Lisa Milton, Executive Publisher at HarperCollins, shares her five top tips for working in publishing.
1) Get involved
It’s all about getting involved. Don’t sit quietly if you have nothing to do or if you have a question that you’d like to ask. Be keen and demonstrate that you want to be involved and active in the business, even if it’s just sorting out the filing cabinet or printing out notes for a meeting. The more you offer to do, the more responsibilities will eventually be given to you. Also, don’t be shy to ask questions, it shows that you want to learn and that you’re not afraid to ask something obvious – it’s the best way to learn about the trade.
2) Always say yes
Always start with a yes. There’s nothing more annoying than someone who shuns opportunities. You want to create the impression that you’re eager and reliable, but also that you’re excited to have the opportunity to be working in publishing. It’s a tough industry to get into, so once a door opens, you have to force your way in and show people that you’re worth having around. So if someone asks you to do something, say yes! There’s always a way of fitting it into your schedule.
3) Smile and make eye contact
Be friendly and confident. You want to put people at ease when they’re around you or passing you in the corridor. This is especially true when coming across senior people in the business; they can get frustrated with people looking away or not talking to them because they’re too scared to. Most senior managers are approachable. Going up to someone senior and asking them questions about the business, what they’re reading, or generally having a chat will often surprise and impress them.
Do your homework. Read some of the books that the company publishes and have an opinion on them, and not just an editorial one, think about the cover, where it will sell, who the target market could be. If you love an author that they publish, tell them and do you know who their literary agent is? Seemingly little facts are useful to use in interviews, and at work, as it shows that you know your stuff. You can still do this when permanently working somewhere – everything that you’re working on or involved with is research for your next job or pitch. Check out websites, biographies of key people and read, read, read. You can never know too much!
5) Listen and watch
Whether it’s sitting in on meetings, overhearing a conversation in the lift, or simply in your day-to-day conversations, you should always be making mental notes of the things you’re hearing. Keep a diary of what you’re learning and make a note of what you might have done differently. Observing when things are going well, but more importantly, when things are going badly is a brilliant education for any young publisher, and will stand you in good stead for the future. It’s these traits that I look out for, and when someone demonstrates them, I think about how I can hire them.
Published in 2016.