It all started with a briefing at Penguin’s Strand office. After meeting (sitting awkwardly with) my work experience colleagues, we were taken up to a meeting room for some ice breaker exercises. We were split into two groups and told to create a short story that had to contain a fact about each of us. My fact was that I’m going to Tokyo next year. So, we ended up with a five-sentence opus that chronicled the story of a man who rudely shoves another man out of the way to get onto the tube. We learn the wronged man is on his way to conduct a job interview for a powerful position in Tokyo. When he gets to the interview, he finds that the candidate first on his list is the very man who shoved him out of the way on the tube. Life’s rich pageant.
After this, once all the admin was out of the way, it was finally time to make our way over to the Vauxhall Bridge Road office. I was taken to my desk and after phoning IT to get my login, I was up and away. Checking my email, I have various tasks to complete, so the first thing I did was to create a to-do list, in order of priority. If I had one piece of advice, it would be to do this. The list enabled me to keep on top of my tasks and divide my time between them to make the best use of it, there was a great sense of achievement to be had every time a task was ticked off.
I began by reading the first fifty pages of a manuscript, and writing a feedback report on what I liked, didn’t like, whether the plot worked and any other observations. I was then asked to read through a book of PG Wodehouse’s letters to find any references to sport, a task that took me until the end of the week. In between, I was able to scour the shelves for books and help to package up lots of boxes that were being shipped off. In amongst all this, I was asked to transcribe an interview with a footballer’s wife, a task that took me right through to the end of the week.
On Thursday, I became the hero of the hour when I was sent out and returned with a plethora of pickings from the biscuit aisle. It was during this session that I gleaned the most insight, as I sat back and listened to the more experienced editors discuss various authors and divulge some tales from their time in the industry.
I was privy to a pitch meeting, wherein everybody in the department is able to see which books are going to be published seven months hence. In this instance, I was delighted that the first novel to be discussed was The Last Day by Andrew Hunter Murray, A colleague in the team was totally enthused by both author and novel and speculates that it will be a huge debut next year. I was also asked to write a rejection letter, and the following day I had to package up and return an unsolicited manuscript with a different rejection letter.
Overall, it’s been amazing being able to be a part of such a huge operation, gleaning insights from listening to the conversations about sales, discussions about the intricacies of a particular page or line, and just soaking in the love of literature than emanates from everybody working here (and don’t forget to sift through the boxes of books while you’re here, making sure to ask they are available to take!)
Believe in Your Story
My mum always told me there was no point letting opportunities pass me by.
But I find that despite her wondrous ‘mother’s wisdom’, there’s a fault to her logic. Working at Penguin Random House has so many opportunities that it’s virtually impossible to try engaging with every single one. Not that you should ever let that stop you from trying.
Doing two weeks of work experience in the Penguin Random House Cornerstone Editorial Department opened my eyes to a lot of things. I had no real idea what to expect or how to approach the teachings of ‘office life’.
For the love of books, in whichever genre, throw out whatever preconceptions you have. If you expect to come into an office where people are miserable, are chained to their desks, and don’t want to come into work on a daily basis, you will be delightfully mistaken. The people working in Penguin are as bright as the orange on their logo and just as warm. Always smiling, their banter, friendship and trust welcomes you into the office, and whether you’re introverted or extroverted, you will be made to feel like family all the same. And the great thing about family is that there’s no pressure. They’re a team dedicated to helping one another and are there to help satisfy every drop of your curiosity. So don’t be afraid to ask those questions! If you don’t ask, you don’t get! If you’re not sure what kind of questions to ask, start out easy. Ask people’s names, how they started working here, and what they’re working on. Maybe try asking about the pulp box. (I love the pulp box.)
That first day, being given your key card and sat down to your desk… it’s nerve-wracking! You don’t know what you’ll be asked to do and there’s that fear of the unknown. But, thanks to the induction, you’ve met so many people just like you who are ready to take that step and dive right into the never-ending depths. They, like you, are finding their feet and are looking to boost their confidence and future prospects.
I cannot express the importance of making friends with your other work experience colleagues. Yeah, you’ll be in different departments, doing different things, but that’s the beauty of it. Being able to message each other at lunch to meet up and then talk animatedly about what you’re doing is incredible. You learn not only through your own experiences but each other’s.
After those first couple of days you fall into the rhythm. The rhythm is ever-changing in terms of what you’ll be doing (keeping you busy and far out of boredom’s reach), but you grow used to it and excited by it. In Cornerstone Editorial I was doing everything from photocopying over 300 pages, to being engrossed in novels, to sitting in on meetings that decided the fates of those novels by the day.
Working at Penguin has paved the way to show me how amazing it is to work in a job you love. The day never drags. You don’t watch the clock. You don’t feel exhausted when you come home. All day long, we work with stories. Fictional stories, non-fictional stories, educational stories, real-world stories. Everything we can find, we help shape it until it becomes the best version of itself that it can be, from conception to print. We want to know and learn things about books that we didn’t know before.
But the story we least expect is the one we create.
The people you meet, the experience you gain, the fun you have, and everything you learn about the publishing experience is invaluable. They will give you memories to look back and smile upon; giving you the confidence you need to continue as you’ve started. The Penguin Random House experience will help shape you into being the best version of yourself you can be. So, when you come and start creating your story, ask yourself: “What story do I want to be able to tell?”
I know mine, now. Thank you Penguin Random House!
“The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something, we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”
― Yann Martel, Life of Pi