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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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