With this year’s Trailblazer Awards open and ready for applications, we thought we’d catch up with some of our 2020 winners to find out what winning an award meant to them and how they are continuing to blaze their own trail.
Ellie Pilcher is an award-winning Marketing Manager of commercial fiction at Avon, HarperCollins. She is also a prominent side hustler running regular Marketing workshops for entry-level publishers, a careers, lifestyle and book blog: EllesBellesNotebook, and she’s a freelance journalist and novelist.
What did winning an LBF Trailblazer Award mean to you?
It was amazing! It was the first accolade in publishing I had won purely for myself and not for a campaign or as a team. To be recognised for what you do and what you offer the publishing industry, particularly after only a few short years, is a wonderful thing and something I’m eternally grateful for. Also, the trophy in the background looks amazing in Zoom calls.
In your opinion, what impact has the recent changing world had on bookshops/the publishing industry, and what are your predictions for their/its future?
My favourite word – I’m not even sure it is a word – in marketing is pivotability, and this year the publishing industry has pivoted 180 degrees. We went from office-working to home-working in literally a day, have adjusted unbelievably quickly to issues that we never thought we’d face like all bookshops closing and struggles to meet online demand for books, and we all did it whilst anxious and concerned about our families, friends and livelihoods. However, the industry has thrived with creative publishing at an all-time high and the busiest October publishing calendar I think I’ve ever seen.
The lasting impact of this year is impossible to predict – much like the US election was! – but I think remote working is here to stay and our relationships with indies and high street stores is going to be forever changed, hopefully in a positive way with priorities changing to support them even more. But with the current climate we just don’t know what’s going to happen and how bookselling is going to be impacted.
As a Trailblazer, what impact has the recent changing world had on you, and how are you coping under the current climate?
For me, it’s all about the workload. Not having a team around me and being able to bounce ideas and help each other out ad hoc as we used to in the office has impacted my way of working. How I go about organising my day, separating my work-life from my home-life, all of it has adjusted because of lockdown and COVID. But, it’s also helped me to reach out more, not only for assistance when it feels like the work or remote working is too much, but also to assist others who are struggling or are looking to develop their skills in publishing.
As an example, I’ve made sure to continue all of my mentorships via Zoom, to keep in touch with others working from home. And I’ve started free publishing skill workshops to help entry-level publishers who are limited by the lack of opportunities for them to do work experience or skill development because of office closures and remote working.
The biggest impact of COVID is the disintegration of connection due to remote working and lockdowns, and I want to combat this as much as I can however I can.
What was the last book you read, and where did you buy it from?
The last book I read was The Complete Chronicles of Narnia: The Classic BBC Radio 4 Full-Cast Dramatisations, which I bought from Audible. I needed a comfort listen as we re-entered lockdown and The Chronicles of Narnia are my childhood go-to.
What’s your reading platform of choice? Paper, eBooks or audio?
I’m torn between eBook and Audiobook. I love the format of audio – it’s the original way of storytelling – but eBooks are so easy to read and get comfy with, and I love having my library with me wherever I go.
What’s next on your reading list?
Next up for me is The Halloween Party by Agatha Christie, which is my latest book club read with some fellow publishing friends of mine. I’m also charging ahead with Avon’s 2021 publications and listening to Troy by Stephen Fry. I usually have one book in each format (paperback, eBook and audio) on the go at any one time.
Which writer would you have loved to have met and why?
Anne Bronte. The forgotten Bronte sister. I think her and her sisters were amazing, and the things they accomplished in their short lifetimes with the hardships they faced is incredible. I also think she was the most normal of the Brontes, and I could have a cuppa with her in the living room whilst Emily and Charlotte bickered in the background.
You’re stranded on a desert island. What three books would you want with you?
This question! Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, always. I read the Harry Potter series every summer without fail. The Reader by Bernhard Schlink as I think the story, the writing and the message of it is spectacular. And finally, War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy, it would keep me occupied whilst stranded at least.
What was your first job in the book industry?
My first full-time job was as Administrator and Social Media Coordinator at Atwood Tate Publishing Recruitment. I was only there for 8 months, but I truly loved it. The people were great, and it ticked all of my organisation boxes as it was a lot of filing, scanning and data analysis. It also gave me a massive overview of the entire publishing industry, not just trade but B2B, Education, STM and all of the areas within each.
Tell us what you do in 20 words.
I convince people to buy amazing books with intriguing messaging, advertising and an abundance of creative ideas that are unforgettable.
What is the one piece of advice you’d give to someone starting out in publishing today?
I always recommend people focus on their skills over their work experience. Whilst work experience and internships are great and helpful on your CV, if you have strong skills in social media, IT, design, writing etc., then you will stand out as a candidate when applying for jobs.
How does social media aid the publishing industry?
Without social media, marketing would have been an incredibly tough role to do during lockdown as there was no footfall outside or in bookshops, so we wouldn’t have been able to reach into people’s homes, except via TV or Radio. Social media is much more affordable, particularly for independent publishers, to reach new readers. It’s also a great way to build organic communities and to learn about your audience. Authors can build an audience themselves and get to know their readers. Publishers can develop a brand online. It’s extremely important to the publishing industry, never more so than in the current climate.
Which is your favourite bookshop or e-bookstore and why?
My favourite bookstore is Foyles in Central London. Whilst it’s your typical publishing answer; because it’s on Charing Cross Road which is my favourite street in London – yes, I have a favourite street – whenever I (used to) go to Central London for a day out or to meet friends I would always go to Foyles to hang out or meet there. It’s an incredibly comforting place for me, and it’s impossible to deny myself a book buying spree when I’m there.
What would be the title of your autobiography?
An Impatient Woman. Not only does this perfectly summarise my career, I also told Sir Patrick Stewart that I was a very impatient woman when I got stuck next to him on an escalator whilst running for a train.
What is the silliest thing you have on your desk?
Not necessarily silly, but out of place, I have a statue of Aphrodite in a clam shell on my desk. It used to belong to my Grandad, and I haven’t seen him since February as he’s in a care home, so it reminds me of him.
Tell us about a passion you have outside the business.
Writing. Not very different to the publishing industry, but as a blogger, journalist and novelist, writing is my go-to passion. I have a, what I call, ‘Side-hustle Sunday’ where I usually spend the day on my computer or with a notebook working on my book, writing an article or a blog post, or even just a list of blog posts or articles I’m going to write. It’s a way of emptying my head of all of my thoughts to free up space for everything else.
Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?
I don’t have just one inspiration, as I turn to many different people for different things. The list would include my mum, women I’ve worked with, Sapper Dorothy Lawrence (the only British woman to fight in the trenches of WWI), Marina Abromavic (the performance artist), Maya Angelou, the Brontes… so many. I will admit, though, that my inspirations are pretty much all female.
If you’ve been to a London Book Fair, what do you love about the fair? And, what piece of advice would you give first-timers?
London Book Fair is one of my favourite events of the year. I’ve been every year since 2017, except 2020, of course, and each year I’ve gone in a different role. Firstly, I was an intern at a literary agency, so I was in the agents’ corner, the second year I went as a social media coordinator for a recruitment company, the third year I was a Campaigns Officer, and then this year I would have gone as a Trailblazer and panellist.
I love walking around the fair and visiting the different stalls. As you grow in the industry, you know more people, so it becomes more of a social/work event which is fabulous. And there are always great learnings to take from it, be it as an intern, a guest, an author or a publisher professional.
Has a book ever changed your life?
Yes, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett changed my life as a 12-year-old. It was the first classic I ever picked up and chose to read and I was addicted to it – so much so I used to get it out during class to keep reading. Ever since I read it, I have never not been reading a book, I’ve always had a book on the go, in my bag or by my bedside table or on my phone. I have read something of a book every single day for the last thirteen years.
What was your favourite book when you were a child?
I didn’t have a favourite book as a child, I was much more of a film-girl when I was under-12. I used to love that every summer I went to stay with my Great-Aunt she would read me Anne of Green Gables, but we never got further than Chapter 4, so every Summer we’d restart it and never finish it. I only actually finished reading Anne of Green Gables last year, but the opening chapters remain a favourite of mine.