How to enter publishing from another industry

How to enter publishing from another industry

Hayley Sothinathan worked in the Labour Party fundraising team before becoming Faber's Members manager in 2018 and being named a Rising Star 2020. Here, she shares her advice for how to make the transition from a different profession into the publishing industry.

Can you outline your career trajectory to date and how you ended up in your current role?

My first job out of university was for a small prison arts charity, the Koestler Trust (now Koestler Arts). The mission of the organisation is to help increase the self-esteem of detainees across the UK by inviting entries to an annual arts awards and exhibition, with the social aim of reducing reoffending rates. It was a hugely formative experience in my creative and political outlook and has underpinned my aims within work since – I’ve tried to focus on the role of art in politics and politics in art.

I worked in membership fundraising for Koestler and afterwards at Tate, where I worked in communications for the Patrons team. I then moved to the Labour Party to work on fundraising events in 2011 and stayed there through two general elections until 2017. I got my current position as Membership Manager at Faber whilst on maternity leave. It looked like my dream job and was lucky enough to get it.

What attracted you to working in publishing?

I never set out to work in publishing – I saw the Members Manager job advertised and thought it was the perfect mix of arts and social impact for me. I loved that Faber Members is free to join and offers readers around the world a curated experience of some of the world’s best literature. I knew I wanted to spread the word as far as possible about the programme and grow an even stronger sense of community within the membership. There’s no doubt that free books is a pretty sweet perk of working in publishing though.

What skills and experience that you developed in your previous jobs helped you in your current position?

I worked in fundraising teams before starting at Faber, primarily in donor relationship management. I think the emphasis in fundraising on authentic voices, sharing inspiring stories and pulling out key information for busy people are all skills that inform how I communicate with Faber members. We know how busy people are so we only share news and events that we’d find exciting ourselves.

Were there any challenges you have faced as you do not come from a traditional publishing background?

There are several! I had done English Literature at uni, but didn’t know anything about the publishing process, any of the various terms used without a second thought and the timelines books work to. Coming from politics, the culture was also very different. I think it is definitely worth noting that whenever someone comes from outside publishing, it’ll be hard for them not to mourn things they are familiar with from their previous profession. But everyone was very welcoming, helped me understand how it all joins up and didn’t smirk at any of my questions (including which ISBN to use and why books are published in hardback first). I think coming from outside publishing, I primarily see myself as a reader rather than someone who works in publishing, but I embrace that as a strength!

Anyone from outside publishing will bring cross-industry expertise which may help drive innovation.

What are the benefits to publishers hiring people from outside the industry? 

Anyone coming from outside publishing will bring with them cross-industry expertise which may help drive innovation. But they will also widen the diversity of experience of different working cultures and this could have an important part to play in wider industry change towards becoming more inclusive.

What advice would you give to someone thinking of joining publishing from a different industry? 

  • Translate how your practical work experience and outcomes from previous positions will help you make a tangible difference in taking up a publishing position.
  • Don’t worry about or hide your lack of experience in publishing – embrace how your experience of other industries will help you bring something different.
  •  Share your passion for books and show that, although you may not have the same background as other candidates, at heart you’re motivated by the same thing.