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​Me and My Job: Jane Aitken
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Posted by IPG

1 What is your job title and company? And roughly how many people work for your company?

I am founder and managing director of Belgravia Books Collective, which encompasses Gallic Books, Aardvark Bureau and independent bookshop Belgravia Books. There are nine of us.

2 What are your qualifications and working background, and when and how did you take on your current job?

I studied History at university and then trained as a chartered accountant specialising in start-ups. The first start-up I joined on qualifying was Waterstones, and I have worked in the book trade ever since. I worked for Tim Waterstone, who gave me a lot of responsibility, and I owe much of my practical book business knowledge to him.
After Waterstones was bought by WH Smith I was briefly at its head office before moving on to Random House, where I worked for Gail Rebuck as finance director for the Hutchinson division. I have gradually moved away from finance as my career has progressed, but it is a great background to have if you want to start your own business.
I set up Gallic Books with Pilar Webb in 2007 after a career break in France, where I saw that the majority of UK novels were translated into French. At the time, not very many French novels made it into English. Pilar and I were interested in starting a translation publishing house where some of the translation was done in-house, and together we translated out first title, Murder on the Eiffel Tower. Now we have 75 titles translated from French, of which 23 have been translated in-house. We have an in-house translator, Emily Boyce. I feel French literature is well represented in the UK now, and our focus is shifting to authors writing in English.

3 What does your average working day entail?

The first thing I do every day is check the bank balance! Then the previous day’s sales out of our two warehouses in the UK and US, and how the dues for new titles are coming along. We usually have an informal meeting at some point during the day—on cover design, schedules or marketing, or how our bookshop and publishing can work together to promote our books.
A good day will include some time devoted to translating. Occasionally I might get a stint on the till, but I am not often allowed to do that—only if the staffing schedule has gone wrong.

4 What do you enjoy most about your job?

I enjoy the books, the authors and translation.

5 What achievements are you most proud of?

I am most proud of our sales, which I think are good for a small independent. We have sold 770,000 physical books since we started, and with digital downloads it means we have sold nearly one million books.

6 What are your biggest challenges?

Our biggest challenge is sales and distribution. A disadvantage of being small is that you are at the mercy of changes to systems that you cannot control.

7 What is the best thing about working for an independent publisher?

Being able to take decisions quickly. And there are far fewer meeting hours than in a large company. Everyone in a small company can have input to decisions and see the effect of their work in the finished product; publishing is a collaboration. It’s satisfying.

8 How do you switch off from your work?

I don’t think I ever completely switch off. But the work I do at weekends and on holidays is mainly reading submissions, which doesn’t really feel like work. If I get behind with translation that too can spill over into holidays, but I enjoy that as well.

9 What advice would you give anyone wanting to start or progress a career in publishing?

Get work experience that helps to understand the whole publishing process, so you can decide which part is most suited to your tastes and talents. Work experience in smaller companies often gives a wider view of the various processes than bigger ones.

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