An Interview With… Genevieve Pegg

Hi everyone, also this morning on the blog I’m delighted to welcome Genevieve Pegg. Genevieve is the Publishing Director for Harper North, a northern based imprint of HarperCollins.

I was really intrigued by Genevieve’s role so I was delighted when she agreed to answer a few questions on her career to date.

Over to you, Genevieve…

1) How did you first become involved in the publishing industry? Did you always plan to become involved when you left school? Did you have any other career plans?

I left university having been told publishing was too competitive, so I signed up with lots of temping agencies while I was working out what to do instead. Luckily, they sent me for an interview at Penguin…

2) You have a background in editing. What was your first editing role at Orion like? How has it helped you in your current role as Publishing Director?

In so many roles right across the business, much of what you learn is on the job training and a key part of that in editorial is learning from a slew of amazing colleagues. I started that process at Penguin and later at Orion – at first as an editorial assistant. Like lots of first and second job roles in the industry it gave me an appreciation for the whole chain of people it takes to create a book – between the talent and hard work of the author and the end experience with the reader, are so many dedicated teams of people. It’s important in editorial to connect those people. And of course, it also gives you a sense of how much a book can evolve from first draft to finished copy.

3) What prompted HarperCollins to set up a northern division? How did you feel about moving from London to Manchester?

Having grown up in North Wales, Manchester always felt like a city of opportunity to me. I moved back north five years ago and started working for myself. But when I first spoke to HarperCollins about their ideas for a northern-based imprint, it really tallied with all the conversations I’d been having with clients about regional diversification, so it seemed the perfect time to join. HarperCollins could see a chance to join the literary scene in the north – publishing from here but for a global audience. And since HarperCollins in the UK is already spread between offices in Glasgow, London and Honley, they welcomed another location.

4) At HarperCollins, what is a typical day for you? Do you have a particular department that you are attached to?

As I’m sure most of your interviewees say, no two days are the same! Since the pandemic has moved us to remote working, maintaining contact and team collaboration is a big part of what I do. As well as working closely with my colleagues, we’d normally all be seeing lots of authors, agents, booksellers, librarians and readers, so making sure those communications continue online is really important – while trying to make sure no one’s burning out from too many emails, videocalls and meetings. But in terms of the publishing, my role is to oversee the shape of the list – looking at what books my team are hoping to acquire, discussing ideas for new projects and where they sit in the market, and making sure every department within the business shares our vision for how to publish each title and help every book reach its widest readership in all formats. In between that, acquiring, editing my own titles is a key process. And in addition to looking at individual titles, I work on the financials and the strategy of the list – planning how to build authors for the long-term as well as on a book by book basis.

5) If you weren’t working in publishing, what would be your other dream/ideal job?

Growing up, I wanted to either drive the mobile library – I don’t think I’ve quite let go of that ambition! Or if I was to leave the book business entirely, I think I’d still hope to work in a field that touches on the stories we tell ourselves and each other. I think, for example, we all struggle with finding the right words at some points in our life and I really admire the work people like grief counsellors do to help people find their own story to make sense of the hard times we all face on occasion.

6) What advice would you give to a writer who is just starting out? Would you recommend a creative writing course?

First of all: start writing. Finding your voice and getting into the habit of words on a page is the basis of everything. After that, whether you should pursue a creative writing course can be quite personality-dependent. If you like structure and input, they’re great for adding accountability and community into your writing process – while other authors flourish by writing in the secret hours of the day and night. Whichever path you choose, I would say it’s useful to think about how you’re going to share to your work. Whether that’s with fellow course members, beta readers or agents, at some point writers make that step towards releasing their words into the wild.

7) When you leave your desk on a Friday afternoon, what’s the first thing you do? On a Friday evening/the weekend, what do you do to relax?

Since remote-working, the first thing I do when I leave my desk is usually feed my ever-hungry children! And to relax, getting outside gives me perspective. Spending so much time reading, it’s great to lift your eyes to the horizon when you can.

8) During lockdown, what have you been reading? Have you found yourself re reading your favourites or starting new books?

I confess I lost my reading mojo in the early stages of the pandemic, and found myself dipping in to lots of books rather than devouring them in long sittings. And after an autumn of being in the lucky position of reading wonderful submissions, I’m treating myself to reading some finished, already-published books for the holidays.

9) During lockdown, what have you been watching on television? Do you have a favourite drama that you watch religiously?

Recently, I’ve loved The Queen’s Gambit, Sex Education and Criminal.

10) If you could only listen to Rod Stewart, Freddie Mercury or Brian Johnson (AC/DC), who would you choose and why?

Freddie for me – Queen is often my children’s car music of choice!

Thank you for your time today Genevieve, it was a pleasure to interview you!

Bio: Born in Liverpool and raised in North Wales, Gen is delighted to be at the helm of HarperNorth and bringing readers and writers together across the region. Gen has published authors from Kate Mosse to Belle de Jour and has worked at Penguin, Orion and with indie authors and publishers. She is always in search of page-turners, from bookclub stories to historical fiction, and from memoir to crime thrillers.

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