I’m one of the very few people to have got into publishing by accident.
In the final year of my photography degree I started specialising in editorial photography for book covers, and sold some of my images to trade publishers in Wales after approaching them by email and arranging meetings to discuss my portfolio. This was utterly terrifying to me at the time, but it paid off. Just after I graduated I got a call from one of them, Parthian Books. Their regular freelance designer was unavailable and they wondered if I could help out. I was a bit hesitant – not being a graphic design graduate, or being familiar with publishing software – but I said yes and figured it out as I went along. A few months later, my short-lived career as a photographer ended when Parthian invited me to undertake a 10-week paid placement with them, part funded by the brilliant Go Wales organisation. Parthian provided me with training and support, and decided to create a full-time role for me once the placement was complete.
For the next few years I worked as Parthian’s design editor. I handled cover design, typesetting, promotion materials and production management, and became so familiar with their list and the editorial process that I was encouraged to apply for the role of fiction and art editor when it opened up. Again, I was a little reluctant. This was a whole new set of skills to learn, but I said yes and threw myself in at the deep end, going on to work with incredible authors like cult hero Niall Griffiths, Booker nominee Stevie Davies, and international photographic artist Shimon Attie. After taking on an increasing amount of responsibility for managing Parthian’s publishing list, schedule, freelancers and interns, I was promoted to publishing editor, and launched the Bright Young Things series to discover and support fresh young writing talent, and widen the audience at literary events.
A move to London in 2011 meant I was freelancing for a few months while looking for a new role. I remember being terrified of having to go out networking – despite having done lots of public speaking in my previous roles – but I went along to a Women in Publishing event, alone and very nervous, and met Helen Speedy of Atwood Tate. Before I knew it I was working with them for the next 18 months. I focused on recruiting editors and matching them with publishers – it was a brilliant way to learn about the wider industry.
My last in-house role was production manager at a small publisher of contemporary art and design books – it was an intense position with huge responsibility but taught me many valuable lessons, and I loved getting really geeky about the printing and binding processes.
After 10 years of roles in design, editorial, and production, I decided the time was right to strike out on my own and set up Head & Heart. We’ve been going for just over a year now and I’m really excited to see the company growing. In my role as founder and project manager I get to make the most of my varied experience, and combine everything I love about the industry, collaborating with publishers, writers, and my very talented freelancers to make book projects come to life.
It’s quite rare to sample so many different departments if you work in publishing – and it can be a drawback if you want to work for one of the larger houses – but I love working with independents, and encourage anyone looking for internships to apply to some smaller publishers. They’re usually in need of support, and will be more likely to give you an oversight of the whole publishing process, and not make you the default tea-maker/photocopier.
I’d also advise those looking to start their career in publishing to say yes as much as possible. It can be scary to get outside of your comfort zone, but it’s the only way to move forward. Every big step in my career has involved making a leap of faith, but it’s amazing how quickly you can learn when you have no choice, and everything is easier the second time around.
Finally, yes you do have to go out and start networking. Nobody is going to come to you and offer you your dream job, you have to be proactive and tenacious, and market yourself online and in person. There are so many great organisations to help you do this – the Society of Young Publishers, Bookmachine, Byte the Book… Getting to know your peers is invaluable (not to mention fun, once you get the hang of it). It’s not just true of the publishing industry, but in all walks of life, the more people you make the effort to get to know, and genuinely interact with, the more opportunities are going to come your way. You have to combine a lot of hard work with the odd bit of luck, but it’s all worth it.
Lucy Llewellyn is the founder of Head & Heart Publishing Services.
- How I got my job in books: Elizabeth Ellis, publishing administrator, Hachette
- How I got my job in books: Emily Finn, marketing assistant, SAGE Publications
- Atwood Tate on 5 years in publishing recruitment
- How I got published
- My Job in 5... Margaret Byron, head of international sales, Abrams & Chronicle Books