Your Publishing Future was chaired by former SYP Scotland co-chair, and Art Director at Floris, Leah McDowell, looking to give insight into the world of publishing jobs and giving vital advice. On the panel was Fiona Brownlee, Managing Director at Brownlee Donald Associates, Alan Grierson, Managing Director of Bright Red Publishing, Jennifer Wallace, Sales Coordinator at Canongate Books and a last minute addition of Robbie Guillory, Assistant Publisher at Freight Books.
After we got to know our panel, we opened the floor up to questions quickly.
What would you tell your younger self?
Fiona: I spent too long thinking I’d get offered a promotion if I worked really hard, you have to be persistent and ask for it. If you need to jump around a bit to get the promotions you deserve, do it. I think I spent too long being loyal to companies at the expense of career development.
Alan: Push yourself forward, make connections. I wish I hadn’t waited until I was in my 40s to start my own business, a lot of funding opportunities are available to younger people. Do it when you have time, energy and youth.
Jen: Make the most of the free time you have at uni, join societies, go to SYP events, get involved. I wish I’d used my time more wisely.
Robbie: Be less shy!
Any networking tips?
Robbie: Just ask people lots of questions. It’s flattering to have someone be interested in you, and generally, people like to talk about themselves.
Fiona: Have confidence, don’t get too wrapped up in what other people think of you, they’re probably thinking about themselves!
The panel advised having something online that lets people see how you write is great, but do be cautious. Fiona told us about a real secretary application she came across which linked to a profile where the applicant proclaimed her love for alcohol, cigarettes and being the worst secretary ever. Needless to say they weren’t invited for an interview.
Jen advised making sure your email address is professional and that you have a LinkedIn profile. They agreed that looking up applicants online is a common thing among employers now.
While it’s good to consider the content you put online, the right kind of strong online presence can get you a job! The panel spoke about Anna James, a children’s librarian whose blog landed her a job at the Bookseller and she now freelances very successfully.
Any advice on setting up your own business?
Alan: Be brave about it, get a good business plan, a good lawyer, accountant and advisor. Talk to people who’ve done it before, find out what worked, what didn’t.
Fiona: Setting yourself up as a freelancer is easy nowadays and it can feasibly become a full time living.
On unpaid internships and negotiating a fee?
The panel agreed that unpaid internships make the industry very exclusive, and we’re all so much worse off for the talent lost because people can’t afford to do them. Often unpaid internships go on for too long and you don’t get enough out of them.
They advised to look outside of mainstream fiction publishing, there are a number of paid opportunities available in academic publishing. Also remember transferable skills are really important, don’t underestimate office experience, even if it wasn’t in a publishing house. Bookselling is another great route into publishing and positions are generally always paid at minimum wage, at least.
Robbie said there needs to be a movement to change the way we handle these things. However the panel noted the intense pressure to find a way to do unpaid internships to show employers you’re enthusiastic.
Spell check and then spell check again. Robbie said it’s hard to forgive a grammatical error on the first page of a cover letter.
What’s one quality you look for from applicants?
- Good communication skills
- A willingness to get stuck in
- Present yourself well
Our final piece of advice for the session comes from Fiona, who advised not to eat a sandwich on the way into an interview, even if it is taking place during your lunch break. Another candidate she said did not get the job!
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