News: Thoughts, Musings and Storytelling with Namra Amir

Namra Amir previously interned at Faber & Faber through Creative Access. She currently works as the Marketing Assistant at Bloomsbury Children’s and recently won a BMS award for her YA campaign Cinderella Is Dead. She’s committed to promoting diversity in the publishing industry and championing BAME books.

I’m from Ireland where there was little to no publishing and diversity schemes to get into the industry didn’t exist. For this reason, I knew I had to move to London to work in publishing. At university, I studied English Literature and even though I loved learning about the Romantic period, Irish authors and American literature, there was something missing for me. It wasn’t until my third year while researching for my dissertation that I realised what that was. I could choose what I read and wrote about and so I chose to write about my identity and religion. It was then that I started to discover so many Pakistani and Muslim authors for the first time. I was infuriated! It took me until my late teens to realise I could be represented in books. I had found a new wealth of knowledge that I wish I had growing up. The frustration I felt with the lack of diverse literature was amplified when my library would have to order books for me because they didn’t have the ones I needed on their shelves. It felt like I had so many barriers to connect with the books that I desired and I was begging to find books with characters like me in them. With my dissertation, my supervisors couldn’t quite understand my thesis argument or lacked the knowledge to really help me. I had a different struggle from my peers in this regard. A lot of the writers they referenced in their dissertations were encountered during our studies, while I was encountering BAME books and theories for the first time. It made me feel alien and behind in my work.

I wanted to find a job that could help fix this problem and work closely with books. Publishing seemed to be the way but I knew I didn’t want to go into editorial. So I stayed close to books by volunteering for the Irish Literature Festival and I loved it. I didn’t want my time to end so I helped with Poetry Ireland and after the festival ended, I interned with them. I started researching the publishing industry and the different roles when I started my Masters in Creative Writing at the University of Manchester. I wouldn’t be working yet but I wanted to get some work experience. I kept contacting publishing houses and built up my CV with Comma Press and Carcanet.

When my MA was coming to a close, I applied to two internships through Creative Access and one of them happened to be at Faber. It was perfect for me because it was a three-month internship between editorial, marketing and rights. It was a bonus that I loved Faber and they publish Irish authors and poets close to my heart like Sally Rooney and Seamus Heaney. During my time as an intern, I found that I didn’t want to fix books in editorial, I wanted to shout out about them. I realised I wanted to go into marketing and now, as the Children’s Marketing Assistant at Bloomsbury, I can say with much confidence it is definitely for me! It is so creative and fun to create POS to promote the book and be strategic in generating excitement online.

I love championing books and my aim in the publishing industry is to make a difference. I want to achieve this by connecting campaigns with readers who thirst for representation. Lack of representation is a prevalent problem in Children’s publishing. According to studies conducted by CLPE, animal characters are still more likely to feature in Children’s books than BAME characters. Though these studies are disheartening, it motivates me to work harder in my job and illuminate diverse books. I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some amazing titles like Space Detectives by Mark Powers and Dapo Adeola this year which are fun and diverse reads.

I have always wanted to work on diverse books and then Cinderella Is Dead came along. When this landed in acquisitions and I heard about the twist on the fairytale and how it broke stereotypes of race, gender and sexuality, I desperately wanted to work on the campaign. The magical and feminist tale drew me in and it was my first YA budgeted marketing campaign. Working on a title that makes a difference and hearing others say they feel represented motivated me throughout the campaign! To know you’ve created an atmosphere of representation and belonging is a rewarding feeling.

Professional fangirling is what my job is! My favourite part of my job is when someone says, ‘I picked up this book because of you.’ I love the feeling of someone telling me that they saw one of my animations or a bookmark I worked on and it made them buy the book. It’s not just about making a sale, it’s sharing the love with someone else. There are so many amazing books out there and to break through the buzz and noise is challenging, but satisfying when you influence someone’s book buying.

The first book I saw myself in was Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga. I related to Tambudzai’s movements and feeling like she didn’t fit in. For my dissertation, I looked at the representation of Muslim women in literature during the partition of India and Pakistan and then post 9/11. I read Sunlight On A Broken Column by Attia Hosain, Salt And Saffron and Home Fire by Kamila Shamsie and The Three Daughters of Eve by Elif Shafak. There was so much I could relate to in these books. When I went on to do my Masters, Kamila Shamsie was my thesis supervisor. I felt so seen! She could understand what I wanted to achieve through my work.

My advice to those of you who want to work on the marketing side of publishing would be to not worry about having a deep knowledge of the software we use. They are always named on job descriptions but don’t let that put you off. I was considering paying for courses to learn how to use things like Photoshop, but don’t feel pressure to know the programmes as you can learn a lot about that on the job.

When I realised that I wanted to work in marketing, I created a Bookstagram account. I found accounts with book recommendations I liked. There seems to be little representation and diversity on Bookstagram and I wanted to do something about it. Doing this helped because it showed my creative side. But don’t do things you don’t enjoy. Don’t force it. It’s okay if social media isn’t for you. There are so many other ways to show your love and creativity for books!

Find mentors on Twitter, in your office and at other publishing houses. I went out of my way to find different mentors. I asked people if they would have a chat with me and tell me about their work and their journey. When it came to interviews, I didn’t have to learn things off by heart because I was already absorbing knowledge from them. It may be hard to approach strangers, but it is also really helpful!