Interview with a Publisher

Interview with Cecilia West Publisher at Messenger Publications

What does your job involve?

I am the Publisher at Messenger Publications which is the book and magazine publishing organisation of the Irish Jesuits. My job involves responsibility for almost everything, so I manage the staff, project manage the books and magazines, shape the list and ensure that we run as a professional publishing house. We publish The Sacred Heart Messenger which has appeared every month since 1888 and still sells 50,000 each month. We also publish Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review which goes to universities all around the world. Messenger has always published magazines, but part of my remit has been to build up the book publishing side over the past four years and this year we will publish about 25 new titles: booklets, books and three fabulous photographic coffee table books.

What drew you to publishing?

That old cliché: I want to work with books! In 1981 I wrote to 50 publishers in London telling them I was coming to London for a week and asking could I meet with them. Forty-seven wrote back and said “no”! Virago were in their infancy then and explained that their entire staff would be in Australia that week! I still have all those letters. Three publishers agreed to meet me and all three subsequently contacted me when suitable jobs arose. My first job was with André Deutsch, who were a well-known literary publisher with names such as V. S. Naipaul, Jean Rhys, and Norman Mailer on their list. In those days everyone travelled to London by boat and train. The night I travelled to my interview at Deutsch there was a terrific storm which made me late. The sophisticated London publishers who interviewed me were so amazed that I had come on a boat through a storm that they gave me the job!

How have you developed your career?

I fell into religious publishing by chance when I returned from London to Dublin, but have stayed there for most of my career and it has become my genre of expertise. I worked with Veritas, Wolfhound Press and then stayed with The Columba Press for 25 years, mainly in sales and marketing.

Why is publishing a great place to be?

The best thing about publishing is that you are producing “new products” nearly every month. Each book requires different treatment from start to finish and you are working with something never produced before, with all the attendant risk and excitement. Publishing books, a magazine and a journal makes the job really interesting. The people I work with at Messenger, along with the publishers, printers, reps, distributors etc are what make the job such fun. There is a lot of laughter in our office.

What is the current trend in Irish publishing?

Religious publishing is surprisingly healthy, considering the decline in church attendance. There are plenty of people still interested in spirituality, although they may no longer come from traditional religious backgrounds. The forthcoming visit of Pope Francis (a Jesuit!) and the World Meeting of Families should give us a boost!

Have you advice for anyone looking to work in publishing?

My advice to anyone wanting to work in publishing would be to read as much as possible to improve grammar and literacy; see the world and gain plenty of life experience; remember there is more to publishing than editorial; and persevere! You will get there eventually.



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