When I started the MSc Publishing programme back in September, I quickly learned that I had to try and obtain as many volunteering opportunities and get to know as many people as possible. Contacts are hugely important in this industry and I realised that if I wanted to get a good job after graduation, I needed to start reaching out to people.
I started off by volunteering at the Edinburgh International Magazine Festival because I knew this would be a great opportunity to learn more about a side of publishing I wasn’t that familiar with. So, I emailed Laura Dunlopp at PPA Scotland and asked if I could help out at the upcoming events. I handed out leaflets at a Sneaky Pete’s gig where I met volunteers from PPA Scotland but also from The List and The Skinny. This allowed me to meet people who had worked in the industry for years but also people who previously studied the MSc Publishing and obtained jobs straight after graduation. They gave me some helpful tips and ideas and showed me the different opportunities available for graduates, both in publishing and in journalism.
Later in the same week, I volunteered at Magfest with PPA Scotland and was responsible for signing people in, handing out leaflets and gift bags and directing speakers to their conference venues. I was also lucky enough to attend several events including talks hosted by journalists from The Atlantic and Cosmopolitan as well as smaller events like live podcasts with freelance writers and independent publishers. This was a great day as I met so many people and learned a lot more about freelance writing and job opportunities with major publishers both in Britain and the U.S.
I also volunteered with the Napier Big Read this year, where we were planning to republish a classic Scottish title and distribute free copies to all Napier staff and students. At first, I kind of floated around, helping out wherever I was needed but then I was promoted to Publicity Assistant. As part of this, I helped manage the project’s social media accounts but with the team, I helped put together the voting stations at each of the three Napier campuses and monitored the ballot boxes regularly, posting the updates to our social media pages. While the project was inevitably halted because of COVID-19, it was a great opportunity as it allowed me to be involved in a live publishing project, even if it was only for a short time.
In March, I started my placement with Jennie Renton and in the little back office of Main Point Books, she taught me more about editorial but also how it can work in conjunction with other areas of publishing, like design, marketing and sales. Together and collaborating with Luath Press, we worked on several live publishing projects and I was able to observe different texts as they went through the various proof stages. Carrie from Luath would usually send Jennie the manuscripts, I would mark them up as hard copies or as Word or PDF documents and then after consulting with Carrie, Jennie would go through my corrections with me and advise me on what I did wrong or what she felt I could have done differently. I continued to do this remotely after lockdown was announced, with regular check-ins with Jennie and Carrie. Getting the chance to mark up proofs was amazing because it let me see what it’s like to actually work as an editor and allowed me to develop skills already obtained from the Publishing in Practice and Publishing in Production modules. Also, working with Luath gave me a great insight into how an actual publishing house conducts its business and guides its authors through the publishing process. I really enjoyed my placement and while it was thrown off balance by the health crisis, it taught me some valuable lessons on crisis management and making the most of a bad situation. It also helped me make more connections in the industry and put into practice what I already learned from the programme.
Though my placement was fantastic, the week I spent networking in London really made the year special. When London Book Fair was cancelled because of Coronavirus fears, my friends and I were devastated, both at the loss of money and the fact that we were missing out on a valuable networking opportunity. That week, I saw on Twitter that students from the Derby publishing programme were similarly affected and so, their lecturer used her contacts in London to organise some events for them while they were in the city. Inspired, I decided to reach out to publishers in London myself. I explained our situation and that we understood everyone was busy with work but we would really appreciate any opportunity to network. I used hashtags like #Publishing, #LondonPublishing and #LBFCancelled to reach a wider audience and then hit send. Within ten minutes, my Twitter account exploded. People from The Bookseller, writing.ie, HarperCollins and many more contacted me and together with Avril Gray, we organised talks, tours, conferences, drinks and huge networking events. We were overwhelmed by everyone’s kindness and it really showed me how friendly the industry is and that people are more than happy to help if you just ask. On our first day in London, we toured Hachette UK with Catherine Burke (Deputy Managing Director of Little, Brown) where we learned more about the inner workings of Hachette and the business that’s usually conducted at London Book Fair. On Wednesday, we attended a conference at the Society of Authors with bestselling author Sam Blake (Vanessa Fox O’ Loughlin), Simon Trewin (a literary agent) and Nicola Solomon (a solicitor) and then we had drinks with members of the HarperCollins and Bloomsbury production teams that evening. On Thursday, we went to The Bookseller and chatted with Chris Hamilton and his team about the various areas of publishing we were interested in and the work they do at The Bookseller. They spoke with us about editorial, marketing, sales, Nielsen, the international book fairs, issues in the industry and most importantly, how to conduct ourselves in job interviews, what employers look for and what they absolutely do not want to hear in an interview. This advice came in handy for an interview I had a few weeks later. The trip to London was amazing and is, by far, my favourite memory from the course. The experiences we had and the people we met showed us that there are jobs out there for publishing students, you just have to be proactive in your search. This was one of my main concerns coming into the course but in just chatting to The Bookseller team in particular, I’ve found that jobs are certainly there for people who are active and willing to go the extra mile, especially when it comes to preparing for interviews.
This year has been hectic but incredible! I’ve met so many people and formed valuable contacts who, in such a short space of time, have taught me a lot about the industry. I’ve also learned a lot about myself and my capabilities and realised that you can achieve a lot if you work hard, try and meet whoever you can and look for any opportunities to learn more. In short, “just keep networking” and you’ll go a long way!