By Lottie Fyfe, Project Editor at HarperCollins Publishers
I grew up in rural Argyll and although I stood out as bookish, publishing was never suggested to me as a future job; I doubt it was on my career advisors’ radar. I enjoyed English but my passion was for languages, and I went on to study German at Edinburgh (with a side order of Italian). At some point during my student years I must have figured out that somehow, somewhere, people were making books happen; I did some research and, undeterred by warnings of fierce competition and low pay, started to investigate work experience opportunities. It never crossed my mind to go to London: it wasn’t a viable option financially, and Edinburgh has a vibrant publishing scene, so I sent speculative applications to local publishers and managed to get a three-month Editorial stint at Canongate just after graduating.
I also wanted to put my degree to practical use, so when the internship was up I headed to Germany, and after several months perfecting my language skills in various temporary jobs and writing to every German publisher I could find, I was offered a two-month internship at what was then Bloomsbury’s Berlin office. I was their first ever intern, so they were keen for me to get as involved as possible, and it was amazing to work for a foreign publisher so early on in my career. But getting a permanent, paid job was proving tough and I felt my chances would be better at home, so I began applying to publishing houses and agencies in London and Edinburgh. It was a long, hard slog, involving inevitable setbacks and disappointments, expensive train journeys down to London, and many a night on kind friends’ sofas, but eventually I was offered my first job as Rights Assistant at Pan Macmillan in autumn 2010.
After two years at Pan Mac, I decided to go back to uni, as I’d always wanted to study further after I’d got a bit of life (and work) experience. So I threw myself into a quick-fire nine months of essays and dissertations and, with a Masters in German under my belt, returned to London. I’d missed the excitement of publishing, working with books and leaving it all at the office at the end of the day! Although it was competitive, I was convinced Editorial would be a good fit so, after a stint in Contracts at PRH, I made a risky leap to a temporary Editorial Assistant job at Vintage, discovering my niche in desk editing and finally landing at HarperCollins as an Assistant Project Editor. I’ve been here just over two years and am now a Project Editor, responsible for managing the editorial process from edited manuscript to finished copies. It’s the perfect role for me, requiring militant organisation and a pedant’s eye for a typo.
When I hear stories about how other people got into the industry and the challenges they faced, I realise how lucky I was to have the work experience opportunities I did. Working for a couple of months at a time allowed me to immerse myself and gave me a proper sense of how each department ran, as well as a raft of friends and contacts. For anyone daunted by the prospect of trying to get into publishing today, my advice would be not to overlook small, independent presses: even if they don’t offer formal placement programmes, you might just happen to speak to the right person at the right time. And if you get your foot in the door at an indie, chances are they’ll let you stay longer and give you scope to get stuck into things over and above the job description. The downside of a longer placement is, of course, the cost. It took me a long time to secure my first job because I was working paid jobs in between my internships to fund them. Try looking outside of London: although some bigger publishers now offer paid placements and traineeships, it will help if you don’t have to contend with extortionate travel and living costs (HarperCollins pays all interns and trainees!). It may even be a canny move to go off the beaten track as it might lend your CV that little standout detail. Edinburgh, Manchester, Bath and Glasgow are all home to some great independent publishers, and there are university presses up and down the country that may offer placements. Finally, don’t be afraid to move around a little: trying things out and changing your mind – especially early on – is a vital part of discovering what you want out of your career, and where you really want to be.
Published November 2017 as part of #workinpublishing week.