Publishing: From Laptop to Bookshop

The publishing industry is legendarily tough to enter – but thanks to a collaboration between The Professional Track and Creative Writing lecturer Shelley Harris, Reading Uni students have just been given a leg-up.

Over a hundred students from across the School of Literature and Languages attended ‘Laptop to Bookshop’, a course introducing them to Publishing which brought together a bestselling author, a top literary agent, and experts in editing, marketing and consumer insight.


Week 1 – Julie Cohen (Author) and Diarmid Thackery (Consumer Insight Manager)

The first week opened with bestselling author Julie Cohen in conversation with Shelley Harris. Julie spoke about her career as an author and her experience of the publishing industry from a writer’s viewpoint. She also talked about the creative writing process and fielded questions from students.

The second hour featured Diarmid Thackery from Penguin Random House. Diarmid spoke about book market segmentation and how consumers of books are split into certain sections depending on the quantity and type of books that they read. Diarmid focussed on his role in this aspect of publishing and how he aims to give consumers what they want through a more targeted approach, without compromising the innate creativity of writers.

One student commented on the ‘really useful and insightful speakers. I feel that I’ve had a great introduction to the course and the industry’.

Diarmid delivering his talk on consumer insight


Week 2 – Jo Unwin and Milly Reilly (Literary Agents)

During the second session, Jo Unwin and her assistant Milly Reilly spoke about Jo’s role as an agent and being the go between for authors and editors. The second half of the session involved students carrying out an exercise in which they re-wrote a blurb in a different genre after choosing from a selection of books. They then had to pitch this idea to Jo and the rest of the room. The most interesting pitch was perhaps the one that turned The Very Hungry Caterpillar into an erotic romance novel. Finally, students were given the opportunity to pitch their own book ideas to Jo and Milly at the front of the room.

Students relished the interactive nature of the session. Comments included ‘Fantastic session! I have learnt so much and feel more confident in a potential future in publishing’ and ‘I feel really inspired after this’.


Week 3 – Andrew Wille (Editor)

We welcomed Andrew Wille, a freelance editor who has worked with all the major publishing houses, to our third session of the course. Andrew firstly spoke about the processes involved in editing, then focused on the editorial skills required to take a book from its first draft to a publishable state. Finally, he got the students to undertake a practical, real-life editing task on a single page of a novel, before showing them how he would have edited it himself.

One student remarked that the session was ‘very inspiring! But realistic, as it showed how hard and intense the editing process is’.

Andrew and publishing students carrying out an editing task


Week 4 – James Spackman (Marketer)

The final session of the course was led by books marketer James Spackman. Shelley once again led a Q&A session with James, before opening the floor to our students. During this part of the session, James spoke about his career, explained how books are taken from the editor to the reader and how publishers make their books stand out. Inevitably he also ended up speaking about his role in marketing the Harry Potter books. The second part of his session got students to have a go at an authentic marketing and publicity task – one that James himself had been working on for the last couple of months. Students had to come up with a marketing and publicity plan for a very niche cycling book before feeding back their ideas.

One student ‘loved the exercise today. The whole course was insightful and it helped hearing from experts’.

James discussing the marketing task with students


Other comments about the course as a whole included:

‘This course has been absolutely fabulous! From meeting the author to agent to publisher to marketing, it has been great to see how the industry not only works, but how to get into it and do well.’

‘Applied to the course on a whim, had no idea what I wanted to do and had heard about publishing; now find myself passionate about it and eager to apply for experience! Fully enjoyed all the speakers.’

This is exactly what we wanted to achieve with this course; each session was designed to give insight into a specific aspect of publishing and offer advice about breaking into the industry, as well as encouraging the development of industry-specific skills through interactive tasks. Students left with a portfolio of authentic exercises that will give them an edge on their CVs and in job applications and interviews.