The publishing industry has been making a concerted effort to update its talent pool for the past decade, putting in place programmes and projects designed to improve both the diversity of the people hired and the books published. Rare works with Hachette to identify and support high performing students for their Fresh Chapters programmes - an 8 week internship for bright undergrads with a passion for books, and a 12 month traineeship for talented BAME graduates. Mireille Harper joined Hachette’s Trapeze imprint in September 2017 on the traineeship, and we caught up with her just as she begins her six months with Hodder Education.
RARE: Tell us a bit about how and when you became interested in publishing.
Mireille: I was always interested in books as a child and my next-door neighbour’s daughter actually worked for Dorling Kindersley (DK). She used to bring me home the books that she had worked on, which was really lucky. I went to uni to study languages but it was only actually in my third year that I even thought about applying for a publishing job. I applied successfully for work experience at Penguin Random House, and after those two weeks in editorial in children’s books, I knew I absolutely had to try to find a job in publishing.
Rare: Why did you choose to apply to Fresh Chapters? What kind of support did you get from Rare during the process?
Mireille: I’ve worked since I was 16 and after loving my internship at Penguin Children’s, I was really focused on trying to get into a job I would enjoy straight out of uni. I’d applied for jobs constantly over my third year abroad, and when I saw the Fresh Chapters description, it was just exactly what I’d been looking for. I signed up to Rare and started getting support right from the beginning. I got a call to say I’d be a good fit to apply, then I was given support to write up my application. I came into the Rare offices for a mock interview, and we went through my application, line by line. I honestly feel like if I hadn’t had that support, I wouldn’t have got the place on Fresh Chapters. I had plenty of good ideas and lots of work experience, but I wasn’t showing any commercial awareness to demonstrate how my ideas could be applied. Having the chance to completely rewrite and practice my presentation meant that I was able to perform it much better when it came to the real interview. I’m so grateful to Frances.
Rare: What was your first impression when you arrived at Hachette?
Mireille: The building is so impressive, I felt like I couldn’t be anything but happy to be there! Even before my official start date, my team at Trapeze took me out for an introductory lunch, told me all about the role, and asked me what I wanted to do and what I was expecting to get out of it. They were so welcoming and it meant that when I started, I already knew I was walking into a very supportive environment.
Rare: Tell us about the Fresh Chapters traineeship so far - you’ve just spent 6 months with Trapeze and you're now at Hodder Education. What are your highlights so far?
Mireille: At Trapeze, I managed a competition called the One in Four competition, in collaboration with The Pool and Gingerbread, to find a writer that celebrates single parenthood in a positive way. I read all the submissions, helped create the shortlist, helped to organise the mentoring day, the launch day and was involved in the judging too. It felt amazing to involved in every element like that and to take on so much responsibility. My experience so far at Hodder is completely different - it’s really interesting to be behind the scenes as an education publisher. I really wanted to have greater diversity to my portfolio of expertise, so I wasn’t just strong on trade. It’s also really interesting to see how different publishers work depending on what you publish. Something I’ve learned already is that you have to be creative with the data - everything is still creative but about finding a way to back up your work with data. I think my strengths are more with the editorial stuff, but it’s so helpful to see another side of publishing.
Rare: Trapeze recently presented you with The Harry Barker Award as an outstanding young member of staff. What do you think made you stand out and what did it mean to you to win?
Mireille: I was so surprised! I had nominated two people in my team because I really thought it was for people who’d been there a while, not for a trainee like me. I had never been in an environment where people are so nice and helpful: I just wanted to help other people and to be a part of everything that they’d let me. I was nominated by a lot of people at Trapeze, so I think maybe it because I was seizing every opportunity to be involved. I was completely in shock and I didn’t really understand why I won, but it meant so much.
Rare: What's your favourite part of working in publishing?
Mireille: I love books - so being around books all the time makes me very happy! It’s nice to see the process of a book from beginning to end; from coming in from an agent, to seeing it in a store or someone reading it on the Tube. One thing I hadn’t realised was that in publishing, and especially at at Hachette, there are a lot of networks to support people of colour - like Thrive and BAME in publishing - and having that safety net is really incredible. I was brought up in Bromley and my family was so much in the minority that I didn’t have many peers, so it’s the first time I have a support network for people of colour. It’s really very helpful in making me feel welcome and showing me what’s possible.
Rare: So what’s next for you? What’s the dream job?
Mireille: Well, I’ll be here at Hodder Ed until September, and my current goal is to get an editorial assistant role at Hachette if I can. Then I want to progress through the ranks over the next few years, up to an assistant editor, then commissioning editor. In 10 years, I’d like to be in a strong position to shift from editorial to the agency side. I love music, art and films the same way I love books, and I get along well with people - I would love to represent people in the long term. I also want to be an agent because if you can choose what comes in, you can choose what to push to publishers - we need greater diversity of both writers and of topics - people of colour should be writing books about what ever we want, not just race.
Rare: Why should students consider applying for Fresh Chapters?
Mireille: I think a lot of people going into their final year at university think they’ll get an entry level role in publishing - I think you actually need the first step just before. A traineeship or internship is perfect for a comprehensive introduction to the publishing industry - you get lots of training and the opportunity to see so much more than just what’s within the purview of your role. You’ll learn about printing, how the distribution centre works, and lots more, all with lots of support. You’ll also meet loads of other trainees who you’d never have just crossed paths with in normal life - in my case, we’re like a little family now, because we were all finding our feet at the same time - it’s really lovely.
We can’t wait to support Mireille as she continues her journey through publishing.
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Keywords: Fresh Chapters, Hachette, publishing industry