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How Books Get Made

How Books Get Made

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Siân Pratley is a Production Assistant at Penguin Random House and a Freelance Photographer.

Q1 Would you recommend doing an MA in Publishing? Does it open up more opportunities in the field?

While I think publishing MAs have their uses, I know so many people who have gotten in just from getting experience elsewhere, even if it's not publishing! I took a stab at self-publishing for some production experience, freelance photography, & marketing before getting into PRH.

Q2 When you say self-publishing, do you mean that you published your own book? Would mean living without an income for a while?

I worked in retail and temped in office jobs whilst job hunting and the self-publishing was my dissertation choice at university.

Q3 How important is networking for publishing?

I certainly didn't have many contacts, but while on work experience I seized the opportunity to network around the office and asked questions about production, rights, editorial etc. as well as being enthusiastic about everything. It got me remembered when there was a job going!

Q4 What are some things I can do to set myself apart when going for a job in publishing?

Have some side hustles! I self-taught myself photography at university with a society and had a strong portfolio by the time I'd graduated. Get some work experience in before you graduate with local publishers to you, your student newspaper, anything to get a feel of what interests you.

Q5 Any tips for where to look for or find work experience that’d help us get into the field?

I was interested in food so I emailed all the cookery magazines I could find, as well as local publishers to me. Even office experience is useful! It took me doing work experience at a magazine to realise I'd been chasing a dream in editorial I actually didn't want, for example.

Q6 What is your average day like?

I'd receive some colour proofs of a book cover from our reprographics house (they take in any changes to the cover we would like, e.g colour corrections, moving things around, fonts, and barcodes) and look at it under the light box and make notes on it to send back to repro e.g. taking out some magenta or yellow from a skin tone if it looks too saturated, or making a blue look brighter by lightening it. I might also receive a marked up manuscript with changes from an editor, which I will send onto our typesetters to take in.

I'll also run some reprint costings requested by inventory which I send to finance to look at and approve. Once I get these back I order them with our printers around the world, depending on where the book needs to be!

Q7 Do you have any advice on how to find relevant experience?

Definitely don't restrict yourself to publishing to build experience. Anything can be useful. Look at the kind of skills the jobs you’re interested in are highlighting and build those e.g. Are we asking for organisation? What things can/do you currently do that show that?

Q8 Is there room to move into different roles in publishing?

Definitely! I was a marketing and S/M assistant before I moved to production, I had no direct experience and all my training has been on the job. Try to find ways of showing skills such as keen eye to detail etc. with situations you've handled before, that the core skills are there.

Q9 Is it possible to get an entry level job in publishing without a degree in English?

Definitely! You don't even need a degree here. I have a colleague in Rights who has a Japanese degree that she sometimes gets to use when selling books to Japanese publishers too, languages are so helpful. So long as you can back up core skills related to the job ad, you’re good!

Q10 Do you have an advice for securing your first job?

Try to highlight things you did on your work experience that directly back up the core skills listed on the ad. And look into the backlist of the publishing house you're applying for and get a true feel for their list and use that to tailor your application.

Q11 What do you wish people outside of publishing knew about the Production department?

I wish people knew how fun production is! I basically project manage the book between departments to make sure it looks as beautiful as possible, and make sure it gets printed!

Q12 What kind of experience would you recommend to get into production?

Production is a lot about project management, think about how your organisation has helped get something done. Also your keen eye for detail will definitely be useful.

Look at books in bookshops and think about what the finishes are doing for the whole package. Look at what the foiling is doing, what the difference is between a jacketed hardback and PLC (hardback without a jacket), what the size of a book does to how it looks. Is it shiny? It's gloss laminated. Is it matt with shiny lettering? It's matt laminated with spot UV gloss.

Q13 How does working in production compare to editorial?

Production work so closely with editors! But instead of reading and commissioning manuscripts, I'm in charge of getting the manuscript set with typesetters, getting the cover from designers to a repro house to print as CMYK, choosing foils and pantones for covers from swatches.

Q14 What’s the biggest challenge you find working in production?

Juggling the expectations of editors with sales & finance. Sometimes an editor will have a picture in their head of how they want the book to look but it's not financially feasible, so we will usually help them with finding alternatives to get the book looking as good as we can.

Q15 Any advice for someone working hard to get their first position in publishing?

Keep dreaming! It took me 9 months of hard graft to get into Penguin Random House. Don't be afraid to email around, apply for our work experiences, email places that don't advertise it, find office experience, build your organisation skills etc. with projects, freelance work, magazines.

Q16 What part of the production process takes the longest?

The longest process in production is usually the back and forth of the text and cover between us and editorial for approval. If it's a tricky title then there might be lots of corrections or the text might come in late from the author.

Q17 What do you enjoy most about working in production?

My favourite part is working on colour correcting covers as the paper it's printed on and finishes affect how it will look. When the printed books come in, it's awesome to see your hard work on the cover too!

Work in Publishing Week (19th-23rd November 2018) is a week long campaign to celebrate careers in publishing.