In our latest guest blog, Kingston MA Publishing graduate Andrew Turner shares his top tips for getting into the industry.
This post will not tell you everything about how to get into the industry, where the future of publishing lies, or what people really think about Katie Price autobiographies being number one sellers. Rather it is my top tips about getting into the industry – as a recent graduate who’s done that – and what I have learnt about it.
After studying English Lit and History as an undergrad at Kingston University, I took a year out to travel. I loved it, but felt that it was nothing ‘special’ in the sense that more and more people now travel, or go to university, or do both. This was partly why I enrolled on the Publishing MA at Kingston; there is a big difference in the number of people with BA after their name and those with MA. In today’s economic climate (sorry to use that now clichéd term) it really is about standing out.
I now work for e-learning company Nelson Croom, and am also on the committee of the Society of Young Publishers (SYP), a great organisation for anyone looking to get into publishing – whatever their age. We organise events, send out job alerts, give advice and try to ensure that people who want to be in publishing can be. At a recent talk I gave for the SYP at Bath Spa University, one student thanked me for giving an honest and to the point overview of what they were to expect without using ‘professional jargon’ – and so I decided to write this blog, to share that overview with a wider audience.
Tip 1: It’s not about the money
I’m sure many people know this but entry level positions in publishing aren’t the best paid roles. You are looking at £17-20k, and even with an MA you are more than likely to start in an entry level position. The money may not be great, but the people are fantastic. In my roles at Nelson Croom and the SYP I have got to know people who are passionate about the same things as me and always up for open, honest and frank discussions about the industry. It’s a joy to work in publishing, especially if you are passionate about the industry and books. And if the money isn’t fantastic, there’s always plenty of free books!
Tip 2: It’s all about connections
Always remember that the people you meet today will pop up again one, two or even five years down the line – and the chances are they will remember you. It may seem a little extreme, but speaking to people who work in the industry has proven to me that if you make a bad impression it will come back to haunt you at the first opportunity. Word of mouth seems to be surprisingly important to publishers and that’s no bad thing. If something disgruntles you, deal with it maturely and professionally – don’t plaster it all over Facebook and Twitter.
Tip 3: Social media is different from professional media
Make sure you have the tightest security on your Facebook profile, because believe it or not people will search you when you apply for jobs. If you say things that go against the company message or upset the people reading your application you can kiss that job goodbye! Always remember that although Facebook can be private, Twitter can’t; what you tweet is out there for all to see and you can’t stop it. If you tweet today that you hate fantasy fiction and it has no place in the universe, not only are you wrong, but five years down the line when a great job becomes available at Orbit you could well be out of the running. Make Twitter your professional media site, along with LinkedIn, and use Facebook as your social media hub. If you can’t manage that, at least have two Twitter accounts, so you can advertise your professional one and lay claim that @SillyBoy86 is not you.
Tip 4: Know what each stage of the application process is for
This breaks down really simply, as each stage you complete in an application process has a ‘job’ to do:
- Your cover letter’s job is to make sure your CV is read
- Your CV’s is to make sure you get an interview
- Your task in the interview is to sell yourself and get the job.
I’m sure you have all been given advice on cover letters, CV’s and interviews so I won’t preach too much but here are what I see as the most important points for each.
Research the organisations you are applying to and make sure your cover letter is relevant to them. Use a basic template, which you then insert relevant information about each company in to. Mention their list, what their philosophy is and how they have affected your approach to books and/or publishing. Also, match the font the company use on their website: this is easy to do by copying and then selecting paste with ‘keep source formatting’. Font is one of those things that unexplainably irritates people. If you use the company font for your letter and CV you are less likely to do this.
Keep it short. Mine is three pages; the Kingston staff advise two pages. Don’t be scared to get straight to the point – I use bullet points to state what I did in my previous roles and I don’t list every GCSE I got. The person reading your CV doesn’t need to know more than this at this point. All you are trying to do is tickle their fancy, if you will, so that they want to interview you to find out more.
Like any good party, it is better to be over dressed for an interview than under dressed! You are selling yourself in an interview, and you can’t do that in jogging bottoms and a hoodie. The one key thing I would stress is that all skills can be transferred to any workplace if you know what slant to take. Think about this before your interview, and when talking about past jobs make sure to emphasise how they gave you transferable skills. All experience is good experience if you tell it right.
A good way to display your transferable skills is by using something called the STAR method: considering about your experience in terms of Situations, Tasks, Actions and Results. By thinking about things this way you keep clear ideas in your head and avoid waffle, which unfortunately is quite boring for the person listening to it. It also keeps you focused on the results you have achieved rather than the tasks you have completed. If you talk about results the tasks taken to achieve them will be clear, whereas if you merely talk about the tasks you performed the results you achieved will not be recognised; you won’t be selling yourself effectively.
Tip 5: Do a work placement
This is one of the touchier subjects when it comes to getting into the industry and everyone has an opinion. But it all boils down to one fact – you need to have done some work experience, regardless of whether the terms and conditions are right or wrong. Don’t let yourself be taken advantage of, though. I personally never did a placement which was longer than a month. That was just me and everyone is different, but a long work placement isn’t a guarantee of a job. If you are low on funds, do some temping in any office if you can. Publishing is an office-based industry and it’s a great transferable skill to able say that you have worked nine to five for X amount of time, and are used to the office environment.
Unfortunately the distinction between work placements and internships is becoming increasingly blurred. Traditionally, an internship should offer you more responsibility and training than a work placement, but more often than not the two phrases are interchangeable – so try not to be put off by what your ‘placement’ is called. Read the outline of your role to see what tasks and supervision you will get and do the best you can to only take positions with as much hands-on training and experience as possible. If you are concerned about work placements and what companies can expect of you there are guidelines out there, or you can ask your lecturers, the SYP and myself for advice.
My final advice would be to remember that while there are lots of resources and opinions about how to get into the industry, the best thing you can do is what feels comfortable for you. No-one has all the answers, but you have all the answers that are right for you.
Andrew Turner is Marketing Executive at award-winning e-learning company Nelson Croom. He studied on the Kingston MA Publishing in 2009/10 and is the 2012 Chair of the Society of Young Publishers. You can contact Andrew through the SYP, email or Twitter.
Discover more tips about getting into – and getting on in – publishing by reading our other posts about career development.