Presentation and interview of The Novella Project

The Novella Project (Holland House Books) – ITW #11

The Novella Project (tutored by Holland House Books and supported by Arts Council England) is the ambitious reunion of two teams, each working on two books published each year.

Each party (including the author) comes from under-represented minorities and/or working class backgrounds. The main goal of The Novella Project is to learn: the merry teams are composed of interns with bright dreams and ever-growing motivations. Layout, marketing, editing, typography… Many fields and duties are put under the spotlight. Of course, authors can be directly involved too.

With the precious help of Holland House Books founder Robert Peett, we were lucky enough to interview Phaidra Robinson, Mia Skevington, Yinka Olanyia and Isabel Cash, all team members of The Novella Project. Find the results of their work at the end of this article!

Teamwork, responsibilities, communication and business vision, this interview is your opportunity to learn from these publishers in the making.

Our interview with The Novella Project:

The Novella Project logo

Where does your interest for publishing come from?

Phaidra Robinson: I’ve always loved books and the idea of contributing to making something that can be enjoyed long after I worked on it appealed to me. Publishing is a sector that’s also constantly changing and I’d love to be a part of such a diverse and creative career.

Mia Skevington: A book can take me away from my own life, away from all the daily worries and issues. Every aspect of a book is part of this experience for me and there is nothing that I would enjoy more than experiencing every stage of the creation of each aspect.

Yinka Olanyia: The whole process from the germ of the idea to the finished publication which will be read and maybe even passed down has always fascinated me. The book is not only comprised of the story, but also the typography, the design and the other visual elements that make a book what it is.

Isabel Cash: I agree with Yinka, being involved in creating a book that can be loved and cherished is something that excites me. I think being a part of that process is something really special.

About Phaidra Robinson,
Head of Editorial for the Rain God.

She is from Bristol and studied her BA English Literature degree at the University of Reading and graduated in July 2019. She is the co-founder and editor for The Open Page Literary Journal and hoping to progress in her publishing career to become an editor. Her favourite genres of literature are thrillers and fantasy novels and she’s a keen traveller.

Find Phaidra on LinkedIn.

Phaidra has two blogs: The Open Page and Book Voyage Reviews.

Phaidra Robinson interview for slow culture

Some might think that a career in publishing is a siding for people who wouldn’t be able to succeed as authors. We think that it’s not the case, and that there’s no qualitative hierarchy. Prove them wrong?

Phaidra: The phrase ‘a writer is only as good as their editor’ may be old, but it has some truth. A writer may be amazing but without the right publishing team behind them their work won’t be read, so it’s definitely a symbiotic relationship.

Mia: I am not a writer, I could not be a writer and I do not want to be a writer. I respect and admire writers since they can, and do, write and this is why I do all that I can do to turn their writing into a book.

Yinka: There will always be professions that run alongside each other and it doesn’t mean that one is more important than the other. Not every curator is an artist and not every publisher wants to be an author.

Isabel: Authors and publishers work together very closely, so there isn’t a hierarchy. They are both essential to the process in their own right. Publishing relies on creativity and dedication just as much as the authors do, there is no siding!

About Mia Skevington,
Head of Production for Rain God.

Mia Kensington from The Novella Project.jpeg

She graduated from the University of Reading with an English Literature BA in July 2019 but is originally from Brighton. Mia is currently a co-founder and editor for the Open Page Literary Journal and manages its website. She is in process of striving for a career in publishing, most particularly she is interested in literary agency and production. In her spare time, she balances playing with her hamster with her passion for rom com novels.

Find Mia on LinkedIn.

Mia shares The Open Page with Phaidra.

Looking at The Novella Project’s back catalogue, what is your favorite title and why?

Mia: To answer a slightly different question, when I look at the back catalogue I see all the titles as evidence of an ongoing collaboration between debut author and young publisher that has been wholly facilitated by The Novella Project.

Isabel: Like Mia, this is slightly different as it isn’t a novella, but I have to mention ‘This is not a Book About Charles Darwin’ by Emma Darwin because I enjoyed it so much!

Note from Slow Culture: Emma’s Why I Write is coming soon!

About Yinka Olaniyan,
Head of Marketing and Publicity for Rain God.

She is an English Language and Literature Undergraduate at the University of Reading. She currently co-hosts a podcast called Too Triggered. As well as presenting, she enjoys practising yoga and playing with her two cats, Pepper and Edith.

Link to Too Triggered, her podcast.

Link to her blog: Being With Books.

Yinka Maria from The Novella Project

What are the challenges faced by the project and its process, and what are their most valuable teaching?

Phaidra: I think the process of communicating mostly by email has sometimes made things challenging but I’ve enjoyed the learning opportunity this has given me. I’ve definitely enjoyed being able to work as a team despite being in different areas of the country!

Mia: The project requires a lot of self-motivation and initiative. All correspondence takes place on email and thus there is no one to turn up at your desk and demand you meet a deadline that instant: you have to work for yourself.

Yinka: Most of our work and discussions are online, so rather than miscommunication there was sometimes a communication delay. We all have varied schedules which results in more drawn out processes. Positively, this means we’ve learnt to communicate clearly and concisely.

Isabel: The long-distance working is a challenge but has also helped me improve some essential skills. Independent thinking and taking initiative has been vital throughout this project and I now have much more confidence in my ability to work independently.

About Isabel Cash,
Head of Marketing and Publicity for Mirrors:

Isabel Cash from The Novella Project.jpeg

She is a recent graduate from the University of Reading with a degree in BA English Literature. Isabel is currently working as a Sales and Marketing intern for an academic publishing company called Critical Publishing and she is looking forward to pursuing new publishing opportunities in the new year. In her spare time, Isabel loves reading science fiction books and DC comics and she has a passion for cooking vegan food for her friends and family.

Find Isabel on LinkedIn.

The Novella Project’s spirit is about two teams working on different books, but not competing directly. How do you avoid this spirit of competition? Comparison seems psychologically unavoidable, how do you handle it?

Phaidra: I think because both novellas are so different and we’re so passionate about our individual projects it’s much more about working together to produce the best work.

Mia: It never felt like a competition and it never will as we are in fact one team. We began the project together and we will end it together. The two books began as two separate submissions and will end as two seperate books.

Yinka: There was never a time I felt in competition with anyone because we’re all young people, all interested in publishing and all working under the same project. We want what’s best for each other.

Isabel: It seems strange, but it hasn’t felt like a competition at all! I know that I could go to the other group for advice and they could do the same with me. I celebrate their successes just as much as my own.

If one human value was mandatory to work in publishing, which one would it be and why?

Phaidra: Adaptability – being able to work hard both on your own and in a team while keeping up with the changing industry is all about being adaptable to the workplace.

Mia: Attention to Detail- Knowing that working in fine detail is a skill that only you can bring to your own work. No one can do it for you and it cannot be ignored: every detail matters.

Yinka: Flexibility. Being open to trying new things, both with the roles you might take on and the books you work on is essential. I think being okay with going back to the drawing board and a general open-mindedness is helpful in this industry.

Isabel: Definitely perseverance. The publishing industry is highly competitive and constantly changing so it is easy to feel like you’re being left behind. Being able to keep moving forward despite any setbacks is really important in all areas of the industry.

Book cover of Mirrors by Devjani Bodepudi

Devjani Bodepudi, Mirrors

“Shika fit in with difficulty, neither here nor there, but she was content with herself, her family, and her world. She had needed nothing more until her father’s death. After that, she wondered if there was another version of herself somewhere out there, a ‘missingness’ that could be found.”

Publication date: 05/12/2019

Order now!

Book cover of Rain God by Ian Dowson

Ian Dowson, Rain God

Every second, every minute, every hour for five years: the incessant rat a tat-tat of rain. The rain has come and so has the killing. Rain and death in a city where madness is winning: it infects the sewers, lives in pipes, has a hook for a hand, no eyes and filed teeth. Insanity has swallowed the city, washed it down with rain and now there will be Payne.

Publication date: 05/12/2019

Order now!


The Novella Project page (via the Holland House Books website)  / Facebook / e-mail.

Interview by Marc Louis-Boyard for Slow Culture.

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