News: In Conversation with Emmanuel Omodeinde

Emmanuel Omodeinde is an Editorial Assistant at John Murray Press, mostly working on serious and smart-thinking non-fiction books on the John Murray and Basic Books imprints. He previously interned at Peepal Tree Press, an independent publishing house and the world’s leading publisher of Caribbean and Black British Literature and the renowned 4th Estate and William Collins imprints at HarperCollins. Emmanuel is very passionate about great stories of any kind but particularly about African and Afro-Diasporic literature of all genres, which push the boundaries of form and style and tell bold stories in fiction and non-fiction.

Thank you for speaking with me. I think the strongest way we can encourage people who look like us to come into publishing is to show them that we are here and tell them our stories. I wanted to have a conversation with you about how you got into publishing and how that journey has been for you. I’ve also been thinking about the number of Black men I know in publishing and there’s not a lot!

I think I have spoken to all the Black men in publishing in the UK. There aren’t many of us. There are four of us in editorial.

What is that like?

I have to remind myself that Black Britain is so small, as is Black London and so is publishing.

How did you come into publishing?

I came to it in a roundabout way. I have always loved books, they were my first love. I was born in Nigeria and came to the UK when I was nine. I always read a lot. I was really into the Harry Potter books and then I started reading more fantasy and sci-fi like Artemis Fowl and Percy Jackson books. I had a big imagination.

I went to university to study English Literature and Film. In my final year, I was listening to the Mostly Lit, a podcast hosted by Black millennials who just loved talking about books. Manager and Executive Producer Clarissa Pabi was at Bonnier at the time and people who worked in publishing spoke on the podcast. That was my introduction to the publishing industry. My university had a great careers service and after talking to them, I started sending out applications for publishing roles towards the end of my final year. I got an internship that summer with Peepal Tree Press. Independent publishers are often very small and so the roles are very hands-on. It was great experience. I then did a Masters in English and American Literature.

Towards the end of my final year, I was still undecided. I was considering teaching. I applied for Teach First and got a job offer, but I really wanted to be in publishing. I thought about it for a while, but I knew my heart was in publishing. So, I started applying again. I went to a bunch of interviews and got an internship at HarperCollins.

Is there anything you know now that you wish you had known then?

I wish I knew more about publishing at the start of university. I would have done more placements. Having knowledge about the industry and knowing about the different roles and departments that exist is so key. The process of demystifying publishing is so important. When I talk to others about working in publishing, they assume all I do is read. There are a lot of myths about publishing, as is the case with a lot of creative industries.

But I also I think having experiences in other fields is very useful. I’ve heard from others that working in a bookshop, for example, is a great experience. Yes, you can go through the traditional route of publishing placements, internships and then a full-time job. But having other experiences and roles is just as useful. Don’t limit yourself. If you are coming into the industry later, that’s great! If you have experience in another field, that’s so valuable!

You cannot be what you cannot see.  I hear about roles now and wonder if I had known about them in secondary school or at the beginning of university, would I have chosen a different path. It is so important for people, but especially young ones, to see and know the variety of jobs out there. I don’t think I knew a full extent of the industry until I started working at Faber. My internship allowed me to get a better understanding of the different departments and how they work together. I had a feeling that I wanted to work in editorial, because I had worked in editorial in media and journalism, but being able to see all the other roles and jobs was so interesting.

What does your job now entail and what are some of the misconceptions people have about your role?

People think I read all day. I do read, depending on the day, but there is so much more to my role. A lot of my work involves using our systems like Biblio to edit the copy, descriptions and key words, I spend a lot of time trying to make a title more visible and appealing to readers. I work on cover briefs too, as well as cover copy and some of the admin involved when handing over to production. I also look at sales figures and run the numbers to make a costing, which takes into account how many books you want to sell, how much it costs to make them and what the expected profit would be. There is a lot of admin in my role but a lot of it involves creativity too.

Where do you see yourself in publishing? What are your career goals?

There is something about the editorial process that really draws me in. The way I approach, think about and read books is with the mindset of finding a good story. Being an editor is about having good instinct, knowing your authors really well, explaining why you enjoyed something and why it does or does not work. I’m always learning but I think this is something I do well. I am interested in the marketing side of things, especially how we sell and package books. I would love to work my way up. I want to be an Editorial Director, a Publishing Director or a Publisher of my own imprint. I want to have a roster of authors and bring in new, diverse range of authors, covering a mix of classic, literary and commercial fiction and
non-fiction. That would be a dream. I want to publish powerful stories!

I’ve been thinking about authors I would love to work with one day. I suggest ideas to my editors and keep an eye on potential talent. It’s really important for me to have ideas of my own and bring people in as well as building relationships with authors and agents myself. You can have plenty of ideas but getting the basics done is also really important. Sometimes we forget that. It’s easy to get excited about the big things, but learning those basic processes is so important and it’s important to do it well. Do the basics well.

What was the first book that made you feel seen?

This is a tricky question! I think it was probably a book by Benjamin Zephaniah. I read Refugee Boy in Year 7. Although I wasn’t a refugee, I was a new immigrant at the time and I related to some of that. I remember it having an impact on me.

That’s so interesting! For me, it was Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Purple Hibiscus. Chimamanda was one of the first African writers I read. Purple Hibiscus made me feel seen and understand some of the familial structures around me. This is what I love most about the editorial process. What I want to do in my career is put out books that allow others to feel that way, to feel seen and to know that their experiences are valid and familiar to others.