Ain Bensenouci is an events programme manager for Penguin Connect, part of Penguin Random House. They create tailor-made events and programmes to connect authors with businesses and their people to stimulate ideas, generate growth and spark creative thinking.
What do you do?
We work with our incredible authors and amazing clients to connect exciting stories around personal and professional development, as well as wellbeing and smart thinking with new audiences. My role is varied and requires me to wear different hats. The programming of events is the core job. I also consult, network and negotiate both internally with our publicity teams and externally with our clients. There is also a substantial element of logistics to it as I’m responsible for running the events and managing our book orders. Safe to say no two days are the same, and I absolutely love it!
I have also been volunteering at the Society of Young Publishers for a few years now. The SYP is an organisation that has spent the last 70 years supporting aspiring publishers. It has been a trailblazer in pushing the boundaries of publishing outside of London with six regional branches in Oxford, North, Scotland, South West and Ireland to date, as well as a UK steering committee. If you are looking to start your career in publishing, find your nearest branch and go along to an event to learn more about the industry and meet some new people.
How did you get into publishing?
My journey to publishing started in Italy, my native country, and became a reality in the UK, my home for the past seven years. I was working in a restaurant and as a part-time bookseller at Waterstones, whilst also writing my dissertation, when I realised that I needed to learn more about the industry if I was ever going to make it. I saved up enough money, got my English to a reasonable level and completed an MA at UCL. My first job was in a small Open Access academic publisher, where I was able to learn essential office skills (aka Excel!) and understand the publishing process. There’s probably more I could tell you about the start of my career, but the most crucial part is below.
I am an immigrant. English isn’t my first language, and I don’t come from money. I’m sharing these facts because I want you to know that if I have managed to start a career in publishing, so can you. I worked hard and made smart choices to build a good CV that would show my passion for books and my commitment to publishing. At times you may feel like publishing isn’t for you, I certainly did. Maybe you think your accent doesn’t sound right, or you didn’t holiday in the same places as everyone else. Maybe your parents don’t have fancy jobs, and you are actually the first in your family to receive an education. All these things may make it harder for you to get your foot in the door, but it’s not impossible. So please don’t give up and trust me: the publishing industry needs you. We need your passion, your perspective and your talent.
How has the industry changed since then?
It has definitely changed, and I am proud of our industry. However, there is still a long way to go. Since I joined, the industry has made some significant steps. For example, there is more awareness and understanding of the importance of helping people from different backgrounds get into the industry. There are important campaigns such as #BookJobTransparency launched by the fantastic Aki Schilz. The industry is also becoming more commercially aware, which is so vital in making sure the stories we champion are heard far and wide. At Penguin Connect, we are expanding our reach as storytellers, and creating more opportunities for our authors to connect with loyal readers and new audiences. It’s an exciting time to join the industry!
What is your boldest prediction for publishing in 2030?
Not a prediction as such, but a wish. That we will be the first industry in media to have a diverse workforce, both in the boardrooms, the teams of employees and the authors we publish. We can make it happen and we should!
What is the best piece of career advice you’ve received?
‘First, be interested, then be interesting.’ I think this is especially important when starting a new job or looking for opportunities to learn. It’s an approach that has helped me build a great network. We are always eager to make an impression. Still, it’s just as essential to get to know the people that we have around us, understand what we can learn from them and observe what they are doing right. There will be time to share your strengths and successes along the way, but be sure to look around and listen first.
What skills have helped you get ahead?
My background is a mixture of operations, sales and events. As a result, I have acquired a variety of skills. I think what was key for my progression was the fact that I focussed on making my skillset as transferable as possible. In my sales capacity, I learnt to build rapport and negotiate smartly. Whereas, when it comes to events, my eye for detail and problem solving is what sets me apart. But I think what ultimately got me ahead was my passion for our industry and my strategic approach to career development. There’s not a single step in my career that was random, not a single project that I worked on that was just by chance, and that wasn’t something I 100% believed in. I think we sometimes romanticise the ‘falling into things’ aspect of our career when actually, it is important to plan ahead and know what you want to do. And although I didn’t always know where my career was headed, I knew what I wanted to get out of my job and that I wanted to do something that gave me purpose.
Have you been mentored and, if so, how has it supported your career progression?
I do have a mentor, and she’s been supporting me for a couple of years now. Initially, I didn’t know what to expect from this relationship, but it quickly became apparent that she was going to guide me through the tough times. She’s helped me when I felt stuck and couldn’t progress, when I felt misunderstood at work, when I didn’t know whether to apply or take that new job, and even how to negotiate my salary in more senior roles. She’s helped me keep my long term plans and objectives on track, and for that, I will be forever grateful. I have also found other informal mentors in my peers and colleagues. It is so important to be able to receive constant feedback, and that’s something that someone who works alongside you can do.
Why do you love working in publishing?
Publishing helped me find my voice and my home. I have lived in the UK for over seven years, and it feels as much my home as the publishing industry does. I have felt frustrated many times. I have felt like I didn’t fit in and seen other people feeling the same. Still, overall, I have seen a group of professionals trying to make a positive difference in this world. And I can relate to that. We are not perfect, but we are striving to be better, and that’s what I love about publishing people. You can always find someone willing to lend a hand, and that is special!