After moving from Brisbane to Melbourne hoping to score a job in publishing, and after one and a bit years working in marketing with Collins Booksellers (and a grand tour of Europe), Cosima (Coco) McGrath finally landed her dream editing job, with yours truly. What. Was. She. Thinking?
What book made you want to get into publishing?
I’m a big fan of books about books, and writers writing about other writers, and readers writing about how they read, and so on and so on. It all gets very meta. The book that cemented my interest in book publishing was Book by Book: Notes on Reading and Life by Michael Dirda. Chock full of quotations and reflections from authors, artists and great thinkers from Simone Weil to P. G. Wodehouse, Book by Book is basically a literary love fest – and I was hooked.
Why did you choose Melbourne over Sydney?
I’ve always loved the vibe in Melbourne and there was something very attractive about moving to a city where I knew next to no one. The lit community in Melbourne were so welcoming. I made friends in roundabout ways, like fangirling over Claire Tomalin with the person sitting next to me at The Wheeler Centre, or critiquing Rory Gilmore’s hugging technique with writers on Twitter.
Do you think your marketing experience with Collins Booksellers will make you a better editor?
Yes, it definitely helped me get a sense for how books are received by readers, and what helps a book sell. So many people – and me definitely included – come to publishing with idealistic notions about how it all works, but at the end of the day it is a business and sales are critical. My experience at Collins will help me define a reader or market for the manuscripts that come across my desk, so I think I’ll be a more versatile editor and more effective champion for the books I work on.
The plan was always to become an editor with a trade publisher (if you check my Grade 12 notebook it has ‘Book editor’ listed as #1 dream job, followed, for reasons I can no longer explain, by ‘Town Planner’). But landing the dream job was much more easily said than achieved. I worked in a lot of different roles in the publishing and bookselling industry before joining Affirm – events coordinator, communications officer, publishing assistant, designer. But I see now that everything I’ve done in the past few years will make me a better editor and more useful to Affirm Press.
You got accepted for a prestigious publishing course at Oxford University no less?
Yes, I did a book publishing program that was part of the Columbia Publishing Course at Oxford University late last year. It was led by the incredible Shaye Areheart. We attended lectures and seminars as well as an intensive ‘book week’ which required us to develop six titles for simulated publishing houses. We designed jackets, created financial projections, and wrote editorial and publicity tip sheets for our imaginary books in our imaginary publishing house. We were up until 3am most nights, knocking back coffee, and agonising over titles and cover designs; it felt like Survivor for publishing. But it doesn’t always remain imaginary – some of the previous student projects have actually gone on to be published (the best-selling book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg was originally conceived during ‘book week’).
What does your typical day entail now?
I’m only 4 weeks into the job so my training wheels are still on. But from what I have gathered so far it seems there isn’t really an ‘average’ day as an editor. During the week I can be doing anything from reading submissions and writing reader reports, to proofreading and pitching book ideas. I love immersing myself in a manuscript and so I’m really looking forward to working closely with authors to iron out lumps and bumps. (Hopefully I’ll have overcome imposter syndrome by then).
What book are you most excited about reading this year?
My current tram read is an ARC (Advance Reading Copy – don’t you love the lingo!) of A Romance Reader’s Guide to Life by Sharon Pywell which comes out with Affirm Press in May. It’s got war, family drama, mystery, and lots of dark humour; it’s so much fun. I’m also looking forward to reading Conversations With Friends by the Irish writer Sally Rooney.