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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Andrew’s tips for a long placement (AKA, what he learned from Scotland Street Press)

The majority of placements offered by publishers are short affairs. Thee standard length appears to be ten days or the equivalent of that. Indeed, the placement module of Napier’s MSc Publishing course only requires ten days’ worth of placement for the main assessment. How ever you may come across one or two in your time that can last a lot longer. A prime example is the PrePress Projects internship which usually runs for 13 weeks over thee summer months. A long placement is what I found myself entering in October 2017 when I was one of the students picked for the Scotland Street Press internship. I have continued in that placement ever since. I think a long placement can have some serious benefits for a student, especially if you start it near the beginning of your studies as I did. In the beginning I was incredibly nervous when I started. After all, I had only just started my MSc really. What could I offer a publisher at this stage? The answer was, as it turns out, a lot. Every time I learned something in class, I could apply it to my internship.  As my abilities grew, my contributions grew until I could handle some serious responsibilities.

Now as I come to the end of my time at Scotland Street, I can take away a wealth of experience and many examples of work I can take to publishers and say, “I did this”. I would like here to pass on some of the tips I’ve picked up on how not only to survive a long placement (or placements in general) but to take full advantage of it.

  1. Say yes and push yourself. But don’t worry if you can’t.

Let’s face it. Pushing yourself beyond your comfort zone is not an easy thing. It’s a difficult thing to throw yourself into something new without knowing if you’ll pass or fail. But if you take a chance on yourself then the rewards can be extremely satisfying. I’ve talked about the first time I managed to do this in a previous blog post which you can read on this site. That first success means I have continued to say yes to things which make me want to instinctually retreat like a turtle does into its shell. I’ve proofread forthcoming novels (and even found a few things the author and my boss hadn’t noticed!) when I have actually struggled with spelling and grammar all my life. I’ve designed the layouts for children’s books. I’ve managed uploading eBooks for sale through Kindle Direct Publishing.

But you should never forget that it is okay to say no to something. If you feel overwhelmed, or that you need help, talk to your host. They are there to help you learn, not to trip you up. If you feel that there is something you aren’t ready for be open and honest about it.

  1. Explore what interests you.

A placement is an opportunity for you to get hands on experience with publishing. So, if there is something in particular you want to know more about, ask your host about it. You have an interest in production? Ask to sit in on meeting or see work in progress content. You want a career in editorial? Why not ask some about the editing process or if you can see how they work on a manuscript. You will always get more from a placement if you can tailor it to your own interests.

  1. Discover something new.

Still no idea what you want to do when you’re a grown-up publisher? Good. A placement is the perfect opportunity to investigate a new area. I always believed that rights and contracts was not an area of publishing that I wanted to work in. To me a contract was a complex monstrosity of legalese that only lawyers could ever decipher. And then Jean, the Head of Publishing at Scotland Street took me to a contracts training session at Publishing Scotland. I agreed to go because I thought that I should make an attempt to understand contracts. I’m incredibly glad I went along. The session broke contracts down into something I could understand. At the end of the day, a contract is really just common sense dressed up with precise and complicated language. Now the moment I see a job advertisement for a contracts or rights assistant I will be pouncing on it. Being open to discovering new aspects of the industry could take you down a whole new path in life.

  1. Introduce yourself.

At a placement you will be working closely with a number of people. So, introduce yourself. Even if you won’t be working closely with them, introducing yourself to a person can help feel like part of the team. Not everyone will be happy and friendly, but you’ll find that most people in publishing are. And a simple hello can lead to a strong working relationship with you colleagues. They’ll understand if your nervous, they were once just like you.

  1. Watch your workload.

Being busy is par for the course when you’re studying an MSc and its more than likely that you will be busy with classes at the same time as you’re doing your placement. Don’t be afraid to offer to do some extra work for your placement. I have answered emails and finished off small jobs for Scotland Street outside of my normal office hours. But Jean has also been careful to watch how much extra she asks of me outside of my normal days. You should also watch your workload and make sure you take time for yourself. Sit back, read and book and recharge and your work will be better for it.

 

Bonus: The Tea

It’s a common joke that an interns job is to make the tea. Don’t worry it isn’t. But why not get to know people by learning how they like theirs? Like introducing yourself, it’s a good way to get to know your colleagues if it’s a small team you work with. For example, Scotland Street’s only permanent member of staff is Jean so at times it will just be her and whichever interns are in for the day. Many a nightmare project can be calmed by a good cup of tea delivered at the right time. But on the other side of that, let your colleague know how you like yours. The last thing you want is to be stuck with a milk and two sugars when you only take it black for the entire placement!

Working with a Literary Agent

Undertaking a work experience placement is definitely an invaluable way to learn about working in an industry and understanding the roles available. I knew when we had a little less class time in semester two, that I could supplement my learning with another placement in order to understand more about a part of the industry I knew little about: literary agents. I contacted Jenny Brown, one of Scotland’s biggest agents and began working with her one day a week.

Jenny Brown Associates was founded in 2002 and aims to represents authors based in Scotland, writing fiction and narrative non-fiction. Jenny has a comprehensive list of over 50 authors including Malachy Tallack, Lin Anderson and Alex Gray. She needed someone to help her work through submissions, help design her Rights Guide for London Book Fair, to post on social media, and to assist with one of the books that is coming out this year. I was more than happy to be involved in all of these tasks and to be learning from Jenny about the inner workings of a literary agency. She was always answering questions I had and helping me when I was unsure.

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The first few weeks I read a lot of submissions and wrote readers reports for Jenny, as she had just opened her submission window and was receiving a lot of emails daily from authors. This gave me a great insight into the kind of books Jenny was looking for, and we often discussed books that we found interesting and why.

Throughout my time with Jenny, I also did a lot of social media posting for her. As an agent, she has so many authors to promote and various launches and events happening almost every week. I would take photos for her Instagram, construct tweets and post on her Facebook to promote her authors and their books.

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Finally, I helped with the Rights Guide which was probably the most valuable thing I did in my time with Jenny as it really gave me an understanding of the role of agents when it comes to rights and how she works at the London Book Fair. I was able to use InDesign to work on the guide, as Jenny usually had to send it away to be worked on, so I was glad to be able to put my InDesign skills into use to make her life a wee bit easier. It was also great to know that something I had helped to work on was being used in all of her meetings at London Book Fair. Whilst at the Book Fair, I was lucky enough to be able to sit in on some of Jenny’s meetings. This was probably the best part of the fair for me, as I was able to get a real understanding about the kind of work that goes on at the fair and to see Jenny’s job in action.

Overall, work experience with a literary agent was an amazing experience for me. I was able to learn about another side of publishing I knew nothing about, to learn some new skills, meet other people in the industry and even sit in on meetings and see an agent doing their fascinating work. I would definitely recommend anyone to seek out a placement with an agent as it is a brilliant learning experience.

My internship with Ringwood Publishing

When I first began my MSc Publishing degree I had no experience of working in the publishing industry. However, having had various jobs since my undergraduate degree working in sales, social media and customer service, I had developed transferable skills that helped me a lot coming into publishing as I got to grips with networking, the publishing community on Twitter and marketing. By the time trimester two came around I was eager to get started on the placement module which had appealed so much to me when I was applying for publishing courses the previous year. I was excited for the opportunity to combine the skills I had learnt in class with some practical experience in the industry.

When it came to securing an internship, I didn’t think twice before contacting Ringwood Publishing. Ringwood are a small, independent publishing house based in Glasgow and focus on publishing both fiction and non-fiction around the themes of sex, politics, football, the outdoors and more. With such a varied list I knew I wouldn’t tire of reading Ringwood submissions (something I can vouch for now), and having researched the company for my case study in trimester one I knew that they have a fantastic relationship with interns who take on key responsibilities and have more independence over the tasks they carry out than they would in a lot of larger publishing houses – it is easy to see why Ringwood has been quite a popular choice among some of my fellow publishing students this year. I was also drawn to Ringwood due to their dedication to new authors writing on niche subjects, and who are often overlooked by larger, more mainstream publishing houses.

I began my internship with Ringwood as a Marketing & PR Assistant which was very exciting – I didn’t have a lot of marketing experience at the time apart from what I had learnt in class so this was my chance to think strategically about events, target audience and promotion within a professional environment. Almost straight away I got involved in planning events and creating PR proposals, and I quickly found that in this role there is a strong emphasis on communication skills as you are the person generating interest around an event and ensuring its promotion. Being comfortable approaching potential collaborators and media contacts is crucial, and an aspect of the job that I have thoroughly come to enjoy – there is something satisfying about receiving a positive response from the perfect collaborator to your event. Along with this there were also opportunities to take on reader and proofreading tasks.

A highlight of this internship for me was becoming one of Ringwood’s Submission Managers. In this role I am involved in every aspect of the submissions process from considering manuscripts at every stage, to communicating with authors and liaising with readers. This has also been a great opportunity to sharpen my skills in reading and get into a copyediting mindset and I have really enjoyed taking an active role in such an interesting area of the publishing process.

Overall, my experience interning with Ringwood has been a great insight into different areas of publishing within a small, independent publishing house. It has given me a taste for learning as much as I can about the way that different publishing houses function and the different roles that are available in publishing leading me to take another shorter internship with the brilliant Think Publishing. This experience has been indispensable to me and I would truly recommend Ringwood as a fantastic publishing house to intern with for anyone who takes an open-minded, practical approach to learning and really wants to get stuck in.

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Photo: One of the best parts about my internship has been creating an event to promote Ringwood’s Scots-Irish backlist titles. Above are some of the books that will feature in the event.

Check out more of Ringwood’s vibrant backlist titles at http://www.ringwoodpublishing.com/

Fun at Ferment

The opportunity to complete a placement as part of my degree was one of the deciding factors in my decision to undertake an MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University. Having the chance to put theoretical skills into practice in a real professional environment is obviously valuable for any student. When the time came to choose a placement I knew that I wanted to learn more about magazine publishing, particularly drinks magazine publishing, so Ferment, the UK’s No.1 Craft Beer Magazine, seemed like the ideal candidate. 

I first came across Ferment at the Professional Publishers Association (PPA) Scottish Magazine Awards in 2017 where they won Best Customer Magazine. Having expressed an interest in magazine publishing after completing my case study on another drinks magazine, I was fortunate enough to be offered this opportunity through the MSc Publishing course. It was a really helpful insight into Scottish magazines, giving me an overview of what was out there and who were the ones to watch. Plus, it introduced me to Ferment and gave me the perfect opportunity to force myself into the dreaded territory of networking.

Fast-forward a month or so and my placement was all sorted. We worked out a mutually convenient day for me to come in, Friday, and discussed what I wanted to learn and how I could help the magazine. In the end we agreed that I would focus on organising a bottle-share type event across different cities, ultimately defining a template for these events that the magazine could use after I’d finished my placement. The events were designed to serve two purposes, the first was to supply content for a double-page spread in the new city guide feature, whilst the second was to strengthen the sense of community amongst the readers.

Organising the first of these in Glasgow was so much fun. I loved getting everything ready, choosing the venue, securing which beers would be featured and even making up goodie bags with branded freebies and old-fashioned sweeties. Having come from a bartending background with experience in cocktails and craft beer, I really relished being responsible for an event like this. When we arrived at the venue it was a friend I’d worked with previously who was leading the tasting, which really made it much easier to orchestrate it exactly as I’d planned.

The event went perfectly in the end and the template has now been set, making subsequent events much easier to organise. At the end of it all, magazine publishing, and publishing in general, is a people business where the connections you make become your most valued possessions. Above all else, that’s what I’ve taken from my time at Ferment. Well, that and a new found appreciation for Bluegrass covers and cups of herbal tea. Thanks guys! 

Learning Through Comics

For the Publishing Placement and Professional Development module, I did my internship at Dekko Comics. These are educational comics created with an aim to make learning fun and enjoyable for children including those with learning difficulties such as dyslexia, autism, and related conditions. Honestly, before my internship, I didn’t know much about innovation in the field of education and more specifically, how educational comics are turning out to be the ultimate game-changer.

Although educational comics primarily aim to communicate information, they are also in equal measure entertaining. In most schools around the world, as regards the academic subjects like biology, history, geography, mathematics etc. information is communicated in the same format. In this scenario, learning depends on the student’s ability to read, write and listen when the teacher is explaining the concepts in the classroom. But in the case of a student facing any learning difficulty, the ability to read or write quickly is affected and he/she lags behind in schoolwork, which in the long run, can possibly lead to the child developing low self-esteem. Secondly, both exam revision and schoolwork is something, which students do not necessarily look forward to. Hence, not surprisingly enough loss of concentration is of the most common problems faced by students.

Educational comics can provide a practical solution to these age-old problems and the simple reason for that is the way in which information is presented. It certainly does not look like a lesson. The knowledge thus imparted is narrated like a story as a comic format usually does. The sequence of a beginning, middle, and end aids the understanding. The information is also divided into chunks, which helps in engaging the reader. Importantly, the text is accompanied by visuals which are the characters in the story and they give meaning to the words.

In its prototype stage, Dekko was tested on five different schools in Scotland and different age ranges and learning types were used. All unanimously appreciated it and teachers found it to be great learning resource as students were able to both understand and retain the information. But creating this comic which doubles as a learning resource was no mean feat. The ‘colours’ used were considered as important as the humour in storytelling for an interesting mix of colours made the comic eye-catching and engaging. Dekko also uses dyslexia friendly font along with colour-coding important bits of information.

It’s about that time these comics find their way into the classroom, ultimately making learning enjoyable for teachers, students, and parents alike. Educational comics can benefit the education system as a whole for they have the entertainment factor, which the traditional textbooks lag. It might soon be the next big thing in academic publishing.

 

 

Discovering Jane Findlater

For this trimester’s publishing project, we were given a list of Scottish out-of-copyright authors to choose from.  I was quickly drawn to Jane Helen Findlater, as upon researching her I was astonished at how little information was available online on the life and work of a woman who was apparently, along with her sister, quite commercially successful in her time. I thought she’d be neglected long enough, and thus I took on the challenge of working from a 1906 scanned American copy of The Ladder to the Stars – there was no alternative option (so hard to hunt down this book!) and I was really set on doing this book although I expected it would be a devil to edit. (And I was right.) So who was Jane Findlater?

The youngest of three daughters, she was born in 1866, a year and a half after her sister Mary. Their mother herself an avid storyteller as well as a translator, the girls grew up to love words, and soon enough they started writing their own stories. Growing up in rural Lochearnhead was quite restrictive, and there was little else to do other than play and read. There was a third, older sister named Sarah (who went by Mora, the Gaelic version of the name) but their bond with her was incomparable to the bond they shared with each other. Mary described them as ‘halves of one whole’: Jane’s gentle, compassionate nature was quite complementary to her sister’s, who was much more impatient and fiery. Continue reading “Discovering Jane Findlater”