Saturday, 18 August 2018

The Holy Grail Of Publishing - And How To Find It




How do I get a job in publishing?


That my friends, is the holy grail question for those looking to get into publishing and one which I myself personally searched for, for many years, until I arrived at this point.

4 years ago, when I got my first ever work experience slot at Hodder & Stoughton in 2014, I wrote a 3 part blog series about Cracking Into Creativity which you can view here.

Now, 4 years was a long time ago and a lot has changed in publishing but - a lot of what I write in there still heavily applies. And as loooOoNnng winded as my posts are, I still believe them to be well worth a read before you come into this post itself. So, chop chop, off you go, arm yourself with a mug of something delicious and hot as you settle down to read my 3 essay length posts and rambling.

In todays post, I’ve revived myself (after almost exactly 6 months of being absent) as MANY people online and in real life, have been asking me about my experience on how to get a job in publishing, not just in general, but also as a person of colour with no previous knowledge or experience of publishing itself. Everything I’m about to type, the nuggets of wisdom that are about to follow, are all based off of my own experience as a 25 year old, Muslim, British born Bangladeshi, hijab wearing woman.

Humble beginnings and 360 turn in career paths.

So. The basics. The background. The first rung of the ladder, etc etc. Let’s roll it back 7 years ago (crikey I’m old) to 2011. During the 6 week break from finishing 6th form and before starting my first year of university, I spent the summer indulging myself by creating a book review blog, to share my reviews, read other peoples and generally bask in the glorious world of words. As my blog slowly picked up pace and publicists started sending me books to review, I slowly discovered the world of publishing for the first time. That you COULD work with books as a career. 

I was due to start university to study Criminology and Social Policy at the London School of Economics and I still wanted to study what I had chosen. My initial career path was to join the civil service, the Metropolitan Police to be exact and my degree was the stepping stone to that. I decided to continue my degree with gusto and decided in the final year of university, during the Christmas and Easter break, I would do work experience / internships in publishing so that by the time I graduated, I’d have enough experience to apply for entry level jobs in publishing.

Paying your dues through unpaid means.

Despite my degree being so vastly different from what I wanted to then pursue, I didn’t see it as a hinderance to the future as getting a degree wasn’t just about the degree itself, but about the skills you accumulate in doing that degree. The work experience would be to bulk up my CV. I did a variety of work experience which I will briefly outline below:
  • 2 weeks unpaid work experience at Hodder & Stoughton 
  • 2 weeks unpaid work experience at Legend Press. 
  • 2 weeks unpaid work experience at Orion 
  • 5 weeks unpaid work experience at Penguin RandomHouse 
The take-away I personally found from doing those internships was that they were very very short periods of time. Not sufficient enough to help you learn what publishing is all about and not long enough to learn any type of skillset that could carry you forward. But they are useful in finding out which department you might be interested in - whether that be editorial, sales, design, marketing and PR or none of those even. It doesn’t just help you in realising what you want to do, but for some it helps them realise it might not be the path for them at all. I already knew before doing any of those placements that I wanted to work in PR and marketing. I did the placements to bulk up my CV as I had no previous work history at all. Those placements would show potential employers that I’d spent time in publishing, and was willing to take the next step forward.

I continued to apply for jobs on the above basis and eventually joined an agency, called Creative Access. They are an agency specifically for people of BAME background and who wanted to get into the creative industry. They were to me, in a word, AMAZING. So helpful in finding placements, CV clinics to help improve your applications, events across different creative industries to help you figure out what you wanted to do and to network with others which was very useful. If you are from a BAME background, DEFFO check them out.

It was through them that I got my first ever paid internship at an academic publisher, SAGE Publications, as a Digital Content Assistant. Even though trade publishing was where I wanted to be, I gratefully took the role as 1. it was for 6 months and 2. it was PAID. Music to my ears. Through that role, which I enjoyed ridiculously, I learnt many skills and about publishing itself, even if it was academic. Near the end of the role, they wanted to make it permanent and asked if I’d like to interview for it. I did, and in the end they offered me the role, but I turned it down. I know how crazy that sounds. I struggle for so long, finally get a paid internship which turns into a full time position, and I go and turn it down. But. I KNEW I wanted to work in trade publishing. I could have easily taken that role and done it happily - but the more I stayed in academic, the harder my move to trade could have been. I figured it was best to make the move sooner, rather than later. So I turned the role down and spent the next 6 months searching for a job.

And I got one. I landed a role at HQ, HarperCollins as a PR Intern - paid, for 6 months. I loved it. It was everything I wanted and more but sadly the role wasn’t one that was made permanent. I did that role for 8 months, until another imprint within HarperCollins approached me and asked me if I’d like to work for them in HarperImpulse as a Digital Marketing Assistant on a fixed term basis. I jumped at the chance and said yes! Again, I loved it. I also know how crazy rare it is to just be approached from within the same company, not get formally interviewed and get the job based off a few informal chats. But it happened and I was at HarperImpulse for 8 months.

Bouncing around at Bonnier.

But I needed something permanent - I had done my lions share of unpaid internships and a fare amount of paid internships too. A fixed term contract didn’t offer me the same security I wanted in a permanent job, and so with all my experience up until this point, I applied for a Marketing Executive role at Bonnier Publishing and well the rest is history as I’ve been here for almost 6 months now!

Now - I’ve written A LOT up there and I know all you guys want are the main take-away points and not my innate ramblings. So here’s some key things for you:

CV and applications:
  • When I first started applying for jobs, I made a master list of all the UK / London based publishers (it was a H U G E list) and systematically worked my way through each of them to see if they had a website, if they had any vacancies going, and if they didn’t, I’d email them anyway with my application in case they had any positions in the future and letting them know I’m interested. Having an organised approach will help. 
  • When it comes to CV’s, you will have to put in the work. As ideal as it would be to have one standard CV and cover letter which you can reuse, you actually can’t and shouldn’t do that. Take the time to really tailor your CV and cover letter to where you are applying, it makes ALL the difference. Again, an organised approached helps. Structure your cover letter paragraph by paragraph. Research the publisher and take that information and slot it into relevant paragraphs in your letter. 
  • Don’t be afraid to be creative! I wasn’t happy with the standard cover letter approach as I felt like it didn’t really reflect me. I scrapped it, and wrote a funny script instead in which I’m being interviewed. Each ‘interview’ question would be tailored to the job I was applying for and my answers would highlight my skills and suitability for it each time. It was fun, it was me, and it worked. It got publishers attention every time and I even if it didn’t help me land an interview, every single publisher I applied to using the cover letter, gave me positive and great feedback on my style. 
Tips:
  • Apply to any and EVERY job. You honest to God will never know where it will take you. Whether you land that job or not, it could open up other doors for you like ‘hey this might not be the job for you, but I know so and so is so and so company is looking for someone like you. Please apply here’. 
  • Networking is important and actually fun! I used to be TERRIFIED of the word and more so of the actual act. Meeting unknown people in one space and trying to make friends / make connections? COUNT ME OUT. But it was honestly one step at a time. Go to one event, take a friend, everyone is REALLY friendly and probably all feel the way you do. The second time, don’t take a friend, try to relax, listen to others, share your input. I promise it gets easier! And it’s a great way to find other like minded individuals and though networking isn’t the short-cut to getting a job, it DEFFO a huge help in knowing people in other companies and divisions to hear about jobs and opportunities. 
Agencies:
  • Creative Access were a HUGE help for me, and though I know it’s only for people from BAME backgrounds, there are many other agencies out there who can do the same for non-BAME people. Do your research and you can find them. 
Websites:
  • SYP - The Society of Young Publishers is a website you pay to join where jobs in publishing are posted early before they reach the masses. They also have events, networking opportunities and are wonderful people! 
  • The Bookseller - The Bookseller has a page dedicated to jobs in publishing, trade and academic and is regularly updated. Keep your eyes on it, there’s always lots of roles going. 
  • Twitter - follow publishers on twitter, many of them either have specific HR / job vacancy pages or will tweet about upcoming or open positions through their channel. It’s also great to follow publishers to see what they’re promoting, what kinds of books and lists they have, just so you know a little bit more about them. 
Skills:
  • My blog helped propel me (ok arguably it doesn’t look great now given I’ve been inactive for 6 months) but having a consistent blog, and Instagram account focused on books helped show my passion for reading, my ability to write (through reviews and blog posts) and my social media prowess through using Twitter and Instagram to somewhat self promote myself and my blog posts. Yours could be a blog, a Youtube channel, Instagram account, even your Twitter. Any and everything that could help set you apart or show that you’ve got more than just the passion to read. 
  • Additional skills will also come in handy. For me, that was my photography, coding, and Photoshop. I loved learning to use Photoshop and basic coding to elevate my blog and because I really enjoyed that creative outlet and it’s come in VERY handy for me, the same with photography. I self taught myself all of the above out of passion for each creative element and used it for my blog, and later for my jobs. While it doesn’t have to be those specific skills, Photoshop is SUCH a handy tool to know how to use especially for PR and Marketing roles. 
And that’s it for now! Phew, long enough, huh? Everything I’ve written above has been my experience and my thoughts of publishing so please don’t feel like you have to follow everything I’ve said. I hope the above is useful to anyone reading and if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask! Always happy to help. I’ll do another post soon with more details on applications and interviews, but if there are more things you’d like me to write posts about, do let me know! I’m always prancing about on my Twitter. That’s it for now, Sahina #OverAndOut

Wednesday, 17 January 2018

Without Merit - Colleen Hoover; Review


Book Details:
Hardcover: 384 pages
Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (3 Oct. 2017)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1471171922
ISBN-13: 978-1471171925

Summary:

Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.

The Voss family is anything but normal. They live in a repurposed church, newly baptized Dollar Voss. The once cancer-stricken mother lives in the basement, the father is married to the mother’s former nurse, the little half-brother isn’t allowed to do or eat anything fun, and the eldest siblings are irritatingly perfect. Then, there’s Merit.

Merit Voss collects trophies she hasn’t earned and secrets her family forces her to keep. While browsing the local antiques shop for her next trophy, she finds Sagan. His wit and unapologetic idealism disarm and spark renewed life into her—until she discovers that he’s completely unavailable. Merit retreats deeper into herself, watching her family from the sidelines when she learns a secret that no trophy in the world can fix.

Fed up with the lies, Merit decides to shatter the happy family illusion that she’s never been a part of before leaving them behind for good. When her escape plan fails, Merit is forced to deal with the staggering consequences of telling the truth and losing the one boy she loves.

Links To Buy:




Rating:
Review:

There was a lot of things that I really liked about Without Merit, and equally, things I really didn’t like about the book. I didn’t like Colleen Hoover’s usual books, which I know a lot of people absolutely loved, the contemporary ones such as the Slammed, Hopeless and Maybe series. The one that I did like though, LOVED - was It Ends With Us, which was probably one of my fav books of the year, last year. I’m more of a fan of her NA/adult books, and Without Merit is another one of those (I think?) - but I sense this is a hit or miss kinda book and I’m still not sure how it sits with me. 

This is darker than Hoover’s usual, evident in the content and the issues discussed in the book. There’s a very dysfunctional family dynamic going on, there’s issues about identity, sexuality, drugs, abuse. There’s basically A LOT going on - and I get what the author was trying to do in bringing these issues to light - but quantity over quantity. For me, there were too many issues trying to be jam packed into one and the risk of that is that there’s never enough time to properly explore the issues on hand and this is very very important. Because you run the risk of not talking about the issue properly, not representing it how it should in the story - it shouldn’t just be a tick-box case where you throw the issue in there just to get it out there - these issues are important and should be given time to be explored and talked about in a book. For me personally, picking fewer topics to discuss would have worked out better. Having said that, I really did appreciate Hoover’s inclusion of Sagan and his background - about his family in Syria and in highlighting the Syrian crisis - but again, there wasn’t enough time to really delve into what this issue means and the plight of the people. 

In terms of the characters, I’m torn between how I feel about Merit. There’s something about her that’s broken which I relate to and understand - she’s flawed, there’s a lot going on with her, but the more I read about her, the less redeeming qualities she seemed to possess. Her perspective, her views, were very narrow minded and started to get annoying. Likewise, her relationship with her siblings was irritating - I think midway through the book, I was pretty sure I disliked all of them, including Merit. 

I feel like this book could have been really, really good - as always in such cases, the idea was definitely there - but it could have been executed better. Fewer issues, more time spent exploring said issues, and an ending with a resolution because it didn’t feel like it was really resolved to me. I know there’s a lot of negative going on here, so let’s chuck some good stuff in - ok ok the story at the beginning about how they moved into what used to be the church and Merit dressing the statue of Jesus up every morning did make me chuckle. There was a fair bit of dry, sarcastic witty humour in the book - my fav type - but it was few and far between. I did however, love the message I took away from the book, and one of my fav quotes from the book:

“Not every mistake deserves a consequence. Sometimes the only thing it deserves is forgiveness.” – Sagan

One of the few other things I did like about the book, was that it’s not all about the romance. The little that there was, I don’t think I enjoyed - Merit annoyed me and there wasn’t much about Sagan that I found likeable either - together, these two weren’t great. So I guess I’m glad there wasn’t much to endure, a blessing in disguise. The writing however, I really did like - Hoover knows how to write, that much is evident. I just hope the next book from here is executed better, because I know she can - she did it with It Ends With Us and I’m literally just waiting for another scorcher of a book from here. Please Hoover, SOON. 

Wednesday, 10 January 2018

Lucas (The Preston Brothers #1) - Jay McLean; Review


Book Details:
Paperback: 354 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform (22nd Oct 2016)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1539524965
ISBN-13: 978-1539524960

Summary:

In a sprint, every millisecond counts.  
When you’re waiting for love, those milliseconds can feel like eons.  

High school senior Lucas Preston has it all: star of the track team, a scholarship waiting for him, an apartment to himself and a revolving door of girlfriends. He also has an older sister, five younger brothers and a father who relies on him to make sure those brothers don’t kill each other.  
His saving grace? Lois “Laney” Sanders, a girl he started to fall in like with when he was just eleven. 
A girl who became his best friend, his confidant, his courage.  

It took only sixteen clicks and eight seconds for Lucas to realize that his like for Laney had turned into love.   
Eight life-changing seconds.  
It’s also the exact length of time it took to lose her.

Links To Buy:




Rating:
Review:

This book. Was INTENSE. I’m still scrambling over finding the words to review this and it’s been months since I read it (.. also a downside because I can just barely remember what happens in it, LE SIGH). But what I can tell you, is that it’s a packed, intense (there’s that word again) story with strong characters and though it’s a storyline I’ve read before, the writing and the execution really made this one stand out and draw out all kinds of emotions from me. I vividly remember pounding my fist on my pillow (no good came of that, I assure you) at certain scenes and much ‘WTFFF’ing throughout. 

Jay McLean really knows how to write a story - let’s start there. The main reason why this story, despite running your typical girl-boy-friendship-turns-to-love storyline we’ve read over and over, the authors writing turned this into an emotional rollercoaster which I enjoyed being on. The depth of the two main characters, Lucas and Laney - was one of my fav things about the book. They were both flawed, felt very realistic to me and above anything else, you can see how much these two love and care about each other. That stood out to me so much throughout the whole book - even through scenes where I wanted to punch one of them (sometimes both) for their choices and actions. 

Told through a dual narrative (which I loved) the story is told in flashbacks - recounting the key events in both their lives and what it meant to each of them, how either of them saw these events, either the same or differently. With time, you see their friendship develop and turn to love - and there was just something quite heart-breaking about it in the way we could see how much they loved each other, cared for each other, but were at a loss on how to move forward, how to be with each other, with everything they knew about one another. 

There was angst and romance, friendship - the development of these characters was another thing I really appreciated, especially that of Lucas. There were moments I wanted to punch him, but he’s meant to be flawed, meant to be a little broken inside - but we see him develop, understand, learn, act - for the better.  The supporting characters also helped make this book what it is, with the relationships and family bond *cough the Preston brothers* and *bigger cough, Logan, MY FAV* - all which helped round this book into something more than just your usual YA teen romance and contemporary. 

Why didn’t I give this 5 stars? I’m actually not sure of the reason, I can’t seem to pin-point the why factor but there was just something *throws fists up to the sky* just SOMETHING that stopped it from hitting that 5 star for me. But what I can say, that at 4 stars, this was still such a great read - full of angst, friendship, romance - and a story that will have you rooting for these two main characters that will have you forgetting this is a work of fiction. Pick it up, read it, love it. So many people do and you’ll see why. In the meantime, I’m off to read the second book in the series, which is about Logan :D my FAV. Adios for now.

***

“My own home doesn’t feel like home unless you’re there.” 

***

“You impress people with your mind. With your kind heart and humble attitude. And while you’re a beautiful girl, your looks or the way you dress shouldn’t be the reason people are impressed by you. And when you’re older and boys start to notice you, I want you to remember that. Because if it’s only your looks they’re attracted to, then they’re not the one for you, Lo. You can do better. You will do better.” 

***

“You can't control what people do or how they treat you. You can only control how you react to it.” 

***

“Take your time, but don’t waste it. Trust me on that one.” 

***


“I need you. I need to love you. And I need to love you right.”