PRH #TheScheme16: Alex Harrison interview

PRH The Scheme

Alex Harrison is a writer and editor with a keen interest in change and disruption in publishing and an insatiable passion for speculative fiction of all stripes. Outside of publishing, he manages the Werewolves of London, the capital’s premier quidditch team (really!) He was recently selected for The Scheme (Penguin Random House), an entry-level programme which aims to attract the marketers of tomorrow and find people with creative talent and potential who may have never considered a career in publishing. Norah Myers finds out more.

1) How did you hear about PRH’s #TheScheme16?

I don’t actually remember. If I had to guess, it’d probably be through Twitter – I follow about eight thousand jobs­in­publishing accounts, and it most likely turned up there. No concrete answer, though!

2) What motivated you to apply for it?

I didn’t have any real expectations of success, so I treated it like any other job opportunity, since I was applying for dozens at the time. Sure, the job sounded amazing, but my experience in applying for publishing jobs is that the better they sound, the more likely your CV will float down into a bottomless HR void and you’ll never hear back. Fun fact: when I made it to the video interview stage, I left it until about a day before the deadline because I thought my chances of making it any further were so low that it almost wasn’t worth the effort. Let’s all take a moment to mock the parallel­universe version of me who made that mistake.

3) Tell us about the assessment process. What did you learn about yourself and about publishing that will be relevant to your work?

The assessment process was, in a word, thorough. We took on everything from cover design to pitching to copy work, which really drove home just how much of a polymath the modern editor has to be. I guess it taught me that I’m better at presentations than I thought, but the real lesson here was that even the most daunting of tasks seems much more manageable when there’s a bowl of jelly babies on the table.

4) What do you hope to gain from #TheScheme16?

By the end of the Scheme, I’d like to have experienced as much of the industry as I can and set myself up for success in the publishing world. Practical knowledge, skills, contacts, friends – I’ll take the lot! I think this is very much the intent of the Scheme: to produce well­rounded editors capable of performing well in any publisher in the world. Not to suggest that I’m planning my exit strategy ­ from what I’ve seen of PRH, I can already safely say I’d happily stay on for many years to come, if I can earn the opportunity. It’s obvious that a lot of time, money, and effort has been invested in the Scheme, and I want to be worth it.

5) What do you hope #TheScheme16 can do to make publishing more diverse and accessible?

I think it’s very much a step in the right direction. Removing the need for degrees, experience, internships, CVs, cover letters, connections, and so on is a fantastic way to really level the playing field. The Scheme seems to be angled at identifying people with great potential, regardless of their background or the opportunities they’ve enjoyed, which is a very important part of what should be a multi­pronged strategy to diversify publishing. The growing number of BAME schemes and internships is really encouraging to see, for instance – the Scheme is aimed at breaking down entry barriers, which is obviously a great thing, but it’s not the one and only solution to the problem. I think the Scheme has done an excellent job at what it set out to do, which was to attract and identify a wide range of people with sky­high potential, and it’s at the forefront of a very positive trend in publishing recruitment.

6) What advice would you give anyone who hopes to apply for Schemes in the future?

Heed the words of Shia Labeouf, and just do it. Craft your application with love and care. Know what you like, know why you like it, and be ready to shout it from the rooftops. Doesn’t matter what you’re passionate about as long as you’re passionate. If you make it to the assessment day, be yourself, because that’s the one thing in the world nobody does as well as you. It might be cheesier than that one time I made macaroni cheese before realising there was no pasta in the house, but it’s true. Throw yourself into every stage of the Scheme, and no matter the outcome, it’ll be a fantastic experience.