I know it sounds like a cliché, but I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to work with books. However, as my undergraduate degree in Comparative Literature drew to a close, I was left feeling uncertain about the exact path my career would take. Finding myself at something of a crossroads, I applied for, and was accepted by, Trinity College Dublin: their M.Phil in Children’s Literature seemed like the perfect opportunity to indulge my love of picture books and revisit wordsmiths of my youth, whilst still making progress towards that coveted literary career.
As challenging and life-enhancing as my year immersed in the Dublin book scene was, I realised that a life in academia wasn’t for me and, by the time I returned to London last September, I was certain that I wanted to pursue a career in publishing. By this stage, I had spent nearly two years developing my Young Adult book blog (posting reviews and articles several times a week) and establishing a social media network. I was now hoping my Masters would serve to further demonstrate my commitment to potential employers. Unfortunately, my CV remained severely lacking in any real publishing experience - something I was keen to rectify - and I knew that getting my foot in the door was going to be easier said than done.
What followed were a number of internships with London-based publishers (largely unpaid apart from a modicum of expenses), volunteering at literary events, refining my CV and applying for jobs. It was a balancing act. I didn’t want my CV to be littered with countless two-week placements, nor did I want there to be voids where I appeared to be doing nothing at all! These experiences enabled me to make new contacts every day, and I was repeatedly being told that they would have given me a job in a heartbeat had there had been one available. It was these contacts who were passing on my name to their friends in other companies, saying that I had been working with them and would be worth interviewing. It kept my name in the loop. This not only made me feel valued, but encouraged me to keep going.
In April, I was offered a permanent position at Hachette Children’s Books in their newly-created role of publishing administrator. Before this job, I was aware of editorial - as most people are - and I had developed a good knowledge of marketing and publicity through my blog and various placements, but positions within some of the other departments (such as operations, rights, production and sales) hadn’t even crossed my mind. These days, I work with people at every level of the company (from senior management down to the assistants), and from every single department. I understand how every aspect of the publishing process fits together, and I have a much better understanding of where my strengths would be best utilised. Although this role is not necessarily one I saw myself in when I started my search, I couldn’t have asked for a better introduction to the publishing industry.
My advice for someone starting out:
*Be willing to say yes and to do all jobs with a smile - even the horrible ones. Seriously, it’s something people remember. You don’t know who might be paying attention, or what breaks they might be aware of (either within their own company or elsewhere within the industry).
*Keep in touch with any contacts you make, and attend events where you might be able to reconnect with them – new possibilities might have opened up in the intervening period.
*Use your initiative: go above and beyond the call of duty. If you see an opportunity to help, or to make someone’s life easier, take it! They will, more often than not, be incredibly grateful. Make yourself indispensable. Be so good they can’t forget you!
*Stay open-minded. Don’t discount a job or department just because it doesn’t mirror your initial aspirations. Embrace change in your job description: it might just open doors that you would never have considered.
*Finally, give yourself credit where credit is due. So many people in this industry talk about getting “lucky,” and say that they were just “in the right place at the right time”. Whilst there might be some truth to that, you can make your own luck by working hard, putting yourself out there, and not giving up when that highly sought-after entry-level job seems a long way off. Don’t give up - good luck!