A Passion for Books isn’t Enough: The SYP Autumn Conference

Blog Posts 2022 2

Oriel Square works alongside publishers to continually improve the industry, and so we were proud to sponsor the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) Autumn Conference 2022, Publishing Inside and Out. The conference had a digital and in-person stream; Head of Operations Claire Gilbert took part in the digital panel event Nailing Job Applications. And Assistant Editor Eva Steenhuis attended the in-person event at Birkbeck University.

It can be tough landing a first job in publishing, with lots of competition. The Nailing Job Applications panellists shared their recruitment expertise and guidance for making the most of application opportunities. Joining Claire on the panel were Rhiannon Griffiths of Inspired Selection; Richard Clarke from Creative Access; and Helen Bugler from LDN Apprentices.

The panel was posed with interesting questions by the SYP chairs. We discussed the different approaches to recruitment found among publishing and creative businesses. The merits and drawbacks of application forms, and the role of these forms in creating a more equitable process, was discussed. Claire outlined the blind recruitment process being used by Oriel Square, where we ask candidates to answer questions which we design to match the skills we are looking for in the role. You can read more about this process, and how we are working to widen diversity in the industry, in our blog, Why representation matters.

One key theme emerging from the discussion was about conveying your passion, energy and enthusiasm through your application. As one panellist said, “passion for books isn’t enough”. Candidates were advised to think more widely about the industry, and especially to think about the commercial realities. For example, if answering the question ‘What are you reading?’, think outside the parameters of the book and set it in the wider context of competitor titles and the market.

Applicants were recommended to think carefully about how their skills are transferable into publishing, and outline these for the recruiter. Some relevant examples are communication skills – what have you written or done that was persuasive or had to convey complex information? Stakeholder management, critical to publishing, can be found in lots of other settings and roles. Can you give examples of taking the initiative and the impact that had?

Later on in the week, the in-person conference opened with an energising keynote address from Perminder Mann (Bonnier Books). She summarised what was to become the key theme throughout the day, stating that publishing is “a much more open and vibrant industry” than it was when she first began working but that we still must make efforts to ensure our books “better represent the ever changing world we live in”.  The day comprised six panel discussions, following on from Perminder’s speech, which focused on breaking into the industry,  building knowledge and the future of publishing.

Speakers emphasised that there are a multitude of paths which can lead you to a career in publishing. One panellist worked as an apprentice at Bloomsbury, one completed a Publishing master’s degree, while one first had a career in law. They made efforts to undermine the idea that you must have an English degree and an internship at one of the major publishing houses to break into the industry. Career’s Advisor Suzanne Collier (Bookcareers.com) assured delegates that we need to ‘dispel the myth that you need an internship’ to get into publishing. Instead, echoing the points raised at the online event, it is your transferable skills that are important, as well as your industry knowledge, which can be built up through using social media, frequently looking at the book charts or subscribing to publications like The Bookseller.

Panellists conveyed their discomfort with the lack of diversity and inclusivity in the publishing industry and were keen to see change, both in the demographic of industry professionals and in the books that make it to the shelves, although the latter problem is likely a symptom of the former. Laura Summers (BookMachine) described BookMachine’s ‘remote first’ working policy, in which all employees are set up to work from home, and noted that remote working has the potential to address the southern bias in publishing and make the industry more accessible. At Oriel Square we follow a hybrid 4-day working pattern, with two days spent in the office and two days with the option of home working each week. This flexibility, along with our blind recruitment approach, supports us in increasing diversity in our team.

The term ‘Booktok’ came up numerous times throughout the day, as did conversations around the rise of audiobooks, highlighting the digital shift in book culture. Booktok trends give new insight into the sorts of books that readers are enjoying, especially in the young adult market. A couple of panellists revealed that it is therefore becoming increasingly influential to the teams at major publishers, as it helps them to make user-driven acquisition decisions. It’s also a useful marketing platform for building excitement about a new release. Young publishers and publishing hopefuls should make sure they are aware of its relevance.

“The appetite for books isn’t going anywhere”, as one panellist stated towards the end of the day,  and this was clear to see from the enthusiasm projected by delegates and speakers alike. A passion for the written word and a love of publishing emerged throughout the week and, coupling this with the desire for continual improvement in the industry that was regularly expressed, we left the event excited for the future of publishing.

Oriel Square logo, saying 'Oriel Square, Strategy Research Publishing'

Claire Gilbert is Head of People and Operations at Oriel Square and supports colleagues, processes and projects in her role. Claire also champions edtech at Oriel Square and has an interest in sustainability in education. Eva Steenhuis is an Assistant Editor at Oriel Square and works with the editorial team to ensure the smooth running of publishing projects. Eva especially enjoys working on humanities and phonics resources.