There is no ‘right way’ of getting into the publishing industry, and our Alt. Routes panel was a perfect example of this. Chaired by Claire Withers, Managing Editor at Hodder Gibson and a former teacher, this panel explored the varied journeys of our speakers: Sam McDowell, Co-founder of Charco Press and former commercial pilot and IT specialist; Noelle Holten, PR and Social Media Manager for Bookouture and a former Senior Probation Officer; Donna Greaves, Agency Assistant at Jo Unwin Literary Agency and a former Speech and Language Therapist; and Ned Hartley, Commissioning Editor at Ladybird Books and a former magazine editor and comics seller.
First up, transferable skills. We often imagine that to work in the book industry, you must have some experience in the field. However, the reality is you most likely already have the skills which are easy to transfer over. All our panellists had skills in common: communication, the ability to work both as a team and independently, and great time management. For Noelle, her interest in blogging helped enormously. Donna highlighted how her experience with her clients and ability to assess their needs could be applied when working closely with authors. For Ned, the importance of people skills and the ability to simply answer a phone was a key skill, and for Sam, his knowledge of IT systems aided him with metadata. Claire’s experience as a teacher helped her to manage a heavy workload and provided her with an excellent eye for detail.
For those considering a journey into publishing from another industry, our panellists offered some sage advice. Sam highlighted the importance of passion and self-belief: ‘I really do think that what stands out is a really positive attitude and willingness to try and do new things.’ He encouraged us to look at things from a fresh perspective and interrogate how things are done and question what we could bring to the table. Noelle emphasised the importance of networking, even if this is outside of your comfort zone. In general, the publishing industry is welcoming and supportive so don’t be shy to ask questions. Claire directed us to the SYP mentorship scheme (for which she is a mentor), a valuable resource for those looking for some direction. Although making connections can be difficult, especially now, social media is a great tool and should be taken advantage of.
On making the transition to a non-entry level role, the panel agreed on how important it was to have confidence in your existing skillset and to draw direct comparisons in applications. Ned’s top tip: ‘really research the company that you're applying to, work out the company ethos, because every place is different.’ There is great value in coming via a circuitous route. Publishing is an evolving industry so it’s paramount to have a diverse workforce. It’s so important to persevere.
There was some brilliant discussion on retaining and developing mid-career talent. Donna emphasised the necessity for change and increased diversity: ‘I think we're at this really exciting point where people are holding the industry to account and asking more of it.’ Ned pointed out the continuing issues with pay transparency and the need for companies to make salaries clear. Sam alerted us to the tiny margins indie and start-up companies are operating on and how we need to continue to support them.
Finally, our panellists told us what they wished they had known before they started. For Claire, it was how supportive the community is. Noelle expressed how she underestimated the workload of her job – unfortunately, she doesn’t get to read books all day, but her job is nevertheless rewarding. Donna had a new appreciation for the work of authors and said what a privilege it has been to be part of their journey. Logistically, Sam wished he’d known how long it took to actually get paid after selling a book (too long!), and Ned wanted us to know just how many roles there are out there!
The SYP is here for anyone within the first ten years of their publishing careers, whether their first role is in publishing or they’ve found their way to it. Our events are just one way you can learn and network.