Rachel Wood studied Philosophy at university and then went on to get a Master’s in Creative Writing.
She has spent the last nine years working as a copywriter, first inside a big glamorous marketing agency and then as a freelancer in her pyjamas (also very glamorous).
An avid reader herself, Rachel Wood who set up the business a little over a year ago is passionate about the fact that reading really doesn’t need to feel like a trip to the dentist; ultimately good for you but not necessarily that enjoyable an experience. She only recommends books she has personally read, loved and would genuinely share with friends.
Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role
I’m Rachel, I’m the founder of an online book club and book subscription service called Rare Birds Book Club. Behind the scenes I pretty much do a bit of everything but when pushed to give myself a title I usually say I’m the Editor; the most important part of my job is selecting the books and writing about them for our members.
Rare Birds launched in October 2017. Books aren’t going anywhere but I do think the way we find things to read is changing. We love the convenience of shopping online but the volume of choice is overwhelming and reading reviews doesn’t always offer much insight.
The feedback I was getting from friends was that they’d make more time to read if they trusted they would like the book they sat down with. I knew there was an appetite for expert curation. People still want physical books, but we want the process of finding them to be a little more special, a little more current.
So for me it was about providing a digital experience that could complement the physical aspect of reading. I wanted to set up a service that said – look how wonderful reading is. Look how fun it is. Look at these amazing books. We’ll give them to you – we’ll connect you with readers just like you who don’t take themselves too seriously.
Did you ever sit down and plan your career?
No! Or if I did, it was completely different to what I’m doing now. I love reading but my first love was really writing. I did a Master’s in Creative Writing at the University of Edinburgh and spent most of my early 20s sitting in a cafe staring out the window dreaming about all the books I wanted to write.
Oddly though it all came together anyway and brought me to where I am now. My first proper grown up job was working as a copywriter in a digital marketing agency, where I learned a lot about branding and how to build a website. My degree was about writing but it was also a lot about reading, too. I love stories and storytelling and it’s that interest that formed the basis of Rare Birds.
Have you faced any challenges along the way?
Yes, daily! There were lots of things I didn’t know how to do when I started out; I had no experience in publishing and just working out the nuts and bolts of how to run the business was a huge challenge. It’s never the case that everything is magically all figured out. Every time the business grows you’re faced with a whole new set of problems that need to be solved, both big and small. There are definitely days it feels overwhelming, but for the most part those challenges are what also makes running a business so much fun.
What has been your biggest achievement to date?
I’m not sure this would be called an achievement specifically but the thing that makes me feel the most proud of the work I’m doing is when subscribers tell me the book club has helped them discover (or rediscover!) their love of reading. That’s a very cool feeling, and definitely helps me power through some of the lower ebbs.
What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?
Enthusiasm, probably. When I first started the business I thought that for what I lacked in skills or experience I could bridge with a genuine passion and enthusiasm for what I was trying to do. You can figure out your accounting or hire an accountant to help you, but you can’t fake a love of what you’re doing.
You need a lot of buy-in from others when you’re running a business; I need potential customers to want to buy the product. I need other businesses to want to work with me. I need to hire people who are inspired to work hard to achieve our goals. Very often it’s enthusiasm that helps to start light those fires.
How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?
I don’t have a mentor but I do have a business coach, which is similar in some ways. I feel extremely strongly about coaching; working with a coach has helped me figure out some major challenges and helped me see the the bigger picture.
If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Parity, what would it be?
Demand women are involved in decision-making, at every level. My experience is that women have strong, valid opinions and are more than willing to share them and challenge the status quo but are so often excluded from decision-making process that they never have the chance. Imagine how quickly things would change if women were being consulted, particularly about the policies, decisions and legislations that impact their lives.
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?
Have fun! You can be serious about your goals and your career without taking yourself too seriously. Taking risks is what helps you learn and you can’t take risks if you’re too busy worried about doing things perfectly or wondering that others will think or if you measure up to someone else’s version of success. When I find I’m taking something too seriously I usually try and say to myself: Who cares? Have fun! It helps remind me that I’m at my best and most creative when I’m just playing around.
What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?
We’re really passionate about celebrating contemporary women’s fiction, which in general is often taken less seriously than fiction written by men. It’s reviewed less, sneered at, and even marketed to women in a completely patronizing way. We really value women’s fiction and want to sort of balance the scales in that sense.