MA Publishing student Amanda Marzolf is fresh back from a work placement with Ladybird Books. Here’s what she learned…
I hail from Montana, a state in the north-western part of America, which is roughly the size of Germany, but has more cows than people. Being from a city hidden in the Rocky Mountains, there is nearly zero publishing experience offered. So, I decided to leave the country and come to the UK for the MA Publishing at Kingston University.
As I have a strong passion for children’s literature, since I arrived in Britain, I spent most of my time in bookshops in the children’s section. While I began exploring the spines of picture books and chapter-books, I was quickly drawn to the publications of Ladybird. I enjoyed the colourful illustrations that accompanied the easily understood text for children. I was impressed by the array of titles and interactive books that Ladybird offered. Even more, I liked how the publisher offered traditional fairytales in accessible forms, as well as modern stories.
I sent in my CV, hoping for the best but not expecting a reply. I heard nothing for weeks. Then in the third week of October, I got an e-mail! I was headed into Ladybird for a two-week placement working with the core team, the editors and designers. I was beyond giddy. I had come from Montana to London and within two months I had landed my first placement at my top choice.
Ladybird has two editors and four designers. On my first day I was set up to work alongside editors Nicola Bird and Katie Woolley. Nicola handles the entire ‘Read it yourself’ series (50 titles) as well as Baby Touch and many other novelty books. Seeing how small the team was and the mass of books they produce each year was inspiring. They gave me a list of tasks and dropped me into the craziness without floaters. It was sink or swim, in the best way.
My first day started with proofreading five of the Ladybird Classics. I attended a blur of a meeting in which the publisher went down an endless list and updated the team on what stage each book was at. Then I reviewed a Chinese magazine for English spelling by comparing the magazine text to the original book text. After lunch I was invited to another meeting where we bounced ideas off one another and brainstormed ideas for girl, boy, and gender-neutral colouring and sticker books. Next I was sent to the dreaded photocopy room to produce copies of four new books.
The day felt like a giant haze of reading, proofreading and meetings. Yet, as full as my day was, I loved it. Being surrounded by creative individuals was energizing. Not only did I learn a lot just in day one, but also I was able to involve myself in the industry where I so long to be.
Throughout my two weeks I worked on americanising a reading series and a phonics app (an app structured to help children learn the basic sounds and structure of speech, enabling them to tackle new words), pondering on three baby book proposals and giving my suggestions in a meeting. I proofread and helped edit pending history titles, generated extra interactive worksheets for children, organised a competitor spreadsheet, researched dummy usages, reworked old books into new formats, and more.
While the last two weeks have been exhausting, and I experienced moments of confusion, I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Ladybird and would love to work alongside the core team in the future. I was able to apply what I’ve learned at Kingston – developing products and proposing ideas, using Nielsen BookScan and conducting proper research for the industry – as well as learning new skills. These included the ability to mildly understand publishing lingo, truly multitask, and develop an English love for tea.
Amanda Marzolf is currently enrolled in the MA Publishing programme at Kingston University. She holds a BA in English-Creative Writing from The University of Montana. You can read about her adventures inside and outside of the publishing industry in her own blog: Montana to England.