few years of freelance work followed until I was approached to take on the role of publisher at Barrington Stoke, which was a completely new direction for me, and an area of the publishing world that I have loved immersing myself in, learning as much as possible as quickly as possible.
What are you reading, watching and listening to now?
I’m always reading a few things at the same time, mixing children’s books and adult. Children’s books I’m reading at the moment include Fable House by E.L. Norry and Rebel Skies by Ann Sei Lin, while in the adult sphere I’m reading The Expectation Effect by David Robson and I’m Sorry You Feel That Way by Rebecca Wait.
I just went to the cinema for the first time in years and saw Oppenheimer, which was amazing, while at home as a family we’re watching Young Sheldon! I’ve started to listen to podcasts while walking our dog and just listened to a really good one with Brene Brown, Dax Sheppard and Tim Ferriss, and I love Esther Perel’s podcasts as well.