Molly Flatt is comment editor of The Bookseller where she also co-programmes FutureBook – the biggest book conference in the UK.
Molly is the author of sci-fi novel The Charmed Life of Alex Moore, as well as a journalist and copywriter. She is currently writing her second novel.
When did you first realise you wanted to become a journalist?
I never did and I never have. I still find it strange when people describe me as a journalist, because I haven’t trained in journalism. I did an English literature degree then worked in tech for many years in culture change consultancy for tech companies, and for one of the first social media agencies.
I’m an accidental journalist, and feel like a perpetual imposter and outsider, but I guess learning on the job is a pretty good training ground.
How did you enter the profession (education/training etc)?
I wrote everywhere for free for years while I worked full time. I pitched to be tech and culture blogger for The Guardian – I think they were looking for fresh voices – and got paid a little bit, then a bit more in other places and gradually ramped up the paying work.
I learned that what really mattered was that I knew about a subject and was passionate about it. I was interested in and had knowledge and experience of the tech world, and a love of books, culture and theatre (I’d trained as an actress as well). I could talk about how tech was impacting on culture and that made me sellable.
What was your first job in journalism?
Someone I’d worked with founded a tech website and publication and asked me to be associate editor; he’d seen me talk and write about tech and he’d read my freelance stuff.
Someone else I knew asked me to be the digital editor of their new fashion and lifestyle magazine. I think I was the only person she knew who had worked in digital content creation and did digital stuff.
What was the first story you wrote?
When all of the other children were out in the garden, in the village, or playing with friends, I would be sitting upstairs in my room writing stories. When I was a jobbing actress and temping, I used to finish my work quickly then spend the rest of the day writing stories.
What media titles have you worked for during your career?
I’ve written for The Memo, Phoenix, The Guardian, the BBC, the Evening Standard and The Bookseller. I speak regularly on Radio 4 and Radio London, and at events and festivals.
I still do corporate copywriting as well because I love it.
What’s the most difficult story you’ve worked on?
The Companion, which specialises in 80s and 90s sci-fi, commissioned me to write a piece on The X Files because I’m a rabid X Files fan. I thought it was going to be fun, but it turned into a piece that was actually about my father’s dementia, and memory, and saying goodbye to my childhood home.
I think it was the most difficult and probably the best piece I’ve written. It’s not really journalism, it’s more of an essay. I think sometimes it’s much harder to be vulnerable than objective and snappy.
Unlike with my novels, I guess with journalism I try to keep myself relatively distant because it’s not about me. Whereas this one was about me and that mixing was really challenging.
Who’s the most famous person you’ve interviewed?
I was part of a masterclass asking questions of Frank Spotnitz, who was the writer of The X Files, so he’s pretty famous.
I’ve interviewed quite a few people who are famous in the publishing industry, but not necessarily anywhere else, like Tim Hely Hutchinson.
I co-founded Big Book Weekend during lockdown – an online book festival – with Kit de Waal, and I interviewed comedian Greg Davies as part of that.
I also interviewed Roxanne Gay -, she’s a hero of mine and a writer.
For Phoenix, I interviewed ballet dancer Eric Underwood. He was a soloist with The Royal Ballet and also a model – he was a favourite to interview.
Describe your working day.
Often I get a copywriting brief – I work for a change consultancy and write for all of their different clients. I’ll work on that all day then send it off at the end of the day.
Otherwise, I try and do a bit of novel writing first thing for a couple of hours, just to prove to myself that I’m getting my priorities straight. Then I will open my emails, and at the moment do a mixture of fielding emails about FutureBook, seeing who’s confirmed or dropped out of being a speaker on our programme, and accepting pitches for our comment section.
I also commission pitches for our comment section in The Bookseller. If I have been sent a couple of pieces, I edit them, then send back the edits or finalise them and add them to the website to go live at some point that week. If something has kicked off in the publishing industry – if there’s some news or a Twitter debate going on – I might find someone to write about it.
My day is some kind of juggling of all of these things, and then I always try to go back and do a block of a few hours on my novel at some point.
Is it difficult balancing writing and a young family?
My daughter is in school and my son goes to nursery three days a week. So I have three long working days, but it makes it possible for me to have Thursday and Friday free to spend with them. And the great thing is I can see our school from my window. So the kids go at 8am and I’m at my desk by 8.30am.
I’ve always been slightly dogged by the thought that I will never fulfil my true potential as a writer because I can’t do the stuff all the writing books say. But it’s impossible if you’re a woman who isn’t independently wealthy, and has two kids.
But you know, I think it teaches me more about life. I learn much more about my own emotions. It keeps me connected to the world. I’m as much of a writer as I can manage to be without totally sacrificing all of life I guess – because you need life for writing.
I feel incredibly lucky. It’s only since my first book was published that I’ve really been able to dedicate work time to writing the novel, rather than spare time. It’s taken me pretty much 40 years to get there, to earn enough to cover my costs and a bit more. And to just write and not have to do other things, I feel incredibly privileged.
With deadlines and the fast-paced environment of journalism, it must be quite a pressurised and stressful job. How do you relax in your spare time?
Yoga. I get up at 6am and between 6 and 7 I do an hour of yoga and online ballet videos. It saves me because I have such a sedentary job and yoga is incredible.
Writing a novel is the hardest thing, it’s harder than journalism for me, but it’s also a great respite from journalism.
Being with the kids is great, brings you back to earth and stops you being self-obsessed, puts everything in perspective. And nature. I’m from the country originally so whenever things start getting to me, I go to the park or anywhere green, or to my mum who still lives in the country.
How do you prefer to be contacted by people (email, telephone etc)?
Email always. I’m a written word girl. I like email because I can control it – check them when I want and respond when I want.
What day/time is best to contact you?
Every day is different, again it depends when I look at emails. I pick times to engage.
How can people submitting news stories best grab your attention with their press
Think about what the editor wants, do your research properly. In my case, I’m after first person, timely, opinion pieces. I get a fair amount of pitches that are features or interviews and that’s no good.
Don’t be self-promotional – find your angle and theme. Be honest and vulnerable about your journey and your challenges if you’re pitching a piece about your product or your business. Use your experience and knowledge gained from your business to have an opinion. Come across as smart, balanced and well informed – don’t just talk about how good your business is.
Know what you’re trying to say – what is your point and is it fresh and sharp?
Think about the headline – how is the editor going to know what your story is about in one sentence?
How important is it for people to supply photographs/images with their press releases?
It depends on the publication. For fashion and beauty magazines it’s very important, but for our comment section it’s not really important. Keep your press release as short and succinct as possible, and tailor it to the publication.
What advice can you give on the type of photographs/images to supply?
For The Bookseller, images should be high-res jpegs, as high res as possible. Generally, it depends on whether photos are for digital or print, and what section they’re for.
Molly can be contacted at: email@example.com