#WorkInPublishing 2020 | My Journey Into Publishing
In my second post for #WorkInPublishing week, I thought I would share my journey into publishing.
I didn’t want to be a publisher as a child. In fact from the age of 7-13 I wanted to be a GP, then from 13.5 until 18 I wanted to be an actress. Throughout this time I was writing stories – an important reason I got into publishing that I’ll come back to later.
When I went to university I studied History, Creative Writing and Acting and Screen Performance in my first year. After one module of acting I knew I wasn’t going to be an actress. Not because I wasn’t good – although I probably wasn’t – but because the expectations and pressures were off the charts. And this wasn’t even professional acting, this was university (not even acting school!)
Needless to say for the first two years of university I didn’t know what I wanted to do. But then I tried to get a literary agent…
How my writing career triggered my publishing career
I was doing creative writing during university and I had finished my third novel. It grew out of a short story I wrote for my creative writing class, and I worked on it to turn it into a novel and edited it properly (for once).
I researched how to get published, as becoming a writer was a subconscious dream of mine. I’d always had it; I don’t remember not wanting to be a writer. My research into ‘how to become a writer’ led me to looking into literary agencies.
Initially, I wasn’t looking for work I was just looking to send off my manuscript. But then I started my last year of university and I had learned from watching my older brother and sister’s careers, that it was better to start looking for work experience early rather than waiting until graduations.
Whilst I was looking at agencies I came across a note on one of the contact pages saying that an agency was looking for an intern to work in their office one day a week. That sounded like something I could do.
I was at university outside of London, but only by 35 minutes and I had a one free day (Wednesday) off a week from study. On the off chance I could make it work, I applied. They emailed a few days later asking me to come in for an interview.
I hadn’t interviewed for a job since I was 16 years old. In fact, I’d only ever had one interview in my entire life, and one job. But I was super relaxed when I went to the interview in Clapham a week later, as I saw it as practice. I didn’t think I’d get the job. But I did.
My first ‘job’ in publishing
Technically ‘the job’ was an unpaid internship, but my expenses and lunch were paid for so I didn’t lose any money at least.
The interview was actually great. It was very relaxed, as I said, and just conversational. They hired me because of my blog. At the time I was purely a book blogging, and they liked my taste in books and the fact I knew how to use a CMS system. Plus, my one day off a week helped a lot with regards to my availability.
For six months, I worked at the literary agency from the kitchen table of one of the agents. I didn’t do much, and most of what I learned was through observation and osmosis as I was fairly shy. Since I didn’t know what I was doing I kept to myself. I should have asked more questions, I can see that in hindsight.
My main jobs involved scanning contracts between authors and publishers, adding new authors to the agents online system and doing basic admin like sending company Christmas cards and emailing rejections to writers.
The best of the part of the job was when I was invited to London Book Fair in 2016 to sit with the agents, on the agents floor. London Book Fair is basically an enormous business meeting, mostly for agents to make deals for foreign publishers. So I was in the hub of the fair, and it was fantastic.
I didn’t do much, again I sat and listened mostly. But they did ask me to pitch one of their books at a meeting. I have no idea of what came of that meeting, hopefully they bought the book, but who knows?! It was just a useful experience for me to put on my CV.
What happened after the literary agency?
My journey into publishing wasn’t that easy though…
On the night before my last university exam I got an email from the agency saying that they had hired someone full time and no longer needed me.
It was a bit of a knock, as I wasn’t expecting it and had had no warning the previous week I was there. But, I didn’t let it get me down. Instead, I applied for a work experience placement a few minutes after I received the email. The role I applied for was at Penguin Random House, via their Work Experience Facebook page – which is now defunct.
The following day, whilst I was celebrating completing my final exam with friends, I got a call from Penguin HR asking me if I could start at Transworld, a Penguin Imprint, for a two week work placement the following Monday. Of course, I said yes.
Work experience at Penguin
I was incredibly lucky! And I knew it. To get a work experience placement that quickly in publishing is very unexpected in the industry. But I didn’t question it. Instead, for the next two weeks I got up at 6:00am, got on a bus, then a train to London Kings Cross and then onto the underground to Ealing Broadway, ready to start work at 9am.
My experience at Penguin was lovely. They had just won a big award for their work on Paula Hawkin’s The Girl on the Train, so on my first day we were all treated to Fish and Chips by the Publicity Director. Plus there was copious amounts of gin, donuts and Prosecco.
The work itself was very same-y. In fact, I can still list each activity I did during those two weeks, four years after they happened.
- Mailings – sending books to journalists and influencers
- Setting up a signing – opening books for an author to sign and passing it to them (I did this twice)
- Organising the proof library – crushing the boxes that were empty and creating an A-Z system (I did this twice as well)
- Creating a showcard on InDesign – which was then redesigned as no one had shown me how to use InDesign… (I did this once)
- Researching photo backgrounds – a brick wall, for an author launch (I did this once)
And that was it… for 10 days.
More often than not, I didn’t have anything to do. I would ask for stuff to do, but either the team didn’t realise I meant ‘I’m finished’ or there wasn’t anything for me to do. As such, I spent a lot of time reading Bookseller articles and tweeting, waiting for someone to come up with a job for me. I read two Harry Potter books on my iPad during my placement, which I started to bring with me to entertain myself during mailers. Probably not the greatest incentive to hire me… but I was bored!
Needless to say, my journey into publishing didn’t stop there. I wasn’t asked to stay on in a permanent position, which was the dream at the time. There wasn’t enough for me to do, so I was lucky they had an intern position open at all.
Also… HR gave me £100 for expenses for the entire two weeks. My travel alone cost £120 a week. During this period of time, I was at the end of my student loan and didn’t have a job or savings so I ate a £3 Morrisons meal deal a day (salad, orange juice and a packet of crisps) and that was it. No breakfast, no dinner. Nada. I lost 12lbs in 14 days. Not great for my health, looking back.
Once I finished university and moved home, I was unemployed. But I was only out of job for 2.5 months. However, it was the longest 2.5 months of my life. I signed on to Universal Credit during this period of time and focused 100% on applications and blogging.
My blog was organic and social media based. I didn’t have any money to invest in it, so I did everything off my own back. During this period of time I learned how to use Canva to design all my assets, some basic coding and SEO analytic skills, learned how to use Twitter, Instagram Facebook effectively for promotion and I started to build relationships within the blogging and publishing community.
This was a massive period of time for skill development, and thank goodness I focused on it because skills were what got me my first full-time jobs in publishing.
Interviews and Rejections
In these 2.5 months, I applied for 74 jobs and heard back from 5. One was a straight rejection. Another was a request for me to do a proof-reading task, which I then I got a rejection from. The other three were invites to interviews.
The interviews were for:
- Publicity Assistant at a PR agency
- Intern at a Literary Agency
- Recruitment Consultant at Publishing Recruitment Company
Firstly, I want to point out that none of these roles are connected. I was applying regardless of the job itself at this point in time. I was going for editorial assistant, marketing assistant, publicity assistant, internships, work experience, grad schemes and even recruitment.
When you’re starting out and you don’t know where you want to be – like I didn’t at the time – this is fine. You can change which area you work in, in publishing when you break in (if you so choose). I did.
The first interview I had was for the PR Agency. The interview went really well and the owner of the agency was lovely. I was frazzled when I arrived because I got caught in a storm just as I was approaching the cafe we were meeting in, so I was drenched in a mini-dress that was clinging in all the wrong places.
I didn’t hear back from her for nearly a month due to ongoing interviews, and when I did it was a rejection. She was very detailed about why, explaining that I was the first-runner up but the person that pipped me to the post was a Waterstones bookseller who had more industry experience than me. It was a knock but I still saw it as a good learning experience.
I had the interviews for the Literary Agency and the Recruitment company on the same day about a month later. The interview for the recruitment company went well; I had made it clear that I had never worked in recruitment before and I would need training but was very willing and loved the idea of learning more about the industry as a whole.
The literary agency interview I failed at entirely. It was for Pottermore and the Blair Partnership (the agency that J.K. Rowling agent formed). As a major Harry Potter fan I completely freaked out. My answers were all Harry Potter based – which was not what the role entailed. I was also a little exhausted from my day out in London and having had an interview already that day. Needless to say I didn’t get the job.
Getting a job
I received a phone call from the woman who interviewed me for the recruitment role a week later. She told me that they had decided to hire someone internally for the role that I’d interviewed for, but she really enjoyed our meeting and wanted to offer me the position of Administrator instead. This was the role that the internal staff member had vacated.
I was all for it. By that point I was happy to have any role, but honestly I genuinely liked the team and I thought I would learn a lot from working in publishing recruitment.
A week later I was commuting into London. Baker Street to be exact. I started work at 8:30am and finished at 5pm. My job was to answer phones, add new clients to the system, do all the photo-copying, scanning and shredding – your basic admin.
When I joined the company, social media was run by one person in the office a week. When I joined, I cleared my to-do list so quickly that I offered to take it full-time. And I loved it.
As anyone who’s met me, or watches my #MarketYourMarketing workshops will know, I love to help entry-level publishers. So I did a lot of work with them in mind whilst at the company. From writing blog posts on CVs, to becoming a source of information via Twitter. It was a perk of the job for me.
Originally the role was a maternity cover role, but after three months I was made permanent and promoted to the role of Administrator and Social Media Coordinator.
During my time at the company I was Employee of the Month twice, had some lovely evenings out, went to London Book Fair to run competitions and social, and I wrote a book on my lunch break! I was only there for 8 months, but it felt longer – in a really good way. I did love my team and I still miss them to this day and it’s been four years.
But… I got another job.
Finally… my journey into publishing succeeded
Whilst I was technically working in the publishing industry at the recruitment company, I wasn’t working for a specific publishing company, which was my aim.
I wanted to be in Marketing. My social media work at the publishing recruitment company had sealed the deal, and luckily it was also enough experience to get me a job at Canelo. An independent digital publishing company in Southwark.
My journey into publishing was a success
My journey into publishing was fairly swift, in all honesty. I’ve heard some horror stories about people applying for years. Other people I know got an internship and then got offered a full-time role off the back of it. I’ve worked with people that had changed jobs mid-career to work in publishing. And I’ve known people to apply and get a job within a few weeks of starting out.
There really is no one way to break into publishing. My journey is my journey, but it will be different to everyone else’s.
The things I learned from applying and interviewing for publishing roles was that it was my skills that drove my employment, not my work experience. The fact I never stayed sedentary for long – I constantly was doing something to do with books, in my case book blogging – meant that I stood out as a strong candidate even when I had a period of unemployment on my CV.
If you have any questions about my journey into publishing, or publishing in general, let me know in the comments below. I’m always happy to share my experiences and talk through breaking into publishing as I want to make it as accessible an industry as possible.