At the start of 2018, Orion books launched their #OrionOnTour initiative, which saw representatives from the publisher visiting places around the country to promote publishing as a career. After a weekend discussing regional diversity and the London bias of publishing at the 2018 SYP conference, it seemed fitting to highlight a publisher that is making a proactive effort to address this issue.
To date, #OrionOnTour has visited Manchester and Birmingham, with an upcoming event in Cardiff and another planned for Glasgow.
I got in contact with Holly Harley, a senior editor at Orion, to find out more. Holly is originally from Surrey, and has now been in publishing for six years. She started as an editorial assistant at W&N, and now works mainly on history, science, memoirs and narrative non-fiction. Prior to joining Orion, she completed a number of editorial interships – including one with Gwyneth Paltrow’s lifestyle website, goop!
Can you give a brief summary of the #OrionOnTour scheme and what you hope it will accomplish?
#OrionOnTour is a two-part event that takes place over the course of a day: the first part is a school-based event where members of Orion staff and/or authors and agents speak to or run workshops with students to open up the industry to them and hopefully draw some of them to considering a career in publishing. The second part of the day is an informal drinks evening where we invite local booksellers, journalists, festival coordinators, agents and other publishing professionals as well as Orion authors. At these events we showcase our local authors, locally set books and some of our forthcoming titles as well as networking. Through these events across the UK, we hope to inspire the publishers of tomorrow who will bring fresh ideas to the industry, and to get some proper grassroots support and feedback on our publishing.
How did the idea come about?
The idea for a tour came out of an ‘external focus’ committee we run here at Orion, which is subdivided into a number of teams that, very broadly speaking, aim to get more people involved in and excited about our publishing. The scope of these groups therefore ranges from our regional tour to things like internal desk swaps to see what it is like to work in other departments. I was originally inspired to set up the Manchester event because it’s a wonderful city with a thriving literary scene (and I have family there!), and more importantly, I think it’s vital that the biggest publishers should be making more of an effort to reach outside of our London bubble.
Do you think being from outside London makes it harder to start a career in Publishing?
Absolutely. But I hope that with the work we are doing to encourage students and with the changes that have taken place at Hachette to make internships and entry-level jobs better paid and the application process more transparent, we will remedy this. London is a very expensive place to live, so making sure that publishing is accessible for those from lower income backgrounds is vital.
Following your tour of schools in the North and Midlands, do you have plans for future engagement events?
We do! We of course have the Cardiff event this Thursday, we are travelling to Glasgow in the early spring (date to be confirmed), and we also plan to do at least two more events in 2019 elsewhere in the UK. For now we will be following the same format of a school-based event in the day and an industry and Orion author event in the evening, but there is a possibility we will expand in the future to perhaps include a panel event with editors for local writers looking for advice on getting published.
What are your long term goals for the scheme? Are you hoping to expand it to include other publishers?
The external focus committee, and so #OrionOnTour, is a small part of Hachette’s Changing the Story tapestry of networks and working groups – so yes, while it’s started life as a programme to help expand Orion’s reach outside London, it would be brilliant to extend the tour to other publishers in the future. Another long-term goal of mine is to get as many people as possible from Orion involved in at least one event: we have different team members for each location and take suggestions about where to go next so that each event might have staff from the less well represented departments such as rights, sales and production as well as people who already know the area. I think it’s important to showcase the full range of roles available in publishing, especially as that’s one way to attract new people who might have previously thought you need to have a very specific set of qualifications like an English degree and an MA in publishing to succeed.
The ‘London Bias’ in Publishing is a key issue at the moment. What does that phrase mean to you? Do you think your scheme will help to combat this?
To me, the London bias quite straightforwardly describes the way all the big publishing houses are in London, and how that almost certainly has an influence over the sort of stories we publish and the authors we work with. It’s very easy to forget your unconscious biases when living in a large city and working in an industry where, although we are working hard to change things, many of your colleagues live close by, share your opinions and are generally very similar to you. I do hope that this scheme will help us think more about the whole country of readers more readily, and for example enable us to better work with literary agencies that are outside of London and are skilled at spotting talent around them. Further into the future, I hope that publishing will follow the lead of broadcasting, and branch out to create offices and attract talent in other UK cities.
Do you have any advice for people outside of London starting out in their careers?
It’s always made me feel slightly uncomfortable when I’m asked for advice, because I had the privilege of living in London with family while I did relevant internships after university and so only needed to work part time while I gathered experience and hunted for a job. So my advice is pretty old-fashioned, but I think some of the most valuable things you can do are make connections, use those connections whenever you can, and learn from people.
The next #OrionOnTour event will be at 6.30pm on Thursday 15 November at The Conservatory in Brewhouse Cardiff. The event in Glasgow is due to run in February 2019 – for details of future events, follow the Orion twitter account!
I would also like to add my thanks to Holly for taking the time to talk to me about this. #OrionOnTour is a huge initiative, and the only one like it from a large UK publisher. I look forward to seeing it grow and grow!