Interview with Venetia Gosling
Posted on May 16, 2021 in Ireland
Want to know about working as a freelancer within the publishing industry? We recently spoke with Venetia Gosling who is a Freelance Editor and Publishing Consultant at Gosling Editorial.
Hi Venetia! Could you give us an overview of your journey within the publishing industry?
VG: My entry job was as a marketing assistant in a small company called Severn House – and the size meant I was able to get a much better overview of the whole publishing process and get involved with other departments. It also helped me realise I wanted to be in editorial. I stayed there for a year, then applied to be an assistant at Hodder Children’s Books. I initially applied to be a PA but when I met the publisher, she worked out that I would be much better placed within the editorial team so, while I didn’t get that job, I got a call back when an editorial assistant position became available. Luckily I got that, and then stayed at Hodder for ten years, working my way up. There were quite a lot of maternity leaves at the time, which meant responsibility fell on my shoulders sooner than it might have done otherwise – and I jumped at the opportunity to get more involved. During my time there I edited Cressida Cowell’s first novel, How to Train Your Dragon, and acquired Robert Muchamore’s CHERUB series. I ended up running the fiction department as Editorial Director, before being approached by Ingrid Selberg at Simon & Schuster, who was looking for someone to help her grow the children’s fiction list in the UK, whereas previously it had mainly been about importing US titles. That was an interesting challenge and I loved working there, looking after the bestselling series, Dork Diaries, acquiring future prize-winner Sophie McKenzie’s Girl Missing, as well as Darren Shan’s Zom-B series and editing Philippa Gregory’s YA historical fiction. I was then headhunted to apply for the Fiction Publisher role at Macmillan Children’s Books. I was at Macmillan for nearly six years, working across the list, managing a team and driving strategy and acquisition. I acquired current bestseller, the Adventures on Trains series at auction, brought Hilary McKay and Lauren St John to the list, and edited many amazing Irish authors, including Padraig Kenny, Roddy Doyle and Emma Donoghue – as well as publishing Chris O’Dowd and Nick Vincent Murphy’s Moone Boy series. It was great fun, but I was ready for a change, so when my husband suggested a permanent move to Ireland, I took a leap, resigned my role and set myself up as a freelance editor, working from home. We were too far from Dublin for an office-based role, and there didn’t seem to be any children’s publishers within easy reach of our house in County Waterford, so freelancing seemed the best idea at the time. Though now everyone has been working remotely from home, the options definitely feel like they have opened up.
What steps did you take to switch to freelance full-time? Do you think it’s necessary to have experience working within a publishing house before switching to freelance?
VG: It didn’t take too much. I came up with a business name (the very inspired Gosling Editorial!), bought myself a laptop, set up a business email, printed some business cards (Moo.com), opened a bank account and registered myself as a sole trader. I also made sure my LinkedIn profile was up-to-date. Those were the logistical things. But I do think there was an advantage to having worked in publishing for a long time, in that I already knew several people in Ireland involved in Children’s publishing – from buyers, to publicists and publishers, to reviewers and agents – so was lucky that I had contacts who were all very welcoming and helpful, giving me advice, suggesting people to approach, or events to attend, all of which were helpful steps to finding work. I do think a lot of this information is publically available, though, so it’s not key to have pre-existing contacts – and I definitely didn’t know everyone I spoke with in my initial research stages – but if you follow Sarah Webb online, for example, or attend one of the children’s conferences – such as the Children’s Books Ireland one, or Dublin Book Festival – you’ll get some great information. I went to a Getting Published event in Dublin and was amazed at how open and accessible leading publishers were, with people like Nicki Howard from Gill Books and Ivan O’Brien from O’Brien Press taking the time to speak to attendees afterwards and offer advice.
In terms of whether having publishing experience helps as a freelancer – you would need to have an understanding of a book’s schedule and the different stages editorially (speaking as an editorial freelancer, in this instance), and publishers do like to know that you have proven editorial capabilities. As a publisher, I did prefer using those with prior in-house editor experience, or a CV featuring a proven track record of published books they had worked on. But there are freelancer tests that can be offered as an alternative, and there is a willingness to be more open to people starting out, so it’s not impossible to pursue a freelance editor role without publishing experience – particularly if you have some experience in an adjacent field where proofreading, editing or copy-editing were part of the work, or you have completed an accredited publisher training course. Be wary, though, of signing up to expensive proofreading courses – these are not always accepted by publishers and you don’t want to waste your money.
Do you have any advice to share with those who are thinking about working as a freelancer in the publishing industry? Have you learnt anything whilst working as a freelancer that you wish you had known beforehand?
VG: Build up your contacts, attend publishing events, join societies, read the trade news, act on opportunities, think laterally. I contacted my local council’s arts department and shared my CV and experience and ended up mentoring a local writer, which has been incredibly rewarding.
I think I might have upgraded my laptop sooner! I had a very simple one which had Word and Adobe so I could edit documents or PDFs – but it was pretty basic and I couldn’t access a proper FTP site, for example. Saving money in the short term was not as sensible as I’d thought.
Keep a detailed spreadsheet of your invoices – dates sent, dates due, amount invoiced and when received – for future accounts and tax returns. I have also got an accountant for the first time in my life to make sure I was doing everything correctly in terms of Ireland, having only recently moved here.
Business cards are a waste of money – especially during a pandemic!
More generally, is there any advice you would give to those who are in their mid-career and are looking to develop further in their career?
VG: I wouldn’t say going freelance is the best way to develop your career – someone asked me if I’d retired! But it is a way to maintain your career, and develop and direct it in the way you would like, rather than being at the mercy of a company’s business imperatives. It gives you the freedom to manage your own time, broadening your contacts and the types of books you work on, as you are not tied to a single company. Crucially (for me, at least), it also enables me to do other things that are important to me, such as volunteering with Fighting Words, and being there for my kids after school. It is less all encompassing work, though no less important.
Has being based in Ireland opened you up to more opportunities to work with publishers, agents and authors based here?
VG: Absolutely – there is a real benefit to being based here. Agents and Publishers feel more comfortable recommending you to their authors and you are able to meet with them if need be. You know more about what is going on, both locally and nationally, and can engage with events on the ground. The children’s books community here is incredibly vibrant and welcoming and people do offer support if they can. There are so many book festivals, literary journals, children’s book events and conferences – and they are all great for contacts and networking. I have subscribed to everything, joined every society, attended local arts and library events, and if it wasn’t for the pandemic would have been up and down the country attending festivals too. I am very glad I made the move.
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