After launching our kids list in March, we’re pretty excited to be growing our younger readers team with our fabulous new senior editor, Davina Bell.
Davina has an impressive career in children’s publishing, first as a senior editor at Penguin before leaving to follow her own writing dreams for several years. She quickly established a prolific writing career (with eight books published since 2012 and more on the way) while continuing her freelance editorial work. She has already been freelancing with us for the past six months so it’s great to welcome her aboard as an official member of the Affirm Press team. And what better way to make her feel part of the crew than a bit of good old public scrutiny in the form of a Q&A.
What book made you want to get into publishing?
That’s a great question! I grew up in Western Australia, where we don’t really have a publishing industry. It sounds ridiculous, but I didn’t realise until pretty late in life that books were made by people or that you could work as part of that world. But one of my earliest memories is reading The Pokey Little Puppy on my mum’s lap, squished into her brown 70s rocking chair, which we used to do a lot. That’s probably what sparked my love of books, and that love is how I ended up here.
After working as an editor for many years you took the plunge and went over to the other side and became an author. Did your editorial experience help that transition?
It’s a bit of a double-edged sword, actually. In some ways, I feel so lucky to have had an insider’s perspective on what editors are looking for and responding to, and to have spent a few solid years really picking apart what makes good writing on a granular level. But on the other hand, as a writer it’s been hard to attempt to execute all the knowledge without my inner editor telling me my work is total rubbish before I even begin! At the start I felt like a real fraud, and I suddenly developed a lot of empathy for the authors of all the slush-pile manuscripts that I rejected as an editor. I think making this transition has made me a far more empathetic editor, because writing is a total marathon of self-belief, and my hat is now so far off to anyone who actually finishes anything.
Children’s books can provide different opportunities than adult publishing. What is it you enjoy most about publishing for children?
The books you read as a child are so formative, and I love knowing that by making and writing books for young readers, I’m contributing to the landscape of a kid’s creative life. There’s always a bit of comedic gold that comes from talking in schools and at festivals, too, and I really enjoy that part of being an author – plus it’s great inspiration for finding new characters. I also enjoy working with the people who are drawn to children’s books; they are usually a pretty quirky bunch, and passionate and big-hearted and a little mad in their own way.
Can you share a bit about a typical day as a kids editor?
It all begins with coffee, and then it’s a sort of mad sprint through an obstacle course of different tasks. Reading through manuscripts, offering suggestions to authors about plot, character, momentum, tension – that’s my favourite part. Then there’s the more nit-picky stuff that you might typically associate with an editor, like fixing grammar and punctuation. The visual part of the job is a big and very satisfying one, too – working with designers to create covers, briefing illustrators or commenting on their artwork. And we’re always on the look-out for new manuscripts, ideas or talented people for future projects, so there’s scouting and brainstorming around that. There’s usually an email mountain that you never quite get on top of, but that’s what a second coffee is there to help with.
What are you most excited about working on this year?
There’s no one book or project – it’s the idea of being back as a part of a team who believe that books and stories leave the world more beautiful. That’s the most exciting part for me.