On the 27th April, Comma and the Northern Fiction Alliance ran ‘Get a Job in Publishing’ in partnership with The bks Agency, the Publishers’ Association and Manchester Metropolitan University.
This was a conference designed to deconstruct the publishing industry for anyone interested in pursuing a publishing career, with every sector from rights to editorial explained, interview technique and CV tips covered, and guest lectures from industry experts from leading houses Hachette, Trapeze Books and Saraband.
Below is an attendee account of the day by aspiring publisher, Samuel Heaton, who shares with us everything he learned over the course of the event.
In the days since I attended the Get a Job in Publishing conference in Manchester I have regularly found myself meditating on the many lessons I gleaned from my experience; I have found myself admiring the front window display at Waterstones with a renewed interest and scrolling through job adverts on LinkedIn with increased optimism. I even set up a Twitter account, as one of the first things we were told was that job opportunities are often posted there – I only have a handful of followers so far and I’m suspicious that at least one of them followed me by accident but we all have to start somewhere!
The day started at 9:30 in the Business School at Manchester Metropolitan University and, after a brief period of only mildly awkward small talk with some of the fellow attendees, I was ushered into the lecture hall for the first of the talks. Following a short introduction, James Spackman took us on a whistle-stop tour of the UK publishing industry using Hodder and Staughton to illuminate the often mysterious relationships between parent companies, divisions and imprints. My own research meant that the concept of an ‘imprint’ wasn’t totally alien to me but James’ witty and informative style helped me to clarify the exact nature of the relationship between these organisations.
The next talk, ‘How to get a book published’, gave a comprehensive view of the production of a book from a half-finished manuscript to a best-seller. We were told how commissioning editors collaborate with colleagues in the Rights, Sales and Marketing departments to evaluate whether the book will succeed as a product. Jason Bartholomew helped make the technical detail of author advances and profit and loss forms clear and easy to understand. My current job (teaching) doesn’t overlap a lot with commercial concerns, so I found the explanation of the financial factors that drive the industry interesting and incredibly useful.
Over the course of the day there were three separate talks on editing positions; Sara Hunt of Saraband focused on adult fiction editing, James Spackman explained non-fiction and Hilary Murray Hill of Hachette Children’s gave insights into the world of children’s publishing. Sara’s helpful description of the different roles within editing, ranging from the business-minded position of Acquisition Editor to the grammar-centric Copy Editor, was fascinating and informative. Sara’s final message – to take any opportunity in publishing and to take advantage of the industry’s flexibility to transfer between departments after you have had a few years of experience – was hugely inspiring and one of the main lessons I drew from the conference.
The final lecture on publishing was a real highlight of the conference as Hilary Murray Hill gave a passionate and inspiring talk about editing in the context of children’s literature. Murray Hill’s enthusiasm captured the crowd completely and by the end of the speech I knew that I was not the only one to look at children’s fiction with a deeper level of respect and admiration.
After a short and well deserved lunch break we were treated to a double whammy of Jessica Killingley’s case study of the marketing behind Chris Cleave’s 2016 novel ‘Everyone Brave is Forgiven’ and Katie Brown’s insights into the Publicity department, where she drew upon her experience promoting a diverse selection of books ranging from EastEnders tie-in novels to Candice Carty-Williams’ ‘Queenie’. These talks made it abundantly clear that publishing is first and foremost an industry built on collaboration and teamwork; the behind the scenes toil of PR and Marketing teams are crucial to helping a book become a best-seller.
After an absolutely fascinating, albeit brief, summary of sub-rights by Jason Bartholomew, we started to discuss interview technique and how to refine a CV. Jessica Killingley and James Spackman’s role-play interview offered a huge variety of ways to tackle even simple questions like ‘What are you currently reading?’ or ‘Where do you see yourself in 5 years time?’. Their approach of linking your experiences directly to the position at the publishing house was clear and straightforward. I was not the only attendee to breathe a small sigh of relief when Jason Bartholomew interjected that we should remember that the interviewers are often nervous about the interview process, too!
Overall, I found the Get a Job in Publishing conference to be absolutely fascinating, and I left the venue more informed, enthusiastic and optimistic than when I arrived.
As part of the Get a Job in Publishing blog series, you can read stories from publishing professionals including Jon Butler of Quercus Books, Rachael Hum of Hachette Book Group, and Hannah Brocken of Little Brown, on their own bumpy roads into the industry here.