This week has been super busy with publishing events, speaking on a panel for The Printing Charity on Tuesday and giving a keynote speech at the lovely Roehampton University Creative Writing Soiree on Wednesday. Both events got me thinking about careers as there were lots of students wanting to know more about publishing and specifically how to get into it, so I thought it might be useful to do a round-up blog post with some of the things I’ve been talking about.
Publishing can be a competitive industry to break into, there’s no getting around that fact, but it is of course possible to find a route in and in my opinion, it’s worth the effort. I love my job – it’s creative, the people are generally great and I get to work with books every single day. It’s never going to pay as much as some other industries but you get tons of free books and for me the fact that I love rather than dread going into the office every day makes the financial side less important. I certainly didn’t get the first publishing job I applied for and in fact I don’t know anyone who did, which is worth saying because, like with writing rejection, job rejections can feel soul-destroying at times and the key with publishing is that you have to be persistent. Below are some tips from myself and from some of the other amazing speakers I was on panels with this week – I hope they are helpful!
1. Your career doesn’t have to be linear. I trained as a journalist and worked as a news reporter on a local paper before getting my first publishing job as Publishing Assistant at Octopus Books. I worked briefly in children’s publishing, then in adult non-fiction before finally moving to adult fiction (which is what I’d always really wanted to do). I didn’t walk straight into a fiction editor job by any means; I took quite a circuitous route in but both my reporting job and my job in non-fiction taught me so much and I don’t regret a single day spent in those jobs because they got me to where I am now. There are so many areas of the publishing industry that you could consider going into – a lot of people immediately think of editorial but there are so many people that go into making a book, so for anyone looking at entry level positions I would really strong advise considering roles in foreign rights, production, sales, marketing, publicity, digital, audio – they will all give you an excellent grounding and then if you want to move sideways later on you can. I know lots of people who have moved sideways or upwards into another part of publishing – it’s much easier once you have a foot in the door. And you might find you love another part of the industry and end up staying there!
2. You don’t have to work for free. There is currently a serious problem in the publishing industry which is that some companies expect interns to work for free, which is of course limiting because only people who either already live in London or are well-off can afford to do that. I could not afford to work for free when I started in publishing; I don’t have family in London and I wouldn’t have been able to rent at that stage in my life. I think the situation seems to have got even worse in the last five years BUT there are organisations trying to change that – for example The Society of Young Publishers, Pub Interns, and many others who are only advertising and promoting paid opportunities. Lots of publishers also DO pay their interns (including HarperCollins) so look out for those opportunities but don’t be afraid to go for actual jobs if you think you have the skills. It is all about how you present yourself – if you think you can do the job and have gained the necessary skills needed perhaps in another industry, then apply for the role – the worst than can happen is you get a no.
3. Do your research. It makes such a big difference when a covering letter is personalised and tailored to the imprint you’re applying to. Go on their website, find out about their recent acquisitions, read a couple of the books on their list if you have time (or at least read the blurbs!) Take the time to know the job you’re applying for – for example, there is no point applying for a job at Avon and talking about 4th Estate, because while they’re both part of HC, the books they publish couldn’t be more different. You can absolutely apply for more than one job at a time but you should always make sure your covering letter is tailored to each individual role.
4. Stand out from the crowd. It’s easy to say that you love books but try to think of things you can do that might help you stand out a little more. For example, you might volunteer for the SYP, you might be part of a book club, you might have your own book blog or vlog. You might read manuscripts for a small press, you might run the social media channel of your local theatre group – it doesn’t necessarily have to be publishing related, but something to show you have commitment, passion and dedication can really help in a job application.
5. Ask questions in interviews. This is something we all talked about at the Printing Charity panel; the best interviews should end up being a conversation between you and the potential employer – when they ask if you have any queries at the end, say yes! Come prepared with a couple if you want, or ask about something that has come up in your interview conversation. It shows you’re interested in the place you might end up working.
6. Talk to people. I found it so inspiring to hear from the students at both the events this week and I never mind answering questions about the industry. In my experience, most people are really nice and won’t mind you picking their brains over a quick coffee or over email, so if you’re brave enough, drop the person you want to talk to a quick line and see what happens. Obviously don’t be pushy and appreciate that they might be busy and have to say no, but it’s always worth being friendly and approachable as you never know who you might meet. I’m grateful to everyone who has given me career advice so far – whether that’s in person or at events. It’s also worth looking out for events and talks that you can go to to learn more about the industry – the ones we run at the SYP are very affordable (£3-6 often) and there are others that are free.
7. Triple check your application. Everyone makes mistakes but you don’t want to be making them in a job application, especially not in publishing because it’s such a detail-orientated industry. We recently had 350 applications for an internship role and to be honest when you have that many, you’re looking for reasons to discount people. A typo will probably mean your application goes straight in the bin. Check it three times and get other people to too!
8. Have an online presence. Publishing is quite a sociable industry so it is worth putting time into having a good social media presence as your employer will likely google you before hiring you. It isn’t an essential, but it’s worth thinking about especially if you’re applying for a job in digital or in marketing. A lot of publishing professionals use Twitter in particular, and it’s also a great place to look for advice and for jobs.
9. Don’t give up! I remember once getting down to the final 2 candidates for a job at Hodder and getting the phone call to say it had gone to someone else. I was really upset, and can still recall taking myself off for a long, sad shower, staring at the water and thinking that I was NEVER going to get to where I wanted to be. A few weeks later, I got the job at Octopus – you never know when your life is going to change and the key is to keep applying, listen to feedback, and never give up. If you’re getting lots of interviews, it’s probably only a matter of time until you get a role, and if you’re never getting to industry stage it’s worth asking someone trusted to look through your CV and covering letter just to make sure you’re not missing anything crucial.
Good luck and if anyone has any questions, feel free to comment below. And keep an eye on the SYP_LDN Twitter feed for exciting news related to this soon!