It was a friend who suggested publishing; he too was considering jobs in the field. Once I started looking for work experience, the Penguin Random House program was the most visible, as well as the most reviewed, and so it was from snippets online where I got my first insights into publishing. What I found was a multi-disciplinary field that involved marketing, rights, sales, and a whole host of other functions alongside editorial. In my eyes, this seemed perfect; a collaborative work place that revolved around telling stories.
The application process was straightforward and easy, and there’s great support with any queries you have. I was delighted to be offered a place in the marketing department at Ebury, and living in London was a brilliant bonus! Coming from Ireland, I had a few more technical hurdles to jump to get started in London, but Penguin Random House couldn’t have been more helpful and friendly.
I came into Ebury with some idea of what I’d be getting up to, as before starting I was sent an information pack that familiarised me with the department, as well as the common jargon I’d be coming across. I have to admit, I was a tiny bit apprehensive about going into the marketing division; I dropped business studies in school, and wasn’t envious of my friends who study commerce and plough through Excel sheets. Beyond that, I was looking forward to seeing how the right campaign was thought up, and who the people that implemented this were. At such a big company like Penguin Random House, I was keen to see how the departments worked together and gain an understanding of how publishing is a collaborative effort.
Becky at Ebury was my first point of contact and she was fantastic in showing me the ropes and explaining to me how everything worked. In fact, I found that the whole team were enthusiastic about answering any questions. The tasks were a lot more varied than I expected, and I never once found myself doing the same thing. I enjoyed getting familiar with the different tools and software that publishers use, such as Biblio, Brandwatch or Novelrank.
My favourite part of the experience were the weekly meetings, where different departments would meet and discuss what stage the book is at, and what’s needed for it to meet publication date. I also worked on a certain book promotion that used a new storytelling app, Hooked, which is popular with the book’s target demographic. I adapted a chapter of the novel into consumable content via the app – it was an inventive idea that was fun to do, and shows that marketing is wonderfully wide-ranging and stimulating.
The experience on the whole has been fantastic and has given me real direction in what I want to do after college. If I had any advice to candidates applying from outside of London like myself: just go for it! It’s fantastic that Penguin Random House pays work experience, which is a real help with travel, accommodation and general finances. Living in London was an experience itself, and it really enhanced my time here. It’s a rewarding opportunity, and I’d do it again tomorrow if I could.
If you’re interested in finding out more about our Work Experience, visit our page here.
Hi Hana, you attended our JobHack in Norwich this summer. What attracted you to apply?
I applied to JobHack to learn a bit more about the publishing industry. I was already pretty set on pursuing a career in publishing and whilst I knew a little (emphasis on little) I wanted to get to know about the different sectors and what specific roles entailed in more detail. Before I applied I did a bit of research into the programme, reading some blog posts and articles that had been written by other people who had attended previous sessions.
The interactive workshops really appealed to me too as they seemed like a fun way to gain a truthful insight into different tasks associated with each sector. It was the recruitment workshop that really drew me in. As a recent graduate I definitely need all the advice and tips on how to get a job and having that role reversal where all of a sudden you are on the inside reading and scrutinising CVs and cover letters seemed like such an invaluable opportunity to find out exactly what publishing houses look for in a job application.
What did you get involved with on the day and who did you meet?
We got the chance to take part in some amazing workshops; coming up with and pitching an idea for a new book, creating a marketing campaign, and also re-designing the cover of Roald Dahl’s The BFG according to a brief. The whole day was really engaging and interactive and the tasks made us think and put our creativity to use rather than just being spoken at.
We also got to meet and chat to people from a variety of roles and Penguin Random House divisions. Stephanie Naulls from Ebury’s marketing team was so enthusiastic and energetic about what she did, which was really inspiring. We also got to meet Tom Monson, an editorial assistant at Viking, who spoke about how he ended up at Penguin Random House after a work experience placement at another publishing house (I’m pretty sure we all wanted to be him!). Everyone who we spoke to was so friendly and willing to offer any advice they could.
Would you recommend JobHack?
Definitely! I would recommend JobHack to anyone who has contemplated going into publishing, whether it is a fleeting thought or a certain career path. You learn so much just from a single day and who wouldn’t want to be part of something run by one of the biggest names in publishing?! Also #cake #pops.
What were your favourite parts of JobHack?
I actually really enjoyed the networking aspect of the entire day. When I first found out there was going to be a networking opportunity I Freaked. Out. because the whole concept of networking, for some reason, fills me with dread (maybe it’s the worry of having awkward conversation… or no conversation at all). But turns out it really wasn’t that bad – everyone was really easy and interesting to talk to and it was also amazing to see how young everyone was!
What one thing did you learn that gave you an insight into publishing?
I learnt that it’s not necessarily about who you know, but what you know.
This may sound obvious but having skills that are transferrable to the area of publishing you want to go into are what will get you there. Listening to everyone’s presentations about their journey into publishing taught me this as I found that they hadn’t all done work experience placements or internships with big publishing names and had still managed to become part of the Penguin Random House team.
Having the passion, creativity, and energy for whatever position you want to go into will certainly help – and everyone we met at Penguin Random House had plenty of this for what they do!
What’s next for you? Have you applied to any other publishing opportunities?
JobHack cemented publishing as the career path for me and inspired me to go for it! I have a work experience placement lined up for later in August at a children’s publishing house to learn even more about the publishing world and build upon what Penguin Random House taught us!
If you’re interested in attending JobHack or finding out more about it, take a look at our JobHack website.
I got to go to Ian McEwan’s house which was pretty darn cool!
Hi Sarah, why don’t we kick off with a bit about what your internship was about?
I was based in Vintage, where I’d recently just completed my work experience, in their brand team. My role was a sort of mix between marketing, publicity and involved a lot of social media research. My main project was looking at their social media channels and seeing what content did well, what did not so well and whether there was anything other companies and brands were doing that we could do too!
Why did you apply for that internship?
I’d applied the year before with no luck but had enjoyed my work experience at Vintage so much that I wanted to go back! Luckily one of my numerous jobs at uni was running all the social media accounts so this internship particularly appealed to me and I had the relevant experience.
I’d also stayed in contact with Cat and Mia who had looked after me during work experience and they helped me out. I applied for one more based in marketing, but was glad when I got the Vintage one as it’s the one I really set my heart on.
When you applied, what expectations did you have of the internship, and what was your biggest surprise once you’d started?
It was really nice to be treated like a proper member of the team, rather than as an intern, so it wasn’t what I expected at all! I think because of this I enjoyed it even more and raced through all the tasks I was given, so I got to do even more and help out other members of the team too.
What was your favourite moment from your internship?
At the end of the ten weeks I got to present all my findings in one big presentation back to the whole marketing and publicity team which was pretty scary but also really rewarding.
(I also got to go to Ian McEwan’s house which was pretty darn cool!)
And now you’re a Publicity Assistant in Ebury – how did that come about, and what does it involve?
I moved about a lot once my internship was over. I’d literally just graduated and finished my university jobs and luckily before the ten weeks were over a temporary position at Canongate came up. A few people from the department recommended me for the position and after an interview I got offered the job, starting the Monday after I finished.
I really enjoyed it there, and even got to travel up to Edinburgh but was looking for something more permanent (as it was only an eight week position) which is when an internship came up at HQ, a new division of HarperCollins. I was sad to leave Canongate after only three weeks, but excited to try something new.
I started there immediately afterwards but found it wasn’t what I expected. It was fun to be part of an imprint that was just starting out but it was also pretty chaotic and they could only pay me minimum wage so I was still looking for something permanent. I had all the careers and job pages on Twitter tweet alert and when the Ebury publicity assistant role came up I jumped at the chance. I threw everything into my application and was lucky enough to get it!
There’s a lot more responsibility now I’m a permanent member of the team, and obviously I do a lot less marketing now, but all the skills I learnt in my internship have really given me a boost and definitely help me in my role now.
And finally, what advice do you wish you’d been given when you were looking to get into publishing?
Start early! I really wish I’d made more of the free time I had at uni, but only really started looking in March/April of my final year. I could have had a lot more experience had I made the most of it and applied before.
“I ended up producing a strategy presentation, which I presented to over 50 people, including the International CEO. This strategy later became Penguin Platform.”
Hi Rachael, you did your internship a few years ago now, but tell us: what was it like?
I interned in Summer 2014 in the same department I currently work in – Consumer and Digital Development. I worked between the Audiences and Digital Development team (then known as the Digital team) and the Consumer Insight team.
I was briefed that Penguin Random House wanted a new way to talk to their young adult audience online. And that was basically it! I conducted lots of research: running focus groups, online surveys and looking at what other media brands did online. I also got to work closely with the Children’s division, and was invited to brainstorms and marketing meetings. I ended up producing a strategy presentation, which I presented to over 50 people, including the International CEO. This strategy later became Penguin Platform.
Three years later, a very similar internship has just cropped up!
And how did you hear about the internships?
I always say I fell into publishing, as if you had asked me 5 years ago what I thought I would be doing, there is no way I would have said this! I studied Maths and Chemistry at university, and was in my first year of university when I saw this advertised on Twitter.
In my gap year I had set up a YouTube channel and blog, where I talked about books and film. I didn’t set it up with the mind to go into publishing – it was just something I liked doing.
When I saw the internship advertised I knew it was perfect for me! I loved YA books and digital – it was something I spent time doing as a hobby, and couldn’t believe that someone would pay me to do it! Research and strategical thinking also appealed to me because I studied science, and although I knew I didn’t want a science career, I liked the thought-process.
What was the application process like?
In all honesty, I don’t remember it that well. There was a CV and cover letter, and in hindsight, my CV formatting looked dire. I had never applied for a proper job before and had taken a template off the university careers service, but luckily they saw through that and to the content!
Then there was HireVue, which is a video interview. I had prepared every question I could possibly think of, only to have my university hall’s wifi crash after the first question. I had to ask for a redo, thinking there was no hope of me getting it after that. Luckily, HR were very understanding!
Lastly, there was the face-to-face interview, which went fine, and then a couple of days later I was offered the internship.
What was the most challenging thing about your internship?
My age. I was in my first year of uni, and the youngest intern PRH had ever had. I had done a bit of office work before as a receptionist, but I had never done anything where I had to produce “real work”. It was a steep learning curve on how to build a project, produce work and then present to a huge amount of people. However, I learnt a lot and it helped me with my first proper job 2.5 years later!
And what did you find most helpful?
My managers were really supportive. They even made sure I got a couple of days’ work experience in other areas of publishing to see what it was like. Reading through the Children’s editorial slush pile was enough to make me see that editorial was not for me! They made sure I was invited to meetings outside my project remit and made sure I was involved in the wider team. They also pushed me: initially I was only meant to present to 3 key people, but it then grew into a much larger presentation. This meant I really got the most out of my 10 weeks.
So, you interned with Penguin Random House, and then got offered a permanent position with us. How did that come about, and what are you doing now?
Well the short answer is harassing HR for temp jobs after I left. I had to go back to university after my internship, while a few of the other interns were kept on afterwards. I kept in touch with both of my managers and met up with them regularly during my university holidays. I also kept in touch with my HR contact.
Eventually this paid off, because in August 2016, after I graduated, I was asked by HR if I could temp as a marketing assistant in Cornerstone. During the end of my temp contract, a permanent job in Audiences and Digital Development cropped up, and I ended up in a full circle as the team’s assistant.
And finally, for the people applying, do you have any tips?
Don’t be afraid to be different. On paper, I didn’t look like the traditional publishing candidate. I studied a science degree, had little publishing work experience, and was very young. However, it was the fact that I was young and studied a science degree that helped me get hired. Don’t apply thinking that you have to fit into a certain box – it sounds really corny, but just be yourself!
You might have noticed that we’ve announced some big news about our work experience placements.
From April 18th we’ll pay all work experience placements the National Living Wage – calculated at £7.50 per hour or £262.50 per week.
You have until the 2nd May to apply for work experience placements in June and July – head here if you’re curious to find out how to get involved.
As part of our aims to make publishing more inclusive, we want to break down barriers to entering the industry and make sure it’s open and accessible to everyone. Last year we took steps towards this by offering all places based on random selection and stopping all personal referrals for work experience. You can read about more about what we’ve been up to here.
Now, by paying everyone who completes work experience with us a National Living Wage, we hope to open up the opportunity to gain meaningful experience in publishing to even more people.
Even though you’ll be paid, there will be no contract or selection process like a CV or interview. Placements are randomly selected, based only on your availability and preference for a department. The reason we offer places in this way is because work experience is not a job which requires special skills– it’s a learning experience.
More information about the programme can be found on our careers page, or in the FAQ below:
How do I apply for work experience?
Applications are made on our careers site. We have a quarterly application window where you’ll be able to apply for placements 2-3 months in advance.
Applications for work experience between June and July are open now until 2nd May – please click here to apply.
How does the application process work?
You can apply through our online application form on our careers page.
Places are allocated through random selection, depending only on your availability and department preference.
We’ll start by asking for your contact details and a few bits of information to make sure you’re eligible to take part in work experience (more information below).
We’ll then ask a few questions around what makes you tick, why you want to join us on work experience and what you hope to get from it. We’ll also ask you if you have a preference regarding the department you’ll join, as well as what your interests are, as we’d like to try and match you with the most suitable team that.
We won’t select anyone based on their answers to these questions; they will just help us to get to know you better and understand what you want to get from your time with us.
We’re really passionate about what we do and love to see curiosity, so keep this in mind when telling us about yourself, especially as your answers will be your first introduction to the department.
Who can apply for work experience?
There are a couple of requirements we need you to meet in order to apply.
Firstly, we can only offer placements to those who are over 18 and have the right to work and train in the UK.
Secondly, we’re also really passionate about giving as many people as possible the chance to try out work experience with us, so please wait at least 6 months to apply again if you’ve already completed a placement with us.
What can I expect on work experience?
During your placement, you’ll be sitting within a team, getting a feel for the kind of work they do and learning what goes on around you. So it should be a good insight into what a work place is like and how we get things done.
You’ll have a buddy who’ll be there to guide you through your placement, and be first port of call for any questions you have along the way.
What are the hours and duration of the placement?
Our office hours are typically 09.30 – 17.30, Monday to Friday. Placements are normally two-weeks long but if you would prefer to join us for a week, let us know once you secure a place and we’ll see if we can accommodate this.
Where does work experience take place?
We offer work experience at all three of our London offices (Strand, Pimlico and Ealing).
What can I do to increase my chances of getting work experience?
Placements are randomly selected, based on your availability and department preference. You’ll need to have answered all application questions in order to be eligible, but we don’t select anyone based on these.
Do you offer work experience to those still at school?
For now, no. You must be over 18 to take part.
When should I expect to hear back after applying?
As much as we’d like to, high demand means we’re unable to offer everyone a place. We’ll let you know whether you have secured a place of not within a few weeks of applications closing. If we don’t have a place for you this time round, please do keep trying in the future.
Occasionally, additional opportunities for work experience do become available outside of the application windows, so there may be the odd occasion that you hear about an opportunity a month or two down the line.
When can I next apply?
Applications are open now for placements during June and July, and they close on 2nd May. Our next application window will open in June for placements between August and September. Keep an eye out on our careers page for more information nearer the time.
What’s the difference between your work experience placements and internships? Can I apply for both?
Our summer internships are 10 weeks long and interns are set a specific work project based on a real business challenge to work on and ‘own’. They’re paid the London Living Wage – currently an hourly rate of £9.75.
In contrast, work experience lasts two weeks and provides a structured learning experience and taster of a department, Penguin Random House and publishing in general. Placements run throughout the year but we have specific times of the year where you can apply. For more information, head to our careers and Facebook pages.
Please feel free to apply to both.
I’ve seen that you may be able to offer subsidised accommodation for those based outside London? How can I apply?
Accommodation will be provided through a trial partnership with The Book Trade Charity. More details on this and how to apply will be available soon.
Will you still pay my expenses or subsidise travel costs?
During your placement you’ll be paid a National Living Wage, which is £7.50 per hour or £262.50 per week. This salary exceeds the amount we previously offered in expenses and travel subsidy; we no longer offer those.
We will also give people coming from outside of London access to subsidised accommodation through a trial partnership with The Book Trade Charity. More details on this will be available soon.
I applied last time – do I need to apply again?
If you weren’t offered a place last time we’ll contact you to let you know when the next opportunity to apply will be.
“It was amazing to feel so welcome in such a close team. I also loved the flexibility of the internship.”
Hi Demelza, let’s start at the beginning: where did you do your internship, and what was it about?
Last summer I had the amazing opportunity to work at Cornerstone as their Digital Intern. My main project was to help the marketing and publicity teams develop the James Patterson and Stars Wars brands. I’m definitely not a Star Wars expert so I was initially unsure about applying for this internship. I was intimidated by the size of these huge commercial franchises. However, I knew that I would love working creatively with social media. Besides from researching and engaging with new audiences, I also assisted the marketing and publicity teams with a wide range of tasks such as researching event venues and designing graphics for Twitter.
And what made you apply for the internship?
I had known for a long time that I definitely wanted to work in books. With graduation and impending unemployment looming, I was already juggling my degree with getting as much copy writing, bookselling and social media experience as I could. I was notorious for my Twitter obsession. I had alerts set up on my phone so every time @PRHCareersUK tweeted, I knew about it. I couldn’t choose between the internships so I ended up applying for nearly all of them. Can you tell I’m keen?
What was the application process like?
I’d never done anything like it before so it was a completely new experience. To apply, I had to answer a set of questions in a cover letter. The next stage was a HireVue interview. HireVue is a non-live video interview where you record yourself answering questions. It’s deeply strange to be interviewed without anyone interacting on the other end but it’s a great opportunity show your personality and enthusiasm for the book industry. After weeks of anxiously checking my inbox, I was invited to a face to face interview at Penguin Random House HQ.
What was the best thing about the internship?
Everyone at Cornerstone! It was amazing to feel so welcome in such a close team. I also loved the flexibility of the internship. My projects were adapted to use the skills I already had and to help me learn about areas that I wanted to know more about.
And… the worst?
Watching time fly by and knowing that my position wasn’t permanent… yet.
So, you interned with Penguin Random House, and then got offered a permanent position with us. How did that come about, and what are you doing now?
I still can’t believe how lucky I am. About halfway into my internship, an entry level position in Cornerstone Publicity became available. I was encouraged to apply and I was offered the position soon after. My internship helped me clarify the differences between marketing and publicity so I knew exactly where I wanted to start my career. As a Publicity Assistant, my days are even more varied. Having a permanent position requires a lot more multi-tasking and team work but my internship gave me a hugely useful understanding into how a large publishing house works.
And finally, for the people applying, do you have any tips?
In July, we launched our very first Job Hack in Birmingham. This was a day of creative, interactive workshops aimed at 18-24 year olds where we had the opportunity to wax lyrical about all things publishing and jobs. And what a day it was.
We wanted to reach those who have a passion for storytelling and a curiosity for what’s going on in the world, wherever they might be, and even if they hadn’t considered a career in publishing before.
We put them in the seat of a marketer, an editor, and a digital producer to give them a real taste of the creative and digital challenges we face, as well as giving them a whistle-stop tour of the publishing process. If you’re curious about what we got up to, hop on over to Storify.
Job Hack Birmingham was the first of its kind, but not the last.
This autumn, we’ll be travelling the country with Job Hack hitting Glasgow on 14th October, before heading to Yorkshire, the South-West and the North (details TBC)… and maybe even London early next year.
To apply for Glasgow, head to our application page on Go Think Big before the deadline closes on 20th September.
If the prospect of Penguin M&Ms isn’t enough to entice you, here are six more reasons to come to Job Hack:
1.We’ll demystify publishing.
What do you think of when you think of publishing? Sitting in a dusty room correcting grammar?
We know that publishing can be a bit of a mystery – and how to get a job in it potentially more so. Beyond producing books, what we’re really about is bringing stories and new ideas to as many people as possible, and there are so many different parts you can play in the process. Perhaps in areas you haven’t even thought about – like events, consumer and digital, audio, or insight…
2. We won’t do death by PowerPoint or give you generic CV tips.
You’ll get to flex your creativity and think of new ideas and hooks – just as you would in the business. Through the workshops, you’ll have a chance to roll up your sleeves and really see what the different departments get up to.
How about rewriting the blurb for Assassin’s Creed for a middle aged non-fiction reader? Or thinking about how to best publicise a debut novelist?
You’ll even get the chance to sit on the other side of a job application and become a recruiter with a job advert, CVs and cover letters to assess. Who will you put forward and why?
3. You’ll hear all about our opportunities
And there are a lot of them: work experience, internships, our entry level roles, The Scheme… Come try us on for size.
4. You don’t have to have a degree to come along or apply for our roles.
We’re more interested in your strengths and potential and we need a wide range of skills in our business, whether that’s data analytics, influencing, good commercial sense, creativity, gift of the gab, social media wizardry.
5. There’s some pretty awesome swag. (And more surprises along the way…)
At Job Hack Birmingham, we gave away audiobooks, a chance to get feedback on a practice interview, unpublished proofs and classic Penguin totes. (It wouldn’t be a publishing event without them).
… Who knows what #PRHJobHack Glasgow has up its sleeves?
6. We’re story-tellers at heart.
…is a roundabout way of saying that we love talking about ourselves and our books.
You’ll meet some exceptionally passionate people and have a chance to ask questions in an informal environment.
There’ll be speed networking so you can quiz those from across the business, and find out what their roles really mean and how they got to where they are.
We’re not the only people who’ll be excited to chat to you – you’ll get to exchange ideas and brainstorm with your peers and make some new contacts. JobHack Birmingham ended with one group going off to catch Pokémon together…
Tempted? To apply for Glasgow, head to our application page on Go Think Big before the deadline closes on 20th September or follow us on Twitter (@PRHCareersUK) to find out when future JobHacks will be announced.
But don’t just take our word about JobHack. Have a look at what people had to say below or check out these blogs written about the day.
“I absolutely loved how interactive the tasks were so we could learn so much more about the industry”
“I came in not knowing much of the big picture and this has really explained what publishing is about. I have come away excited about roles I didn’t even know existed.”
“I really enjoyed the comfortable atmosphere and the fact that we could ask the staff about their individual roles. It was thoroughly enjoyable to work in teams and face challenges that are still relevant now.”
“One of the most entrancing events I have ever attended”
Start Your Story: Looking for work experience this autumn? There are changes are afoot…
We’ve been looking at how we can make work experience fairer and more accessible to everyone.
Why? Because publishing and books don’t currently reflect the population of the UK. We’ve set ourselves the goal of helping to change this and make our industry more inclusive by 2020. You can read about more about what we’ve been up to here: https://www.penguinrandomhouse.co.uk/about-us/creative-responsibility/inclusion/
So, what’s changing and why?
New periodic application windows
Rather than asking you to sign up for work experience on our Facebook page, we have a new application form, making it easier for you to plan ahead and book work experience weeks or months in advance. Applications for placements from October-December are now open and will close at midnight on Wednesday 7th September. You can find out more and apply on our careers page https://www.penguinrandomhousecareers.co.uk/your-career/work-experience/
Don’t worry if you don’t secure a placement this time round, the next application window will open in November for places in early 2017.
Keep following the Work Experience Facebook page to find out when the next application windows are and for behind the scenes information and blogs…
The Application Form
We will no longer be asking you to submit your CV. Instead we’ll ask for a few bits of information to make sure you’re eligible to take part in work experience (more info below), as well as your contact details so we can let you know whether you’ve gained a place.
We will also ask you a few questions about why you’re applying for work experience at Penguin Random House. We won’t select based on this, but your answers will act as your introduction to department you may be placed with, so they have a flavour of who you are and what you want to learn.
You’re not applying for a job, so why should you be selected as if you are? Places will be decided by random selection. All you have to do is fill out our form during the application window, stating your eligibility, department preference and availability.
To be eligible for work experience, you must:
We’ll cover up to £75 for food and travel per week. If you’re coming from further afield and need some extra help, let us know if you’re offered a place and we’ll see what we can do.
For more information and to find out what you could be getting up to during 2 weeks of work experience in one of our departments, head to https://www.penguinrandomhousecareers.co.uk/your-career/work-experience/. There are opportunities in Rights, Publicity, Marketing, Sales, Contracts and Editorial. Make sure to apply before midnight on Wednesday 7th September – it could be where you #startyourstory.
Best of luck!
The Helen Fraser Fellowship is a 6 month positive action editorial traineeship for black and minority ethnic candidates. Accepting applications now until 6th June 2016 – apply here.
Hello, Ben. Tell us a bit about the Fellowship – what were you doing over the 6 months you were with Hamish Hamilton?
I assisted Simon and Hermione (the Hamish Hamilton team) with all sorts of tasks related to the day-to-day of editorial work. This ranged from sending out advance copies of forthcoming books, to reading all manner of fiction and non-fiction submissions, or chewing the fat with the lovely Ali Smith while she signed a very hefty pile of “tip-ins” (pages to be glued into the final bound book). I also wrote lots of material for the HH and Penguin websites, and I co-curated the Instagram account for Five Dials, Hamish Hamilton’s brilliant literary magazine, run by Craig Taylor.
What was the project you worked on that you most enjoyed, and why?
I enjoyed writing for the websites and curating Instagram mini-series, as it provided a chance to think creatively about how to engage readers and generate a buzz around different titles, new and old. But the highlight was being among the first readers to get a look at early drafts by Zadie Smith, Mohsin Hamid and Hari Kunzru- all brilliant, and very different, forthcoming novels about race, migration, modern-day identity and its traumas.
What was your biggest surprise about working in publishing?
There really were a lot of surprises in finding out how the various departments come together in the purchase, production and sale of authors’ work. Marketing and publicity, and the more commercial and sales-driven aspects were very new to me, so lots of the ‘basics’ had never occurred to me before. I got a real insight into the kinds of books that are hugely successful from a sales point of view, and those which are sadly harder to sell in this market than I had anticipated. But it was also great to see how imprints like HH can and do work through different avenues to fight for a richer, more diverse offering.
What did you learn or what were the things you took away from the experience?
I got a very good oversight of the whole publishing machine, a lot of which came from attending meetings and just listening to what went on around me. I took the opportunity to meet informally and make friends with people from different imprints and departments- so it would be hard to list everything that I soaked up! Many people repeat the line, but you really are left with a sense that ‘publishing’ incorporates a huge number of formats, genres and, above all, tastes. I hope that I can be part of a new generation pushing to further diversify publishing and reflect experiences that remain marginalized by the mainstream culture industries.
And most importantly…what are you doing now?
I am now working with the lovely team at Aitken Alexander, a literary agency. I am assisting the agents both in Film and TV rights– that is, getting books adapted for the big and small screen– and on the book side, getting new and established writers published. It is great to work in a small and very experienced team with a huge and varied list, and to learn how writers are supported through their careers by their agents.
“As a team, the work we do is quite technical and scientific in nature – getting to do a role like that in such a creative industry is a great mix, and that’s the aspect I love best.”
Hello, Tom – so you’re Head of Data, Insight & Analytics – what does that mean?
My role is to look at how we make use of data and develop “insight” which supports how we work as a business and informs the decisions we’re making, in everything we do. That means looking at what information we have available, how analysing it might help us improve the things we do, and what tools, skills & people will enable us to do this.
I have a small team, and we work with other analyst teams across Penguin Random House, to build dashboards which enable people to interact with and explore data, to run research and analysis projects to identify recommendations or test hypothesis, and to make sure people understand what data we have access to and how to use this. All of which helps us understand the publishing market, our competitors, our retails, our authors and our readers better.
Where were you before Penguin Random House?
I previously worked as a consultant at Deloitte, in their Analytics practice. As a consultant I got to work on lots of different projects, working for all sorts of clients and helping with a diverse range of challenges. It’s a great way to develop lots of invaluable skills and an amazing experience, but it’s hard work too!
What’s it like to do Data, Insight and Analytics at Penguin Random House?
It’s a really exciting and unique job, which I absolutely love. As a team, the work we do is quite technical and scientific in nature – getting to do a role like that in such a creative industry is a great mix, and that’s the aspect I love best. It’s really important not to be at odds with the creativity – using our research and insight to help people be more confident in trying new ideas and be bold in what they do is the key for me.
What’s the culture like in your team?
We’re only a small team of four and we get on really well as a group. Everyone enjoys what they do and the fact that we get to try new things and experiment and innovate. We’re also lucky to work with lots of other teams across the business and get a glimpse into the various skills that bring a book to life. We all really respect the amount of people in takes and the hard work and love that goes into the books we publish.
When you’re hiring for your team, what are the things you look for in a candidate?
There are a few things that are key for me; being a problem solver is essential, we’re doing new and sometimes unique things which often means working out how we make it work. It’s also important to have a logical approach but be able to explain things in a straightforward way to our less technical colleagues and bring things to life for them. Most important is passion, the best people I have worked with have always been those who are excited and interested in the work they do and why they do it, if you have that if gives you the drive to develop any other skills you might not have perfected yet.
What’s the most exciting thing that’s happened to you at work this week?
My team have just developed a new tool which brings together lots of different information about the books we publish in a single place. It will allow teams across Penguin Random House to quickly access information that’s currently in lots of different places, which means they’ll be able to answer and investigate their most frequent questions much more easily. We’ve just rolled out a prototype with some great features – my favourite is a heatmap which shows where a book is selling across the UK. I’m really excited to see how people react to it with it (hopefully) making their lives a bit easily!
Best thing about your job?
People are genuinely excited by this area of Penguin Random House and we’re lucky to have support from the top-down that values having this kind of capability on hand. This means I can spend my time showing people interesting and exciting things and then making them better, rather than having to try explain what I’m even doing here.
Biggest challenge to your job?
Keeping everyone happy – people are excited by what we can do, but we’re only a small team working with lots of different teams across Penguin Random House, so it’s always a balancing act to try and meet all their needs.
All-time favourite book/story?
It’s always changing but recently Murakami’s novels are a favourite. I get really drawn in by the mix of surrealism, pop-culture references and great writing.
Karaoke – nothing like belting out a few classic hits to round off a good night!