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Get Into Book Publishing

I recently attended Get Into Book Publishing, an accessible, tutorial-led course at University College London. The four-day event, attended by around seventy delegates, was organised and led by Heather O’Connell of Bluebird Consulting.

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Francesca Main is Publishing Director at Picador, where her authors include Jessie Burton, Cathy Rentzenbrink, Emma Flint, Mark Watson and Adam Kay. She was named Editor of the Year at the Bookseller Industry Awards in 2015. Previously, she worked at Simon & Schuster, Hamish Hamilton and Penguin and has also taught creative writing and editing for the Arvon Foundation.

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sophie o'rourke emc design

In August 2016 BookMachine invited a group of publishing-savvy professionals to join its editorial board. This, in short, means that it’s not just the 3 of us (Sam, Laura, Norah) who are thinking about how to publish the best ideas insights about the industry on the site – there is now a group of experienced insiders working on this.

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On Wednesday 15th February, Kathryn Munt, Astrid deRidder and Anna Faherty were in turns helpful, humorous and honest in their observations on outsourcing and freelancing. Astrid used the term ‘unicorn’ to describe the ideal freelancer: reliable, on time, within budget, problem solving, going beyond the brief. Each of us smiled as we realised that we were unicorns ourselves – rare, magical and pure, with tears that can heal the sorrows of a publisher’s heart (my interpretation). And I wondered (Carrie Bradshaw voice-over) – What could publishers do to create more unicorns?

Better communications – even if we share a language and culture

Kathryn described working with Indian companies providing outsourcing teams, where poor communications can cause budget and quality issues. She stressed that training in communications was provided.

I’ve been asked to be concise and clear when sending debug requests to Indian outsourcers, but does anyone apply these ‘rules’ to communications between publishers, editorial staff and freelancers?

Anna mentioned the often tortuous approach to writing a brief, when all a freelancer needs is something clear and unambiguous. Many is the time that I’ve had to query a brief, and many the time I’ve had to follow up on the response to ask, ‘Sorry, but was that a yes or a no?’

We’re all under pressure, we dash off emails without thinking – but we shouldn’t. We should take a leaf out of the cross-cultural book and aim to be crystal clear (and courteous) in all communications. Perhaps we would all benefit from some training?

Anna also spoke about keeping freelancers in the loop; for me this is all about timing. It’s obvious that freelancers need to know when there are changes to a project. But they need to know as soon as you know, not whenever you remember to tell them.

Inclusion is not just practical; it makes freelancers feel good. Many enjoy being perceived as ‘experts’, and an expert who is excluded feels less inclined to go the extra mile when needed.

I read that unicorns can speak to all other creatures, but I believe the happiest are those that receive communications reflecting their status.

Don’t treat me as a member of staff …

Anna made a valid point: freelancers are paid for their time, but they are not paid to be available all the time. They cannot be expected to be at their desks every day from 9 to 5 unless this is agreed (and paid for).

… but do treat me as a team member

Do you praise your in-house staff after a job well done? Give a freelancer some positive feedback. Do you critique the work of your in-house staff? Take time occasionally to help a good freelancer to improve. Do you recommend your staff’s work to colleagues? Share your unicorns.

Do you tell your in-house staff that you don’t know when they will be paid, or that they won’t be paid this month because of a new payment system? I didn’t think so.

Lyn Strutt is a freelance content editor, copyeditor and proofreader of print and digital ELT materials, specialising in adult and business English and ESP. Before moving into publishing in 2003, she taught for over 12 years in the UK, Finland, Germany and Hong Kong. She is an Advanced Professional member of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders and holds a Licentiateship of the City and Guilds of London Institute in Editorial Skills. She promises she will get a website soon.

Print Futures Award of £1,500 available

Print Futures, a Printing Charity Initiative, has a number of grants open to UK residents aged 18-30 years old. If you are intending to study (or are currently studying) for a printing, publishing, packaging or graphic arts qualification then you might be eligible to receive one.

The grants have been set up to help young people pay for recognised training courses in a chosen career or to help to develop workplace skills.

If you would like more information, please email awards@theprintingcharity.org.uk – entries close 30th April 2017.

Andrew Hayward is MD of Ether Books, and has previously worked at The Lutterworth Press, Penguin, Pearson, Constable & Robinson and Summersdale Publishers.

About eighteen months ago my CEO and I were in an investment fair pitching for money for Ether. At the buffet lunch an investment banker said to me, ‘Andy, I don’t think you have ever done a day’s work in your life.’

I was a bit taken aback and asked if she had spoken to my bosses. ‘No, my point is that you are so passionate about what you do and you love your industry, it is not work for you.’ And I am and I do. I think I have been very fortunate to have been involved in publishing, working with fun people and being involved with interesting projects. So that is the first thing to remember and be grateful for, publishing is a great way of life.

1) Always reply

The lessons I have learnt are very simple. Firstly, always reply to correspondence: it does not take long to send an email, simply acknowledging the other person, but it is professional and courteous.

2) Be prepared

Second is a mantra that applies to whatever you do, not just publishing: fail to prepare, prepare to fail. As anyone who knows me will testify, I am a real thickie but I am never underprepared. I can think of meetings where the other person was not up to speed and it is a waste of everyone’s time.

3) Be patient

Thirdly, plant the seeds and wait for them to come to growth. I had lunch with an editor this week who said she had spoken to an author over a year ago and asked if he would like to write a book for her company. She heard nothing for fourteen months and then she had a missive from him saying he would, indeed, be interested in writing a book for her company.

Likewise, in my role as an agent I had written three times to a newspaper suggesting that they would like to take my author as an occasional correspondent. Not once did I get a response and then two weeks ago the paper got in touch and we have now had two articles in a couple of weeks. Publishing is very much a matter of faith. Sometimes the seeds never grow and sometimes they grow gloriously.

4) Keep the faith

Fourthly, believe in your vision even when people pour scorn on you. I was on the original committee for World Book Day and it took three years to get it off the ground. I well remember my boss at Penguin at the time saying that we were ‘baying at the moon’ (a wonderful phrase) if I thought publishers would share their marketing money with other publishers for a generic campaign. Well our committee continued to bay at the moon and now people say, ‘What a great idea.’ Likewise with Ether. Reading from mobiles was a nonsense, I was told, but now the statistics are proving our arguments and we have people wanting to buy the company.

5) You just never know…

Fifthly, and finally, remember publishing is not an exact science. Any of us who have been around a long time can remember times where books that were going to be sure-fire bestsellers turned out to be duds and books that came from nowhere hit the bestseller lists.

Once when I had been pitching Ether and said, ‘You will get a lot of marketing information as feedback,’ the response had been, ‘Yes, we don’t publish now unless we have all the sales information to hand. The day of the inspirational publisher is gone.’ As they said that I felt a little bit of me die, but the truth is that is not, and cannot, be the case. (A Shepherd’s Life or A Girl Is a Half-Formed Thing would undoubtedly have failed any sales and marketing criteria for being published but went on to become bestsellers.)

So, the most important lesson I have learnt over the last thirty-five years is to keep your passion and do NOT be put off by people who pour cold water on your ideas. Believe in yourself and enjoy your job.

Derby university

Let’s start a campaign. A campaign to bring back a word than no one uses any more. Sorglufu: the Old English word that means ‘amorous love tinged with sorrow or regret’. What a wonderful word for a human emotion that is commonly enough experienced to deserve a word of its own! Let’s start a campaign to reinstate ‘sorglufu’ to the lexicon.

Sorglufu. If I repeat it often enough, maybe it’ll stick.

I love words. I love the English language (even though I’m Scottish!). I love it so much that I own five different editions of the Oxford English Dictionary. In the full version of that masterpiece of lexicography over 300,000 separate words are defined. If you include slang, dialect (and maybe the odd Scottish word), I reckon the full vocabulary of the English language could be enumerated at over half a million words.

And I love every aspect of our language: from writing, to editing, and to publishing too. Stephen Fry talks about ‘the juicy joy’ of language, and I get what he means.

Sometimes it’s the sheer pleasure of a perfectly turned phrase that you go back and read over and over again; sometimes it’s a clever play on words; sometimes just the perfect, satisfying rhythm of a sentence.

Funnily enough, when I founded my little publishing business way back in the 1980s no one told me that I’d spend so much time writing and editing, and it has been a constant joy to me that these diverting and pleasurable activities have formed such a large part of my working life.

English is such a rich and varied language, more complex and perplexing than almost any other. I know a little French, a little German, even a little Latin and Italian, and they are mostly logical, sensible, well ordered and codified. But English? No. And that’s what helps make it such an endless joy to work with.

Many of you reading this BookMachine blog will be avid readers; many of you will be aspiring editors, publishers or writers. And many of you will feel similarly toward the language. So much so that you’d like to find a career wherein you can indulge your passion?

I know a bit about careers that involve writing and English: both as a publisher and editor, and now, more recently as a university teacher of those subjects. I’m particularly proud to have developed a new university course that lovingly combines everything in one neat package. We call it BA Writing and Publishing.

Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t carve out a successful and satisfying career in this area. The possibilities are boundless. Maybe you could become a copy-writer; maybe a fiction author; a poet? A literary agent; a marketing bod composing blurbs and headlines; an editor; a publisher? A journalist; a magazine writer; perhaps even a laureate.

If you’re interested in any of this, drop me an email. And I’ll know you’ve read my blog if, somewhere, somehow, you include the word ‘sorglufu’!

Thanks for reading.

Alistair Hodge is the MA Publishing Course Leader at Derby University. He has been a non-fiction publisher for over thirty years, during which time he has been a business leader and manager, and commissioning editor.

Jeremy Trevathan is the Publisher at Pan Macmillan in the UK, responsible for the adult division, which publishes authors as diverse as Ken Follett, Jeffrey Archer, Danielle Steel, Alan Hollinghurst, Cormac McCarthy, Nelson Mandela and Joe Wicks. Here, Norah Myers chats with him about the progression of his career.

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On 19th July, over 100 publishers will meet at St Bride Foundation off Fleet Street to discuss how to deal with change at work. One of the panelists is Tony Burke, an Assistant General Secretary at Unite the Union. Here are some of his thoughts ahead of the event.

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Each month BookMachine offers a community member, with great ideas, the chance to write on the site. February’s winner was Emma Murray, who wrote for us about why it’s worth investing in a good ghostwriter. Emma is a bestselling author and ghostwriter, specialising in business, psychology and higher education. She also ghosts books, blogs, articles, case studies, and book proposals.

Consider this scenario. You are an expert in your field; you have over a decade’s experience and a great reputation. A professional person contacts you and offers you £5,000 for six months’ work on a large and complex project. This works out at less than £7 an hour – lower than the national minimum wage. Do you accept the project or walk away?

For most of you, this would be a no-brainer – why would anyone with your skills and experience accept such a low fee for an enormous amount of work?

Yet, this scenario is more common than you may think. More and more often, professional ghostwriters are being offered astonishingly low fees for book projects. This is because there are ghostwriters who will work for this sort of fee.

Ghostwriters who DO work for peanuts

The sad truth is that there are ghostwriters who will work for peanuts. These are ghostwriters who are just starting out and need to build their portfolios, or students who want to make an extra bit of cash on the side. There are also ghostwriters who will work for very little or sometimes nothing at all just for the cachet of working on a celebrity book.

The problem is that ghostwriters who accept low fees set a false industry standard for the rest of the ghostwriting community. Besides, when novice ghostwriters mess up, it also taints the reputation of professional ghostwriters.

Why it pays to invest in a professional ghostwriter

Professional people know that quality comes at a price. If I quoted my clients £5,000 for six months’ work, they’d seriously question my writing abilities (and quite frankly, my sanity). Besides, my clients know that paying for quality reaps rewards.

Here’s why:

  • A book is the new business card: it showcases your expertise and promotes you and your business.
  • It enhances your reputation as a leading authority on a specific topic.
  • It opens the door to more speaking engagements (Think TED/TEDx).
  • It gives you something tangible to give to colleagues and hand out at conferences.
  • There is a certain cachet to being an author. It helps you to stand out from the crowd. Your book makes you memorable.
  • A successful book will earn you royalties which will help to cover your ghostwriting fees, and potentially act as another income stream.

What you are paying for

Professional ghostwriters charge more than novices as they have more knowledge and experience, as well as excellent reputations. Here’s what you get when you invest in a professional ghostwriter:

  • Professional ghostwriters have more than one string to their bows.

Ghostwriters often come from different backgrounds, including journalism, marketing, PR, and publishing. Not only can they write but are well-connected and able to offer you advice and guidance that goes beyond the act of just writing your manuscript.

  • Professional ghostwriters are also authors

Most professional ghostwriters are authors in their own right which puts them in an excellent position to advise you on the publishing process.

  • Professional ghostwriters are full-time writers

Professional ghostwriters do not ghostwrite ‘on the side’. This means that they are totally committed to working with you and your book until it reaches completion.

  • Professional ghostwriters have an excellent work ethic

Professional ghostwriters are reliable, efficient, totally committed to deadlines, very discreet and extremely loyal to their clients.

So this is why professional people pay more for professional ghostwriters. It’s simply not worth your time or money to do otherwise. Besides, as oil-well firefighter Red Adair used to say, ‘If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional, wait until you hire an amateur.’ 

Peter McKay is Chief Executive of the Publishing Training Centre. He joined the PTC in 2011 after 34 years in educational, scholarly and professional publishing. The PTC, an independent charitable foundation established 40 year ago, is a network of over 50 publishing and training professionals focused solely on delivering training courses for the publishing industry and developing publishing skills.

In the 21st century, book publishing companies seem to be investing less in the skills training of their employees than they used to, can this be right?

How does the Publishing Training Centre see it?

Such a picture seems evident when viewed through the lens of the Publishing Training Centre (PTC). At the turn of the century the PTC offered 82 individual, Open (classroom) Courses; in 2017 we offer 22.

In the year 2000 the PTC scheduled 381 days of training and trained 2,117 participants; in 2017 we have scheduled  74 days with a capacity of 714.

Why might this have happened?

Acquisition and consolidation of independent houses into imprints of bigger companies has certainly impacted the number of people employed by publishing companies.  (Not to mention one company shedding 500 UK employees is response to a weak global performance.)Fewer employees, less training needed.

The larger companies have turned increasingly to In-Company (exclusive, in-house) training rather than sending employees to external courses. 2013 was a turning point for PTC when, for the first time, we trained more people In-Company than on the Open Courses.

A recent survey of small to medium sized publishers reported that, whilst about half of them claimed to use external training courses, only one in seven admitted to having a specific training budget.  Four out of five companies use on-the-job training and one in two companies use coaching or mentoring.

What about freelancers?

There is a “skills counter-balance” and that is the long standing trend to outsource parts of the publishing process to freelancers and offshore companies. This trend accelerated after the 2009 economic downturn and is reflected through the PTC prism; we enrol an average of 70 people a month onto our editorial skills, self-study, courses.

The vast majority of self-study students are either freelancers or working their way to being one. These are people who have decided to take responsibility for their own skills development and also taken control of their working lives.

Let’s not forget the universities

The earliest degree courses in Publishing certainly date back to the early 1980s but it is true to say that the 21st century has seen a major growth in post-graduate and undergraduates gaining degrees and joining the workforce. Graduates of all hues have always represented a significant percentage of new recruits to the industry. One estimate is that one in ten of new recruits in any one year are grads and post-grads of publishing courses. It will be believed that this cohort will require less “training input” from their new employer than the generalist of old.

Does any of this matter?

For anyone looking to start and then grow a career in publishing it matters a lot. Publishing is about people and talent. Talent needs fostering and appropriate training at the right time has a powerful effect – and you might just have to go find it for yourself.

Rebecca Lewis-Oakes is the 2015 winner of the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize. She is currently Managing Editor for Fiction at Egmont UK and has been a commissioning editor at Puffin, Faber & Faber and Scholastic, working across all ages and ranges of children’s books, from fiction and non-fiction to picture books, gift and novelty. Her successes include editing the multi-award-winning Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell, commissioning the YouTuber hit Sprinkle of Glitter Diary and developing the first app for the Eric Hill Spot brand.

1) Congratulations on winning the Kim Scott Walwyn Prize in 2016. What an achievement. How has the win helped you professionally?

Thank you very much! It was an honour to win, especially with such a strong shortlist. The shortlist announcement timing was fantastic for me professionally – it came during London Book Fair which is obviously prime networking time, but also on the second day of my then-new job at Puffin. So the prize raised my profile within the industry and also at Penguin Random House, where, being such a big corporate, personal profile is hugely important. Winning the prize gave me a big confidence boost and sense of validation, since the judges recognised the importance of the behind-the-scenes nature of my accomplishments. While it’s often not the glamorous or headline-grabbing side of being an editor, it encouraged me to continue to see the broader picture in my career.

2) Please tell us about a few women working in publishing whose work and careers you really admire. What makes them stand out?

There are so many! Aside from the obvious trailblazers like Dame Gail Rebuck and Ursula Mackenzie, and current heads of houses like Francesca Dow and Hilary Murray Hill, I could perhaps highlight three women at different stages of their careers.

Philippa Milnes-Smith is always impressive, having headed up Puffin spectacularly, then becoming a top agent whose finger is always on the pulse and who is particularly great to work with.

Zosia Knopp is not only a Guinness world record-holding Rights Director, but she is really good at and committed to developing talent in-house. She is very inspiring to see in action, and is extremely generous with her knowledge and time.

Finally, Juliet Mushens (a KSW shortlistee, I believe) through sheer force of personality, hard work and great taste, has had phenomenal success early on in her career as an agent, which is clearly going to continue.

3) You approached Louise Pentland, a YouTube star, before it was popular to commission books from vloggers. What potential did you see in YouTube talent that you felt would fit naturally with book publishing?

Yes, we were only the second publisher to approach Gleam for any of their social talent. Louise in particular seemed a perfect fit for book publishing, since we went to her with the idea of a branded diary because she loves stationery and her followers love it too. It felt like a great project to do in print form, as the YouTube format is perfect for her content such as makeup tips, but this was a brilliant way to extend the interactive relationship between Louise and her audience on the page.

It was that combination of innovative creator and devoted audience that just made sense to us – and has been proven with all the social talent topping the book charts since then.

4) Where would you like to be in five years’ time?

I’d like to have progressed and expanded my current role. Beyond that, it’s hard to say: five years ago I couldn’t have imagined being where I am now, especially with the digital projects I’ve worked on. I never thought I would launch an app for Spot the dog, or help develop an xhtml-based typesetting programme! So I hope in five years I’ll still be open to new opportunities, helping my company run more smoothly and achieve more in whatever format that might take.

5) Why should women in trade publishing apply for the prize (or let others nominate them?)

The very process of applying for the KSW prize is empowering. The judges have designed a rigorous application process which will help women think critically about themselves and their careers. I found that in itself really positive. Being shortlisted and winning was a bonus and a huge boost for me. It’s so important to identify and own your achievements in your career, not just when applying for a new job, but think actively critically about your career in an ongoing way. So I say go for it!

Even though publishing is a pretty female-friendly industry, more can be done towards equality. Every choice that individual women take towards confidence makes a positive change.

6) What’s the most rewarding thing about working in children’s publishing?

Helping children to love reading. The mission statement at my first company, Scholastic, is about helping children to achieve their true potential on society through reading and – while lofty – that has always stayed with me. And it’s only possible because of the brilliant people I work with – across the board, I find everyone in children’s publishing is talented, committed and driven to produce great books for children to enjoy.

The Kim Scott Walwyn Prize recognises excellence and future potential in women in their first seven years of a publishing career. The deadline for applications is Friday 10th February and details can be found here: https://kimscottwalwyn.org/

Sarah Harvey is Senior Rights Manager at Pan Macmillan where she sells translation rights around the world. She has previously worked in Rights at Hachette, Quercus, and HarperCollins. Here, Norah Myers interviews her about the progression of her career.

1) How did you personally know when you were ready to progress to your next role?

With Rights, the seniority of your position is usually related to the size of the markets and territories that you look after — it is basically like a real-life version of the board game Risk — so I knew I was ready to progress once I started to take on bigger markets and became more confident negotiating the more complicated deals at that level.

More generally, I have always tried to learn from those senior to me and put myself forward for more responsibility, where possible; through doing this, I think you get to a point in each role where you see a job description for a more senior role and think to yourself “oh actually, I could do that.” And most of the time you can.

2) Which qualities do you think help certain people to get to the top of their profession?

In our small industry, I think one of the most important things is to be inquisitive about the wider industry and to put yourself out there as much as possible, whether that is inviting a few people to go to the pub after the last London Book Fair meeting, or volunteering to distribute books on World Book Night. It doesn’t necessarily involve going to events in conference rooms with strip lighting and networking in the cheesy Bridget Jones let’s-introduce-somebody-to-somebody-else-with-two-interesting-facts way.

Word travels fast in the publishing world: nearly every new role I have got has been because I’ve been recommended by others in the industry. The other side to this is that word of mouth can work against you and I know people who have been turned down for jobs for this reason.

So I suppose my advice is to always do the best job that you can and, ultimately, try not to be a d*ck to other people! The intern who you were rude to once could eventually be your boss.

3) What has been the most challenging element of a senior position?

I think one of the most challenging things is that the more responsibility you take on, the less people you have to hide behind if things go wrong, so it is important to have the courage of your convictions and to learn from your mistakes.

I am by no means at the top of the tree yet, but it saddens me that even in our relatively-liberal industry, the further you progress, the more of a struggle it is to juggle family life and your career, particularly if you’re a woman. In an industry dominated by women, our board rooms are still disproportionately filled with men and we need to do much better.

4) Where would you like to be in 5 years?

(I’m answering this in the hope that Trump hasn’t nuked us all by then…) I think a lot is going to change in the next five years, both technologically and politically (Brexit: GAH!), and I see both of these things impacting on our industry in a huge way, so it is hard to predict where we will be.

Whatever happens, I hope that I am still working on disseminating great stories and important information around the world, in whatever form, and that I am working in an arts world that is more diverse and less London-centric.

5) What advice would you give your younger self?

I think I would tell her to not sweat so much about things going wrong, to always leave any job that was making her miserable, and reassure her that everything always works out okay in the end (even when you get made redundant!). Oh and to put a bet on Leicester City winning the 2015/16 season…

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