2016/11/24  |  By:   |  Features  |  

Jo James, Literary Festival expert, book trade event manager extraordinaire, book lover, book champion, ex-Waterstones event guru – welcome to TeamBATC and thank you so much for finding the time to play ‘A Day in The Life Of…’.

So firstly, can you tell us your career highlights, and how you got to where you are today?

Where to start? Career highlights include getting to know some of the amazing authors I’ve worked with, and pulling all-nighters at various Harry Potter launches.  Back in the day when the book trade had budget, being flown out to Washington to meet Hillary Clinton was cool, as was having Lemn Sissay read his poem Invisible Kisses to me, on my birthday, in the desert in Dubai a year ago.  But there are no shortcuts, I’ve got where I am by doing it all for a very long time (25 years).  Many of the Publicity Directors and Sales Directors at key publishers are the people I’ve grown up with in the trade.

Is there such a thing as a typical day as a book event manager, and if so what does it look like?

No, every single day is different.  I’m a freelancer and I work from home, so if I’m in programming mode I can spend 12-15 hours at my desk writing and answering numerous emails, trying to convince publishers and authors that they want to come to whatever I’m working on that week. But if I’m running events or working on festivals, I can be out in shops or running a green room, which involves immense physical stamina.  I try and get round to see all the major publishers a couple of times a year, to talk to them about the various projects I work on, which includes a number of different festivals, and of course Books Are My Bag for the BA.

I’m sure you must get asked this 100 times a day, but, for the record, if I was a budding debut author, what would be your top tip to success?

Get an agent would be my number one piece of advice.  And don’t expect it all to fall into your lap.  Most successful authors these days work really hard on the promotion front – events, festival, social media – all are vital for getting your name known and your book read.

I’m obsessed with other peoples TBR piles, how high is yours? And do you have 2, one for work books and one for pleasure books?

I’ve got about a dozen books in my pile at the moment, which sits by my bed.  There are very few things that I HAVE to read, but sadly I don’t read anywhere near as much as I would like to.  I’m looking forward to retirement, when I can finally read some of the mountain of unread books I’ve got!

Have you got a best and worst part of the job, or is it all fabulous books, fabulous authors and fabulous launch parties?

I don’t get invited to launch parties anymore, although I used to when I was a bookseller.  So that’s an easy part to answer.  There is repetitive drudge in what I do (writing contract letters for 85 speakers for the Chiswick Book Festival, or the Stanfords Travel Writers Festival, for example), but they’re important and need to be done right.  And being on my feet for 15 hours a day for 10 days straight running the Writers’ Room at the Cheltenham Literature Festival is exhausting.  But I get to meet and talk to lots of fascinating people, and I only really read what I want to read, so I definitely can’t complain.  Being flown out to Dubai to run the Green Room at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature is pretty special too. 

Is there an author you’d sell a limb to work with, or have you met and worked with just about EVERYONE already?

Gosh, there are lots that I really love working with, and would be keen to work with more.  Probably my all-time hero would be Sir David Attenborough, I wish I could convince him to do more of the festivals that I work on.  Someone whose books I love and who I’ve never worked with is John Niven. I adore his books – really dark, but VERY funny, so it would be good to meet him.

What book do you most recommend to others?

Either The Amateur or Kill Your Friends – both by John Niven.  Both are those rare sorts of books that have you squirming and laughing in equal measure.  Brutal, but brutally funny.  They’re the books I recommend most often.

And lastly our quick fire trivia round…

Favourite literary hero? Lizzie Bennett from Pride and Prejudice.

Spring or Autumn? Spring for me – it’s the season of hope.

GBBO or Strictly Come Dancing? Neither – X-Factor (sorry!).

What’s your signature dish?  I love cooking, so I have a few.  I make a mean guacamole (thank you Fiona Noble for the original recipe), so people seem to love my chicken fajitas, and I make a decent risotto with prawn and chorizo.  And I love a Greek inspired lamb stew that I do, with courgettes, tomatoes, spuds and lots of spices – not hot, but really rich in flavour.  Slow cooked and served with crusty bread.  Perfect for this time of year. Yum.

The Night Manager or The Fall?  The Night Manager.

Favourite place to read?  In front of the fire, with my dogs and a glass of wine, while my husband Simon plays the piano.

Netflix and chill, or paint the town red?  Local pub for a couple of pints, then a good film.

What’s the secret to success?  Be nice, be positive, work hard, and don’t panic.  And never, ever take things personally.

Flats or heels?  Flats.  I don’t own any heels.

Famous last words?  Mine or someone else’s?  It it’s someone else, then it has to be “I told you I was ill”, Spike Milligan’s epitaph.  If it’s mine, then probably something like “Keep smiling – a positive attitude gets you a long way.”

You can reach Jo via her website.

PHOTO CREDIT  © Spencer McPherson