How to get into publishing
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!