Comma’s new Publicity and Marketing Assistant, Khadisha Thomas, talks us through a weekend at The Publishing Conference, our two-day virtual event hosted in partnership with Manchester Metropolitan University.

For book lovers and avid writers alike, publishing seems like the most natural and logical industry to embark on a career within. However, for many years the publishing industry has been somewhat of a mystery to those who want to work in it. Despite roaming around book shops, being drawn in by beautiful covers and flicking through pages, the process of how books are made is not common knowledge. On the 24th and 25th April 2021, Comma Press teamed up with Manchester Metropolitan University to host The Publishing Conference and reveal each step in the creation of books, with first-hand insight from successful professionals who each contribute to different stages. The Publishing Conference proved to be a weekend of hearing from people from diverse backgrounds who took various routes into the industry, coming together to share their journeys in publishing, and inspire future publishers. Here are some of the takeaways.

James Spackman was the speaker who kicked off The Publishing Conference. He spoke about The Spare Room Project, an initiative whereby people with work experience in London can get free accommodation during their placements. The publishing industry is still very London-centric, leading to people from other parts of the country missing out on opportunities because they cannot afford to move to London. The Spare Room Project aims to make London more accessible. 

Each speaker (in the ticketed sessions) had twenty-five minutes to tell us about their role, how they landed their position and what the role requires them to do. At the end of each talk there was an interactive Q&A session. Throughout the talks there were very engaging slideshows, which provided the audience with key points and useful resources. As an audience member, it can be difficult to stay focused when you are listening to a lot of information. The slideshows helped to structure the presentations. One slide which was particularly helpful was provided by Marianne Tatepo – a commissioning editor at Ebury Publishing. Marianne presented a diagram of the publishing cycle. It was helpful to see how each department works together to achieve the goal of creating a book, the tasks carried out by each department, and to get a visualisation of where you can potentially fit into this cycle. It also further accentuated how collaborative publishing is and how as a publishing hopeful you need to be able to show that you are a team player.

A key point derived from The Publishing Conference is how useful it is to gain mentorship from a person in the publishing industry. Marianne spoke about how she founded the Black Agents and Editors Group. BAE specialises in supporting Black people who are interested in finding out more about the book world, with tailored advice on how to make CV/cover letters, and advice on how to make a career change within publishing. Marianne spoke about how within publishing, Black people starting off do not have the connections and networks that white people have because publishing is not an industry that they dominate. Marianne also gave practical advice that some may shy away from, even though it is necessary. Money is a real thing which we all need to be able to survive and although salaries in publishing are increasing, they still are not extremely high. To do a publishing course or to do an internship you may need to relocate. Travel costs, accommodation and learning fees are part of the process which many people do not shed light on. In these cases, it is important to hold on to a part time job even it is not what you dream of doing and to apply for bursaries to help fund these courses, which is what Marianne did.

Marianne Tatepo – Commissioning Editor at Ebury Publishing

Not only is publishing about who you know in terms of mentoring and logistics, but it is also about what you know. Alesha Bonser is a Senior Marketing Manager at Penguin Random House. Alesha has worked on books such as Feminist’s Don’t Wear Pink And Other Lies, and more recently It’s Not Okay To Feel Blue And Other Lies. Alesha spoke about how in marketing and publishing in general you need to stay updated with what is happening around you. By looking at charts such as Amazon’s bestsellers, Sunday Times bestsellers and the Top 100 book chart, you can gain an understanding of what books people are interested in. In turn, these trends can help you frame the next books that you market. As publishing hopefuls, knowing what people are raving about on Twitter or Instagram shows employers that you are aware of what is going on and you can find innovative angles for book ideas. It is also common for employers to ask you questions pertaining to this in an interview, so you will impress if you have done your research.

Portfolios were also touched on during The Publishing Conference and for many speakers they had proven extremely helpful in getting their roles. A portfolio is a great way to showcase your work, even if you have not had any experience at a publishing house. Collating pieces of your work from university, or your personal blog and online magazines, can all be helpful in proving to employers that you have the skills they are looking for and that you are passionate about the industry. This was the case for speaker Farzana Khan, a production controller at Hachette Children’s. Farzana said that in her interview she showed the employer a book she had produced, which became a topic of discussion in her interview and built a connection between her and the employer. This is what you want if you want to be remembered. Farzana also spoke about knowing publishing terms and how using them in conversation can be helpful. She had learnt these terms through her Masters in publishing, but you can do research online just to make yourself aware of the language used in publishing. By showing employers that you know the specific words they use on a regular basis, it helps them to imagine you in the role and shows that you are keen.

Farzana Khan – Production Controller at Hachette Children’s

The Publishing Conference provided publishing hopefuls with a wealth of information about the different possible routes they could take into publishing. For some, a Masters in publishing may be a viable option, due to the training you get on programmes used in the industry and the networks that you can start to build with people from the industry. For others, working in a bookshop or library can be the first step on the ladder to show employers that you have experience. No matter what you do, it is important to keep persevering, to undertake in-depth research on the publisher you wish to work for and, most of all, to keep reading.

You can catch up with our two free events from The Publishing Conference on The Comma Press YouTube channel. Click here to watch ‘An introduction to publishing with James Spackman’.

Click here to watch our ‘How to break into the industry’ panel.

By Khadisha Thomas, Publishing and Marketing Assistant at Comma Press.

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