'Getting ahead in Publishing'

Posted on June 2, 2010 in Uncategorized

The SYP’s second event at London Book Fair was aimed at showing young publishers in their second and third jobs, how to ‘get ahead in publishing’. A distinguished panel of four successful young publishers outlined the milestones in their own career paths, plus the challenges faced along the way. Other important topics of discussion were how best to ‘stand out’ from the crowd, and how to decide whether to switch jobs.

First up was Helen Conford, Editorial Director at two Penguin imprints: Allen Lane and Particular Books. Equipped with a degree in English Literature, in 2001 she enrolled straight onto Penguin’s (now defunct) graduate scheme and has remained at the company ever since. The scheme allowed her to spend 15 months learning about different functions within the business and helped affirm that editorial best suited her skills.

Like most young publishers, Helen wasn’t without her worries. So how to impress? Helen offers the following two important suggestions:

  • Be efficient. If you can manage to the mundane tasks, like photocopying, really well, then the people giving you the photocopying will build up trust in you.
  • Find out how your department works with other areas of the business. This shows enthusiasm and helps to build up your network of contacts.

Put simply – being responsive, efficient and interested in others will show colleagues that you are bright, enthusiastic and deserving of a promotion.

To progress in editorial, having a strong sense of your own judgement is crucial. Whilst the success of a book is partly about the writing, it’s also about knowing the needs of your audience. Spread your fingers widely – listen to the radio, watch TV and be ‘hyperaware’ of what is happening around you. Think about how good writing translates into a publication – the paper, jacket, format and publicity campaign all help to shape whether a book is successful.

The second speaker of the afternoon was Ros Lawler, Head of E-Commerce at Random House. With over 15 years experience working in digital media, Ros has an impeccably strong track record of creating award winning interactive content across a range of different media platforms. Her non-linear career path shows a strategically determination to seek different opportunities in order to build up the best skills to develop her portfolio.

As a young graduate, Ros wished to become a Commissioning Editor at Channel 4, an ambition which she quickly realised was shared amongst scores of bright young graduates.

Initially starting out on the team which set up the very first website for Channel 4, Ros built up a really useful set of skills, including HTML, Photoshop and how to work with web content and online communities. Realising that there was no immediate opportunity to move upwards, she identified the potential of the internet as a marketing channel and moved sidewards into marketing.

From News International, she moved to the Ministry of Sound, as an Online Marketing Manager. With only 50 people in the entire company, it was easy to stand out and be heard.

For Ros, interviews were an important (and positive) part of the her learning experience. Whilst she didn’t get the next job that she applied for, her interviewer offered her a different role, as Interactive Editor for Radio 1. Ros remained at this job for 5 years, and built up a range of highly transferable skills and a solid network of contacts, which was invaluable to her subsequent freelance career.

During her career, Ros highlights several key points for success:

  • Plan for the future. We may live in a highly changeable digital age, but knowing a little bit about Photoshop/HTML can help you brief designers and understand their constraints.
  • Understand the industry. Keep up to date with relevant social media, in order to prepare you for how the industry is changing.
  • Build up your network. Shout about yourself on social networks, because no-one else will do it for you. Do it effectively and you’ll be recognised in amongst a pile of CVs.

Next up on the panel was Preena Gadher, co-Founder and co-Director of ‘Riot Communications’, a new book-specific PR agency.

In 2003, Preena began a work experience placement at Penguin, and was swiftly offered a job when a vacancy became available in the publicity department.

Preena found that a few things helped her to move up the career ladder:

  • A good relationship with her boss provided a safe environment which allowed her to take on more responsibility at an earlier stage.
  • Regular appraisals helped her to concrete her personal development goals, and were proof of advancement, and eligibility for promotion.
  • Reading the Bookseller and Book Brunch provided contextual background about the industry.
  • Small contributions made in meetings helped her to get noticed in front of more senior colleagues.
  • Network, network, network. At the very least, you might hear about new job vacancies.

After becoming Publicity Manager, the only step up is to become Publicity Director – a role which does not become available. Preena then noticed a gap in the market for a freelance PR agency. Seeking advice from her network of contacts, she set about planning her new business venture with ex-colleague, Anwen Hooson.

Preena then closed her talk by taking a retrospective view over co-founding a business ‘Running your own business is a steep learning curve and brings with it a whole new set of challenges. You’re responsible for all decision making, and there’s no-one else to blame. Although when it goes right, it’s amazing, and you get to build something that’s completely yours’.

Last to speak at the event was Matt Phillips, the newly appointed Editorial Director at Yellow Jersey Press, the literary sports imprint of CCV (Random House).

He started his talk by stating that ‘there is no single way to progress in publishing’. Starting out on the Penguin graduate scheme, he moved to Puffin before getting itchy feet and wondering ‘where next?’.

Matt highlighted the importance of getting a broad range of experience, ‘in order to help further your career and help realise what you do – and don’t – want to do’.

He then moved on to highlight the pros and cons of moving publishing houses. Whilst moving allows you to step out of your comfort zone, it can be hard to move from a place where people have grown to trust and respect you.

After joining the Random House Group in 2006 as Advertising Copywriter for CCV and Cornerstone, Matt was later promoted to Creative Manager. Whilst he enjoyed the flexibility and variety of the workload, he quickly realised that there was little opportunity for promotion within the company, and so moved to Yellow Jersey, where he became Editorial Director.

So what qualities help to progress through the industry? Matt highlights that this industry thrives on innovation, so we should follow our passions, promote our ideas, take calculated risks and have the conviction to be brave.

The panel discussion was then rounded off with a Q&A session from the audience, which probed the entrepreneurial panellists for words of encouragement for young publishers debating what their next career move should be. The panel seemed to agree that you need to be aware of the interests of your company, but have the conviction to promote your ideas and follow them through.

The discussion then moved on to what senior staff look for when deciding on whether to promote assistants/executives. Helen underpinned the importance of a noticeable ‘hunger’ for the industry, adopting a fresh thinking approach, and actively contributing in meetings. Put simply, a genuine interest in the industry will really shine through, and put you in great stead for your next career move.