Last Wednesday, Media Society was thrilled to welcome Alexandra Pringle, Editor in Chief at Bloomsbury Publishing. As this was our first Publishing-related event for years, we were so pleased that such a large and enthusiastic audience came to Queen’s to hear about Alexandra’s career.
Alexandra began by explaining that academia was never really her thing; she preferred novels to schoolwork and read many of the classics in her early teens. Aged 18, Alexandra went to teach English in Italy, and took a secretary course which enabled her to get temp jobs in many offices. Eventually, Alexandra starting working at Virago Press, a company whose aim was to publish more books by women writers. After a few years at Virago, Alexandra was offered the job of Editorial Director at Hamish Hamilton, where she worked for four years on the corporate side of Publishing. Although she enjoyed the many glamorous parties, she needed a change of scene and switched over to the agenting side of the business, which she did for just over four years and thoroughly enjoyed. However, in 1999, Liz Calder took Alexandra out for lunch and managed to persuade her to take over as Publishing Director at Bloosmbury. She has now worked there for fourteen years, publishing many brilliant writers and significantly improving the company’s turnover.
Alexandra then gave us an overview of the publication process, which can take up to four or five years for each book. Although we may like the sound of a fast-paced, energetic industry like journalism or publicity, Alexandra highlighted the advantages of a slightly slower industry. She stressed her fondness of the relationships that are established between the writers and their publishers, naming many firm friendships which she has gained from this process.
We also learnt a bit about Bloomsbury itself, and how it differs from other Publishing companies. At Bloomsbury, the goal is to deliver high quality, literary books to the mass market, rather than churning out fast sellers to make money. With the success of Harry Potter, Bloomsbury was able to expand, a necessary movement since the company became a PLC, and they began buying small backlist companies in order to expand the business.
Alexandra’s role is now Global Editor in Chief; Bloomsbury has offices in London, New York, Sydney and New Delhi, and she spends a lot of her time flying around the world. She talked passionately about the Indian market, which is constantly changing and is really flourishing at the moment. With the upsurge of a middle class, there is a sudden thirst for culture which is similar to the situation in nineteenth century England.
Alexandra concluded the talk by speaking about Bloomsbury’s newest star, Samantha Shannon, who published her first novel just after finishing her finals in Oxford. The Bone Season, which is the first novel in a seven-book series, is destined for success, and the film rights have been sold to Imaginarium and to 20th Century Fox. How Samantha managed to write two novels and still leave Oxford with a 2:1 is beyond us!
Our enthusiastic audience had many interesting questions for Alexandra, on subjects ranging from ebooks, piracy and the demise of the high street, to Alexandra’s own reading habits. Her optimistic attitude convinced us that physical books still have their place and that the Publishing Industry will continue to thrive in the future: “as far as the Publisher is concerned, a book is a book”.
Overall, the talk was captivating and inspiring. In spite of all her success, Alexandra talked to us honestly, revealing some of the more touching moments of her career and offering a real insight into the life of a successful publisher. We thoroughly enjoyed Alexandra’s talk, and are looking forward to reading the many books she recommended to us when we finally have some free time!