Me and My Job: Ashley Thorpe
1. What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?
I’m a development editor at Sweet Cherry Publishing. We currently have 22 people at the company.
2. What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?
I was an English Lit grad, and my first job out of uni was as a production editor at an educational publisher. I worked in educational and then academic publishing in the south for many years, before deciding to move back north as a freelancer. As publishing is very centred in London and the south, I wasn’t expecting many opportunities to come my way, especially during a pandemic. But, to my surprise, not only was there a Midlands-based indie publisher hiring last summer, but it was my first foray into trade publishing too!
3. What does your average working day entail?
There’s lots of content and line editing of manuscripts that are in progress. I search for exciting new submissions and come up with ideas for commissions. My editorial colleagues and I have titles that we each lead on, but others that we support each other on. We’ll copy edit and proofread to get all of our titles in perfect shape before sending to print.
4. What do you enjoy most about your job?
I’ve been a passionate reader since I was a child. I love books and it’s a great feeling trying to put more stories out into the world, which will hopefully foster that same love of reading in as many kids as possible. I get to read and shape content every day and am lucky to work with a truly fantastic bunch of people with the same drive and passion.
5. What achievements are you most proud of?
At this point in time, I’m still looking forward. There’s a lot I want to achieve in my role and within publishing. I’d be most proud of making publishing a more representative and accessible industry; putting books out that reflect our world and the different voices within it. My company shares these same ambitions, and my hope is that in the future we can look back together and see that we’ve made a difference.
6. What are your biggest challenges?
As I write as well as edit, I have a lot of empathy for the writers who submit to us. Sometimes, as an editor, we have to make tough calls. We may like an idea or a story, but if we don’t think it’s viable for any reason, we might not be able to back it. We are still a growing publisher, and so we need to be careful about the books that we choose to push forward, so that we are successful and can publish more of the stories we love in the future.
7. What have you experienced in your job and publishing that you didn’t expect?
An honest admission: as a student I always thought my dream job was in journalism. But I’d spent a long enough time meticulously writing and editing my essays that I was fully prepared, and in the right place at the right time, when my first publishing opportunity came up. What I perhaps wasn’t expecting was that I would love the industry as much as I did, and meet so many like-minded people. I’ve generally been very lucky with the teams I’ve worked in and the people I’ve learnt from. That first role changed the trajectory of my life completely.
8. What is the best thing about working for an independent publisher?
The best thing has been that with a relatively small team at Sweet Cherry, we all know each other. I’ve had an almost immediate space to voice thoughts and opinions, and to help with processes. While it might have taken a bit longer to set myself apart in larger organisations, all of that experience has helped massively as I’ve had a lot to bring to the table to help shape a smaller team.
9. How do you switch off from your work?
I still enjoy reading for pleasure and creative writing myself, so maybe that’s not fully switching off! But I’m also someone with a lot of hobbies and projects on the go, and when I do something I do it 100%. So I find it easy to switch off by throwing myself into another activity.
10. What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?
People will always tell you that getting into publishing is difficult and very competitive, but don’t give up. Don’t let those words be a self-fulfilling prophecy for you.
The internet is your friend. Use Twitter, YouTube, Linkedin; try and make contact with people who can help you get experience. We aren’t all privileged with knowing people in the industry or having connections when we start, but there are so many folks who know how tough it can be getting that initial break, and they’ll be willing to help you out.
Be prepared to move wherever the work is. I’ve lived in some weird places when the opportunity has been right. Just think long-term rather than short. All experience is good experience that you can take into that next step. When you do get your first role, and for each job that comes after, take whatever training opportunities you can and just learn from the people around you. Never be afraid to ask questions, or even to get things wrong. That’s how we grow.