Shots fired in the ongoing dispute between Amazon and Hachette in the US over profit margins on ebooks: so little faith does the online retail behemoth appear to have in resolving the situation quickly that, in a post on its Kindle forum earlier this week, it recommended that anyone in urgent need of a Hachette title ‘purchase a new or used version from one of our third-party sellers or from one of our competitors.’ That’s Amazon – the company so keen to retain your business that it hopes to integrate drone technology to make its deliveries more efficient and might use your browsing history to send you items that you didn’t even order but probably want – turning away your business rather than accepting Hachette’s terms. In this ‘mum and dad are going through some things’ scenario, dad just rented a flat on the other side of town.
After much hard work trying to break into the industry, Jasmine Joynson found her dream job as Publicity Assistant at one of the big five publishers. Now managing her own publicity campaigns and promoting some of today’s biggest children’s authors, Jasmine offers her own tips for the notoriously difficult task of landing a first job in publishing…
GET SOME WORK EXPERIENCE
When I was on my first work experience placement, the company was holding an open day for students called something along the lines of ‘How to get into publishing’.
The marketing assistant sitting across from me had been asked to give a brief talk on just this subject. One of the publicists in the department asked her what she was going to say.
She replied, ‘Um…work experience. Then get some more work experience.’
Spoiler alert: the first half of this article is going to be me reiterating this. But why exactly is work experience so vital?
1. How do you actually know you want to work in publishing without seeing what goes on? Work experience is a good way to find out IF you should even bother trying to get into publishing: you can use it as a chance to ask people about their jobs and the industry.
2. It’s unlikely that, for entry-level positions, you will be considered for interview without some work experience. Not impossible, but unlikely. Most jobs advertised in publishing get lots of applicants, and why interview someone who doesn’t have any experience of publishing at all when many do?
3. Without work experience, you may struggle to answer common interview questions like ‘Describe what you think the role will entail’ or ‘What do you think the difference between sales and publicity is?’ It’s also useful if you can ‘give an example of a time you solved a problem’ in a publishing setting.
4. If you impress during a placement you will probably spring to mind next time someone hears of a friend or colleague recruiting. Publishing is a small industry and if a job opens up it’s not unusual for someone to email around to their counterparts in other companies and ask for details of potential candidates.
MAKE A GOOD IMPRESSION
When you do find a work experience placement, please don’t waste the opportunity. In short, smile a lot and be willing to get on with things.
You may well be asked to do boring admin tasks like updating spreadsheets, mailing books and booking taxis. Try not to look bored or complain.
It sounds obvious but if you act like you’d rather be somewhere else then the team you’re working with will wonder why you’re there and definitely won’t recommend you in future.
FINE-TUNE YOUR CV
As far as I’m aware (and I’m far too junior to recruit) there are no hard and fast rules about how to format your CV.
What I will say is that publishing is a creative industry and therefore mine is ‘skills-based’. To elaborate, after a little introduction that explains briefly who I am, I list five of my ‘key skills’ (and an example that demonstrates each).
If I were a doctor I imagine I’d lead with my education but as publishing is less prescriptive I think it’s best to focus on what you CAN DO, not what you have done.
PREPARE FOR INTERVIEW
I’m sure there are lots of different interview formats and styles. I had to do a short exercise in my first interview and then talk the two interviewers through the answers I came up with, while in preparation for my second interview I had to make a brief campaign plan.
These are the kind of things you should be told ahead of time. In order to prepare in general just make sure you can talk about your skills and why you want to work in the role you’re applying for.
The other thing I would say is know the list. Find out what they publish and go into a bookshop and have a look at the books if you have time. Turning up at a publisher without at least some knowledge of their list is not going to send good vibes to your interviewers.
KNOW THE JOB
Before you spend time and energy on trying to land your ‘dream job’, be aware of the inevitable downsides of the role. If you managed to do some work experience then you should have an idea of this.
In the final interview for my current job, my then-interviewer, now-boss told me ‘this job involves a lot of admin that won’t go away’. She was not lying.
I spend a lot of my time on admin tasks like updating mailing lists, sending coverage to authors and editors, uploading details of events to our database, replying to external enquiries, dealing with invoices, writing internal publicity updates.
And there are other aspects of working in a publicity department that may not appeal to some, too, such as working evenings, weekends, and very early mornings.
Having written all that, I will now say that I LOVE my job. Publishing is filled with wonderful, enthusiastic people and working with them is a privilege. Everyone is there because they love books.
Working in my current role I have met some of my childhood heroes including Jacqueline Wilson, Malorie Blackman and John Boyne. I also work with some of the most inspirational, amazingly talented, hysterically funny people who I hope will be the next generation’s favourite authors.
It can be very hard to break into publishing as jobs are so in-demand. At some points I genuinely believed I wouldn’t ever get anything approaching the job I wanted. But I did. So I would advise you to be persistent!
In news whose tolerability likely correlates directly to your own patience for its chief proponent, American restaurant chain Chipotle has begun printing specially commissioned short pieces of prose on its bags and cups at the suggestion of Jonathan Safran Foer, the divisive author of Everything is Illuminated, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close and Eating Animals. The texts are designed to be read in two minutes or so, and come from a range of big-name contributors, including Toni Morrison, George Saunders, Sarah Silverman, Malcolm Gladwell and Judd Apatow.
The Bookseller Industry Awards took place last night in London, with a crowded field of winners led by Blackwell’s, named Book Retailer of the Year, and Little, Brown, who took home the evening’s biggest prize, Publisher of the Year. The latter was Little, Brown’s second win in the category since 2010, bestowed for a banner year that saw it publish hugely successful titles including Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch and J.K. Rowling’s pseudonymous Robert Galbraith novel, The Cuckoo’s Calling. Blackwell’s, meanwhile, was cited for its work integrating digital and physical book sales from its development hub in Shoreditch, amongst other innovations.
Penguin Random House today launched My Independent Bookshop, a combination social network and e-commerce platform that hopes to benefit independent booksellers whilst providing a virtual counterpart to browsing their shelves. The site allows users to create their own ‘bookshops’, selecting 12 titles they would recommend to others and giving them space to tell other users why, hoping to capture the feeling of a personal recommendation that might be found in brick and mortar bookshops, outside of the standard Amazon algorithms. Those 12 titles can be rotated as often as desired, and the bookshop containing them can also be personalised to users’ own tastes.
Conservative education secretary Michael Gove has had numerous works by American authors removed from the English literature GCSE syllabus, expressing a wish that students instead study work by predominantly British writers, and much of that dating from before the 20th century. If you’re in need of an illustrative example, chosen completely at random, that means that while the American Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 is now most likely off limits, there may still be a chance that school pupils will be allowed to read the English George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.
Less than a month after its shortlist was revealed, the 2014 Orwell Prize for political writing has gone to Labour MP Alan Johnson for his memoir This Boy. The former home secretary’s account of his early childhood took the £3,000 prize, only days after winning the £10,000 Ondaatje Prize. In a head-to-head battle of ideologies, Johnson’s book beat Charles Moore’s Margaret Thatcher: The Authorised Biography, as well as Gaiutra Bahadur’s Coolie Woman, Frank Dikötter’s The Tragedy of Liberation, James Fergusson’s The World’s Most Dangerous Place and David Goodhart’s The British Dream.
Continuing a big week for industry prizes, this year’s Kim Scott Walwyn Prize has been awarded to Anne Perry, editor with Hodder & Stoughton. The award is presented annually to women who have worked in publishing in the UK for up to seven years, celebrating both their achievements to date and their promise for the future. Perry joined Hodder & Stoughton as an assistant editor in 2012, and was promoted to editor less than a year later. She is also co-founder of The Kitschies – awards for fantasy and speculative fiction in the UK – with her husband, Jared Shurin. Perry wins £1,000 and a two-day course at the Publishing Training Centre.
Perry’s initial duties at Hodder & Stoughton focused on science fiction and fantasy, fostering links online with fans of the genres, commissioning new works of genre fiction and working on backlist and digital titles. Oliver Johnson, associate publisher with the company, describes her as ‘one of the most talented and innovative young editors in the business’.
Co-chairs of the prize advisory committee and judging panel Denise Johnstone-Burt and Catherine Clarke say Perry was ‘the stand-out candidate from a superb shortlist. The judges marvelled at the speed, imagination and determination with which she has championed genre fiction in this country. Anne not only publishes excellent science fiction and fantasy, she also writes it brilliantly. She actively seeks out new readers and has set up the Kitschies Awards, already widely recognised for the quality that it rewards in her chosen field. She is the acme of today’s multi-talented and multi-tasking publisher – a fearless pathfinder who has set a standard to which we should all aspire.’
Also nominated were Waterstones’ Melissa Cox, Penguin Random House’s Lynsey Dalladay, The Poetry Translation Centre’s Sarah Hasketh and Janklow & Nesbit’s Hellie Ogden. Perry is the second American émigré to win the prize in a row, with last year’s award going to Miriam Robinson for her work as Foyles head of marketing, on a shortlist that also featured BookMachine’s own Laura Austin.
This is an extract from The Content Machine: Towards a Theory of Publishing from the Printing Press to the Digital Network, by Michael Bhaskar.
In conversation with publishers, one sometimes gets the sense disintermediation – a cutting out or unbundling of publishers from the literary value chain – isn’t taken seriously. Publishers assume they’ll always be wanted and needed and that their imprimatur means any attempt to disintermediate will be at worst equivocal, at best footnotes in the grand history of the written word.
Such thinking is mistaken. Papyrus workers, scribes, rubricators, hot metal typesetters and even map publishers probably all once thought themselves relatively secure, yet they have all been rendered irrelevant by new technology. For publishing, digital technology is an ‘out-of-context’ problem: like the Conquistadors in America being technologically more advanced and following imperatives incomprehensible to the indigenous population. Even recognising the true nature of the problem isn’t obvious. It can’t be couched in the usual terms.
Paperback romance maven Mills & Boon isn’t a literary brand you would normally associate with formal or technological innovation – unless your sole exposure to the books is listening to your gran unconsciously recite passages she’s read from them as she drifts in and out of sleep in her armchair, in which case they might come across as automatic writing sprung straight from Barbara Cartland’s id – but it seems to be looking to change that with the launch of a new multi-platform venture. The Chatsfield centres around a fictional London hotel, telling multiple stories through a central website and across social media, e-mail, YouTube, blogs and even text messages.