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When I was accepted into Edinburgh Napier University’s Publishing MSc programme last spring, I couldn’t wait to take my first major step into an industry that had always seemed like a distant, sometimes unattainable dream. I had no idea that a year later, I would find myself sipping tea with senior sales reps from Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster, casually chatting about the controversial merger making international headlines.

As part of our MSc programme, we were tasked with pursuing one or more work experience placements. I had the honour of completing my first placement with 2022 UK Independent Bookstore of the Year, The Edinburgh Bookshop. My second placement was with an up-and-coming London-based fantasy publisher called SmashBear. Both roles allowed me to apply many of the publishing theories and practices I learned in my MSc modules. They also opened the door to opportunities I likely never would have had otherwise, including shadowing a bookstore owner on her sales pitch meetings.  

Throughout six months and two internships, I learned innumerable lessons about not just book making and selling, but how to make the most out of a short work experience placement. Here are three of the most important things I learned:

1. Even as a publishing newbie, your unique perspective and experiences are valuable.

My placement with The Edinburgh Bookshop was my first time working in a bookstore, and I feared I would have little to contribute during my short time with the shop. Fortunately, this wasn’t the case. I may not be an experienced bookseller, but I do know a fair bit about video editing and TikTok. When I pitched the idea of launching a TikTok account for The Edinburgh Bookshop, store owner Marie Moser agreed immediately. While planning out our first videos, I applied some of the many lessons Marie taught me throughout my placement, such as audience profiling and book pitching. In return, I brought in some of the insights I gained while writing a past report on TikTok marketing for my MSc programme. 

2. The skills you learn will be transferable.

At SmashBear, I had the opportunity to try my hand at the operations of each department. I was fascinated by how applicable my earlier experiences with The Edinburgh Bookshop were within these roles. While reading through manuscript submissions and drafting acquisitions reports, I found myself thinking back to the monthly YA bookclub meetings I attended at The Edinburgh Bookshop, where we discussed the tropes our members enjoy seeing, the plot structures they preferred over others, and the topics they wanted to see in books. All of this acted as an unexpected source of market research while I evaluated the strengths, weaknesses, and marketability of incoming manuscripts at SmashBear. During my week within SmashBear’s marketing department, I also found myself thinking back to my lessons in audience profiling and pitching tactics at The Edinburgh Bookshop. 

3. If you stay open to different kinds of work, you might be surprised by what you learn.

I entered into my SmashBear placement with a strong ambition to work in book marketing and an eagerness to learn all I could within this department. While my experiences learning about marketing with SmashBear were invaluable, I was surprised to find that my time within the acquisitions department was actually my favourite. While appraising manuscript submissions, I had the honour of seeing potential next best-sellers in their early form and the unexpected responsibility of acting as a gatekeeper. I also came to realize how applicable acquisitions experience is to a career in book marketing while researching comparable titles and market gaps, identifying marketable tropes, and pitching book synopses in my own words.

I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I had with both The Edinburgh Bookshop and SmashBear. While the prospect of applying for my first full-time industry role following graduation this summer is still daunting, I now have a deeper insight into book making and selling, and a greater confidence in my own abilities.