It’s been too long since we met one of the dedicated and talented team behind all those lovely text books. Meet editor Samantha Forge: word-wrangler extraordinaire and owner of the tidiest office at Text...
How did you start reading?
I don’t remember ever not being a reader. My mum tells a probably apocryphal story that involves her accusing my prep teacher of teaching me to read too early (my mum is also a teacher, with very strong views on pedagogy!) and my teacher looking puzzled and saying she thought Mum must have taught me. Which she absolutely did, if not consciously, then by constantly reading aloud to my brother and me, and filling our house with books of all kinds, and making sure to introduce us to the power and magic of the written word. I’ve pretty much had a book within arm’s reach ever since.
How did you get into publishing?
In 2009, at the end of my undergraduate arts degree, I decided that book publishing was the only thing that made any sense whatsoever to me as a career, so I enrolled in a masters of publishing and editing at Melbourne Uni. A few months in, I managed through sheer good luck to land an entry-level admin role in the sales department at Penguin. I knew I wanted to be an editor, but I also knew that publishing jobs didn’t pop up every day and that I’d have more chance working my way to editorial from within. The plan worked, in the end – though it took much longer than I would have hoped at the time!
What attracted you to Text?
I’ve wanted to work at Text for as long as I’ve worked in publishing. At Penguin we would often get reading copies of Text titles, and they were the ones my colleagues and I fought over the most. So I always had the sense that the little ‘t’ on the spine was an indicator of a certain kind of quality, and that Text was publishing the kind of groundbreaking Australian authors that I wanted to work with.
Don’t tell Michael (in case he changes his mind about me), but before I was hired at Text, I’d actually applied to work here several times previously and never even made it through to the interview round. Which could be a morality tale about persistence, but I also feel now that I wasn’t ready for the job at those earlier times – I’m glad to have come to Text when I did, with enough experience behind me that I feel as though I can really take advantage of the opportunities I’ve been given.
What do you love about your work?
The very best part of my job is the moment when I read something great and I sit up and think: Oh! I want to publish this! That’s the moment I live for, and every time I open a manuscript I’m hoping I’ll get that feeling.
The other thing I love about my work – and I know it’s super corny, sorry folks – is my colleagues. Having been freelance for quite a few years, I really know the value of being able to walk into a building full of lovely, kind, talented people who care about books as much as I do and want to talk about them with me.
Tell us about the one that got away.
No, sorry – the pain is still too near!
Where is your favourite place to read?
I mean, probably lying on a sun lounge on the beach of an obscure Greek island, as the sun sets over the ocean in front of me, or something like that. But since that that is unlikely to be my reality in the short term: I tend to do most of my reading on the couch in my lounge room, sitting by the window, which is a lovely sunny spot to sit in the afternoon. I know the manuscript is really good when I read for so long that I have to get up and switch on the light, because the sun has set while I’ve been absorbed in my reading. (That’s what happened to me with Loner – I sat down on the couch just to have a peek at it and I didn’t even realise I’d been sitting there for two hours until it got too dark to see the words on the page.)
Which Text book would you most like readers to discover?
Can I pick something that hasn’t come out yet? In June we’re publishing a book called Diary of a Young Naturalist by Dara McAnulty, and it is the book I would most like to press into the hands of every single person I know and say ‘you must read this’. When the manuscript first came in I opened it to read a few pages, just to see what it was, and I was immediately captivated by the beauty and lyricism of the writing. I stopped what I was doing and read the whole thing in one gulp. It’s the only book I’ve read about the environment in the past few years that hasn’t left me in the pit of despair; not only that, but it actually gives me hope. If we all thought about nature like Dara does, the planet would be in much better shape.
What advice would you give to someone wanting to work in publishing?
This is a tough question because it is so hard to break into this industry, and the most common pathways to jobs in publishing are incredibly elitist – I never want to suggest that anyone should work for free. So instead I’ll say: try and find a foothold in an adjacent industry. Whether it’s working in a bookshop (publishers really value bookselling experience), moonlighting as an usher at a literary festival, editing your university newspaper, starting a bookstagram account, or even just working in an office to get some super-powered excel skills – do something that will give you some kind of specialist knowledge, so you’ve got something unique to offer over and above the other hundreds of people competing for those entry-level jobs.
The other thing is to read, of course, and especially to read things that have been published recently. Writing is an art, but publishing is an industry, and potential employers will want to know that you understand the current market.
What are you reading for pleasure (if you have the time)?
Ah, reading for pleasure! I remember that. Actually the last thing I read that brought me intense pleasure was a Text book, but I didn’t work on it so I think it still counts. It was Helen Garner’s Yellow Notebook, and I loved it so much I carried it around in my bag for a few weeks and only allowed myself to read a few paragraphs at a time, because I didn’t want the reading experience to end. I can’t wait for volume two later in the year.