When trying to develop your skills, experience and the community around you, the
temptation to sign up to everything that comes your way is… strong. With so many creative and promising opportunities offered to publishing postgrads throughout the year, every opportunity feels like maybe this one is the one, the unmissable experience that will structure your busy mind and focus on putting your learning into practice. But, in order to have the brain-space and capacity, you have to step back a little bit, and only commit to what you can. However, my experience on the Society of Young Publishers’ Mentorship scheme 2019-20 was maybe one of the ones.
Having seen some of my classmates take part the previous year, I knew that I would be
keen to have the same insight into the day-to-day lives of those already working in
publishing, and the SYP call for applications explained that the scheme would offer me
support and advice in turn. The scheme would run during the academic year, offering
meetings with your assigned mentor to discuss your progress; the offer of a helping hand through what might otherwise feel like a year lost at sea, and with that in mind, and the end of my studies fast-approaching, I applied.
In early October, I received an email pairing me with literary agent Lina Langlee. I was
delighted, the role of an agent was one I had always been interested in, but had felt like it was just slightly out of my sight. I had studied all the relevant parts – rights, sales, editorial – but couldn’t quite see how they came together in a role that wasn’t within a publishing house, and therefore one that I hadn’t really come into contact with. It suddenly felt like something slightly mystical was, in fact, in reach. I emailed Lina to introduce myself and thank her for agreeing to work with me, but, not really sure what the next steps were, relied on her to offer only what she could.
Luckily, Lina was more sure of a structure than me, and we arranged to meet for a coffee after work one day. Over cake and cups of tea, we went over my background, Lina’s, and my hopes and next steps for entering the publishing workforce. Lina suggested some ideas that she had, both for my own development and to further my insight into the role of an agent. Over the coming months, Lina talked me through the process of her work, giving examples of manuscripts she’d acquired and the communication she would have around them, her process from start to finish, and how the agency worked as a whole. I watched pitching unfold on twitter through arranged hashtags, and Lina explained to me how she decided what she was currently looking for and what might meet that criteria. Over Christmas, I spent a few days with just some recently accepted manuscripts for company, enjoying picking them apart to understand what Lina had seen in them.
I also felt that my own place in the publishing industry was strengthening, as Lina offered advice on my CV and example cover letters, explained potential interview structures, and helped me to understand which of my existing skills were most appealing to new employers. More than that though – I had reassurance that what I was doing was the right thing. In an industry that often feels impossible to find a space in, or as though securing that place is like solving a riddle with no clues, Lina confirming that I had done the right thing after taking each step was reassurance that I could, in fact, walk on my own.
Like many people, our future plans had to be put on hold in March this year, but as the
publishing industry became more shaky and finding my way in felt more daunting, the SYP Mentorship scheme allowed me stability, knowing that Lina was at the end of an email and would do whatever she could to support me.
To say that the scheme is an experience where you ‘get out what you put in’ would be a
discredit to the enthusiasm, pro-activeness and dedication of the mentor I was paired with. However, I can see that I had a year as beneficial as I have because I also went in with an open mind, an eagerness to learn, and respect for my mentor’s time and advice. I’m lucky to have been offered a place on a scheme that paired me with someone who could help with my individual needs and circumstances. I’ve developed my skills and understanding, but, moreso, I feel more confident. As the scheme explains that it hopes to make the industry more accessible to newcomers, I do feel that it might be possible for me to find my place.