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My Job in 5: Karen Ball

Meet Karen Ball. Author, Head of UK sales for Working Partners and Director for Speckled Pen, publishing consultancy.
Written on 06/07/2023 - 14:25

Describe your role(s)

Multi-faceted, including writing, editing and liaising with the publishing industry. I work part-time as head of UK sales for the book packager Working Partners. The rest of the time (including weekends!) I run my publishing consultancy Speckled Pen, where I supply edits for children’s and adult publishers, authors and non-traditional clients. Every morning, before all of that, I write in bed with my dog by my side as a (sometimes unnecessarily) harsh critic. The louder the snores, the more I cut!


What do you like best about your role?

My work involves constant liaison with all sorts of publishing departments – editorial, contracts, finance, design – which I absolutely love. This really is a people industry.

You never get bored with the flexibility of a portfolio career. Plus, the autonomy. Oh, the bliss of independent thought! Having recently organised get-togethers for a group of children’s freelances (let me know if you’d like to join us!), I’ve seen how more and more skilled individuals are leaving salaries in order to explore other options – and this is working. Both for publishers and the people who want a flexible alternative to in-house.


Which new projects or titles are you working on at the moment?

At Working Partners we have a tween project called TURRIS that absolutely captured my heart! It’s set in a futuristic world where a girl and her friend must save everything she knows. But there is a massive twist that blew my mind.

Beyond that, my own debut adult novel – The Beauty Case ­– is due to come out in 2024 with Viking. I am a big fan of learning new skills in order to keep the old grey matter ticking over and discovering how to write an adult novel, with an expert agent and editor by my side, has been a joy and a privilege.


What skills do you need for your role(s)?

Other than excellent editing, empathy and people skills? This job involves receiving hard feedback, sending hard feedback and discussing hard feedback. You can’t do all of that while throwing hissy fits. As a freelance, I have been forced to become the queen of Excel spreadsheets and rigorous accounting. Forward planning! You can’t build a career if you don’t have context and a strategy. And feeding into that, the ability to pivot and be fleet of foot. I always ask for new opportunities because I’ve never minded the word no! Four hundred job applications to become an editorial assistant does that to a person.


What advice would you give to those looking to work in the industry?    

Embrace your stubborn streak. I see too many people become cowed the first time they’re rejected. Don’t be too grateful. Publishing needs you as much as you need publishing. Accept that you are entering a heady love affair that may prove impossible to leave. I wouldn’t do anything else in the world!  And knowing that, I always try to be amenable. This is a crazily small industry and your reputation matters. Be kind. Not just because you want to get ahead, but because anything else is a true waste of time and energy.