Category: Careers

Bob Cox-Wrightson

Publishing roles beyond the book industry: tips for job seekers and career changers

So you’re looking for a career in publishing – that must mean looking for a job making books for a publishing company, right? Well, in some cases yes, but this is by no means the only route open to you. Publishing, and publishing skills, are applicable to a wide range of interesting roles and diverse industries.

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Tamara Navaratnam

Agile working: How SAGE’s agile office supports cross-team collaboration

One afternoon a few weeks ago I was in that state of high productivity which is fuelled by the panic of an upcoming holiday. On my ‘absolutely must get done before going away’ list were a number of items I needed to discuss with Amy Maher, the Senior Editor on the Psychology list (for which I am the Marketing Manager). However, the last thing I needed was to take a chunk out of my remaining work hours to have a meeting.

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Philip Connor

What Editors Want: tips from the experts for editorial success

I interviewed 15 editors whose work I admire for my new podcast, What Editors Want, to find out what they look for in a book and what tips they have for other editors.

Here’s some of what I learnt along the way:

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Debbie Williams

MA audio publishing module made available for the first time at the University of Central Lancashire

We spoke with Debbie Williams, Director and Associate Professor of Publishing at the University of Central Lancashire on their new module entirely dedicated to audio publishing. Why was an audio module necessary and what could students expect to learn on the module? We got in touch to find out more.

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Career progression: Interview with Publisher Jeremy Trevathan

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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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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Interview with Francesca Main, Publishing Director at Picador

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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Dealing with change at work: Tony Burke interview

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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sophie o'rourke emc design

Want to know more about book publishing? Ask an Agony Aunt/Uncle

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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Why professional ghostwriters don’t work for peanuts [winning blog idea February]

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.’ 

The making of a unicorn (aka the ideal freelancer)

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.

It seems that there’s not a publishing skills shortage at all

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.

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.

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