Today’s post is a little different.
I attended a JobHack organised by the Careers and Events teams at Penguin Random House a couple of weeks ago, and had such a good time, I felt I had to share my experience.
Every year, this event travels around the UK to give people from all backgrounds a proper insight into the publishing industry, and different aspects of the process that takes a book from an idea to a physical/digital/audible object to purchase.
Some attendees, like me, have wanted to work in publishing for years – applying for job after job, internship after internship, work experience placement after work experience placement – all with varying levels of success. Others only know that they want to work in a creative industry.
Everyone, though, was keen to find out more about how books make it onto our shelves, and we were not disappointed.
First things first, though…..
I’ll start with the application process, because there is one. Don’t worry: it’s not very long or complicated. It might seem unusual for a one day event, but publishing itself is an incredibly popular career choice, with hundreds applying for every entry-level job opportunity offered. The fact that this event is run by Penguin Random House automatically increases the visibility of the marketing and the expected quality what’s on offer, and so more people are going to be interested. The team have to make sure that they offer places to the people who showcase a real passion for stories and storytelling.
That’s what publishing is at it’s most essential level:
it’s about telling stories.
Whether it’s stories that make us laugh or ones that make us cry, or ones that make us really think about certain concepts; publishing is about finding stories and voices, and sharing them with audiences.
I was asked to answer a couple of questions about my favourite story (in any format) and why I wanted to attend the event. There was a word limit, which I found really helpful for making me think properly about my answers. That would be my advice: take the time to think about your answers. What is it about a certain story and the way it was told to you that properly caught your attention?
What’s on offer at each JobHack is worth spending a few extra minutes honing your answer!
Newcastle’s event took place on the top floor of Seven Stories, The National Centre for Children’s Books.
We were greeted by lovely members of the team who gave us our name-tag lanyards, explained a bit more about how the day would run, and encouraged us to take a seat anywhere. There were 6 tables, and each place was already laid with Penguin goodies – a tote bag, notebook, pen, cake pop, transferable tattoos. It was amazing!
We were asked to write down our ‘first impressions’ of the publishing industry, and any questions we’d like to have answered in the event.
The atmosphere was so relaxed from the outset – I got chatting to the people at my table straight away, and the people from Penguin were walking around saying ‘hello’.
The event properly started at 10.15 am, and after a short introduction, we played a game of human bingo. Basically, we had to go around asking people questions so we could fill in our game sheet with a different name for each one. It was things like ‘Has never read Harry Potter’, ‘Speaks another language’, ‘Has had a book published’. I loved this. It was a great ice-breaker because you had to move around the room and talk to people to find these things out.
There was a discussion about the publishing industry and how it is changing, both in terms of how books are chosen, marketed, distributed (basically, what the role of a publishing company is), and how people are recruited. One of the most common ‘first impressions’ from our event was that publishing was a mystery and very exclusive, which is why Penguin take the JobHack on tour. Publishing is still very London-centric, so events like this really help people outside London learn more about all aspects of the publishing process and the jobs on offer.
Then, we were split into groups and asked to order the stages of a book being published. When do the Rights/Legal team get involved? When are proofs distributed to reviewers? When are Publicity materials produced? This task got us talking to more people around the room beyond where we sitting, and also showed how different tasks/roles in the process are broken down. When we returned to our seats, we were taken through each stage in more detail, which showed how, more often than not, the stages will constantly overlap. Again, the atmosphere was so relaxed and we felt comfortable to just ask questions/start discussions at any time.
After a short break, Joel Richardson, a Publisher from Michael Joseph (crime and thriller imprint) discussed Editorial roles with us. He went through how books are selected for publishing, what an editor is looking for when they first read a submission, and how important the trust and communication between the author and the editor is. And that’s just the start! Editors work really closely with Sales and Marketing teams so that the book will reach the widest but most appropriate audiences in the best ways possible.
I’ve predominantly applied for Editorial roles, researching constantly and trying to gain experience that will help. I learned so much from this discussion, understanding aspects of the role that I’d barely considered before.
There was a practical workshop for each discussion, and for Editorial, this involved creating a new blurb for a book so it could be marketed to an audience that hadn’t been approached before. My table had Assassin’s Creed: Unity, a book tie-in to the video games. Our new audience predominantly read biographies and historical works. It was a big challenge! Blurbs are only a few lines long, but you have to create text that will grab someone’s attention. It was a great activity!
Next, Rosanna Boscawen, Campaigns Manager at Vintage, talked us through the various strategies that are used to create a buzz around published works. From cover designs, poster campaigns, blog tours, bookshop signings, print and digital advertising – the avenues to pursue seem both overwhelming and thrilling. With every new device or platform that people can access content (not just books) from, there comes a new opportunity and a new challenge to reach them, and make your book stand out. Campaigns and Marketing seems like an incredibly exciting aspect of the publishing process – you can really exercise your creativity in trying to find new ways to reach audiences.
That was the focus of our workshop for the Campaigns discussion – we were given a brief of a book, including themes, author biography, the cover design, and reviewers’ quotes. We had to create a campaign from that information, thinking about generating both pre- and post-publication buzz, and keeping the main target audience in mind. Where will they see the posters or adverts? What will make them click on that ‘pre-order’ button? I’d never done any marketing or campaign work before because I’ve never felt like I’m a creative person, but I loved this workshop. It’s not just about creativity in the visuals (although that is huge) but in the strategy, and I got so much enjoyment from thinking about all those different things.
Lunch was provided for us, and we all had time to take stock and get re-energised for the afternoon.
For the CV workshop, we divided into completely different groups to our morning session so we could meet more people. We were given 3 different cover letters and various sections of multiple CVs, and asked to select the best options (in terms of content, presentation, etc). This really helped get us into the mind-set of a resources manager who has to look through all the applications. Although everyone will have their own writing style, and every recruiter will have their preferred formats, it was so useful to get a general idea of what to include, and how to make your application stand out.
Next to lead a discussion was Hannah Grogan, from Ebury, who talked us through aspects of Sales roles, including pitching to supermarkets, Amazon, independent bookshops, and every other kind of book seller you can think of. Each caters to a different kind of reader and each wants a different deal, so people who work in Sales need to understand each market. In Sales, you’re involved in every aspect of the process, working closely with pretty much every department so that every book is given the chance to achieve the best possible success.
This discussion really opened my eyes about the people who negotiate directly with retailers to bring books to our attention.
For the Sales workshop, we created a 3 minute pitch for a specific retailer on a certain title, using information about the book (publication date, content) and the author (their publishing history and backlist) to understand what the retailer might want. What I took from this session was how important it is to make someone visualise the book in their store – from positioning, marketing materials, or special events that might be offered.
The final session was Speed Networking. Each speaker would have a few minutes at each table to answer our questions about their role/work. This was a fantastic way to round the day off – even though you were only allowed a few minutes, it was a great chance to speak to everyone in more detail.
As each workshop was ‘judged’, we had a prize presentation of bookish goodies for each one. The team I worked with for the Campaigns challenge won a gorgeous hardback copy of Helen Sedgwick’s The Growing Season.
A final Q&A session followed, and we were told about the different career opportunities to look out for. The final treat was to choose another few books to take home with us from a selection of fiction and non-fiction laid out. I chose Jeanette Winterson’s Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal, a couple of the Penguin minis. As I was the last one in the room after clearing up, I was also offered Derek Thompson’s Hit Makers (which is my current read and I’m loving it).
I cannot stress enough how good this JobHack was. Informative, fun, and welcoming – it ticked every box! Everyone who works at Penguin gave us some insight into how they started their careers – all so different, but it was important to understand that getting your first job in the industry can come at any time in your career. I learned so much about the different aspects of the publishing process, and about my own skills and preferences.
It got me so excited to start applying for more publishing opportunities!
The main thing I took away from the day was that perseverance is key. You’ll learn something new from every application and interview you complete, whether you’re successful with your first one or if, like me, you have to go through hundreds before receiving an answer at all. At the end of the day, there’s someone who has to work through hundreds of applications for every entry-level job. With that level of competition, you have to make yourself stand out to them (for good reasons).
Please think about applying for a JobHack when one comes near to you. It’s such a fun day and you’ll learn so much (even if you decide that publishing isn’t for you).
Thanks so much for reading!!
***Every JobHack will have different speakers, so the discussions and workshops I experienced won’t necessarily be the same at others.***
***I’ve written this post independently – I wasn’t asked by anyone at the event to write about it. I just wanted to share my experience because it was such a fantastic event.***