I am of the cohort that is new and fresh into the publishing world, hurriedly trying to plant as many seeds as possible in the hopes that one of them bursts through the gaps and cracks and blossoms enough to be picked. My parents did not go to university, nor did they ever have creative jobs; I always loved books but I never knew I could make them, so here I am at nearly thirty retraining to break into this industry. For every helpful event or person, I find another mystery about how and why it all works this way. Hearing the love for the book world come through each of the ‘strong questions’ in the Dear Publishing video shows that if we mean what we say – that we love books – we must take care of everyone involved in this commercial and creative eco-system, which has been a central theme throughout the Ctrl Alt Refresh conference.
This With Best Regards panel, chaired by Claire Squires, professor of publishing at the University of Stirling, responded to the Dear Publishing video, and I urge you to watch both events again to carefully consider your own practice. The four panellists tasked with responding in the panel were Laura Jones, Publisher and Co-founder of 404 Ink; Jamie Norman, Campaigns Executive at Canongatre; Amy Wong, Production Controller at Bloomsbury; and Raakhi Vadera, HR Manager at Pan Macmillan. Each had sound advice and examples of how they or others are moving towards more transparency within the industry. Claire expertly transitioned and summed up as they went, highlighting that we should be concerned with ‘how publishing presents itself, speaks to readers… and be more open to our sense of what publishing is!’
Firstly, with schools and education opportunities: by going into schools, you can make young people aware of what is out there. Raakhi described it as a creative industry and I absolutely agree – the range of transferrable skills you could bring to publishing are endless. But if young people haven’t been brought up seeing people that look like them in these roles and industries, or these jobs don’t seem ‘real or exciting’, they might not ever end up here, and a potential pool of new voices and talent will already be closed off. Furthermore, there was discussion around internships and apprenticeships. On the whole, unpaid internships were deemed questionable – there could be an argument if the internship scheme is really well-structured, if there is true support and mentorship, rather than the intern being simply free labour chucked into a baptism of fire. But income would be a huge barrier here – most people can’t afford to move or live somewhere for free.
Secondly, with job advertising, including internships and apprenticeships: have you avoided using jargon or gendered language? Have you thought about where and how you are advertising to gain a wider reach? This includes freelance work. The panel acknowledged that it is much quicker and easier to re-use the people you already have on file (and that is also how freelancers can start to guarantee a client base and you do come to rely on certain people to do a good job), but you can take the time to advertise more widely to be less cliquey. We have seen a rise in companies being held accountable for not advertising salaries – even if a salary range was offered based on experience, that would be much better.
Thirdly, interrogating what you are doing, at every level, to represent a range of voices: be open to hearing criticism rather than, as Laura said it, ‘seeing it as being called out’. There are gatekeepers at every step of the way – from agents to commissioning editors to HR and beyond – what work are they doing to be inclusive? The idea of being ‘intentional’ in everything you do was repeated. Something Amy said rang really true: publishing doesn’t ‘exist in a vacuum’ but exists as part of a society and its wider problems. Move beyond tokenism and engage meaningfully – use reports like ‘Rethinking Diversity in Publishing’ to ensure intentionalism is, as Jamie said, ‘embedded in every single facet’.
And finally, with events like this one and by building networks, you can remove the mystery about how it all works. Laura talked about how many events she had recently done as well as writing a blog to share the knowledge – how can we support transparency and fairness for the newest generation? Frank discussions like this panel go a long way. Dean Atta used the phrase ‘duty of care’ in Dear Publishing, and that for me sums this panel up – we have a duty of care to everyone within publishing and those seeking to join the industry.