We talk publishing, Notes app poetry and Twitter bots with writer and editor, Siam Hatzaw
A self-proclaimed “Notes app poet”, Siam Hatzaw is building a career that satiates her appetite for literature. After applying for a year-long internship with Creative Access, Siam unexpectedly found herself recruited for a full-time editorial assistant position with publishing house Hachette. When she’s not busy writing copy, briefing creatives on cover designs and being the liaison between authors and literary agents, Siam volunteers as the prose and poetry editor for US-based publication Persephone’s Daughters and freelances as a writer, having penned articles for trailblazing publication gal-dem. Here, she talks getting inspired by Twitter poetry bots and the value of publications that platform underrepresented talent.
Editorial Assistant, Hachette
Prose and Poetry Editor, Persephone’s Daughters
Place of Study
BA English Literature, Theology and Religious Studies, University of Glasgow (2016–2020)
What I do
How would you describe what you do?
I work in the editorial team at publishing house Hachette, across two imprints [different trade names under which a publishing company publishes work]. My role involves liaising between authors, agents, freelancers and our sister imprint in New York – as well as our marketing, publicity and production departments – from a book’s acquisition through to publication and beyond.
As well as the editing of the books, my responsibilities include reading submissions, writing copy, briefing [creatives on] cover designs and managing prize entries and schedules. The most fun part of the job is the creative side – helping to develop ideas for new books and researching writers who could be a good fit for the project.
I also volunteer as an editor at Persephone’s Daughters, an arts and literature journal for domestic, sexual violence and child abuse survivors. I work in sub-teams to edit pieces that have been voted on by our team’s readers, give feedback to writers and prepare pieces for publication.
What kind of skills are needed to do your role?
You need to be able to spin many plates at once. You could be juggling the schedules of over 50 titles, with all of the admin that comes with them. It gets confusing, so you need a go-to organisational method that works for you. You also need an eye for detail, as it’s the editorial team’s responsibility to spot any inconsistencies.
There’s a lot of specific training once you start the role, whether that’s in e-books, managing systems or even legal training for contracts. But all of this can be picked up along the way! The main thing to show is your own editorial instinct. It’s not just about checking for mistakes – I’d say developing your tastes and being able to showcase your individual creativity is a more valuable skill.
“To work in publishing, the main thing to show is an editorial instinct – developing your tastes and being able to showcase your individual creativity is a valuable skill.”
Could you tell us about your freelance writing?
I’ve been freelancing as a writer for a few years now, mainly working on poetry, essays and articles. I started off in student journalism, and since then, I’ve been lucky enough to write for places like gal-dem, who’ve done amazing work to platform marginalised voices.
I was extremely lucky to publish my undergrad dissertation, which helped pave the way for independent research opportunities, where my focus is currently.
As for creative writing, I’ve been part of a few UK anthologies but it’s mostly been journals in the US – I’m now trying to find out more about the London scene! It’s difficult to balance pursuing both careers [simultaneously], especially when publishing requires a lot of overtime; spending evenings doing more freelance work can be exhausting. But I find that when there’s an idea in the back of my mind, realising it through writing creates its own kind of energy. Simply put: it brings me joy, so I think it’s worth it in the end.
Can you tell us more about your own poetry practice?
I’m definitely a Notes app poet. I don’t tend to sit down with a notebook and brainstorm ideas; my practice is a bit more chaotic than that, to be honest. I’ll write absolutely nothing for months on end, then get up at 1am with something stuck in my head. I collect interesting lines and phrases that I come across and weave them together as connections start to form. Scrolling through my Notes app, it looks so unhinged – a diary of out-of-context one-liners that may one day become a fully fleshed out piece.
My first poem was published in From Glasgow to Saturn. It was a eulogy I’d written after my gran died around my birthday, and having it out in the world felt cathartic in a way I wasn’t expecting. It was a way of processing the complications of my grief, something I found difficult to sound out in conversations.
So I started submitting to journals outside of my city, where I knew the readership would be strangers. It became a way of reflecting on things I found difficult to express in my “real” life. It worked out surprisingly well for me last year when I received a nomination for US literary prize, Best of the Net, for my first flash fiction piece on separation, summer and the intimacy of having your hair cut. Sometimes oversharing to strangers pays off.
“I’m definitely a Notes app poet. I collect interesting lines and phrases in my notes and weave them together as pieces start to form.”
What recent project are you most proud of?
I wrote a chapter for a forthcoming collection of essays published by Oxford University Press on sexual racism.
My essay will be on the politics of desire for women of colour, cross-reading Audre Lorde’s essays Uses of the Erotic and Poetry Is Not A Luxury with ancient erotic literature within the Bible. I loved combining my interests in literature and theology with my beliefs, reflecting on racism within (mis)translation, desirability politics for racialised people and embracing joy, intimacy and connection as modes of resistance and celebration.
How I got here
How did you land your roles at Hachette and Persephone’s Daughters?
I landed my publishing job slightly unconventionally. I was applying for the year-long Creative Access internship. They had an assessment day which some Hachette staff were involved in and afterwards, they called to offer a permanent role. I’m so grateful for the support of Creative Access – they’re an organisation that’s been instrumental in helping underrepresented people get into the creative industries.
For Persephone’s Daughters, I’d followed the founder’s poetry blog for a while and applied after seeing her call-out when she was starting the journal back in the days of Tumblr.
Even if you’re not actively posting on social media, it’s a great place for finding opportunities. Turn on notifications for publications you enjoy reading, follow writers and editors you admire, and keep an eye on places like Creative Access, who do vital work.
“Turn on social media notifications for publications you enjoy reading, follow writers and editors you admire and keep an eye on places such as Creative Access.”
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
Oddly, both roles started online. Persephone’s Daughters is US-based so I’ve never actually met any of the team in person, but we communicate via email, Discord and social media.
I joined Hachette during lockdown, so that was also online for the first few months. This made it a lot harder to find my feet – trying to get to grips with a new role and get to know my colleagues through a screen – but we got there eventually!
If you could pick three things that you’ve found useful or inspiring to your creative work or career, what would they be and why?
In industries that often make you feel like a fish out of water if you’re working class, a person of colour, queer or an otherwise marginalised identity, following publications with an ethos of platforming these voices can be really affirming. The recent closure of gal-dem was such a loss for the industry – they truly paved the way and made space for writers and artists of colour to be heard and held. We need independent media now more than ever, and gal-dem have shared a list of publications and a directory of contributors to support.
Finding time for reading can be difficult, so I put on podcasts or audio recordings from my favourite writers when I’m feeling stuck. Both Audre Lorde and bell hooks have some great interviews on YouTube. I also like the On Being podcasts from Poetry Unbound.
It’s a bit odd, but I find that following Twitter bots that post snippets of writing quite useful as well! There’s a queer lit bot, an Anne Carson bot, a POC poetry bot… sometimes reading a sharp one-liner whilst you’re scrolling through your feed can prompt a new idea.
What would you say has been your biggest challenge in your creative journey so far?
It’s no surprise that the creative industries are a struggle for people from working class backgrounds. Many of these roles, especially freelancing, require a level of financial security. It’s hard to find time and energy to hone your craft whatever that may be, whilst maintaining work that pays the rent. We don’t have a safety net.
On a more emotional level, it’s disheartening to see the lack of diversity that persists even with all of these schemes – publishing is predominantly a white, middle-class industry, so imposter syndrome can really take a hold.
What have been your greatest learnings with making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
For publishing, I’d say talking to your colleagues and friends in the industry. Salary transparency is invaluable, especially if you’re in one of the ‘Big Five’ [publishing] houses – as well as being able to compare your responsibilities and form a supportive network.
As for freelancing, I’ve learned the importance of valuing your time, skills and energy. Be aware of the average word rate on commissions for the publication you’ve pitched to, for example, so you aren’t being underpaid.
How important would you say social media and self-promotion are to your work?
I’m not very active on social media, so I don’t do much self-promotion – and when I do, it tends to be months later when I remember to share something!
I’m trying to get better at it. I’ve learned through publishing that social media can be quite important for writers. This doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a content creator with a huge platform – you can definitely be successful without it, but new writers with potential are sometimes discovered by agents or publishers just through an interesting tweet. Establishing a strong sense of voice and identity can get you noticed.
I only made my profiles public when I wrote an article in response to the Atlanta shootings, as I received messages asking if people could share it. So although self-promotion isn’t integral to my work – at the moment anyway – I do recognise that social media can be a valuable tool for activism and awareness.
What’s the best career-related advice you’ve ever received?
That it’s all about community. This hasn’t come from one person specifically, but is something I’ve learned or witnessed in action. Having support you can lean on is invaluable, whether that’s helping each other out, hyping each other up, or just having a vent! On a personal level, it would be giving yourself the grace to rest when you need to, and the encouragement to take a risk.
What advice would you give someone looking to get into editorial and creative writing?
Finding volunteer-based newspapers and magazines are a great way of gaining editorial experience if you’re starting out. My student journalism experience as features editor at Glasgow Guardian and content coordinator for Gum (Glasgow University Magazine) taught me a lot and was a fun intro to media! Also, follow places like The Bookseller, that regularly post entry-level jobs.
For creative writing, share your writing when you can. Share it with friends, get feedback and try it again. Get together to create your own zines and projects, which is how I started out. Then when it comes to submitting to publications, or even agencies, you’re already used to putting your work out there. Seek out publications that you enjoy reading. Search for ones that suit your individual taste. If they have a social media channel, follow it and look out for submission call-outs as they come around. Don’t be afraid to take a punt – I once submitted a photo of a hand-written, scribbled page from my journal. It’s your art, have fun with it – anything goes!
Interview by Frankie Faccion
Mention Siam Hatzaw