‘You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realise this, and you will find your strength.’ – Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
I often find myself coming back to this passage in times where things haven’t gone as I had hoped or planned. It reminds me to take a step back from the immediate emotions of disappointment felt after a setback and reassess what I can do about it. When searching for publishing placements, it is a quote I found myself considering frequently. Securing an internship in the publishing world, much like securing full-time employment, can often feel like swimming upstream. With more people looking to gain work experience than there are work experience places available, it is to be expected that you will face several rejections before finding your internship. But when one rejection becomes two and two becomes three, the snowball effect can be quite demoralising.
I was quite confident to begin with that I would have no problems securing a placement. So confident, in fact, that I never paused to ask myself some important questions such as ‘why should this business give me this opportunity?’ ‘what skills can I offer that other people can’t?’. I sent out enquiries here and there without stopping to think which publisher would suit me best and how I can convince them that I am someone who can help their business during a placement.
Looking back, it was like shooting an arrow into the wind and hoping it would hit the target. My first reaction as the weeks dragged on and I had not heard anything positive back from the publishers and agents I had contacted was to take it personally. The frustration leads you to feel like the process is against you. I began to question whether I was good enough to break into this industry, whether I am the type of person they are looking for. I started feeling anxious about sending out new applications for fear of what I considered at this point an inevitable rejection.
Then I came back to that passage written by a Roman Emperor nearly two thousand years ago. It immediately put an end to the feeling of personal injustice and allowed me to see it from all sides. Publishers are businesses, who make decisions based on what is best for their company. There are a multitude of reasons why they may not be able to offer you a placement, but I can almost guarantee that none of those reasons are personal. Having an emotional response to rejection is normal, but you have to get rid of that feeling if you are to make any progress as a candidate in this industry.
Whether a business has the space or desire to offer you a work placement is not in control of the student. What is within the students’ control is how they are improving themselves while continuing to look for a placement that fits them. One thing this postgraduate course has taught me is that publishers value versatility and the more skills you can bring to the table the better. There are countless free resources online which can be used to get better at whatever it is you’re looking to do as a career. I found so many wonderful guides and videos online aimed at all levels from beginner through to intermediates which can help with publishing specific skills such as Photoshop tutorials and digital marketing. But there are also courses on coding, improving your skills on Microsoft Office, business related skills etc. The more skills you can comfortably add to your C.V the better, and it need not cost a thing!
Alongside learning new skills and improving current ones is knowledge acquisition. Knowledge of the industry will come across and benefit you in any job applications and interviews you will get in the future. For example, if you are looking to break into selling rights, many publishers and rights agencies publish buying guides on their websites which detail which rights they are looking to sell. Read as many of these as possible from different sizes of publishing houses to learn the language used in that field. Showing up to an interview where you can talk about the different rights that company deals with across its lists will show you’ve taken the time to read their buyers guide and done research on their products. From reading these guides you will also see the names of people already involved in the field you are looking to be part of. Start to follow as many of them as you can on social media to get your name out there and to be part of the conversation within that field. Staying curious about the industry and looking to always learn from those who work within it will stand you above all candidates who only do the basic research to cover them in an interview.
At first, I was disappointed to miss out on a placement and to have my search cut short by COVID-19. However, on reflection I realise there were many positives to come from the experience. It allowed me to evaluate the areas I am competent in and where I can improve. It gave me the motivation to seek out resources to further improve the skills I’ve gained through the MSc Publishing course in InDesign and Photoshop. It allowed me to fully investigate and research areas of publishing I hadn’t considered as a career option before, giving me a better knowledge of the industry and the different contributions necessary to make a successful business. All of this, I believe, will make me a better candidate than when I first started applying for placements.
In focusing only on what is within my control, I have turned what could be a disheartening experience in to a valuable one and I would recommend anyone with similar experiences in trying to get a start in publishing to do the same. Don’t take rejection personally. Instead, invest time in improving yourself and what you have to offer, engage in continuous learning, and most importantly, don’t give up!