How to get a promotion in publishing: your questions answered

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On Wednesday 22 January, BookMachine hosted a live Wednesday Wisdom interview session with Suzy Astbury (MD, Inspired Selection), focusing on how to get promoted in the publishing industry. We ran out of time to answer all of your questions in the session, so in the article below, Suzy’s colleague Abigail Barclay (Search Director, Inspired Selection) has kindly given us her valuable insights.

What advice would you give for getting promoted in publishing? Either promoted in the same company, or taking on a more senior role at another publisher?

The first step in getting to the next level is to master the role that you’re in. Be someone that others would come to advice on the role for, a role model.

Once you’re there, it’s time to think about getting the next step up and the best place to start with this is to ‘manage up’. Whether you’re a manager and looking to be a ‘head of’ or a Director and looking to be MD, managing up is so crucial. This means making sure that alongside mastering your own work, you’re making your boss’s life easier. Know what’s important to them, what’s high on their agenda and how they like to work. Helping them make these things happen will not just get you noticed but also give you incredible exposure into how the business works and insight into the more operational side of the business. Understanding why your business operates in the way that it does will put you in a great position to make a success of the next step up and help you make decisions that positively contribute to the wider company goals.

Now you’re managing up, you have a really good handle on the way that your team or department works. From here, it’s time to start networking across the company putting yourself at the front and centre of people’s minds. This could mean being present at All Staff Meetings, having coffees with other department heads or being involved in a wider company initiatives. Perhaps a new system is being rolled out that you can champion? Or a new product launch? Make yourself a company star!

It’s hard to know what to do next unless you truly understand what the promotion in publishing opportunities are, otherwise you’re spending energy stabbing in the dark! Use your appraisal meetings to show willing to develop and ask about your career prospects. In order for your boss to help you develop, they need to know you’re interested!

Now you have the management buy-in, the network and the knowledge – you’re ready to go for it!

If there is not an opportunity for promotion internally and you feel you really have learned everything you can, then it’s worth considering applying for things externally. For the most senior positions within the company, search firms are often used to head-hunt without advertising. This means that getting in touch with head-hunters at this point is a really good idea as they can be aware that you’d be interested to hear from them. They will be able to offer some CV and career counsel as well.

Alongside this, use your internal network to scope out internal roles in other parts of the business. You’ve honed that internal network so well now, let it work for you!

The best piece of advice that I got is to always go for a job that is going to stretch and challenge you so keep an open mind when you’re searching. It’s a myth that you have to have 100% of the skills on the job spec. I always think that 80% is a good level. Anyone that can do 100% of the role is already in it! The role has to add value to you and your career, just as you have to add value to the role. Showing that you will grow in the role also convinces interviewers that there will be motivation from your side to stay in the role too.

Remember, whether it’s your current employer or a potential one, everyone is on the same side. Employers do want to develop their workforce and companies do want to find the right person and are hoping that you’re it. Feel confident in yourself and feel confident in the system.  

I have struggled in past second interviews for Publicity Exec roles. Is there anything more I can do to set myself apart?

Being in publicity means you need to be able to sell a concept or Book to someone with no time. An interview is the perfect time to demonstrate these skills – I don’t mean go and talk about yourself in the third person as this could be really uncomfortable viewing but use the techniques you would employ in talking about a book to talk about your career and how your skills would make a real impact on the business  and authors. You want the interviewer to be completely sold on the idea as having you as their next Publicity Exec.  

With an interview, research is key. You have to know what authors they have on the list and what campaigns have done well. However you also need to be well researched on your own profile  and be able to demonstrate what campaigns you have worked on and techniques you’ve used to get column inches or media coverage  that have helped promote and sell your titles.

Make sure you really research what they have done in the past and highlight a campaign that you have admired. Apart from the idea that flattery will get your everywhere, this really shows commitment to the role and also expertise in publicity which is most likely what they will be looking for. This will show your enthusiasm for their titles which is going to be so important once in the role and you’re representing the brand to media contacts.

Again, taking an example of campaigns you have worked on, maybe bring along some references from some of the authors you have worked with so that you can read them out in the interview.  You should also be able to provide a detailed account of what  your network is like across tv, newspapers, magazines and radio.

You need to make sure also that your social media is up to date, that you are active on Instagram, twitter and facebook, maybe snapchat  and how you are using these tools to promote your authors and books.

Going from project editing to commissioning isn’t always easy; how would you advise someone wanting to make the transition?

It’s not easy because it is a big step, especially if you have never done any commissioning. It’s not just a jump, but also requires a really unique skill set. What is great, is that you have decided this is what you want to do! Now you can focus on making it happen.

To confirm that decision for yourself, I would suggest to start by spending some time with the commissioning team to learn how they go about it and what skills you need to upskill in to move into the role. I would definitely let your line manager or the line manager of the commissioning editors know this but do your research first.  

Looking at the skills you need to move to the commissioning role, you will want to think about: research, trend spotting,  negotiation, commercial acumen, networking. Identify where your gaps are in this group of skills and start upskilling in them. Additionally, you will want to know from a project editorial point of view how your role impacts the commissioning editor and vice versa.

You need LOTS of ideas as a commissioning editor so when you do finally approach the application whether internal or external, have quite a few at your fingertips.

You also need to be resilient as your ideas might not get approved, so you need to swiftly let that go, take on the feedback and come up with better ideas that will work.

Understand from the list you are working on as a project editor the reasons behind why the commissioning team has commissioned the content that they have, what the criteria is for a project to get a green light and what tools and resource they have to make sure they get that author signed.

Understand what your publisher offers authors, what is its unique selling point and why authors might choose to go with them rather than other publishers.Think widely on this point – think about its successful sales team or international rights team as well as marketing and publicity, it all counts!

Do you have any advice on securing a publishing job in London as someone currently working in publishing outside of the capital?

Take the address off your CV for a start – it’s not relevant to an application.

Address the relocation issue if it comes up and make sure that if you are offered a role you can move quickly.

Do your research on the living costs so when you are asked what salary you want, you are going to be able to afford it including rent, travel and MOST IMPORTANTLY food and ideally pocket money for some fun! Though there are plenty of things to do in London for free.. in fact there are several websites which advertise free events and places to visit as well as quite a few brilliant books!

The publishing world is becoming more regionally diverse also and there are many independent publishers scattered all around the UK now as well as some of the larger ones opening up regional and national offices outside of London.

It shouldn’t be a barrier though so if you are not getting interviews it could be more about the CV and covering letter rather than your location unless that is the feedback you are getting… If that is the feedback you are getting then do push back and reiterate your flexibility and plans to move and work in London.

Abigail Barclay is the Search Director at Inspired Search & Selection and based in the London office. She has been with the business since 2012 and comes from a market research background. Seeing a market demand for a more professionalised approach to hiring at the Executive level, alongside an interest from publishers in reviewing a wider pool of talent for their Executive hires, she launched the Executive Search division of Inspired in January 2017 to build on the previous executive recruitment that Inspired has been doing since ‘99. She partners with publishing companies and information providers, of all shapes and sizes, to source for them leadership, senior management team and Executive positions. This varies from replacement roles, interim roles, new divisional heads, MDs, VPs, NEDs and of course C-Suite positions.