On Tuesday, I attended a brilliant Society of Young Publishers event; Careers Speed Dating. This event was brilliant for everyone, I felt, as there was a large range of speakers in attendance, from assistants to managers. I got a LOT of information out of it, learning about other departments and areas that have a lot more contact with the books than you might think.
Firstly, I would like to address the range of speakers in attendance. There were people from all levels of seniority at this event, from assistants to managers. This offered not only a great overall insight into each department, how they are different in different companies and how each role differs day to day, but also allowed applicants to find out how the younger ones had secured their roles and what the more senior staff were looking for when hiring.
I’m going to do a whistle-stop tour of each business area and what I learned from each:
I started on this table and spoke with three lovely sales representatives. Two were account managers and one was a sales executive. What I learned from these salespeople is that sales can be a very varied role. Depending on the company you work for, many salespeople do need a solid understanding of the books that they are selling, so that you are not blindly selling to the likes of Waterstones and WH Smiths. However, sometimes you have so many accounts that you have to go in slightly blind, not really knowing the ins and outs of every book. You mostly need to be able to talk to people and have passion for what you’re selling. I learned that the people who are best in these roles are those who really care about where the books end up and how they are sold, as well as developing a strong relationship with the businesses they are selling to.
Now, I had no idea what rights really did before this event, so I am glad that I found out. If you think that they simply handle the legal elements of book deals, or just sell books in other markets, then you are mistaken. Rights managers especially have a big say over what they sell and which regions it goes to. If their main region is Russia and they do not think that it will appeal to that market, the rights team can do one of two things: if they think it categorically will not sell, then they can say no to taking it into that market. However, if they think that they could potentially sell a book in another region by making some changes to locations or characters, or even ensuring cultural accuracy i.e. if they don’t sell a product in the region, that product gets replaced with one from their culture, then the rights team can suggest these changes to the novel, making this role very focused on knowing the books and your market incredibly well.
For me, this table was self-explanatory. I learned that editors spend most of their time commissioning authors or applying corrections to authors’ work and that a lot of their job is explaining their intentions behind changes to authors and ensuring that they are sympathetic enough to communicate this tactfully. We spoke about the differences between editorial in adult and children’s books, which includes the amount of say that the designer has, along with how much attention you pay to every single word. They explained how editing a picture book can be laborious, due to having to go through design for every single change. With adult fiction, the focus is more on ensuring that the book is appropriate for its audience and marketable in content, while also being sound technically and structurally.
The most interesting thing I took from this table is the amount of admin involved in the lower level roles. To me, it would appear that publicity assistants are run ragged with most of their team’s admin and that the main publicity work does not begin until a higher level. I was told about the similarities and differences between marketing and publicity and they explained where the two mostly overlapped. The main difference appears to be that publicity is the main point of contact for a novel for the public and their customer is the general public, while marketers have the slightly larger, more complicated role of creating campaigns for target audiences and ensuring brand delivery as well as competing with other books online, on social media, etc.
Working in marketing, I do already know a lot about this department, but I won’t skip it. The most interesting part of marketing is certainly the variety of the workload, regardless of whether you’re digitally inclined, or more traditional. The best part of this table was the discussion about training and progression within the roles, which is of typically higher value than many other departments.
So, apparently, to be a designer in the publishing industry, you don’t already have to be a good designer; who knew? I liked speaking with the designer from The Bookseller magazine, as he explained why you don’t need a design degree and how you can do it without.
At the digital table, I understood that there was a mix of digital and audio professionals. Speaking with two from each side; a digital marketer and an audio executive, I learned a lot about the digital side of publishing, which makes me excited to venture forwards as a digital marketer, as I do feel that there is a much higher scope for progression and training within these roles. You are also developing key skills to help you later in life.
Overall, I thought that the event itself was very well-managed and run by the SYP London committee. I found that the advice given was incredibly targeted and that each potential publisher had the chance to ask individual speakers their questions. I also secured some great new publicity contacts for my blogging endeavours.