Working in Publishing: Our journeys
So you want to work in publishing? Cool. There are many ways of going about breaking into this industry, so here the Stare At Books team reveal their own journeys, so you can learn from our
mistakes glorious triumphs.
Each one is different, showing that there’s no firm rules about how exactly you go about getting a job in books, but we hope it is at least slightly useful…
Halfway through an English degree is a strange place to be. I distinctly remember sheltering under a copy of Middlemarch in my sodden Sheffield garret as the rain hammered against the roof. Outside, cheery Full Monty extras rowed down the gravy-swollen streets in massive Yorkshire puddings.
Whilst I hid from the elements, it dawned on me that in just a year’s time I would need a job. What’s more, there were only so many professions that required you to memorise large chunks of The Waste Land in return for cash. But publishing was at least vaguely along those lines, so that would have to do.
Home for summer, I optimistically googled ‘publishers Warwickshire’, to find that, astonishingly, there was a Sports Book publisher nestled but a twenty-minute drive (or lift from my mum) away. Two weeks’ work experience later, I was sold. Who wanted to read The Rime of the Ancient Mariner when you could be proofreading the autobiography of a former Ipswich Town chairman?
So that’s lesson one – an obvious one I’m afraid: if you want to get into publishing, try and get some work experience in as early as poss. Whether it’s a publisher or bookshop or magazine or newspaper, whatever, that early enthusiasm and experience of the office environment will stand you in good stead later down the line.
Lesson two: Be Enthusiastic! If you do manage to bag a placement you’ll most likely be doing mail outs or filling in spreadsheets or buying Berroca for someone with a hangover. In short, it will be boring. But if you huff and puff and look all moody as you carry out these tasks then that’s just how you’ll be remembered. But nail through your work as quickly and carefully as possible (whilst whacking the kettle on every so often), and you’ll stick in people’s minds for the right reasons when there’s a vacancy.
When it was time to head to the big city, I managed to get a gig as Editorial Assistant at Transworld. I’m not going to lie to you, a huge deal of luck is involved in getting into such a competitive industry as publishing, but there are ways you can help yourself:
Lesson three: Do your research and Know The List. If you’ve managed to get an interview then it’s pivotal that you know the the editors who’ll be quizzing you and the books they work on. Try and read something they’ve published recently, have a good old stalk on twitter, maybe rummage through their bins if they live on a quiet street… Don’t go piling in gushing about how you’ve just read To The Lighthouse if the job’s assisting someone who’s just published a 13-year-old footballer’s autobiography or Sparky: The one-legged Spaniel Who Swam the Channel. If you’re enthusiastic and knowledgeable about the list then that is a huge plus point. It’s also worth you reading through the last couple of episodes of The Bookseller. Emerging trends, hotly tipped new books, recent exciting acquisitions – it’s good to be in the know.
Failing all that, why not try being a street performer in Covent Garden – everyone loves them!!!
As I came towards the end of my time at the University of Nottingham, I suffered the rising tide of panic about what exactly to do next. I knew I had to get out of a city famous for Brian Clough, Robin Hood and being home to the only UK branch of bawdy chicken wing outlet Hooters. I knew I didn’t want to do become a teacher, weatherman or any other stereotype career associated with my degree (geography – don’t laugh). And I knew I wanted to do something related to books, but I wasn’t yet sure exactly what.
Unfortunately, returning to my hometown of Huddersfield meant that options were limited. I don’t know if you’ve been to this (genuinely) fine town, but for some reason Hachette, PRH, HarperCollins et al have yet to set up offices there. There is, however, a mighty fine branch of Waterstones, nestled between Office and JD Sports in the gleaming Kingsgate Shopping Centre. Thanks to a lot of luck, a cheeky smile, and their need to hire some Christmas temps who actually knew something about the books they’d be selling, I managed to land myself a job there. Luckily this then turned into a permanent role as a bookseller, meaning I could spend all day living, breathing and recommending books (and also selling stacks of Fifty Shades of Grey and Minecraft)
The nine or so months I spent as a bookseller were then crucial in me blagging a job at Headline Publishing Group. I couldn’t afford to be heading down to London for weeks at a time to do work experience placement or to do masters in publishing. But by dealing with real readers everyday, acquiring a breadth of knowledge that covered all aspects of publishing, and learning about what was popular and why it was popular, meant that I was one step ahead of other candidates when applying for a marketing role with Headline. I’d been able to do some cool things as a bookseller too, such as setting up company social media accounts, organizing and promoting author events, curating my own sections and recommendations. This all helped with my application, and made me certain that working in publishing was the career path for me.
So if I were to recommend one way to go about getting your dream job in publishing, it would be simple – try and become a bookseller first. Don’t get me wrong, work experience is great, but you’ll probably learn a lot more about the industry, authors and actual readers from this then by doing a fortnight stuffing envelopes, and it’s also bloody good fun.
Also, if you don’t believe me about working as a bookseller, this blog piece from Hodder & Stoughton Marketing Director Jessica Killingley backs me up. And she’s a director, so…
Beau (Multimedia Designer)
Since I was a young whipper-snapper, I’ve always been interested in designing and creating things.
All through school I couldn’t give a s**t about Maths or Science. English, art and design were my strongest subjects.
At the end of school I took up a summer job as runner for a creative agency in Soho. My job consisted of running BETA tapes, artwork and discs to various clients and advertising agencies all over the West End, getting lunches and burning projects to disc or tape. I was constantly looking over the designer’s shoulders like an annoying Hobbit, observing what they were doing and desperate to get involved. I was given a few little jobs to do in Photoshop, and gradually got to work on some animatics and video edits.
I was eventually offered a full-time role being paid actual money so said ‘YES!’ straight away. I had a brilliant time there, and the famous agency liquid lunches and extravagant meals entertaining clients were a real eye-opener for an 18-year-old straight out of school.
I learnt a lot of software packages like After Effects, Final Cut, InDesign etc. and moved on to another design studio where I did a lot more work with retail clients such as Chanel, Calvin Klein and Nike.
After 10 years working in advertising I saw the job posted for a multi-media designer role at Headline and it seemed like the perfect fit. The idea of actively and creatively marketing a product you’ve grown to love and support was much more fulfilling then doing an ad for a pair of CK pants.
I’ve loved my time in publishing. It’s completely different from where I was before (a lot more cake) but as each book is different, the work I get given is always very different too.
If you’re interested in a career in publishing, why not apply to attend the latest Hachette UK Insight Into Publishing event? It’s on the 1st July, and applications close on June 14th. Apply here!