Stepping into a New Role: How My Internship Restored my Confidence

Becoming a publishing intern has been challenging but also more rewarding than I could ever have imagined. After a voluntary position in December that ended in tears, I felt like a failure and that nobody would ever hire me again. The way I described the experience to my mum was “it was like being thrown in at the deep end with a boulder tied around my neck then laughed at for drowning”. By far the worst part was the way the person supervising me just couldn’t stop herself from scoffing at my inexperience. It was an unpleasant couple of days that I have put behind me and I’m happy to say I have come a long way since then.

After putting the negative experience behind me I approached Ringwood Publishing where I was already a volunteer reader and asked if there were any internship opportunities available. Ringwood Publishing is a small independent Glasgow based publisher that is dedicated to publishing quality works of Scottish fiction and non-fiction on key national themes of politics, football, religion, money, sex and crime. The company takes on a number of interns who contribute considerable skills for reading, proofreading, editing, copyediting, design, promotion and marketing. After an informal interview I was very pleased to be offered a long term internship and I was excited to join the team, however I would be lying if I said I wasn’t nervous. The negative experience I’d had not long ago was playing at the back of my mind and I was scared that I would crash and burn a second time. I was desperate to impress my new placement provider and atone for my previous failures.

However I soon realised that my fears were completely unfounded. In just three short months I have already learned so much about working in publishing. My time at Ringwood has allowed me to experience different roles, including producing the monthly newsletter and recently I was given the fantastic opportunity to take over the role of Submissions Manager (shared with a fellow intern). In December when I was crying down the phone to my Dad because I thought I was a quitter, I never could have imagined just how confidently I would step into my new role at Ringwood just a few months later. So far taking charge of submissions has been the most rewarding part of the experience. Some of my responsibilities include manning the submissions inbox, doing the initial quality check for all submissions, sending manuscripts to volunteer readers and collecting the finished reader reports. Not only have I had the valuable experience of corresponding directly with authors but the role has allowed me to be actively involved in the decision making process and this month I will attend my first ever Editorial Committee meeting. My new role has been challenging in a character building way and I have surprised even my slapdash self with how organised I can be.

When writing about my placement, I debated with myself whether or not to include the bad experience I’d had. It may feel better to airbrush it from my memory but in the end it happened and I learned from it. Bad experiences help us grow too and now that I have experienced such a positive internship where I feel supported and encouraged I realise just how important it is to share the message with other young publishers that you should not be discouraged by one unfulfilling placement or by one person who makes you feel bad about yourself. Under no circumstances should you allow someone to devalue you. You are there to learn, not to be belittled for your lack of knowledge. That’s not ok, it really isn’t. The bad experience didn’t break me and it certainly didn’t put me off publishing. Thanks to my placement at Ringwood my confidence in my own abilities has not only been restored but it has grown tenfold. I am gaining so many skills from the experience but it’s the feeling of confidence that is worth its weight in gold to me. I believe it will serve me well when I start my career in publishing.

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The N Word: An Introvert’s Guide to Networking.

Have you ever worn headphones in public just so strangers don’t talk to you? Have you ever hoped to get hit by a bus the morning before a big presentation? And does the thought of having to make a phone call make you feel physically sick?

I’ve never been outgoing. I’m what you’d call an introvert and while I’ve learned to accept myself for what I am, my lack of gregariousness often feels like a curse, especially as a publishing student.

You can imagine my horror when a lecturer dropped the N word in class.

Admittedly I was uneasy.

Then suddenly everyone was saying it. I couldn’t escape it; the N word was everywhere – even on social media. I couldn’t scroll through my Twitter feed without that same word popping up – Networking.

Yes by the N word I am of course talking about networking – ‘a system of trying to meet and talk to other people who may be useful to you in your work’. That is the definition the Oxford Dictionary will give you. Ask an introvert however and I’m certain you’ll hear that networking is a unique form of torture. Indeed for those of us who aren’t blessed with unshakable confidence, the N word is a daunting word to keep hearing.

But it doesn’t have to be torture.

The first week of my degree I learned I was doing myself a disservice by not using Twitter. When I logged into my old abandoned account I had less than 10 followers (and one of them was my Dad). It was clear I needed to make some changes. After revamping my profile I followed as many industry professionals as I could and to my surprise many of them followed me back. Every time I bought an interesting book, enjoyed a class or was inspired by a talk I made sure to tweet about it. I was stunned by how quickly I gained followers. Within a week I had hit 100. A small achievement, but progress nonetheless.

However not all networking can be done from the comfort of bed and here in Edinburgh there is never a shortage of opportunities to engage with the literary community. My first experience of networking in person took place at the September Social hosted by The Society of Young Publishers (SYP). I was nervous but I knew how much I would regret it if I didn’t go. The events were only going to get bigger and the people more “important” and intimidating.

For the first hour I didn’t leave the protective bubble of classmates but it was reassuring to know that I wasn’t alone in being afraid to network. It dawned on me that this was the first time I’d had a conversation with many of the people around me. I was finally putting names to the faces I saw in lectures, bonding over mutual interests and getting to know my classmates (potentially my future colleagues). Wasn’t that exactly what networking was?

I would be lying if I claimed my sudden boost in confidence had nothing to do with the Swedish cider I’d been drinking but as classmates began to drift away to talk to others I felt the pressure to network rising. It was easier in groups so three of us plucked up the courage to introduce ourselves to two students from another university.

When a networking exchange ended many of us would gravitate back towards the circle of familiar faces for moral support. Every now and then someone would take a deep breath, leave the circle and approach a stranger while the rest of us looked on in awe. Eventually I found myself in an engaging conversation with two young publishers – the founders of an online magazine. They told me about their work, I told them about my degree but we also spoke about our mutual interest in creative writing. It began to feel less like networking and more just like human beings conversing over a drink.

When they gave me a business card I had to resist the urge to strut back to my classmates.

I had done it! I had networked!

And here was the physical evidence.

Ok so I hadn’t walked out of that event with a guaranteed job or a placement or an internship but what I did accomplish was conquering a personal barrier and I knew next time networking would not seem so terrifying.

Everybody is human, even the people at the top of the industry were once awkward twenty something year olds hoping somebody would notice them. People aren’t out to get you.

Fear is temporary, regret is forever so I advise all aspiring publishers – do go to these events, to boost your own confidence if nothing else. Attending smaller informal events helps hone your networking skills, even if you’re just practising on classmates. Don’t be afraid of the N word, feeling nervous is normal, and what would networking be without adrenaline. When you are trying to muster up the courage to send an email, pick up the phone or approach someone to enquire about work experience, always remember the worst they can say is no.

The publishing industry is built on connections and collaboration – something that wouldn’t be possible without networking. Be yourself, be authentic and confide in your fellow young publishers because you definitely won’t be the only one feeling uncertain.

Oh and a little alcohol helps (a lot) but do drink responsibly in front of your future employers.

Image Credit: @SYPScotland (Taken 27/09/17)