No preamble, just questions and answers…
How much experience is needed for entry-level roles?
Hopefully not much. The whole point of these roles is meant to be, in my eyes, that companies hire those they believe have the skills, personality and drive to shine and grow within that team. That is most important, not that someone already has two years’ worth of experience.
Often it feels like that isn’t true. Instead it feels like those who already have significant experience with another company will get the role. It feels as though an editorial assistant for company A will move to company B to work in the exact same role because they felt they weren’t going to progress up the ladder at A.
On the flip side, when I was made redundant I was applying for a mix of entry- and mid-level roles and often found I was overlooked for those more junior ones. I figured the reason why I wasn’t getting hired was because I had too much experience. That is why I began lying on my CV and removing experience, which I have mentioned on this site before.
Both outlooks can’t be true; they contradict one another. Therefore I think the truth is somewhere in the middle. You can have too much experience because you will appear unmotivated and perhaps even scared of progression. While having no tangible experience within a working environment is going to be a risky proposition to an employer.
That tangible experience, for me, is key. It doesn’t mean you have to have been working within an office, just that you have worked with others on projects and can gel with others. That could be with others in a university setting, or in an office. Ultimately you will need to be able to work autonomously, but be able to illustrate you are able to take direction and ask others for advice and guidance if needed. That is the mix I feel is needed.
In conclusion, the least amount of experience needed is proof you have worked with others and can do so going forward. I feel that is the same for jobs in every department going.
Other than work experience, how do you break into the industry when you have trained specifically for it? (For instance, after studying for an MA in publishing.)
Good question. A tricky one to answer, if I am honest. As mentioned above, I do believe there is a middle ground when it comes to gaining experience. You need to show you can work with people and you can do that through any job or task. These jobs could include front-facing roles where you speak to customers or other companies.
Not sure I’ve ever mentioned gaining temp/contract work as a receptionist before but I think this could be great experience. Unlike so many internships and work placements with publishing companies, these are always paid and teach you so much about diary management and working with clients. If you search such roles on Indeed or other recruitment sites there are always so many of them going. It is hard to get them, don’t get me wrong, yet that is the same in entry-level publishing roles.
Other than that, work on a blog or podcast that involves interviewing others. I have appeared on Emma Ronan’s Slumbering Sloth Podcast before and I must profess my admiration for Flavia Marcocci who ran the Publishing Insights podcast as part of her MA. Please give both of these series a listen if you haven’t already. (Flavia was nominated for a London Book Fair Trailblazer award in 2019, which was in part due to this podcast series.)
Such endeavours show how proactive you can be. Employers love people who show this quality as it suggests you will go that extra mile in the role you apply for.
Also, network. Network. Network. Network. It is a tricky business for many, but it can be worth it in the long run. My blog here tackled that topic.
Do you think there’s an age limit for entering a publishing career? E.g. if someone has a lot of experience in another industry (that could be related) are they going to find it difficult to break in to the industry at a later date?
Obviously I came into publishing in my thirties when most of those around me came to it straight out of university in their very early twenties. During interviews I even faced the question of ‘how would you feel being managed by someone younger than you?’ a few times. In fact, my first manager in publishing was a year or two younger than me, I think. To me it didn’t matter one bit.
Do I think there is an age limit for entering the industry? Yes, if I was being entirely honest. Though I would say that is probably in your late fifties, maybe, when the chances of you staying with that one company for a prolonged period seems less likely.
Saying that, that only applies if you are trying to enter it at the ground level. If you have suitable experience and it is related, then you don’t need to start at the bottom. Someone in their fifties who has worked in marketing in another industry is going to be able to bring a fresh perspective and ideas to a more senior role. It is more about finding your place based on that experience.
Also, in your CV you don’t need to highlight how old you actually are. My CV, for example, doesn’t include the year I completed any of my university degrees. Actually, I only tend to include details of my MA degree. There are no GCSE or A Level results included. If you looked at my CV you would not know how old I was. That is because my work experience from back in 2000 when I was eighteen isn’t relevant to the work I do today in 2019.
What allowed you to transition into publishing? E.g. industry volunteering?
Yes, volunteering. Realising that I didn’t have to get a job in the one department I wanted to be in long term. Luck.
All of the above, I think. Each led on to the other. I volunteered and did work experience at companies when trying to move on from my previous career in education. That volunteering led to some advice I discussed on Emma’s podcast that I should only apply to jobs I wanted to be in long term (editing, trade). Realising that was total rubbish after months of getting nowhere led to me applying for something else. Getting on with the hiring manager in an interview led to my being offered the job.
That got my foot in the door. Then I essentially repeated the process after being made redundant. I went back to volunteering and work experience. That led to being offered a role with a company I volunteered with. It wasn’t in and Editorial department as I wanted, but it was a job and it got me back on the publishing horse.
Realising you don’t have to start where you ultimately want to be was a big hurdle I overcame. That allowed me to transition. You never even know, the department you have your heart set on may not be what you think it is. You could start elsewhere and fall in love with something else.
What should budding publishers include/not include in covering letters?
The do not’s:
I can’t remember where I heard this now, but don’t say ‘I am perfect for this role’. Do that and the recruiter will instantly begin to look for reasons why you aren’t.
Personally, don’t bother with a ‘I am applying for X role I saw advertised on Y’ introduction. It takes up words you could be using to say what experience you have and why it is you want to work for that company.
A little bit away from what not to include, but don’t fire off the application the day you write it. Obviously if the deadline is that day you need to, but if an advert goes up that day you should not also send it in that day. Under no circumstances would I advise sending an application in the same day. You need to research the role and company, tailor your CV and covering letter, let it sit in case you think of anything else to say, then you need to proofread it. You can’t proofread something you just wrote. You are more likely to make mistakes. Not only that, but what impression doe sit give that you were able to apply within a few hours. Probably that you have used a generic template for the application and not thought about why it is they are the company you truly want to be with.
Tailor the application.
Explain why that role is the one you want and why that division. Research them and mention their books.
Which was most valuable skill to you/an employer, why?
At the entry-level stage, organisation. While attending the SYP Oxford summer party I met someone who started their role that week. She mentioned how in her interview they asked her how she stayed organised. Her view on this was hilarious. She just remembered it. No to-do list. No post-it notes. She just remembered it. The reason why is because she used to work behind a bar and in that situation she didn’t have time to write down what people needed.
Why did I find this so great? Because she used her previous non-publishing experience to learn how to keep organised. She developed a system that worked for her outside of the industry.
I certainly couldn’t get away with that system, and maybe you can’t either. What you can do, is find a system and way of keeping organised that works for you. I write to-do lists all the time. Maybe you have an Excel spreadsheet with dates outlining when projects need to be finalised by (like an editorial schedule would have).
Whatever way it is, find a system that works for you and learn how to explain it within an interview situation in an easy-to-understand way. When starting out, you will be the heartbeat of a department and you need to keep things organised. The team will rely on your organisational skills.
How many rejections did you face before you found your first job?
On my first round after studying for my MA and getting my first role, I am unsure. Over a period of around nine months I possibly had ten interviews before I got offered a role.
My second go around was much more brutal. I had approaching seventy (70!) interviews. I discussed this in more detail here. These weren’t all for publishing roles – I had two with theatres for general work, for instance – and that sucked. That was because I couldn’t find my level given I had experience, yet many felt it too much or not relevant enough. Grrr!
How did you stay motivated or mentally sane on your job hunt? Any tips on how to cope with rejections?
I didn’t stay sane. I didn’t cope at all. To this day the repercussions of that period of my life linger… actually, they don’t linger, they are pretty front and centre most of the time.
So for anyone feeling it, you are not alone or weak for letting it get to you. Please be open about it. I outright suck at being open about such things. Because of that maybe I’m not qualified to say others should be, but my ear is always open to those struggling like I did.
I wrote about rejection previously on my blog, and Chloë Rose discussed her strategy for approaching applications here. Finding others in the same boat is my biggest recommendation in terms of strategy.
I stand by the idea that if you have others around you that understand your position and you encourage each other, you are all the better for it. Don’t be scared that such people may get the dream job you want. If that did happen, be supportive. Champion others and that will be noticed. They may hear of a role right for you in their company and recommend you for it based on your support.
Have I found a way to receive honest, real feedback?
Nope. No, I haven’t.
When I would chase interview feedback I was mostly given the same response: We really liked you but we gave it someone with more experience/we felt would be a better fit.
Obviously, that isn’t very useful. A number of companies have offered great feedback. They are stars in my eyes for doing so. Sadly the majority don’t offer such feedback. I often feel the response above is given out to save time and not hurt feelings. I can understand that. The worse thing is I have provided similar feedback when hiring myself. Looking back I regret that and if hiring in the future I wouldn’t do it again. I would give as much feedback as possible.
While I don’t think this approach can be used very often, I will direct you to Ain Bensenouci’s website. On there she has a great blog post on the topic of getting a mentor. Ain’s mentor rejected her in an interview, therefore she sought her out. She managed to get feedback by asking to meet and ultimately got mentorship. That is something I’d not considered before and think it is brilliant.
Though as I said, don’t use that for every rejection. It is probably a one-and-done situation.
How do you get more responsibility in a job when there is pushback from those above?
This is such a hard position to be in. In this sense I have always been lucky in that my managers have been incredibly supportive of me and encouraged me to take on more and more. Even when I was in one job and I didn’t particularly want to do that as it wasn’t in an area I wanted to be in long term, I was supported in that decision. What happened there was I provided with opportunities to complete tasks that were more closely linked to what I wanted to do. (Basically, I was given more proofing and copy-editing work when working as a marketer.)
Therefore, my first-hand experience in this area doesn’t mean I can provide the best advice. That is why I reached out to a HR expert. This is what they said:
Look at your options and consider other opportunities outside of your current organisation. Try to be as proactive as possible in your spare time and look at freelance or extra opportunities to get more experience. Look to a mentor to guide you through how to get to where you want to in your career.
A mentor is a great idea. I truly believe that. If wondering how to get one, I refer you back to my previous answer. I can’t emphasise how useful a read Ain’s blog post is on mentorships. She has been going from strength to strength in her career. She is a star and believes that her mentor played a major role in helping her achieve what she has. Check her blog out.
Industry training courses? Which ones are best?
I actually haven’t undertaken any. The simple matter is I didn’t/don’t have the money to spend £1,000 on a course. Naturally MA degrees exist in publishing and they seem to be useful. I know many who have undertaken them such people have all been complimentary in how helpful they have proven in giving them a basic understanding of the industry.
Any courses that The Society of Young Publishers run are worth trying out for. Their Skill Workshops especially. They had one recently on audiobooks and have had previous ones on agenting and marketing. You can learn skills and insights into various departments and add the experience to your CV. (If you attend one, do at it to your CV as a course undertaken. It shows a dedication to the industry.)
In my blog post on key skills I mentioned how I learnt proofreading symbols by using this website. It didn’t cost me a single penny and, whilst learning them, whenever I would read something I would think which symbols I would use to correct a typo or the like. Learning this was vitally important for me and my work in editing.
While you can search various video content sites (Lynda, YouTube) for courses on InDesign or Photoshop or web design. Getting basic hands-on experience using such design packages or skills is more important than learning to master them if you are starting out. You won’t be expected to be a design wiz if you go for a Marketing Assistant role. You may eventually use InDesign or Email Blaster or whatever, but a grounding in understanding what you can do with them is likely enough.
Tips for starting freelance work in the publishing industry
At a Society of Young Publishers Alumni event hosted at Bloomsbury earlier in the year the topic was centred on how to successfully start your own business or begin freelancing. There were four experts who’d either made that transition to going it alone, or helped to curate a freelancing network. Therefore first and foremost I would recommend watching that video (this direct link is to Facebook, FYI. The below keeps you here).
Setting up a simple, uncomplicated website is also a must. Keep things clean and concise with what services you offer. I’ve always felt it is like a menu in a restaurant: don’t try to offer too much choice otherwise it becomes confusing. Know who you are and what you are good at, then offer services based around that.
Also, let’s face it, networking is key. SYP London Chair Aimee Dewar also recently begun a freelance networking group on Facebook that can be found here. This offers support to those starting out, who want a helping hand, or just to find general support. (Freelancing can be a solitary life.)
Best book finish?
I took this to mean the best ending to a book. That isn’t what was intended. What was meant was the best design and actual physical finish to a book. Therefore I will answer both.
Firstly, the design. The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton and Raven Books. It is stunning. It is simple and captures the aesthetic of the 1920s setting perfectly. The map printed on the inside of the jacket helped provide a clear geographic understanding of the location of the novel, which given the premise of the book proved useful to understand where each character was at any given moment.
Secondly, the best ending? I am going to cheat slightly and choose a book I edited. I didn’t mould the ending of this book, and in fact it is probably the book I have ‘edited’ the least so far in my career. It was pretty much finished when I first read it. This is William Bayer’s The Murals.
While I don’t want to spoil the ending, I will simply say that it revolves around a case of abuse in the past and one of intellectual exploitation in the present. A group of people are inspired to seek out the victim and understand what happened, and on the way get caught up with bringing everyone to justice.
It didn’t end as I expected, yet that was the point. How it did end felt true to the story and the world Bayer built. It was great.
If I find mistakes in a published book, should I tell the publisher?
OK, this one I wasn’t asked directly, but I think it is an important topic. The reason I think this is because I have done this before. Oh boy, do I regret doing so.
I sent an email to the publisher during my lowest ebb pointing out a couple of errors and said I offer proofreading services. It was such a silly move. As soon as I began to feel better I realised I was essentially telling numerous people they were rubbish at their job and I wouldn’t have made those mistakes. Obviously, it isn’t a good look.
Unsurprisingly, despite applying for a number of jobs with that company since sending that email, I’ve never heard back for an interview. My feeling has always been that it is due to that indiscretion.
The simple fact of the matter is that no book is flawless. If an average book is 90k words, the chances of their been no mistaks is virtually impossible. While there is the author, the agent (possibly), the editor, the copy-editor, the proofreader, possibly an editorial assistant, all looking at a book, things do slip by. We are only human.
I also think it is useful to think of it like this: if you would like to work at the company that published that book, would you flag every slight mistake a colleague made no matter the situation and tell them how wrong they are? I wouldn’t. If I did flag something, I would do it in a very supportive way. But I would know that person. If you send in a random email you don’t know the person on the receiving end. It is likely to be read as a damning criticism even if it isn’t meant to be one.
I would recommend staying clear. It is like posting a negative review on a blog or review site. It is obviously fine to do so and you are entitled to express your opinion, but you don’t shouldn’t tag the author/company into the criticism. That just feels like a deliberate insult.
That is about it. Thanks for reading and do always feel free to message me if you have questions,