The Beginner’s Guide to the Publishing Galaxy

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If you’d known me one year ago, you would have found me comfortably sat behind my desk in an elegant office in the centre of Bologna, surrounded by piles of freshly-made colourful children’s books produced by the printer I was working for. Later in the evening, seeing me hanging out with a bunch of friends while sipping prosecco, you would have probably thought: “That’s a fulfilling life! That 34-year-old guy must feel accomplished and happy.” I thought that too, until —

One day my little planet made of certainties and habits fell apart: I realised that my comfortable life was constraining me and that I was giving up my dreams of working in Publishing – with a capital P­. Don’t get me wrong, working in printing had taught me a lot about publishing, and it gave me the chance to be a privileged observer. The point is that I didn’t want to watch people doing what I was supposed to be doing. Not anymore.

So, I decided to take a one-way ticket to my future, hoping to find my way through the publishing world.

A few months later I found myself thrown in a new galaxy, far from everything I knew, with many fears and expectations. It was at the same time a jump back in time – as I had to start over a new degree after almost ten years out of school – and a step forward into an unknown and attractive future, speaking a language I was not really confident with.

I won’t lie: it hasn’t been easy to adapt to this new world. There’s no ready-to-use manual for those who are entering this industry. Nevertheless, in the past few months I have learnt a few tips I decided to put down into a little vademecum for those who might want to undertake this path, be it in Scotland or elsewhere, freshly graduated twenty-something students as well as worldly-wise, intrepid dreamers in their thirties like me.

  1. The publishing industry is big. Really big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind bogglingly big it is.

Being an editor is undoubtedly cool, but becoming an InDesign wizard and having the power to shape a book must be quite rewarding too. Everyone enjoys reading fiction, but there’s much more: educational books, cookery books, guides, dictionaries… Be open to all opportunities that may appear. You will come across possibilities you didn’t even know existed.

  1. A twitter account is about the most massively useful thing you can have.

Be social: create your account, comment, retweet, share your ideas, make yourself known to the industry. You’ll be surprised to find out that your opinion counts and that there are people out there who are willing to listen to what you have to say. Spread your voice around!

  1. Networking is NOT learning how to throw yourself in the middle of a bunch of aliens and avoid being devoured.

That’s a tough part, I admit. At the beginning, you might want to be unnoticed and disappear into the walls. You are not in danger though. Publishers are a warm and friendly community of people and you are one of them now. Put on your widest smile (a glass of wine might be a precious ally), and have fun talking to them. Show them how much you care. Their advice is the most valuable help you might receive. (The SYP parties are a good place to start familiarising yourself with that. And they occasionally offer damn good pizza, too!)

  1. Don’t Panic.

At times you might feel awkward, lost, not smart/original/creative enough. As in one of the best British books series I might have accidentally quoted here and there, the key is simple: “don’t panic”. It’s a brand new world for you, and you are just a baby making your first steps. If you’ve come so far, it means that you got it in you to succeed. In case you still feel insecure, you may have found the answer to the question: “Why are motivational self-help books so popular these days?” Good job! (Consider getting one.)

Thus said, it could seem like I have overcome all my fears and I am perfectly confident with myself, right? No. Not at all. After all, my journey has just begun, the destination is still unknown but—

I’m making the best of this journey, and it’s worth every second!

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Author: dansmerilli

MSc Publishing student at Edinburgh Napier University

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