“I am Rachel Clements”
Q: Which sectors have you worked in? A: Publishing and Book Selling.
Q: How long have you been working in these industries? A: 11 years. Since I graduated from my BA, in 2001.
Q: What did you study and where? A: BA English and Theatre Arts from Goldsmiths’ College, London and 8 years later an MA in the History of Film and Visual Media at Birkbeck University, London.
Q: What were your favourite subjects at school and why?
A: English and Film, hence my MA. I liked the visual aspect of Art as well. All three subjects are creative and I like the analytical side as well as the escapism, for example if I’m reading an historical novel, I learn something about the era at the same time.
Q: Who gave you your first big break?
A: HarperCollins Publishers. I didn’t have any office experience at that point. They took a chance on me. I think it’s much harder for graduates nowadays. Publishing is like many other creative industries, future employers expect you to have experience and often it’s a case of working for free before being offered a paid job. Because the industry is so competitive, it’s always going to be a case of getting just your travel expenses paid. A lot of people, once they have work experience, will eventually get a job. Educational qualifications definitely help. You need to demonstrate you’ve got an eye for detail, such as good English.
Q: What are the authors like who you represent?
A: Generally authors are great, they are always interested in the process, it’s very exciting for them to think that their work is being translated from English to Arabic, for example, and what might not work in their own country could be a huge seller elsewhere.
Q: What kind of projects have you worked on?
A: I’ve worked on books by the following authors: David Beckham, Tana Ramsey, Sophie Dahl, Robert Fisk, Darren Shan. I’ve also had the opportunity to travel; I’ve represented HarperCollins in Beijing and Moscow, I’ve worked across a diverse range of genres, from serious narrative, non-fiction, cookery to brilliant prize-winning novels and crime fiction.
Q: What is your biggest inspiration in life?
A: Photography. Cinematic film is soul food.
Q: What do you think will be one of the biggest changes in your industry over the next 10 years?
A: The actual infrastructure of the industry is changing, we are starting to see major consolidation, for example the merging of two of the largest publishing houses, Random House and Penguin. The evolution of digital content also means there’s going to be massive changes in the output of the book format.
Q: What is your opinion of the internet and social media and its impact on the literary world?
A: I think the internet is a positive thing as writers get exposed to a wider audience. Lots of blogs get turned into books, agents definitely read blogs, especially if other journalists have recommended them. Blogs are a place for potential writers to display their writing skills and style. For example, The Vagenda, (www.vagendamag.blogspot.co.uk) a feminist anecdotal blog got picked up by an agent and has been sold as a book proposal. Twitter seems to be a popular place in which to discuss the industry. A lot of companies want ‘young heads’, especially as Generation Y are growing up with digital media. There’s a lot more crossover of media professionals working in publishing now too, from say film and music. The creation of roles like Digital Marketing Manager and Digital Publishers have created greater opportunities.
Q: How do you market yourself?
A: Through networking in my industry and word of mouth. I’ve worked with really nice people and publishing is a sociable industry so it’s not just about maintaining client relationships externally but also internally. I’ve gained experience on both sides with publishers and literary agencies. I market myself as professional and fun, efficient and experienced.
Q: What are your words of advice to aspiring authors and agents looking to pursue a career in the literary world?
A: Number 1. It’s become increasingly difficult to make a living from being an author so always have a day job. If you are looking for a directory for the publishing industry, get a copy of The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook 2013.
Number 2. Editorial is the most competitive area to get into, yet there are other departments which are just as interesting. For example, I didn’t know what a rights department did at the start of my career, there is a lot of crossover internally and you will get to work with a lot of departments as part of your job.
Number 3. Be open-minded, use work experience to get “your foot in the door”, it’s often easier to move departments once you are on the inside! Employers will definitely value your experience of the books and in-house systems. As for authors – keep trying as it’s a really subjective industry. What one agent likes, another may think is mediocre.
Rachel is currently Rights Agent for Curtis Brown Group, having previously worked at Christopher Little Literary Agency and HarperCollins Publishers. She has also worked as Literary Scout and Film and Fiction Buyer. They say you always remember what you were doing when the World Trade Centre collapsed. Rachel and I were living and breathing the news together just after graduating from Goldsmiths’. Thanks for letting me pick your brains Rachel!