Alumni profile - Zoë Rutland
So much goes into the planning and laying out of a book that seeing it all come together beyond what you expected makes agonizing over the tiny details worth it ... the first book I worked on was advertised on the underground for a Christmas campaign and it was a really cool feeling to see it on my commute!
What did you study at Queen Mary and what are you doing now?
I studied English Literature and graduated in 2016 and I’ve been working in the editorial sector of commercial publishing since then. A few months after graduating I secured a place on a 3-month internship at DK – a non-fiction illustrated publisher – and went on to work as an Editorial Assistant on their adult titles, working on subject matters that ranged from psychology to feminism. Over the last year I’ve worked as an Editor in DK’s Travel division on their Eyewitness travel guide reboot – an overhaul of their guides, generating new, as well as updating old, editorial content.
The range of subject matters you have worked on, ‘from psychology to feminism’, is so diverse. What are your favourite subject matters and why? Have you developed new passions and interests in literature since your time as an English student?
Victorian and mid-20th century fiction were my main interests at university, but my reading habits have definitely changed over the last few years, as the nature of my job has enhanced my interest in non-fiction. I find myself reading memoirs and political books a lot more (undoubtedly because of the climate of our society today). I’ve mostly enjoyed working on titles that focus on sociological and historical topics because they unravel how societal thoughts and theories developed and came to be as they are today. It’s almost like an extension of a degree as you’re constantly learning while working!
Can you describe what an average day in the life of a ‘Travel Editor’ typically involves?
It really depends on what stage of the process a book is at, but I essentially project manage a list of titles from the acquisition to publication stage. This involves commissioning authors and working with them to define what makes each destination unique, briefing and overseeing their writing and editing this text in live InDesign files, all while working with a team of designers, picture researchers and cartographers to decide on content for each page of the book.
Can you describe the feeling when a book finally comes together and is published?
So much goes into the planning and laying out of a book that seeing it all come together beyond what you expected makes agonizing over the tiny details worth it. Seeing promotional materials is also really worthwhile – the first book I worked on was advertised on the underground for a Christmas campaign and it was a really cool feeling to see it on my commute!
Why is it exciting to do what you do?
My role is split between project managing and copy-editing, and this variety is what makes it so enjoyable. I’m able to be creative but still hands-on with the core processes of getting a book to print. Working across a range of travel destinations and book subjects is also really fulfilling and ensures that every project is different. Obviously one of the main highlights is seeing a book you’ve worked on in bookshops (with your name in the credits – it definitely doesn’t get old). Having studied English Literature, my passion for books was already deeply rooted, but I’ve always loved magazine-esque layouts and visual storytelling, so this career was unquestionable.
You have certainly come a long way from your internship days considering your current job position. What advice would you give to recent graduates and alumni who are starting out in jobs that might not necessarily have been their first choice and who aspire to push themselves to higher roles?
The way you can cater your experience to fit a different role or a new department is really beneficial, so always make sure you indicate how your skills can bring something unique and a new way of working to the team you want to enter into – most businesses and departments want fresh eyes on their processes. In publishing it’s really common to go from, say, a role in production to sales or editorial. It’s also worth doing extra side projects to show your passion for the sector you want to move into – this could be by writing a blog, or attending events, or joining societies in that industry. And you may even prefer the job that wasn’t your first choice!
Why did you choose to study at Queen Mary? What do you think is unique about Queen Mary compared to other universities?
Queen Mary in general stood out as a friendly and homely university compared to other London universities, with its one main campus. Attending an interview day also really helped me make my choice, as meeting some of the staff and students gave a personal feel, and the taster lecture was really insightful. I also wanted a course that allowed me to dip in to a range of genres, time periods and styles of literature rather than restricting me, so that I could work out what I wanted to specialize in and enjoy variety along the way. English at Queen Mary certainly provided this.
How did your time and study at Queen Mary help your career and development?
My current role relies on editorial excellence, and all of the detailed feedback that I gained from lecturers at Queen Mary – on my ideas and writing style – refined my ability to write and proofread effectively, develop my style to suit particular briefs and edit my work in a conscious way. The knowledge that I gained from modules that I took – particularly Feminism(s) – have even fed into books that I’ve worked on and helped me make key decisions on content; they were invaluable in ways I never would have imagined!
Is there any advice you would give to current students or recent graduates considering their career options?
For current students, use the summer breaks to do work experience in a variety of sectors – the career that you think you want may change once you get your foot in the door (as it did for me), and it’s good to lay that groundwork before you graduate. I only decided that publishing was a route I wanted to go down after I handed in my dissertation, so it was a late decision, but I made sure to do tons of research on potential companies and talk to as many people as I could in the field. Internships are a great way to get started and for most companies there’s potential to stay on after, so don’t dismiss internships as ways in. Ultimately, be aware of where your passions and skills lie and read career profiles to see if someone else’s job sounds like something you’d be interested in.
Out of interest, what career did you initially have in mind? Why did this change?
I undertook a lot of voluntary and paid work in theatre administration while studying and initially wanted to be involved in the communications and operations side of the theatre sector. I loved visiting the Globe, watching different plays and writing reviews on productions while at university, so it seemed like the perfect career path. While I thoroughly enjoyed being in theatre environments, my interest in print publications continued to grow and I wanted to be more hands-on with the creative side of a business. Publishing enabled me to do that from the get-go.
What was special about your time at Queen Mary? Can you give one or two examples of your most memorable moments?
Probably going to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Globe in the first few weeks of starting the course; it really changed my opinion of Shakespeare’s comedies, having only studied his tragedies up until that point. In general the ways that the degree combined theatre, art, creative writing, and so much more made it really enjoyable and varied. Queen Mary was great because the degree went beyond English Literature – I left with a real understanding of so many other disciplines: history, philosophy, psychology, etc. This culminated in having the freedom to write on something I was really interested in without restriction for my dissertation, which ended the three years really nicely.
Do you have any role models that you look up to, both inside and outside of your field?
There are always so many new incredible female writers popping up, so it tends to change rapidly in terms of who I admire. I’m also lucky enough to work with really talented editors and learn from them. It is difficult to choose between so many inspirational individuals!
Can you name one female writer as an example?
I recently read Olivia Laing’s The Lonely City and I love how she seamlessly weaves together critical analysis of the culture of loneliness feeding into art alongside her own experience of loneliness. Regarding fiction, I’ve recently enjoyed works by Ottessa Moshfegh and Halle Butler. Dark satire is at the core of their books, but I mostly admired how simple but nonetheless loaded every sentence they write is.
Where would you like to see yourself in ten years’ time?
It would be interesting to move into more of a digital platform, but still making content and in a creative sector. The dream would be a job that takes me abroad, too…
This profile was conducted by Alumni Engagement Officer, Nicole Brownfield. If you would like to get in touch with Zoë or engage her in your work, please contact Nicole at email@example.com.