Posted 02.05.18 by Alex Watson
An avid bookworm, I have always been interested in the idea of working in publishing – but not quite sure what it would entail, or how to join the industry.
When browsing for applicable work experience, I found Penguin Random House – both a well-known company whose titles I loved and somewhere offering paid work experience; the latter something very important for a skint student from Wales. After a moment’s deliberation, I plucked up the courage and applied (which only entailed answering a few simple questions, outlining the dates I was available, and ranking my preference of departments). Then the wait for a response began… Not enough places. When a new slot opened, I tried again. And again. And for a fourth time, this time not really able to do any of the dates but decided I could take a fortnight off University if needed.
This time, a positive response! Offering me two weeks work experience in the International Sales Department (I’d put “Sales” as my second choice).
I’m now at the end of my placement, and I can honestly say it has been a fascinating, transformative few weeks. When I arrived I was greeted by my work experience supervisor, who took me on a brief tour and set me up at a desk, introducing me to the department as she went. I was given a schedule of one-on-one chats with employees in different roles throughout the fortnight, and a couple of wider meetings throughout the company to sit in on. The highlight of the week was probably spontaneously being invited to sit in on a senior meeting introducing the main new focus titles for the summer months.
The vast majority of my time, however, was spent helping out in the department. But what do those doing work experience do?
It varies greatly according to your department and what needs to be done that week. I spoke to a girl doing experience in editorial, and she was reading through submissions and writing a brief report on their strengths and weaknesses. As I was in sales at the beginning of January, there was a lot of 2018 children’s’ catalogues to mail!
Regardless, there are a few staple activities you should expect: writing and receiving emails, creating presentations, mailing promotional material, proofreading, working with data from Biblio (their IT database system), and of course munching on a seemingly never-ending supply of biscuits. I also did some ordering, crosschecked amazon book publication dates, and responded to Net galley requests (aka reviewers, librarians, booksellers etc. asking for free access to ebooks).
The activities you do probably won’t be too complex or riveting – but still, if you’re anything like me you’ll be enthused by it all nonetheless thanks to the friendly, bookish atmosphere. For example, scrolling through titles on Amazon and crosschecking their publication dates may be a monotonous task, but not when they’re for Dr Who Books!
There are so many recognisable titles everywhere; the office itself is lined with books you’re free to read or some even take home. I’ve spent the last two weeks in a dazed fan-girling state. The International Sales department is just down the corridor from the home of Elmer the patchwork elephant, my favourite childhood book. Every time I get a cup of tea from the kitchen I freak out a little, passing a nest of Elmer rugs and toys and merchandise, let alone hundreds of books translated into every language imaginable. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Penguin Random House is responsible for so many huge titles I’ve been fortunate enough to help on (even if it is just sending out promotional material or updating the covers in a PowerPoint): Roald Dahl, Jojo Moyes, Rick Riordan, Eric Carle, James Patterson, just to name a few! Plus the people are so friendly and welcoming, within a few days I felt at home.
Ultimately, what I’d like to say is – if you’re considering putting yourself forward for this opportunity, go ahead. I’ve had a really wonderful time, and I’ve come from two weeks ago wanting to know a little more about the industry to now being dead-set I want to work in it.