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Featured Member: Catherine O’Loughlin, Editor, Penguin (NZ)

By July 17, 2010April 11th, 2014No Comments

Like so many other late Gen-Xers working in publishing in New Zealand, my first step into the industry was to enrol for the Whitireia publishing programme. I had the required ‘relevant tertiary qualification’ (the BA with English Literature major came in handy after all), the ‘oral and written communication skills’, the ‘computer competency’ and so on, but without any relevant industry experience to prove my ‘commitment to working in publishing’, all I wanted was the chance. I filled out the forms, attended an interview and was accepted into the 2004 intake.

That year flew by in a blur of group projects, assessments, book-swapping and late nights either in front of the computer or at the pub with a collection of like-minded course mates. And, luckily for me, at the end of 2004 the BPANZ (now PANZ) and Creative New Zealand publishing intern programme came into being. I applied and was offered a six-month contract at Random House, starting in January 2005. There was a slight hitch – as a fully paid-up Wellingtonian with a large and supportive family close by, I’d need to relocate myself and my five-year-old son to Auckland’s North Shore. After a day or so of thinking myself around in circles, I decided I’d prefer to live without miserable thoughts of ‘what if’ and went for it.

From January to July 2005 I had a brilliant time working at Random House as an assistant editor and became a dab hand at project managing anthologies, doing final proofreads, tracking down elusive copyright holders, and explaining to overseas publishers that their reproduction fees were quite steep when converted to New Zealand dollars. At the end of the internship I was kept on as an editor (goodbye for good, Wellington) and managed the production of various non-fiction, fiction and children’s titles, gaining experience in editing, proofreading and indexing along with commissioning photographs, illustrations and design work, and learnt a great deal from the generous and encouraging people in that company.

In August 2007, I took on my present role at Penguin. I now work as a project editor on a ‘lifestyle’ list, which encompasses everything from cooking to gardening, self-help, illustrative books and celebrity biographies, and some children’s and young adult titles. Once a book is commissioned I’m responsible for moving it through editing and production stages, liaising with the author, publisher, designer and freelance editors and maintaining the book’s schedule and budget. 

Theoretically we editors work on about twenty titles per year but the reality of publishing in a large company, in which each book needs to hold its own and be commercially viable, is often that the books all flood in at the same time and your feet hardly touch the ground for months, and all of a sudden they’re off to print and there’s a bit of time to catch your breath, recycle some paper and come up with a new colour-coded spreadsheet that you hope will keep you on top of it all in the next rush.

It’s impossible to choose one thing that’s ‘best’ about working in publishing. I enjoy the constant variety; the fact that every book is different, presenting unique challenges. The people I work with are dedicated to and passionate about what they do and always ready to give support and a second opinion. I’ve had the privilege of working with long-established authors, and also a number of first-time authors fished out of the ‘slush pile’, not to mention so many gifted (and patient) designers, illustrators, photographers and pre-press wizards. Being the point of contact between so many wonderful people definitely keeps you humble.