How To Get Into Publishing

Posted on April 24, 2012 in Uncategorized

How To Get Into Publishing was our eagerly-anticipated seminar which took place last Wednesday at the 2012 London Book Fair, Earls Court. We work in an industry that a lot of people want to get into and that’s very flattering but also quite daunting. It’s scary that so many of us want, burn and strive so hard to work in an industry that is very difficult to get into, progress in and earn enough in. However, it’s not all doom and gloom on the horizon, because what I got from our attendees was an overwhelming sense of passion and enthusiasm, and that is what you need to succeed in any industry, but especially in publishing. Passion and excruciating enthusiasm is an absolute must.

Another must, is to listen to other people’s advice and experiences so as to learn a bit of their insider-knowledge, and to gain a different kind of perspective. We were lucky enough to have top notch publishing peeps on our panel. First to speak was Suzanne Kavanagh, Partnership Manager at Creative Skillset, an industry-backed social enterprise. A recurring theme throughout our SYP seminars was an obvious one: how the industry is changing and digital digital digital! It is all very interesting, as digital platforms grow, as well as the consumption of digital products, publishing is changing fast.

Suzanne quite-rightly pointed out that there are a lot of experienced people in the industry, and the fact is that 67% of the industry is over 35 years old. This illustrates how difficult it is to get an entry-level job, but it isn’t impossible! It’s just difficult. It’s so difficult and so many people want to work in publishing, that publishers can ask for whatever they want when recruiting, they can ask for superwoman at an entry-level role if they like. Here are a few of the skills that Suzanne listed: we need to be multi-skilled, creative, be able to do sales and marketing and be technical etc. If you don’t feel pressured now, then I commend you, but Suzanne stressed that we need to be versatile and willing to learn to stand the best chance of getting a job – sound advice.

I like how not one of our speakers tip-toed around the fact that it’s hard to get into the industry. Alastair Horne, Social Media & Communities Manager at Cambridge University Press, understandably talked about the importance of digital. This rings so true right now, but to quote Alastair, skills in digital can also give you an ‘edge’ when applying for a job. With an iPad in front of him he explained that we have to have a flexible digital attitude as the future of publishing lies in our god-like hands. OK that’s melodramatic, but we really are in control of the future. We need to build up our skills so that they are relevant for the future of publishing, such as, blogging, building websites and creating our own eBooks. It was also said, that if you’re not a natural coder, don’t try. I think try, why not, give everything a try and see what you’re good at. Finally from Alastair, who is very popular on a certain social networking site: ‘use Twitter’. I whole-heartedly agree. Let’s embrace the future!

Now, we all know that Random House is one of the big six in publishing; well, we had Neil Morrison, their HR Group Director giving us some top tips about how to get your CV noticed! Everyone had their pencils out at this point, ready to frantically scribble, but Neil started off by admitting that in 2011 he had 8,500 applicants for entry-level roles when there are only roughly 200 people who work there. Faces dropped and shoulders slumped, but he continued by giving some amazing advice: make your CV easy to read and comprehend: so no more than 2 pages, a sensible font and your most recent experience first. Remember your CV and cover letter are like a sales pitch and they have to be short, concise and to the point. It is good to be specific – why do you want this job in particular? Research the company and look at the advert and ask yourself if you tick all the boxes.

Neil obviously sees a hell of a lot of CVs. He urged us to write facts and NOT opinion, to actually spell it out and tell them what responsibilities we’ve had, rather than what we’ve done, and why they are relevant. He said the same about any blogs/societies or clubs that you’re involved with – why are they relevant? The pencil scribbling did not stop! Neil then insisted that we must not take rejection personally, and after hearing about various rejections he’d had, he then went on to say ‘be relentless’!

Our final speaker was Mary Ann Kernan, Programme Director, MA Publishing Studies and MA International Publishing Studies and Head, Centre for Creative Writing, Translation and Publishing, City University London. A bit of a mouthful, but an interesting perspective to listen to, because at City, the classes are small and Mary becomes friends with her students and keeps track of what they are doing after they finish studying. She finds out if her pupils actually do get a job in the industry after doing a publishing MA. The answer is, it is very tough, with or without an MA, and an MA will not guarantee you a job. However, an MA does allow you to build on those versatile skills you need in publishing, even at entry-level. Mary went through a typical entry-level job advert which said that you needed lots and lots of experience as well as flair and confidence – and Mary’s excuse for this pretty tricky job advert, was that publishers can afford to be picky. A quote that I cannot resist to jot down is: ‘What is publishing? Why do we want to work in publishing? What is this sickness we all share?’ and this produced a few giggles around the room.
People want to work in this industry because it’s in the creative sphere, we like books and we want a job with, I suppose, substance. This seminar was my personal favourite of the day, and our speakers became particularly excited with our Q&A session at the end because there was so much enthusiasm. Neil Morrison tweeted later saying that he “Met a load of bright, intelligent young people looking for a career in publishing. Makes me confident about the future.” This made me smile. I think the main points of the seminar were to be relentless, strong, smart and flexible and work hard to get what you want, while trying to absorb as much advice along the way as possible! Happy job hunting! We’re blatantly going to rule this publishing world one day – well, if we haven’t all been turned into robots.