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28 Feb 2011

Getting into Publishing

I’ve had two enquiries lately from strangers – one through this website, another a friend of a friend of a friend – wanting advice on how to get into publishing. The short answer has to be that it is amazingly difficult, for the simple reason that so many people want to do it.
I got my first job in publishing (I’ve only ever had two real jobs in publishing, out of a total three real jobs in my entire life) through dumb luck: I went to an employment agency who had various things on offer and publishing was one of them. ‘Might as well,’ I thought, and obediently went to the interviews, just as I had obediently gone to interviews with the Press Association personnel department, a South American shipping company and I forget what all else besides.
Nowadays, work experience – or an ‘internship’, if you don’t mind being in the same breath as Monica Lewinsky – is the best way in, providing you can afford to work for a few weeks for nothing more than bus fare and lunch money. Most companies take students or recent graduates on and some even give them useful work to do: one small company I know ensures that an intern is given some insight into every department, giving him/her the opportunity to discover an unsuspected interest in production or marketing, rather than fostering the assumption that publishing is all about reading (if you’re lucky) and photocopying (if you’re not).
So my advice is

1. Find a few publishers in whose work you are interested (there is little point in doing work experience for a cookery specialist if your passion is romantic fiction, although it could be argued that no experience is wasted).
2. Check their websites for any hint that they might take on work-experience people and advice on how to approach them.
3. If there is no information on the site, ring up and ask. There is no good time to do this: a student acquaintance of mine, looking for work in the summer holidays, made two approaches in February last year. One publisher said, ‘For heaven’s sake, we won’t even start thinking about that for three months’, while the other happily booked her for three weeks in July.
4. Be prepared to be rejected – and remember, trying to get into publishing is a bit like trying to become an actor: if rejection puts you off, you may not be cut out for the job.

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