Life as one half of a two (wo)man band


I always fancied myself as a bit of a musician. At primary school I tried out for every instrument that came my way: the flute, the violin, the cello and the trumpet to name but a few. Sadly, I didn't get to be picked for any of those things. In fact, the music teacher eventually told me, very kindly, 'I'm not sure you are able to sing in tune, dear, and that will hamper you when learning an instrument, why not try something else like macramé?' So perhaps music wasn't my calling, but I seem to have retained that need to master new skills whatever stage I am in life.


One of the most challenging things about working for Hobeck, and one of the greatest joys too, is the number of different skills we both need have to have between us. We aren't just commissioning editors. We aren't just development editors. We aren't just production editors. We aren't just marketeers. We aren't just sales people. We aren't just the accounts department. We aren't just designers. We are all of that rolled into two. Add to that mix, a dollop of video makers, graphic designers and audio narrators.


My publishing career began in editing. I was employed first as an 'editorial assistant' and then I progressed to plain old 'editor'. When I was an editor at Oxford University Press, my job description was very specific. I was a cog in the wheel and I didn't diverge from that position, not once. I took over a book after it had been commissioned by the 'commissioning editor'. Once the contract was signed, it was passed on to me to 'manage' from the point of contract signing through to ready to print. My job involved looking after the author, checking that he / she was writing / editing their book to the schedule they had been given. I then had to then take delivery of the manuscript. Next, came the job of arranging for the manuscript to be edited and typeset (by third-party organisations and freelancers). After that, the proofs to be checked, again by freelancers (two rounds). While this was happening I had to make sure the designer was briefed on the cover. I also had to write the blurb for the cover. Then, once all that was done, the final job was passing on the finished proofs to the production controller for printing. I could then turn my head to the next book(s) coming through the publishing sausage machine. I didn't have to worry about money (at least, not in terms of actual numbers), ISBNs, royalties, keywords, contract negotiations, marketing, the minute of text design or selling in bookshops. All I had to worry about was that the book read well, didn't have mistakes in it and said nice things on the cover that made people want to read it. That was all.


As half of Hobeck, I now have to worry about everything, we both do - from the authors we think would fit in with our publishing in the first place, to the editing of their books, the writing of their blurb, the marketing, the metadata and the payment of their royalties at the end of the month. In fact, the editing is just a teeny, tiny bit of the whole process.


It wasn't until recently, when I reflected on all this that I realised how much I have learnt in a small(ish) space of time about all those 'other' bits that I didn't used to have to worry about. It isn't that long ago when I had to google 'what is metadata' and 'what makes a good keyword' because it was all completely new to me. Now I can do the stuff I used to do, the 'being an editor' bits, but I can also do some of the other stuff as well. We are that two-(wo)man band that I wanted to be as a child. There is still an awful lot to learn (I'm still not sure what end of the clarinet is the blowy end). The landscape of publishing also has this nasty habit of changing week by week, day by day even. So even if we ever get to the point when we think that we have cracked it, we really haven't.


Life would be boring, though, wouldn't it, if that ever happened? If it ever does, I might have to retire and learn a musical instrument for real. I can't really see myself pottering around the garden in my slippers while doing the Telegraph crossword and piping out a number on the flute like my childhood hero, James Galway, for a few decades yet though.


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