Jon Butler, Managing Director of Quercus Books
Rachael Hum, International Sales Director of Hachette Book Group
I work in export sales – the basic definition of export sales is selling English language books, both fiction and nonfiction, to bookshops, wholesalers, distributors and intercompany offices around the world. I have nothing to do with selling rights to foreign language publishers. Although I wish I could, I speak no foreign languages.
I had no knowledge of publishing roles when I started out. All I knew was ‘I wanted to work with books’. So I applied for every publishing job going with little thought, other than getting my foot in the door.
Initially I wasn’t successful – ‘wanting to work in publishing’ is not enough to get you through a job interview. A publishing company wants to know why you want to work for them, that you will be passionate about their books and that you understand their business. And it helps to know what roles are available besides editorial – a sales, production, marketing or publicity team are unlikely to hire you if they suspect your only goal is to become an editor. So, research and sound passionate about the role and department you are applying for.
Once I figured this out, I focused my career choice, researched the company I was applying to, and was offered a job as Geography Marketing Assistant for Routledge Books. It was a great starting job. I learnt all the basic publishing terminology, how important and demanding authors can be, how fun conferences are and how much I loved publishing.
But my heart wasn’t with Geography textbooks and a couple of years, I signed on with a recruitment agency (who specialised in publishing jobs) and they secured me an interview at Penguin. The role was for export sales assistant – I’d never had any thoughts of working in sales, but from day one in the Penguin export department I knew this was the career for me.
“It helps to know what roles are available besides editorial… research and sound passionate about the role and department you are applying for.”
I stayed with Penguin for three years and then moved to Simon and Schuster to be their European Territory Manager; I was responsible for Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Malta.Four years later I joined Little Brown as their European Sales Manager and managed Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Scandinavia and Southern Europe. A lot of travelling!
My career at Little Brown flourished and expanded over next eight years and now I am International Sales Director responsible for Little, Brown, Orion, Octopus and Hachette Children’s.
Something I have learned throughout my career is that you will move around a lot in your twenties and it’s important to do so – it’s the best way to gain experience by working with different companies and in my case different countries. The more experience you gain, the easier it is to understand your career path – marketing wasn’t for me but export sales was…
And while a promotion and salary increase is important, sometimes sidestepping to a similar role at another company can lead to better opportunities in the future. The most important thing is finding the right company to work for, and the right company is the one that will help you to grow; who will give you the experience you need and expand your role to make the most your abilities and experience.
Working in export is (in my opinion) the best job in publishing. It has enabled me to travel all over the world talking about books, to people who love books. My role is varied, fun, exciting and challenging. A passion for books is important but equally essential is to be a people person. My relationship with my customers, the international sales team and my colleagues is an integral part of how our books are sold.
Hannah Brocken of Little Brown Book Group
Making the decision to change my career to publishing three years after completing a now irrelevant degree, was both the scariest and best decision I’ve ever made. I knew hardly anything about publishing, but what I lacked in knowledge I made up for in passion.
In 2015 I attended an ‘Insight into Publishing’ day at Hachette UK. The event was a massive eye opener for me in terms of the process of creating a book and the range of publishing jobs available and it confirmed my choice that this was the industry I wanted to work in. However, most people attending the event were students, all younger than me and studying relevant degrees for a job in publishing. They used their summer holidays to get work experience and some already had contacts in the industry. At that point I was working full time at a local university as an administrator, had graduated 3 years earlier and I had absolutely no publishing experience.
I’m originally from the North West of England where there isn’t a whole lot of entry level publishing opportunities. Everything points towards London as the place to be; however, work experience in London could be months in length, which would require a lot more than my 22 days annual leave. There was also the problem of where would I live and how would I finance myself whilst in London and so I was forced to changed tactics and started looking at what was available closer to home.
I contacted every publisher I could find in the North West about any potential work experience opportunities and was eventually offered a week with Comma Press in March 2017. The knowledge and experience I gained whilst there was invaluable and the team were incredibly supportive, answering all my questions and taking the time to explain, in depth, the way that the publishing industry worked. However, Comma Press was the only publisher who got back to me and no one else in the North West had work experience opportunities or entry level job vacancies. London was, again it seemed, the place I had to be.
“Everything points towards London as the place to be… I can’t imagine the frustration of finally getting an interview only to have to turn it down because of travel/hotel costs. I wonder how many talented people the industry has lost for financial reasons.”
Three months after my work experience at Comma Press I was invited to interview for a Studio Coordinator position at Hodder and Stoughton (based in London). I had a second interview and got down to the final two but was unsuccessful as the other applicant was already working in publishing. I requested feedback and after a phone call with my interviewer came away with a list of achievable things to work on and the invaluable advice that my skill set would be very well suited for a job in publishing operations. A year (and many applications) later, age 27, I started my first job in publishing as the Inventory and Operations Administrator at Little, Brown Book Group in London.
My journey into publishing was a very long one and I definitely think that the fact that I didn’t live in London and that I wasn’t the typical new graduate applicant had a big part to play in this. I didn’t have the flexibility that students/new graduates have of being able to do a long internship and it was too big of a risk to quit my current job with no certainty an internship would turn into a full time position. Although I considered this a barrier, there were also benefits to being a non typical applicant. My job in publishing asked for 5 years administration experience which no new graduate would have. It ended up that it was my administrative and not my publishing experience that got me my first job in publishing. My advice to everyone applying for a job in the industry would be to not just apply for the jobs that you think you want, look at the ones that you, your skills and experience are most suited for.
Out of the (what feels like hundreds of) applications I submitted, I was invited to interviews for just two of them (both followed by a second interview). Four interviews in total which all took place in London and each cost me £70 in train tickets. I was lucky enough to be able to afford these costs but not everyone can. I can’t imagine the frustration of finally getting an interview only to have to turn it down because of travel/hotel costs. I wonder how many talented people the industry has lost for financial reasons.
With the majority of entry level opportunities and jobs in London the industry risks missing out on the addition of a lot of talented people who are based elsewhere in the UK and can’t access these opportunities. There have been big strides made for BAME applicants in recent years, and it would be great to see something similar rolled out for those with different geographic backgrounds in order to help create an industry as diverse as the books we are publishing.
Stay passionate, grab every opportunity you can and never give up on the publishing dream! The hard work will be worth it, I promise.