Our spotlight on publishing continues with this fantastic guest blog post from Kirsten Knight, 2020 English Language alumna and Marketing and Publicity Assistant, at Exisle Publishing. As part of the Creative and Cultural Careers Exhibition 2021, Kirsten shared her knowledge of the publishing industry at the Exisle Publishing stand.
We’re delighted to share Kirsten’s steps on how to land your first job in publishing. Kirsten also provides an insight into her day-to-day role as a Marketing and Publicity Assistant.
(Image caption: in Kirsten’s natural habitat)
Kirsten’s career journey
Kirsten ran the publishing society, PublishED, whilst a student at the University of Edinburgh. She discovered the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) Scotland in her first year and attended every event they had to offer, before joining the committee as Student Liaison Officer and later as the Saltire Society Shadow Panel Coordinator. She also volunteered at the wonderful Barnardo’s Book Shop on Clerk Street and worked as a Bookseller at the Edinburgh International Book Festival (EIBF) every summer.
Over to Kirsten…
Are you considering a career in publishing or the wider book industry? EXCELLENT choice. I’m definitely, undeniably biased, but working in publishing is wonderful and I can’t recommend it enough. After all, who doesn’t want to spend all day producing/promoting/selling/generally shouting about brilliant books? Getting into publishing, however, is notoriously difficult. Opportunities are elusive and it can be hard to know where to even start looking. Here, I’ll attempt to shed some light on some of the best first steps you can take, including the ones that helped me get my first job in publishing. I’ll also outline what my day-to-day life as a Marketing and Publicity Assistant looks like, and generally try to hold open a door to this mysterious and wonderful industry.
One excellent way to both get your name out there and to find out about exciting new publishing opportunities is to gear your Twitter and LinkedIn profiles towards the book industry. Publishing people may be quiet in person but they tweet LOUDLY. Follow anyone and everyone you can think of – the ‘big 5’ (Hachette, Harper Collins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House, and Simon & Schuster), indies in your local city (404 Ink, Charco Press, Monstrous Regiment, and Knight Errant Press are great shouts if you’re in Edinburgh), bookshops, book festivals – the list goes on. Your feed will become a glorious melee of bookish chat and publishing opportunities before you know it!
As for LinkedIn, this is a place where your CV can live and grow, unencumbered by the standard two-side-of-A4 maximum for job applications. I’d recommend creating a profile and making use of all the features offered to you; add a snappy headline that makes it clear what type of opportunities you’re looking for, add your work experience with a succinct explanation of the experience you gained, list your skills and awards with no modesty whatsoever! My own profile is linked here, in case you’d like an example of tooting one’s own horn. It might seem like a lot of fuss and bother, but I can’t emphasise the importance of a good online presence enough – after all, it was through LinkedIn that Exisle Publishing got in touch with me and asked if I’d like to work with them a year and a half ago.
If you go to Edinburgh Uni and are interested in the publishing industry, then you’ve probably heard of PublishED, the Publishing and Creative Writing Society. I’d highly recommend getting involved in anything and everything they do! From submitting writing to their semesterly literary magazine, to attending their bookish events, to running for a spot on committee; getting involved with PublishED in any way is a great way to make bookish connections right here at the uni. It was as Drama Editor for PublishED in 2017/18 that I got my first editorial experience, and as President the following year that I learned how to lead a team, coordinate bookish events, fundraise, and generally deal with the manic admin that accompanies most careers in the book industry!
The SYP is one of the best places to get started in publishing, even if it’s just to find out more about the industry. They are a voluntary organisation dedicated to helping people in the first ten years of their publishing career, and they are brilliant! There are many ways to join in their activities, including following their Twitter for career opportunities and regular networking on #SYPChat, attending their fab events featuring industry professionals, applying for their mentoring programme to get career advice from established publishers, and even joining their committee to help make all of this happen! Having done all of the above, I can confidently say that I wouldn’t be where I am in my career without the SYP.
Be a bookseller!
In terms of jobs that give you a head start in getting into publishing, it doesn’t get much better than bookselling. Working in a bookshop gives you real-world experience of which publishers produce which books, how people shop, and what they are buying. It’s also ridiculously good fun to get paid to organise and talk about books. I started out in a charity bookshop (shout out to the wonderful Barnardo’s Clerk St Bookshop), which helped me gain the experience I needed to apply for paid positions at the Edinburgh Book Festival and Blackwell’s.
Two of the best jobs I have ever had were working as a Bookseller at the EIBF and at the Hay Festival. I would recommend this, and experiences like it, to anyone who is looking to gain a better understanding of the publishing industry. You also don’t have to be a Bookseller – festivals need a huge variety of staff, including Front of House and Box Office staff. The three big festivals to look out for in the UK are Hay, Edinburgh and Wigtown, although of course there are many others which offer fab opportunities too (such as Cymera, Scotland’s first sci-fi, fantasy and horror festival)! In terms of getting in contact, this can vary festival-to-festival. EIBF has a dedicated Jobs page on their website, whereas with others you might need to hunt down an email address and send an enquiry. Book festival people tend to be people persons, so don’t worry – you’re bound get a cheery response!
Perhaps the most elusive of all the opportunities in the publishing industry are internships. The best tip I can possibly give for finding internships is to research, and ask your fellow publishing humans! I found out about placements at Edinburgh-based Luath Press at a PublishED event, and secured one shortly after simply emailing to express my interest. Incidentally, Luath is a fab place to enquire, because if they were kind enough to give an internship to wee first year me, chances are they’ll fit you in too! It’s also a great idea to apply to places whose work inspires you; if they can see your enthusiasm, they are all the more likely to decide you’re a good bean who deserves a shot.
Remember to read
Seeking out opportunities in publishing is a manic, wondrous, exciting time, but always remember amidst it all to read. This is something I struggle with, but carving out time to read for fun will make your heart happy, I promise. Read exactly what you feel like reading. Take a chance on indie publishers. Ask for recommendations in tiny, winding bookshops. Carry a book with you at all times just in case. Remind yourself again and again why you want to work in an industry whose purpose is to put words on a page, because the key ingredient for getting a job in publishing is showing that you have a passion for what we do!
A day in the life: Marketing and Publicity at Exisle Publishing
I’ve been working as the Marketing and Publicity Assistant for Exisle Publishing for about a year and a half now. The marketing part of my job primarily consists of making sure the ‘metadata’ (the cover, blurbs, page count, ISBN, etc.) for our books is looking as good as possible on online retailers like Bookshop.org and Amazon. This begins with writing the descriptions for the books about a year before they are published – it is a lengthy process! – and confirming all of the techy specs like pricing, dimensions, etc. As we get closer to publication, I then submit this data to our online system which sends it to retailers, and to our Australian, UK and US distributors, who send out the physical copies of the books. I also create the profiles for the books on our own website. Throughout the book’s life, I also take care of wee updates to the blurbs, tech specs, etc. This might be a strange opinion, but I find it extremely satisfying seeing the book-profiles I’ve set up appearing on retailers across the internet!
The publicity part of my job is very different – mostly because of how much more interaction with other people it involves! Publicity is, essentially, spreading the word about a book. We do this by researching contacts in the ‘media’ (i.e. magazine editors, newspaper editors, bloggers, bookstagrammers, etc.) who we think might be interested in featuring or reviewing a specific book. Once I’ve gathered a long-enough list of potential contacts, I email them about the book and hope and pray that they like the sound of the book! Any interested folks are then sent a copy, which they will hopefully post about or feature in their publication. I really enjoy the variety of this part of the job; in one day you can go from discussing a book with a blogger who has a small but dedicated following, to planning a feature with the Books Editor of The Daily Mail (yes, this has happened to me). Publicity also involves working with authors to arrange events, submitting books to awards, having meetings with all sorts of organisations who might help us celebrate our books, and much more. It is certainly the definition of fast-paced, and definitely keeps you on your toes!
There are a huge variety of jobs in the book industry – many of which I didn’t even know existed until I started working in it – and I hope this far-too-long post gives you some ideas and inspiration about where your bookish career could go.
Thanks Kirsten for opening the door to publishing – very informative.