The majority of placements offered by publishers are short affairs. Thee standard length appears to be ten days or the equivalent of that. Indeed, the placement module of Napier’s MSc Publishing course only requires ten days’ worth of placement for the main assessment. How ever you may come across one or two in your time that can last a lot longer. A prime example is the PrePress Projects internship which usually runs for 13 weeks over thee summer months. A long placement is what I found myself entering in October 2017 when I was one of the students picked for the Scotland Street Press internship. I have continued in that placement ever since. I think a long placement can have some serious benefits for a student, especially if you start it near the beginning of your studies as I did. In the beginning I was incredibly nervous when I started. After all, I had only just started my MSc really. What could I offer a publisher at this stage? The answer was, as it turns out, a lot. Every time I learned something in class, I could apply it to my internship. As my abilities grew, my contributions grew until I could handle some serious responsibilities.
Now as I come to the end of my time at Scotland Street, I can take away a wealth of experience and many examples of work I can take to publishers and say, “I did this”. I would like here to pass on some of the tips I’ve picked up on how not only to survive a long placement (or placements in general) but to take full advantage of it.
- Say yes and push yourself. But don’t worry if you can’t.
Let’s face it. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is not an easy thing. It’s a difficult thing to throw yourself into something new without knowing if you’ll pass or fail. But if you take a chance on yourself then the rewards can be extremely satisfying. I’ve talked about the first time I managed to do this in a previous blog post which you can read on this site. That first success means I have continued to say yes to things which make me want to instinctually retreat like a turtle does into its shell. I’ve proofread forthcoming novels (and even found a few things the author and my boss hadn’t noticed!) when I have actually struggled with spelling and grammar all my life. I’ve designed the layouts for children’s books. I’ve managed uploading eBooks for sale through Kindle Direct Publishing.
But you should never forget that it is okay to say no to something. If you feel overwhelmed, or that you need help, talk to your host. They are there to help you learn, not to trip you up. If you feel that there is something you aren’t ready for be open and honest about it.
- Explore what interests you.
A placement is an opportunity for you to get hands on experience with publishing. So, if there is something in particular you want to know more about, ask your host about it. You have an interest in production? Ask to sit in on meeting or see work in progress content. You want a career in editorial? Why not ask some about the editing process or if you can see how they work on a manuscript. You will always get more from a placement if you can tailor it to your own interests.
- Discover something new.
Still no idea what you want to do when you’re a grown-up publisher? Good. A placement is the perfect opportunity to investigate a new area. I always believed that rights and contracts was not an area of publishing that I wanted to work in. To me a contract was a complex monstrosity of legalese that only lawyers could ever decipher. And then Jean, the Head of Publishing at Scotland Street took me to a contracts training session at Publishing Scotland. I agreed to go because I thought that I should make an attempt to understand contracts. I’m incredibly glad I went along. The session broke contracts down into something I could understand. At the end of the day, a contract is really just common sense dressed up with precise and complicated language. Now the moment I see a job advertisement for a contracts or rights assistant I will be pouncing on it. Being open to discovering new aspects of the industry could take you down a whole new path in life.
- Introduce yourself.
At a placement you will be working closely with a number of people. So, introduce yourself. Even if you won’t be working closely with them, introducing yourself to a person can help feel like part of the team. Not everyone will be happy and friendly, but you’ll find that most people in publishing are. And a simple hello can lead to a strong working relationship with you colleagues. They’ll understand if your nervous, they were once just like you.
- Watch your workload.
Being busy is par for the course when you’re studying an MSc and its more than likely that you will be busy with classes at the same time as you’re doing your placement. Don’t be afraid to offer to do some extra work for your placement. I have answered emails and finished off small jobs for Scotland Street outside of my normal office hours. But Jean has also been careful to watch how much extra she asks of me outside of my normal days. You should also watch your workload and make sure you take time for yourself. Sit back, read and book and recharge and your work will be better for it.
Bonus: The Tea
It’s a common joke that an interns job is to make the tea. Don’t worry it isn’t. But why not get to know people by learning how they like theirs? Like introducing yourself, it’s a good way to get to know your colleagues if it’s a small team you work with. For example, Scotland Street’s only permanent member of staff is Jean so at times it will just be her and whichever interns are in for the day. Many a nightmare project can be calmed by a good cup of tea delivered at the right time. But on the other side of that, let your colleague know how you like yours. The last thing you want is to be stuck with a milk and two sugars when you only take it black for the entire placement!