I did a one-week publicity work experience at Transworld Books.
This is actually my second time doing work experience. In comparison to the first, this was less busy but no less enriching. It was a delight to be interacting with the world of books once again, however brief. Now with this post, while I’m not trying to downplay my work experiences, I wanted to highlight the stuff I learnt from and around the experiences and make an advisory piece. Both of my work experiences were in the Publicity department so that colours the thoughts below.
The majority of my time was spent handling press mailings. This is when you post books out to reviewers. There are a lot of books that need to be sent in a given day and one such mailing for a single title got into the triple digits! I personally didn’t mind and I don’t mean to say this to dissuade, but merely to paint a fuller picture of what publicity does: when they get a book out there, they really get a book out there.
The other end of this is checking newspapers for coverage on Transworld’s books. Journalists in newspapers physically and online, as well as bloggers, will have reviews or commentary of books they receive and choose to cover. The publicist records these instances. Other tasks included research and in my first work experience I wrote press releases and designed show cards for author events.
On top of the work itself, I attended a Q&A with author Curtis Sittenfeld who was engaged, intelligent, and illuminating. It’s nice to see the creators that are influenced by the decisions in the industry. It’s not guaranteed to happen during a placement but if there is one I would recommend attending one where possible.
Below are things I picked up along the way.
Say yes. Sometimes people will ask you to do ad hoc tasks, maybe even from a different department. I was asked to carry out some research for a marketing campaign, for example. I enjoyed branching out and doing something new that might one day contribute to the future visibility of a book. I would recommend that you say yes to these opportunities within reason as you get an insight into how other departments work and what it is they get up to. It will give you ample opportunity to ask about their work as well.
Be curious. Curiosity will help you dispel mysteries about the industry and I cannot recommend asking questions enough. It sounds very simplistic but there are many benefits to asking colleagues or sometimes people outside of your department about things. Be willing to ask a lot: I was a bit self-aware from the sheer amount of questions I wanted to ask because I was worried I should have been more knowledgeable or was taking up too much time. Don’t feel self-aware. The point of work experience is that it’s a learning opportunity so what you don’t learn on the job is what you can ask about and I encourage you to do so. People are more than willing to answer and if they don’t have the answers they’ll put you in contact with those who can.
Try to prepare some questions you’d like answered, although naturally, you’ll think of some during the conversation. Ask them all. If you want a picture for getting your career started, for example, I would recommend asking about the career paths of your colleagues, if only to hear a path less straightforward than you would think, which leads me nicely onto the next point.
Don’t think too linearly. This is for those who are considering a career I publishing beyond your work experience. The perception of the natural career progression is as follows: You do work experience, you do an internship, and then you do an assistant job and move on from there, at least from the ground up.
What you should be thinking about is the kind of skills you want to use and develop. You’ll find that certain skills and activities that you’ll be making use of elsewhere will be relevant to a career in publishing. These might be part of what makes you unique.
For example, office work, team working, and organisational skills are all things you would need in a career in publishing but not exclusive to it. Also, not all of the people I spoke to got their jobs through internships: some had non-publishing jobs and some people did no internships but did temporary contract work before landing their first assistant job. Like the word “paths” imply, sometimes paths are not direct, but that does not mean that they don’t lead to the intended goal in the end.
For those not looking to go into publishing, this can still help build skills and can contribute to future endeavours. I was told to take a note of all that you do during a placement and add that stuff to your CV and it’s useful to grasp what you’re able to do and what you can offer employers.
At the end of it all, it’s a worthwhile experience for the lovely people you interact with alone, not to mention the books that you’ll be able to have access to.
I hope this helps and good luck!