As a writer, I like to joke that I’ve come to this publishing program as a spy, getting all the secret intel I can use to get my novels out into the world. When it came to finding the right placement, however, it was difficult to find a fine middle ground between author and publisher. Luckily enough, the course provided me with the unique opportunity to intern for Sara Sheridan, author of the 1950s-set Mirabelle Bevan mystery series. So began two months of seeing what I may have to look forward to in my future.
I was welcomed into Sara’s lovely home …… as the first of what would soon be four interns popping in and out with a flurry of business, design, marketing, and editorial chaos. Sara’s top priority when it comes to her interns lies with pinpointing what they need to fill up gaps in their CVs. I came in with a modest hope for some fiction editorial experience but Sara’s keen intuition threw me into the deep end of design work instead. On my very first week, I summoned up my three years of graphic design and media studies training and set to work with a hope and a prayer that I had some artistic magic in me.
My first task was to read her then soon-to-be-published latest in the Mirabelle series, Operation Goodwood, to collect the catchiest quotes.
I then had the daunting mission of turning these quotes into eye-grabbing meme designs to snatch a little extra social media attention. Shockingly, my designs weren’t even close to a handful of stickmen strolling across the page. They were better. And not only Sara loved them, but her publishers did too.
I carried on in this vein for two more novels, Russian Roulette – book six of the Mirabelle series, and On Starlit Seas, part of Sara’s nineteenth-century historical collection.
Each week was punctuated with hints of business correspondence between Sara and Black & White, her publisher for On Starlit Seas, and meetings with all manner of characters within the Edinburgh literary community. Fully aware of my keen interest in such goings-ons, Sara was kind enough to let me sit in on several of these meetings, which gave so many amazing insights into the publishing industry from an author’s perspective. Writing mentorship meetings set up by the Scottish Book Trust, committee discussions with members of the Crime Writer’s Association, and even a front-page interview with The Herald always kept things interesting around the den.
By my last week or two, I finally got my editorial experience I had hoped for: Sara relinquished her latest rough manuscript, The Ice Maiden for editorial review. Until then, my editorial experience was with academics, and I was eager to sink my teeth into fiction for the first time. It meant a great deal that Sara trusted me with such a huge task and we had extensive discussions on how best the story could be improved, featuring a few of my favourite things: tragedy, ghosts, and solid character development tricks. There are few things more validating than being told by a successful published author that your editorial notes are on par with any professional commissioning editor’s. And I truly feel I was able to end my placement having proven myself with both new publishing skills and old.