The Insider: Katie Bennett

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Bright Group is starting a new blog series, The Insider, one where we interview influential people in the publishing industry. These interviews will give everyone great insight into the industry for all readers, authors, illustrators, agents and publishers! (All of the images below are from the Internet, and are not Bright’s self-promotion. They are solely for visual references.)

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This week we interviewed Art Director Katie Bennett, who works at Egmont UK. Continue reading below to learn all about Katie, Egmont and the world of children’s publishing!

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Talk us through your career in publishing, including key milestones and your current position as Art Director at Egmont. 

After leaving university, I was given the opportunity to do work experience for Hodder and Stoughton. Having spent a couple of weeks there, I was asked if I would like to have a freelance contract working across a few different departments. I started my role in the marketing department, creating a variety of promotional material from posters and postcards to booklets and catalogues. From there I moved to the religious books department. It was an area I had never thought about exploring, but it gave me great experience in capturing the correct emotion for a book cover using imagery. I was introduced to picture libraries and exploring the Internet. It also gave me the chance to experiment with typography. After a few months, I had the opportunity to move over to the Children’s department. This was very exciting as it enabled me to combine my love of typography with illustration. I gained so much experience learning how to brief illustrators and make words come to life through pictures.

After six months I was contacted by the Art Director at Scholastic Children’s Books, as they were looking for a designer to join their team. I am very happy to say I was successful! For me, my career really started there. I was extremely fortunate to be working with a fantastic team of people headed up by the brilliant Art Director, Alison Gadsby. After a very short time I was give a number of series and titles to look after, including Point Horror and Goosebumps.

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It was so much fun, not only working with wonderful illustrators, but also being able to be creative with typography. I learnt so much about the technical side of publishing and designing a book and working with production on finishes. After a couple of years I was promoted to Senior Designer and given the opportunity to manage other designers and eventually looked after the Fiction list. I worked at Scholastic for four and a half years, and it was one of the best times in my life.

Towards the end of my time at Scholastic I had a sabbatical for six months, and while travelling I decided it was time to experience other publishers. So I went freelance for a while and worked at Random House Children’s Books. It was a lot of fun! Again I worked with a great bunch of people and I broadened my portfolio working on picture books, as well as fiction. However, as much as I loved the world of publishing and children’s books, I had always had a huge passion for fashion and photography and a desire to enter the world of fashion magazines.

After a few knock backs I was lucky enough to start designing for a ladies magazine called ‘B’. It was exciting, fast pace and I really enjoyed the photo shoots. After a month I was made Deputy Art Director. It was a very different experience to children’s books, and although glamorous, I found it less creative and too formulaic. I missed working with illustrators and my passion for typography. After a year with the magazine I left and began working as a Senior Designer for Puffin. It was a great time to join as they were just entering the world of Artemis Fowl. I worked across the fiction list creating series like ‘My Secret Unicorn’.

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Again I had a brilliant time working with many wonderful illustrators, but after two years the opportunity came up to move to Egmont UK and I decided that was the next step in my career. I was very fortunate to become Art Director within six months of joining, and am still here 11 years later!

Tell us about the Art department, how is it structured and what’s the working environment like?

Egmont UK is made up of two separate divisions – Egmont Press and the Egmont Publishing Division; books and magazines.

I am the Art Director for Egmont Press. I oversee 7 lists: Fiction, Picture Books, Pre-School, Red Shed (Non-Fiction), Classics, Heritage & Gift.

I have two Deputy Art Directors – Benjamin Hughes who oversees Fiction & Heritage and Sarah Malley who oversees all the remaining lists. Ben’s Fiction team consists of a Senior Designer, Designer and Junior Designer. Sarah’s team consists of two Senior Designers and one Designer. We also have a few freelancers on our teams.

Egmont is a really fun, friendly and exciting place to work. It is continually evolving and we are always exploring new areas to develop. You have the opportunity to get involved in a variety of projects. This is one of the many reasons why I have stayed for such a long time!

What has been your favourite project to work on so far?

I would have to say Mr Gum – it was a dream series! Brilliantly written, hilariously funny and gave me the designer and the wonderful illustrator David Tazzyman a chance to bring the fantastic stories to life. It was an opportunity to be so creative with not only the illustrations, branding and series look, but also the inside layout. Both myself and the Publisher, Leah Thaxton, really wanted this series to attract boys, as well as girls, and in particular reluctant readers.

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We felt this style of writing with it’s fabulous humour and imagination would be perfect to draw in children that don’t ordinarily chose to read, to the world of Mr Gum. I spent a lot of time thinking about the inside layout, making it attractive, mixing illustrations with manageable bit size chunks of text enabling the reader to feel satisfied with their reading experience.

Are there any current projects you can tell us about – even little snippets of details?

We have a many really exciting projects we are working on, but if I tell you I would have to kill you!

I am very excited that our fantastic Barry Loser was chosen for World Book Day. It will be great to see the series get into the hands of more children. It’s brilliant … Jim Smith is super talented, he writes and illustrates the books.

What do you look for in an illustrator?

Someone who can take a text and bring it to life. Add their own unique twist which adds another dimension to the story. Characterisation is important – being able to carry a character through a story. I also look at colour palette. That combined with a confident line can create the perfect style.

What can illustrators do to raise their profile and get your attention?

I think social media is very important for illustrators now. They should be blogging and tweeting, enabling people to follow them and keep up to date with their current projects.

What makes a great children’s book character?

Creating a character with a strong identity that children can relate to or aspire to be. Or taking a different approach, letting the imagination run free creating funny, quirky, colourful off the wall characters that enables children’s minds to go wild.

What are your favourite children’s books, and why?

That is a hard question as there are so many wonderful books out there!

Where the Wild Things Are because of the child’s wonderful imagination running through the story and stunning illustrations.

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We’re Going on a Bear Hunt because I love the repetition and actions you can do while reading it. My son, Joshua, loves it, so I am regularly swishing and swashing through long wavy grass!

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Enid Blyton’s Malory Towers because they were my favourite as a child. I read them cover to cover and then started again. They bring back happy memories.

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What’s the best piece of career advice someone has given you?

Don’t ever give up – if you want something enough you will succeed.

Don’t get too emotionally attached when designing, a rejected design doesn’t mean it’s not a good design.

What do you like about working with Bright’s artists?

They are commercial, reliable and passionate.

What are Bright’s best quality?

They have a fantastic breadth of talent. They keep publishers up to date with both old and new artists. They understand the industry we are in and the demands and challenges we [publishers] face.