January 18, 2022

My First Month in Publishing

Publishing is the obvious career choice for those who, like me, value the written word for its ability to make connections between those on different paths of life, and the opportunity it provides to celebrate these connections and bring all sorts of different ideas to reality. My role as publishing assistant at Orphans is my first experience of the ‘professional’ world of books – here’s what I’ve learned in the transition from ‘publishing hopeful’ to fully-fledged employee:

Ask questions!

On my first day, my mind was clouded with the fear of feeling like an imposter who didn’t have the first clue what she was doing. Then, it hit me. I didn’t have the first clue what I was doing. So, I asked a question. Then, I asked another. I wrote everything down until I’d filled my brand new Papier notebook. Then, I filled another (slightly less beautiful) notepad.

When an industry is entirely new to you, the only way to learn is to find out what you don’t know, then get to work mastering it. Your first month should turn you into a walking sponge, so make the most of being a newbie! People in publishing are passionate about the books they nurture into existence so they want you to succeed – don’t be afraid to ask for what you need to make this happen. As long as you show willingness to know more about all aspects of your craft, the knowledge will come. You just have to ask that first question!

Planners are your best friend.

I’ve always been a stickler for organisation – even in primary school, I’d march into W H Smiths with a fistful of coins and browse the endless shelves of planners – I loved having a pristine diary at the start of each academic year, to ensure I never double booked myself between reading Enid Blyton and building fairy sanctuaries at the edge of the playing fields.

Starting at Orphans, I was relieved to discover that my years of rigorous organisational training had found their perfect home. The nature of having multiple ongoing projects means that sometimes, things crop up that need urgent attention, so switching between projects is vital.

My favourite system is to have a list of tasks each day divided into three blocks: Must, Should and Could.

‘Must’ involves one or two clearly outlined tasks to be completed that day. I then split the remaining tasks into two separate blocks, in terms of their urgency: ‘should’ and ‘could’. These are more flexible tasks which can be sidelined to suit the needs of the day.

Share your ideas.

There’s nothing the Orphans team loves more than a good brainstorm. At first, the notion of sharing my thoughts with a room full of people who definitely knew more than me was daunting. I assumed my ideas had either been done already, or suggested and then thrown into the ‘rejected’ pile. As my confidence grew, I learned it was better to make a suggestion and have it politely declined, than sit and feel I wasn’t contributing.

The beauty of working for an independent publisher is that you don’t get lost in a sea of employees – there’s always someone on hand to listen to your suggestions, so if you’re lucky enough to land your first role with an indie, be sure to make the most of this opportunity.

Engage with the industry.

If you can afford it, a subscription to The Bookseller is invaluable. If not, check what’s trending on Waterstones and make the most of Twitter, for both publishing gossip and to find fellow publishing assistants – there’s no such thing as too much support. Subscribe to newsletters that resonate with you (The Indie Insider is my firm favourite), and also those that don’t.

A final note…

If you believe in the essential role of books to mould minds and spark imaginations, then the ability to stand by your ideas will come naturally. Publishing is an industry filled with supportive, interesting people, all working towards the same goal of getting books into the hands of those who love them as much as we do. If my first month in publishing has taught me anything, it’s that I’m lucky to be part of an industry that recognises how glorious it is to be a lover of words.

Helpful Links!

Creative Access – to find publishing opportunities, internships and CV workshops.

Society of Young Publishers – wonderful newsletter and regular events, as well as a mentorship scheme which is well worth applying to.

The Bookseller – Book news!

BookMachine – A valuable resource for publishing newbies, with regular blog posts demystifying subjects like TikTok (!)

Katie Shearer
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