Emily Booth started at Text more than fifteen years ago—when the budget was ephemeral and images were still glued into printer samples for the trade. Emily has played a key role in the evolution of the company and here she tells us a little about her love of the booky life and her current role as Text’s export manager.
What was the book that got you hooked on reading?
As a child I fell in love with Joan Aitken’s stories, illustrated by Jan Pieńkowski, and the Narnia books. I fell really hard for Middlemarch as a teen. Mum was a youth services librarian, so my sister and I were incredibly spoilt due to her incredible breadth of knowledge. More than that my mum remains the most voraciously curious, and imaginative, reader I know. Curiosity about the world is surely the beginning of any love of reading.
How did you get into publishing?
I was teaching history at university, and working as a research assistant for the mighty historian Inga Clendinnen, while completing a doctorate. Inga said that there was a job going as a publicist at her publisher, and that it seemed like a pretty great outfit. As usual, she was right. I came to my first interview pretty much fresh off the plane from six weeks in Mexico, so was probably sporting plaits and a poncho. Despite this, and after innumerable interviews and tests, they gave me the job.
What attracted you to Text?
More than half the books I was drawn to in bookshops seemed to have been published by Text. I wanted to work where people cared about ideas, about knowledge for its own sake. I was thrilled to find that Text is such a place. It’s driven by a mad combination of individual passion, and by collective effort. Also coffee.
Tell us about the early days of Text.
When I joined, in March 2000, Text Publishing was part of the larger Text Media Group, under the stewardship of Di Gribble and Eric Beecher. It was the heyday of real estate advertising, so Text Media’s weekly local papers were very profitable. Publishing books was of course still insanely hard to make money from. I used to have to sneak the Melbourne Weekly’s photocopier codes to print out my press releases in colour. Eric, I’m sorry that you had to find that out through the Text blog. There were six staff at Text Publishing when I joined. Everyone smoked in the office, albeit sometimes furtively, and the entire staff could fit around the little table that now only boasts a jar of blue pens and the current new releases. We were often all in the office at 9pm, working away madly. We sent manuscripts to overseas agents and publishers by fax, so things like that took so much more time. It seems impossible now. And of course there was the constant clatter of horses’ hooves on the cobblestones of the street below...
What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the industry in the last sixteen years?
The speed and efficiency with which everything can happen. I used to glue pictures into printer samples for our illustrated books, to show booksellers. We printed cover wrap-arounds to assess how the finished product would look. Now we’re all prepared to infer from screen, and far less reliant on seeing physical objects. Of course there’s also been seismic change with the rise of online retail over the past decade—a key reason for Text’s export program. And the rise of ebooks, a slightly separate phenomenon. There have been a number of profound changes, and they’ll keep coming. But the continuities are equally profound.
Tell us about the brave new world of international distribution.
Text’s program for exporting Australian books to the UK and US is an inversion of the publishing tradition, in which literary culture was dispatched to the colonies from London and New York. It’s tremendously exciting to be sending our authors’ books to those markets, and finding new readers across the globe. Export is a new endeavour for us (commenced in 2013), but it’s driven by the same things that drive all publishing—passionate readers (publishers, distributors, reviewers, booksellers) working hard to share books with readers. In that sense the project is constant despite all the transformations affecting format, sales and distribution.
Tell us about your recent trip to the US.
I got to meet the wonderful team at Consortium in the US, who work extremely hard to take our books to the trade there. Spending time in NYC, and then at Book Expo America in Chicago, allowed me to meet many booksellers. In the US, as in Australia, booksellers are a dynamic, smart group, very open to new authors. BEA showcases the incredible scope and variety of global publishing. It’s kind of jaw-dropping. Our UK distributors Turnaround were at BEA, and it was fabulous to discuss our forward list and the UK market. The book industry is composed of people who put books and reading above all else. In my experience, spending time with booky people anywhere in the world is pretty great.
What do you love about your work? Or what keeps you inspired?
Reading things I wouldn’t otherwise get to read. Continually learning and being challenged. Getting to work with authors. And my colleagues, who are just about the smartest and most fun people it would be possible to share a workplace with.
Where is your favourite place to read?
Wherever I get the chance. A book is its own place.
Which Text book would you most like readers to (re)discover?
Over the years I’ve fallen for so many—I could list a hundred and still not name them all. One that comes to mind right now is The Vanishing Act, by Mette Jakobsen. A perfect gem. Tad Homer Dixon’s The Upside of Down remains scarily prescient of global social and political trends.
What are you working on right now?
I’m always working across lots of titles at once. At the moment I’m trying to find the best way to pitch our books for 2017 to booksellers in the US and to reviewers there. The pitch that works here is not the same as what works there, so this means trying to read the books with fresh eyes.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in publishing?
Read, read, read. Try to work somewhere, or on something, that brings writing, ideas and people together.