On Monday 27th February students on the Publishing, Production and Performance module attended a session with guest speaker Sameer Rahim, a reviewer for the Telegraph, and Arts and Book Editor for Prospect. During the session, Sameer delivered informative insight into the literary industry, and gave some valuable guidance to students looking to work in that line of business.
Lecturer Kimberly Campanello interviews Sameer Rahim in our class session
Sameer fell into literary journalism as an editor for the student newspaper during his studies at Cambridge. He went on to teach, and then worked on the Oxford English Dictionary; he looked through English words derived from Arabic and Persian, checking and correcting them.
Fact: The next Oxford Dictionary will be published in 2037.
After several stints in various professions, Sameer sent out letters looking for work and valuable experience. For a year, he interned at the London Review of Books (LRB). During his internship, he developed his editorial skills to a high standard; as a fact-checker, he had to read each written piece carefully. He revealed how the editorial process produces a very different finished piece from what was originally put forward. An editor can do a lot to help a writer develop their craft during this process. Sameer pointed out that using as few words as possible is the best way to write; clarity and structure are important features of good work.
Fact: Sameer went to Syria after his internship at the London Review of Books for six months and studied Arabic.
Sameer went on to review for companies like The Sunday Times and London Review of Books. He then got a job at The Telegraph and remained there for seven years before moving on to Prospect as the Arts and Books Editor.
Reviewing for The Telegraph:
The average day consists of receiving up to fifty books a day. From that selection, only fourteen books are reviewed for publication in the ten/twelve pages the public sees. Four reviews are 2500-3000 words long. Each review works to be honest, point out the good as well as the bad, and entertain the mass market readership The Telegraph attracts.
Reviewing for Prospect Magazine:
There is a clear difference between Prospect and The Telegraph and Sameer points this out through his experience with both companies. Reviewing for a monthly magazine enables the texts reviewed to be in-depth and explorative of the ideas highlighted. There are five/six long reviews that consist of 2000-2500 words, followed by eight short reviews each 250 words. The length of these reviews means they must be economical. The magazine centres their reviews on non-fiction texts, not leaving much room for fiction. Two supplements were developed as a result; one is published during the summer, and the other in the winter.
The Cons of the Job:
As Sameer started with the not-so-glamourous technicalities of the job, so shall we. Sameer’s job is one of organisation and time management. There’s a lot of sorting stuff out and making sure others stick to the time schedule, as well as yourself.
If you wanted to work as a reviewer, it’s important that you know exactly who you work for, and that doesn’t mean the name of the business. You have to know your audience. What you write is a reflection of who your work for; there is often an in-house style you will be expected to write in.
The Pros of the Job:
Editing is incredibly fun.
Sameer suggests we probably disagree, but this is where the real writing begins. Moving paragraphs to create structure, line-by-line edits and directing the writer to address these changes results in a distinct and coherent piece that is ready to be published.
Sameer laughed with students about how we should feel in pain if there is a spelling mistake, or a grammatical error: it’s the key to making your work great. Typos are a common mistake, and there is no denying that we all do it. Except there is no excuse. Typos have the ability to colour another person’s view of your character. Readers and editors are likely to assume terrible things – you have a laziness of thought, you haven’t thought about it as much as you might have, or perhaps there’s a lack of pride.
Read, read, and reread your work. That goes for everything.
Advice to Students:
It’s easier than it’s ever been to get in touch with the literary industry. Twitter is a great platform to connect with these individuals. Social media enables you to talk to people you wouldn’t normally be able to meet, and these interactions are visible long after they have ended. It’s a great way to prove your involvement with the literary environment, especially now that we live in a world where our potential employers can check our social media profiles before offering us a job.
Work experience is another great way to get yourself out there and learn hands on about the industry. Whether your spend a few weeks somewhere, or a whole year, you can build contacts with people in-the-know.
Sameer points out that the editor and writer are two separate identities. They are frames of mind you must differentiate between. The editor is unafraid of the work in front of them. They look at words on a page and scribble in margins, crossing out words and sharpening their prose. The writer, however, is controlled by self-doubt; there is an anxiety towards the words they write. It is because of these two mind-sets that it is difficult to be the editor of your own work, and you have to turn that inner-editor off. Seek out people you trust to read your work. The best writers are those who are able to accept the constructive criticism thrown at them. If you struggle with writing, maybe you are dyslexic, don’t let your struggle hold you back. We all need to be edited, even the majestic J.K Rowling.
The literary industry is powered by luck and keen-minded individuals. You should be curious. If you want to specialise in something, go specialise.
Keep going and don’t be discouraged was a theme of the night.
This post was written by the Promotions Team on the 2nd year BA (Hons) Creative Writing module Publishing, Production and Performance.