This year the story is you. Now that face-to-face events have returned, we want to continue spotlighting the book industry, namely, the people who make it what it is. Our next industry professional is Meryl Halls.
You Are the Story – Meryl Halls
Meryl Halls has been Managing Director of the BA of the UK & Ireland since April 2018, having helped drive all key BA initiatives of the last two decades. A Trustee of World Book Day, Board Member of the European & International Booksellers Federation, the British Retail Consortium, the Independent Retailers Confederation and Bookshop.org, she was awarded the FutureBook Person of the Year Award 2020 in recognition of the work done by the BA Group on behalf of booksellers during the COVID crisis. Originally from Scotland, she lives in London and has two (arguably) grown-up children.
What do you love about your career?
I love working with booksellers (luckily!) – they are creative, entrepreneurial, kind, bright, love books, and incredibly mutually supportive. I also feel very fortunate as a reader to work in the book industry and work in an organisation small enough that you feel every day is different, that challenges that come along are always varied and that finding a solution matters.
In your opinion, what impact has the pandemic had on the book industry, and what are your predictions for its future?
It’s accelerated change, created disruption, and refocussed priorities. All of these are good and bad – publishing has flourished, especially in larger companies; bookselling has been a harder route to travel, but booksellers have proven resilient, and bookshops have re-established themselves as key players on their high streets. In the future, I hope publishers amp up their support for and investment in high street bookselling, I hope bookshops keep opening, and I hope new entrants continue to choose bookselling as a career – it’s certainly our ambition to advocate for all those issues.
Likewise, how has Covid changed you?
It’s made me realise how important people are to this business and how crucial it is to gather with others. It’s made me less patient with trivia; it’s made me bolder in my decision making. It’s created a deep urge to seize the day.
What/who is your reason for working in books?
I’ve been a voracious reader all my life; it’s brought me comfort, joy, stimulation, inspiration, knowledge, power, and emotional sustenance and got me the most important relationships of my life. Books contain ideas, contain worlds – they matter to us as a civilisation and a culture; bookshops are the best places to choose and discover books, and so they matter too, in the same way. It’s a great privilege to be part of this industry.
In life, what guides you?
The old adage ‘do as you would be done by’.
Of all your achievements, of which are you most proud?
Surviving the period March 2020-March 2022, pulling together with an incredible team of dedicated colleagues and outstanding booksellers who helped the BA navigate the hardest landscape of our lives. Seeing bookshops standing tall after what they’ve been through feels pretty special.
What advice would you give to someone starting in the industry, and what, in your opinion, should the generation of young people coming into the industry do next?
They should begin their journey in a bookshop, always. And they should stay if they love it – it’s a career like no other. They need to work hard, say yes to all the opportunities that come their way, hold out a hand to those coming along after them, no matter where they come from or who they are, and be kind, open, and inclusive. Read books.
What’s the one thing you started doing that drastically improved your life/career?
I’m not sure drastic change ensued, but I remember teaching myself to stop using qualifiers in my communications. I learned to be more direct.
Likewise, what’s the one thing you stopped doing that drastically improved your life/career?
Again, it’s not a drastic change, but it’s good to let yourself believe you CAN do stuff rather than tell yourself you can’t.
In your opinion, what books should we be reading? And what’s next on your reading list?
Read books about people and predicaments far from your own; read words by clever people; seek out ideas beyond your immediate concerns. I’ve read very little Don DeLillo – I’d like to rectify that.
What is your biggest hope for the future?
That liberal democracy regains the ascendancy.
And lastly, how would you like to be remembered?
As an encouraging and kind force.
If you enjoyed getting to know Meryl Halls, stay tuned for more You Are the Story-style interviews from other industry professionals. Do you want to be the story? Then get in touch with the book fair team.