Understanding the Industry: Senior Editor (audio)

By   Hannah Bickerton 4 min read

Jack Chalmers is Senior Editor at HarperCollins Publishers, where he oversees all things Audio for William Collins, Fourth Estate, and Collins Reference, working with authors such as Elizabeth Day, David Attenborough, Paul Noble, and many more. Here he talks us through a day in the life of a Senior Editor in the Audio team.

As with so many stories of how people got their first break in publishing, it was down to two primary factors: perseverance and large dash of luck. After co-running a small, student-led publishing house at Exeter University (Penryn Press) and interviewing for, but not quite getting, a place on the HarperCollins Graduate Scheme, I was offered a role in the Audio team as the Assistant. At the time I loved podcasts, and was finding my way into audiobooks, so the role offered an exciting insight into what was then (four years ago) a rising, but still quite quiet, element of the publishing world.

Fast-forward four years, of course, and it’s the place to be. Audio is the fastest growing format in the industry and, all around the world, readers are picking up their headphones to listen to the latest release as well as grabbing their hardback.

Given its continuous growth in recent years, Audio is an ever-changing and interesting place to be working. Any single day offers new challenges and exciting projects, and a typical day – as far as there is one – might look something like this:

  • Open my inbox and undertake the customary scan of morning emails. Answer anything urgent and flag tasks in order of priority
  • Attend our Acquisitions meeting and discuss the books that we’ve just acquired or have received proposals for. Today there is a particularly exciting memoir that we’re discussing and I throw in some ideas about what we could do to make the audiobook really stand out
  • Meeting over, I make a cuppa and dive into an exciting, upcoming release that I need to cast and think about how to produce it. Sometimes that might be a quick process – if it’s a series that has a continuing reader, or someone instinctively falls into my thoughts whilst reading – but sometimes this means diving deep into the text and speaking with the rest of the team (editorial, marketing, sales, publicity) about the vision for this book and what kind of voice we and the author imagine reading it
  • Answer an email from an agent about an upcoming recording and make sure all the dates and times are arranged and the actor has a final copy of the script
  • Speak to studio where we’ll be recording said book to confirm all dates and times, and ensure they have the same material. I might also speak to them about other upcoming projects or books currently recording and spend some time sorting out scripts, answering questions around the production of an audiobook, or liaising between actor, agent, and studio to answer any queries
  • Attend the team meeting and catch-up on all the news that’s been happening across the different departments
  • An audiobook that was recording last week has been edited and sent to us by the studio. I pop on my headphones, make another cup of tea, and listen to make sure it sounds as wonderful as we expected
  • Send the finished audiobook onto the rest of the team, and the author, and eagerly await a happy response from everyone
  • After lunch I answer a few emails and then sit down with a new proposal we’ve been sent and help to feed into our pitch from an audio perspective. Audio is increasingly an important format for agents, author, and publishers, and as the only UK publisher with a Total Audio programme (which sees HarperCollins publish an audiobook for every frontlist, narrative print title we publish), we are at the forefront of audio publishing so it’s always a joy to feed into pitches and show why we’re the best home for this particular book in all formats
  • I check the charts and speak with Sales about how a few of our latest releases have sold over the past week
  • Later in the day, I have a phone call with a production company about the podcast series that is in production and run through preparations for the upcoming release, as well as discussing other projects that we’re working on together. Taking away a few action points, I quickly send some emails and catch up on my inbox
  • Occasionally, one of the many pleasures of working in Audio is that you might get to head to the theatre with an agent to see one of their clients in a new production. Tonight is one such lucky night, so I promptly whisk myself away from my desk and head down the river, making sure the email alerts are turned off and I can lose myself in a great production.

Audio is a hugely varied and rapidly changing part of publishing, and being able to wear so many hats and being responsible for bringing incredible authors’ work to listeners is a real joy. I would urge anyone thinking about how to get into publishing, or looking for something different from the more well-known parts of the industry, to look at Audio and think about whether it’s something they could be interested in. One day you might be pitching to an author, the next you’re casting an actor for a startling debut novel, and the next you’re sat in the studio with David Attenborough hearing him bring his incredible Life on Earth to…life. If that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will!

Hannah Bickerton
Hannah Bickerton
Hannah has worked in marketing for nine years, specialising in strategy development for start-ups and EdTech companies. Having recently jumped across industries to join the Whitefox team, Hannah isn’t a complete stranger to the publishing world with previous employment at Macmillan and TES Global. She is now dedicated to ensuring that anyone who has something interesting to say knows all about whitefox.