Clare Millar interviews Laura Brading, Co-founder & Creative Director of WellRead, a book subscription service.
What did you study?
I started out doing Journalism and Political Science but it wasn’t long before I realised I wanted to move into Literature. I graduated with a degree in Creative Writing and Literature and did my honours in English.
Tell us a bit about your career journey so far.
I did the obligatory internships to begin with and then entered publishing through the very unorthodox door of HR. It was actually so valuable though as it gave me a holistic understanding of the business and I was able to meet a lot of people in different departments. Since then I’ve worked in marketing and publicity, digital and sales. Speak to most people in publishing and they’ll tell you they’ve worn many hats! After publishing I worked as a bookseller before starting up WellRead.
I see you started out with some internships at Hardie Grant and Griffith Review. How did these prepare you (or not!) for a career with books?
My internships were such valuable opportunities. They offered real insight into the inner workings of publishing and demystified some of the preconceived notions I had about the industry. It’s also a great way to meet people in what is a relatively small industry.
Tell us about going from working for other people in bookselling and publishing to creating your own business. What new challenges do you face?
It’s been so rewarding to have creative control and to be able to direct the focus of the business. I adored working in publishing but there were lots of times when the commercial aspect took over and I found myself working on books I didn’t feel very aligned with (it was work after all). I feel so grateful that my business allows me to funnel my passion for books into a professional capacity.
Of course there are challenges. As a small business owner it can be exhausting to action every little thing you want done. It’s been really encouraging that WellRead’s membership has increased to a size that makes it a viable business but this too presents challenges of scale and takes a lot of my precious reading time away (sob). But I’m learning as I go and am grateful to have a few wonderful people around me who provide professional (and emotional) support.
What does a typical day look like for as co-founder of WellRead? What skills make you successful in what you do?
Setting my alarm to read before sunrise is how I like to get things started (and is also the only way I can manage to read all of the books that must be read). My days vary depending on the time of the month. If it’s fulfilment time, you’ll find me packing books or hanging out with my friends at Australia Post. During quieter periods, I do a lot of liasing with publishers to hear about their forthcoming titles.
Add into the mix customer service, design work, social media management and website maintenance, and my days fill up pretty quickly. I’ve got two smallish children who also require a lot of my time so my hours are irregular. I don’t mind this arrangement though. Every day is different and that suits my personality and lifestyle rather well!
How do you make decisions about which books are chosen for the subscriptions?
Intuition is probably the best answer. My tiny team and I read a lot of books in preparation for this monthly decision. These are then reduced to a shortlist. Sometimes a book will stand out so much that the decision is an easy one and takes care of itself. Other times, we consider how the book fits into the overall reading program to ensure that content, representation and the reading experiences of the books are both diverse and rich. We hope that the thing that links all of our selections is a certain magic quality.
Do you think there’s space for more innovation in books and publishing businesses, more startups?
Absolutely! Publishing has changed quite a lot even in the relatively short time I’ve been involved with it so innovation is always a promise. Publishing is not a meritocracy, it is not fair, so the more representation, the better.
What is your main advice to current students of writing/literature/editing/publishing?
First of all, figure out if it’s your passion or your work. It can both, of course, but it’s a worthwhile question to ask yourself. Also, know that publishing/writing/editing aren’t lucrative for the most part. If it is the work you want to do, my advice would be to read as widely as possible, do the internships, go to the writers’ festivals, talk to booksellers, be a bookseller if you can, ask questions, be that unapologetic squeaky wheel. Persistence helps!
What are your hopes for the future of WellRead?
We would love to expand into more (IRL) events. More content. More curation. More features of emerging writers. More features of writers whose voices aren’t being heard. More great books. And more readers.
What are you excited or concerned about with the future of Australian books and publishing?
Last year was a bit of a reckoning for the publishing industry. The Black Lives Matter and Me Too movements in particular caused a lot of much-needed examination of the industry. As a result, imprints like Tiny Reparations (Penguin Random House US) curated by Phoebe Robinson and Joan (Allen & Unwin) curated by Nakkiah Lui have been launched and that can only be a good thing. I’m excited to read those books and see how the industry evolves.