You’ve been the Senior Commissioning Editor at The Five Mile Press for six years. How did you get to where you are?
I applied for the position of Senior Editor in 2006, and during a restructure a year or so later my title was changed to Senior Commissioning Editor. It sounds more impressive than it is. Basically I project manage the adult list.
Are you also a writer?
I enjoy writing for my own amusement.
What do you look for in a manuscript?
Firstly it has to fit our parameters; it has to be something we believe we can sell. Many people seem to think books are books and publishers are publishers, but it’s not so. We see many a terrific manuscript that we can’t publish. The Five Mile Press tends to concentrate on non-fiction that is intrinsically Australian: history, memoir, true crime, sport.
Do you ever receive manuscripts that only require minor changes?
Yes, we do. But they always need a copyedit—even the best presented manuscripts need this.
What is your biggest challenge as an editor? What do you like and dislike about your job?
What I like about my job is the wide range of worlds I have the chance to enter, even if only peripherally. And I love the way the authors are so knowledgeable and passionate about their subjects, and therefore so focussed. It is so gratifying when we have an idea for a book, and then we find just the right person to carry it out. Every book is different and has a different set of challenges. Sometimes these challenges can make me forget what a great job it is!
What is your biggest gripe as an editor?
I suppose not having the funds to pay everyone what I think they’re worth. I’m really in awe of the people I work with—authors, editors, designers, illustrators, photographers—and compared with the kind of money that is paid in many industries, publishing is poverty-stricken, and people aren’t paid what they deserve. What amazes me though is how little greed there is. People realise that it’s not a big-money industry, and they do it because they love it.
How often are your authors represented by agents? Do you recommend literary agents to unpublished writers?
Sure, I’d recommend an author use a literary agent if I thought it could help them find a publisher. It’s probably vital for a fiction author to have an agent, but in non-fiction we just need to find the right people, and they can sometimes come from outside the literary world.
What is your most memorable experience as an editor?
One of my most memorable experiences has seen the rise and rise of Andrew Chapman’s photographic books. We first published Beyond Reasonable Drought, which is a work by the MAP collective of photographers, including Andrew, in 2010. We then published Andrew’s Woolsheds—photographing these ‘cathedrals of the bush’ has been a passion of his since the 1970s—and it’s been hugely successful. We are in the process of publishing the follow-up now; it’s called Around the Sheds. Next year we will publish his book Working Dogs (with Melanie Faith Dove).
Your favourite book or author (and why)?
I like all the books we publish and all the authors. I don’t have a favourite. They’re all special.
For rest and relaxation though I like reading fiction, and usually the bigger the better, but my favourite book of all time is a skinny one called Franny and Zooey by J D Salinger. I first read it when I was very young and I think it was the cause of my fascination with all things New York. I like to re-read it whenever I can.
For a big chunk of the story, Zooey is in the bath, talking to his mother in their apartment. The rest of the book, Franny’s story, is really about her breakdown and trying to find comfort in Eastern philosophy. Over-riding it all are the deaths of their two older brothers, one by suicide.
I think Salinger planned to write a whole suite of stories about the family, but I’m not sure that he did. Franny and Zoey is a gem. It transports you right into a moment in their lives, inside the walls of their apartment and right into their minds.
A book I’m reading at the moment which has really affected me is called Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo. It’s non-fiction, but reads like a novel, and tells the story of the lives of the inhabitants of a Mumbai slum. It’s heartbreakingly vivid, but amongst the horror there are moments of kindness and love, especially among the young people, that make you realise there is hope for humanity.
The author says the characters are all real, even the names haven’t changed. It challenges the way you think of fiction vs non-fiction, in somewhat the same way as Anna Funder’s All That I Am does.
Is The Five Mile Press currently seeking unsolicited submissions?
Yes, we are actively growing our adult list, so we welcome submissions. Please mark submissions to the attention of the Publishing Assistant. Our postal address is: The Five Mile Press, 1 Centre Road, Scoresby VIC 3179.
To find out more about The Five Mile Press and for publishing guidelines, visit fivemile.com.au.
The original version of this article was published as ‘Editor at Work: Julia Taylor’ in The Australian Writer issue 378 (December 2012–February 2013).