Before Jill Coleman came to deliver a Publishing Masterclass at Kingston University, I had never heard of her, or Little Tiger Press. But I had certainly heard of Bloomsbury, where she worked as Managing Director for A & C Black for eleven years.
After so many years working for Bloomsbury – an organisation with an annual turnover of over £40m – Jill left in 2011, and became Managing Director at Little Tiger Press, a much smaller publisher with around 6o employees. Her reason? ‘I like making a big difference to the place I am, running all the bits of it’, a motivation that clearly outweighs the buzz and status of working in a more well-known organisation.
So how do you know what type of company is best for you? Big or small? Publicly or privately held? Independent or part of a publishing group? These differences all affect an individual company’s culture and environment. Jill’s advice to finding the perfect fit is to ask yourself five key questions:
1) What kind of publishing role do I want to perform?
In smaller publishers functions are not so well established as in large organisations, and one employee may be required to perform sales, marketing and editorial tasks at the same time. That provides opportunities to learn about all parts of the business. On the other hand, you might have more resources and budget to develop your ideas in a large publisher, and more formal training opportunities too.
2) Do I want to know everyone where I work?
In a large company, you might still meet new people even after years working there, including those who work in very different fields. It will, however, take a greater effort to make yourself visible among colleagues than in a small organisation, where you could well end up working with the managing director.
3) What type of products do I want to work on?
If you are absolutely sure you want to publish celebrity biographies, for example, there’s no point in taking on a position in a place that only publishes fiction. Knowing what you want to do – and what you love – is the first step to career success. Think about the kind of products you want to work on, but also your fundamental values. Working for a company with one strong-willed owner will have a different culture than an organisation answerable to a mass of shareholders.
4) Do I want a formal career development plan?
This may be well far from reality in a small organisation where there are few new positions and limited budgets for training. If you want a clear structure and a range of career development opportunities within the same company, think big. If you’d rather have more freedom to knock on your boss’s door, small is your place: ‘you have an idea, you pitch it, you make it happen’, says Jill.
5) Where am I in my career path and where do I want to be in the future?
Starting off with a small company does amazing things for your professional development, but being too well-established in a small publisher can make it hard for you to move to a more corporate one. If you want to explore other options, Jill recommends moving to a large organisation early in your career – the later you leave it, the more difficult it becomes.
Jill’s advice to new publishers is simple: spend the first five or six years of your publishing career getting as much experience as you can: try small companies, large ones, independent publishers, traditional publishing, ebooks, digital content… We’re all young, and familiar with fast-changing new media, and that’s what both all publishers are looking for. So, it’s up to you who to impress first!