4 Tamar Karet remembers the women who spoke at WiP meetings and the importance of learning about sales
Well the speakers were all on subjects that we would ask at one of the meetings. I think we did it once or twice a year. Who would you all like, what topics would you like to have covered, or is it a particular speaker you’d like to have? And we would draw up a vast list and then sort of weed it through, and there would be one or two or maybe three women on the Committee who would be in charge of getting speakers.
We had some individual speakers who were women we were just interested in because there weren’t that many women who were very high up. Somebody did ask Marion Boyars to speak, Stephanie Dowrick, who had started The Women’s Press, she was one of the speakers, Lisa Appignanesi, Carmen Callil, who had set up Virago, Valerie Grove and Miriam Gross who were reviewers, so they were newspaper journalists dealing with the book trade and of course, this is still a point, a sore point, to look at book reviews, the number of books by women is tiny. There’s a kind of discrimination in who the literary editors ask to have reviewed, probably not intentional, but they are there.
There’s a specific one, Dale Spender talking about Man Made Language which is a very good book, she wrote, about how the language is skewed so that we forget to think about whether women are – and we had Margaret Drabble, Anna Coote, Sara Maitland, had a speaker on how to sell rights, I think I did that myself. A lot of Committee people would volunteer if we needed something on one of our subjects.
There was a speaker on sexism in children’s books. There was one on freelancing. There was also, and these were important, one on repping and also one, we had a couple of accounts sessions.
Repping was important, and this wasn’t me, but it’s something that I think I probably suggested, because when I was at Pitman – where all of a sudden I was the only woman on a board of 10 I think, and all the others were these Oxbridge men running the book departments – any time I suggested a book the sales reps, who would sit in on the meetings, would say ‘Tsch, that’ll never sell. They won’t go for that in Barnsley’ – it was one of their phrases, ‘They won’t go for that in Barnsley’. Barnsley was the litmus test, somehow. Because they had been on the road and they knew what was what.
And after a few months, I began to regret the fact that I had never gone on the road and tried to sell. And I began to realise that it was very important. An awful lot of men in publishing started that way, as reps. So I never did go on the road and I regretted it because I couldn’t counter what the sales reps said. And to this day I wish I had gone on the road for a while.
So, I’m probably the one who said, we really need to have some reps and I think, I’m not sure if we managed to find a woman rep, I think we did. There were very few of them. To talk about what it was like, ‘cos sales was an area we just didn’t learn about it. It was kind of beyond us. We would see charts at editorial meetings, and people would say things but nobody could ever counter ‘cos we didn’t understand it.
And, accounts was, of course, the other great grey area and I see that almost the first organised thing that Women in Publishing did in terms of training was to hold sessions on accounts: how to read balance sheets, how to account for things. Because if they were going to go out of just editorial roles into more managerial ones including being head of an editorial department ,you need to know how to do the accounts, you need to be able to understand the balance sheet. You don’t learn that just from editing and none of us were taught it.