As part of CCCF 2021, Grace Balfour-Harle, Content Producer for the Beano comic, shared some excellent top tips about getting into publishing; specifically editorial. Grace’s tips are generally applicable to other parts of the publishing industry.
Grace tells us about her own career journey and how to succeed in such a competitive industry.
Grace’s career journey
Grace graduated from her undergraduate degree in English and Legal Studies at the University of Aberdeen in 2017, after having been heavily involved in the Dance Society, Glee Club and The Gaudie student newspaper. She then went on to do an MSc in Publishing at Edinburgh Napier University, where she completed a live book project, three placements and was shortlisted for the Association of Publishing Education’s Postgraduate dissertation prize in 2018. Grace has been at the Beano comic for over two years where her role has evolved from an Editorial Assistant to a Content Producer for the comic. In 2020, she won a Rising Star Award (formally known as the Print Futures Awards) which funded editorial and marketing training courses as well as a membership for the Chartered Institute of Editors and Proofreaders where Grace is now an Intermediate Level member. She is very passionate about the publishing industry and edits for Continue The Voice online zine, and is a Co-Chair of the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) Scotland for 2021/22 in her spare time.
Over to Grace…
Editorial is the most well-known of the publishing departments, and the most glamourised thanks to ‘90s rom-coms. As a result, it is the most competitive part of the industry to get into. But if you are determined, I have no doubt that you will succeed.
Here are my top tips:
My first tip is to join an organisation like SYP, Chartered Institute for Editors and Proofreaders (CIEP), Society of Authors, or even Women in Journalism. There are many other bodies that you could join depending on which bit of publishing you want to get into e.g. Marketing, Rights, Design, Typesetting, Sales etc. These organisations will help expand your network, and are a resource that you can pull on when looking for advice or even job adverts and internships. In joining these types of bodies, you can engage directly with people who are working in the industry that you want to join. They’ll put on events discussing the issues that the industry is facing for you to attend, which will help build your network. The Scottish publishing industry is quite small, so knowing one person can mean that you’re then introduced to a lot of other people as a result. The CIEP is a body which editors and proofreaders based in the UK can join – it’s an industry recognised body that sets and demonstrates editorial standards through their membership levels depending on experience and training. They provide member training and resources, and are a community and hub for editorial professionals. If you are wanting to be an editor or a proofreader, either working freelance or in-house, I would recommend joining the CIEP, if for nothing else but the community it gives you when you’re starting out. SYP Scotland is a particularly useful organisation to be part of as they are for aspiring publishers and those who are early in their publishing careers (less than 10 years). They have a mentorship scheme, monthly events, online networking with a Twitter chat, #SYPChat, and even put on an annual conference.
Get some experience!
The age-old question – how to get experience when you need experience to get the experience? My advice, especially with publishing, is to get creative about it. Get proofreading your friends’ essays or other pieces of work! Perhaps you could go freelance and just start doing the work you want to do. One particular way to be creative about getting the skills you need to make it in editorial is to do some volunteer work for a charity or a non-profit organisation. These are often made up of volunteers so you’re given a little more freedom about what you want to do with them. There are plenty of charities or organisations who send out newsletters to their members, and will need a proofreader or someone who is willing to put it all together. They may also need help with social media – which is a really great skill to have in publishing anyway.
One great organisation to look at is Ta Voix; an independent, non-profit digital publisher of creative writing, they are always looking for contributors – including editors. They’ve amassed a team of over 300 editors who read and assess the submissions for publish-ability. This gives you real-life editorial experience in what editors have to think about.
Another way of looking for some experience is to make it for yourself. Projects like the Publishing Post, Slothcasts and Publishing Profiles were all started by people trying to get into publishing who saw a gap in the market that people needed filled. This could be starting an easy way of networking with professionals, or getting career advice from professionals, which would give you experience of sharing information, marketing it, getting people involved, or simply being geeky about whatever kind of books or magazines you’re interested in.
Another way to get some experience without having to work unpaid is to do some training. A short training course is a good way of getting some basic editorial skills and methodology. While these can cost, if you consider it as an investment in yourself for your career, it makes more sense. It also costs less and is less of a commitment than a Masters degree, which I will speak about later on. Publishing Scotland runs regular training courses (all through Zoom at the moment), The Publishing Training Centre also have some amazing online courses, and BookMachine also offers training courses. It just depends on which you are most interested in, and which format will suit you best. These are all recognised industry-standard courses that if you complete, will bring an assumption of your editorial knowledge to any job application.
One thing that you may not have thought about is a mentorship scheme. The SYP runs one annually for all members, where you’ll be paired up with a publishing professional who is currently working in the industry. The SYP Scotland’s opens for applications in the autumn, and other branches run theirs throughout the year as well. Other bodies also run them – if you are interested in becoming an editor, the CIEP run one, although this is fairly costly and does require you to have some experience in editing and proofreading already. If you’re interested in magazines, then check out the International Magazine Centre’s mentorship scheme, which is open to all of their Sub-Editor level and above Patrons (which is only a fiver a month – less than your monthly coffee spend). There are plenty of other ones if you are interested in other parts of publishing as well.
Mentorship schemes help expand your network and also push your skills and thinking to the next level. However, for a mentorship to work properly, it needs to be mentee-led, so be sure of your goals with a mentor, but also don’t be afraid to let things evolve as the relationship between you and your mentor develops.
Doing a publishing masters is something that many graduates do, and it is a useful thing to have on your CV. It gives you a grounding in the publishing process, and gets you involved in some really interesting projects, all while studying to gain a qualification. However, unlike some other industries, simply having a publishing masters will not guarantee you a job – you need other qualities and experiences as well. But with the support from being in full-time education, you can lay groundwork for your publishing industry knowledge and build your network effectively.
Read, read, and read some more!
One of the main things to understand in publishing is what is being published. So reading lots and reading widely is essential to engaging in the industry. But also, look at the bestseller lists, look at the type of books that are being published – are there a lot of self-help books out at the moment? Or is Young Adult (YA) fiction having a moment at the best-seller list? Has there been a surge in epic fantasy series being published? Or even books all about a global pandemic perhaps? But as well as looking at what is being published, remember to see what kinds of trends are emerging. Children’s and YA murder mysteries have had increasing popularity shown by the best-selling books like the Murder Most Unladylike series, The High Rise Mysteries and books from Holly Jackson and Karen M. McManus.
People in publishing are generally quite active on Twitter and engaging with them and official publisher’s accounts will help (this is especially true if you’re interested in marketing). Follow accounts, see the sorts of things they share, and if you want, start chatting with them. But be careful, know your social media etiquette and don’t bombard people. If someone tweets that they’ve just finished/started a book that you’ve already read, share your thoughts (everyone loves a good book discussion!). Also, follow booktubers and bookstagram accounts (these are book YouTubers and book/reading Instagram accounts) – while you’re not engaging directly with publishers, you are learning about a growing part of the industry, and they’ll often have proofs of books before they’re released to give a book some press before release. So you’ll be able to spot trends in the most recently released books there as well. Join the mailing lists of projects like The Publishing Post, The Publishing Profile, Slothcast podcast and even a Facebook group called Publishing Hopefuls. These are all amazing projects designed to help and encourage young publishing hopefuls like yourself.
Fantastic advice. Thanks Grace.