Jacquie Bloese worked in publishing for over 20 years and rose from being an editorial assistant to a publisher. She then made the difficult transition to become a successful published author. How did she do it, and what would be her advice for other aspiring writers? I found out in conversation with her at the Galley Club.
Jacquie, can you tell us how you got into the industry?
I did a degree in English and French at university, and when I graduated in the early 90s, the UK was in the middle of a recession. I decided to do what a lot of people were doing at the time – a month-long intensive TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) course. After that I found a job as an English teacher first in Turkey, and later in Barcelona.
When I came back to the UK, I applied for lots of entry-level editorial jobs in fiction – and got lots of rejections! Then a position came up at Oxford University Press that really suited my experience. They were looking for an editorial assistant who had teaching experience in their main markets of Turkey and Spain. So that was my way in. It was quite a circuitous route, but a good one and a great publishers to work for.
Was that an ELT (English Language Teaching) job?
Yes, that was in their English Language Teaching division. I was really happy to be there actually, even though it wasn’t a trade fiction role. There’s a lot of editorial input in developing teaching materials – the role is varied and the projects are big and multi-faceted. There was travel, too, so that made it really interesting.
I always felt like it was the right job for me, which I know isn’t always the case for people who make the transition from teaching to publishing. It’s very different kind of focus.
How did you progress through the industry?
I left OUP for the BBC and briefly worked subtitling programmes for the hard of hearing. I think I was secretly hoping a job would come up in the script editing department of EastEnders! Subtitling didn’t do it for me though, so I returned to publishing.
My next role was at Richmond Publishing (part of the Spanish media company, Santillana) as a
development editor. I was there for three years.Then a position came up in the UK office of Scholastic, the big American publisher of children’s books, magazines and foreign language magazines. They wanted to build up the ELT supplementary book list, with a particular emphasis on graded readers. I started there as a commissioning editor and progressed to publisher. I was there for fourteen happy years, and must have published hundreds of titles in that time!
At what point did you realise you wanted to write a novel? When you were at Scholastic? Or does it go back a long way?
It goes back a long way. I’ve always loved writing creatively and I used to mainly write short stories. Then when I was sixteen, I entered a competition which Just Seventeen magazine was running with Virago Press. I wrote a piece about school discos and to my delight it got selected for publication in an anthology of young womens’ lives. That was my first taste of seeing my work in print.
How did you start? Did you take any courses or did you just start writing in your spare time?
Just before I turned 40, I signed up for a short story evening class at City Lit. I really enjoyed it and writing became part of my weekend routine. My short stories started getting longer and a tutor suggested that I try writing a novel … and so I did.
That was about twelve years ago, and I did various evening classes, before doing the Curtis Brown Creative novel writing course. So there’s no doubt that the road to publication can be a very long one!
Can you tell us about your entry into the Good Housekeeping literary competition? How did that propel you to take further action?
Good Housekeeping Magazine were running a First Novel Competition with Orion Books. You had to submit the first 5000 words of your novel in progress and the prize was publication, representation by an agent and a sizeable advance.
I sent off the first chapter of the novel I was working on called After the Affair, and later found out I’d been shortlisted. And although I didn’t win, it was a real turning point because it felt like validation.
Did you make any connections through that, for example, with an agent?
I didn’t make any publishing contacts but I’m still in touch with a couple of people who were shortlisted too. The writing community is a close and supportive one which is great.
Did you ever think about self-publishing?
Yes. If I hadn’t got a publishing deal, I would definitely have self-published. We write to be read after all.
What advice would you give to others who want to transition to become a successful published author?
One of the things I found very helpful was doing courses. I began by doing evening classes, a very affordable way of improving your writing once a week. They don’t break the bank and they give you accountability. Being with other people who are also taking their writing seriously really helps too.
The thing you do need to write is time. Flexible working can help with this in terms of clawing back time. But the best piece of advice I could give would be to set up a routine, even if that’s just writing for two hours every Sunday, or an hour every day before or after work. Give writing the place it deserves in your life.
About Jacquie Bloese
Jacquie is a writer of historical fiction. Her debut novel The French House (Hodder and Stoughton), a gritty World War 2 love story, set on Occupied Guernsey, is out now. Her next novel The Golden Hour, set in 1890s fin-de-siècle Brighton, is in progress. She lives in Brighton, where she combines writing with her job as a freelance ELT consultant, writer and editor.
The French House is out in paperback on 8th December, 2022 and can be pre-ordered here:
About Annette Peppis
Annette leads the team at Peppis Designworks, a creative hub of established publishing industry experts who create books, branding, marketing material and design templates for leading publishers and businesses. Keep in touch by subscribing to Annette’s bi-monthly emails.