After talking to some people who I had never met before, never seen at the SYP or book events but who managed to get the jobs and internships that everybody was after, I came to the conclusion that we need to stop dismissing certain routes into publishing. Firstly, let’s debunk what these are:
The ‘normal’ route:
This is the expected route. Person goes to university, studies English/history/insert creative subject here, then leaves and does internships, joins a graduate scheme or manages to get a junior role in a publishing house.
In this category also falls people like me who couldn’t afford internships so took a job in magazine publishing before moving over to journals/books .
Why the ‘normal’ route is not normal
People who leave university knowing what they want to do with their lives are not ‘normal’. We have passion for something, which gets squashed by the application process a lot of the time. The people who can manage to do internships and work experience work very hard for very little return much of the time, and are even often discounted when it comes to applying for full-time positions.
The people who cannot afford to do internships because they cannot risk not having a job for any period of time have it hardest. A lot of the time, they have to take jobs that they are not happy in in the pursuit of their dream, only to be told that their experience isn’t relevant enough and to do two weeks work experience at Penguin, which they cannot do because they cannot take that much time off work. We have to dance on the edge of the industry, never feeling fully a part of it until we get that ‘inside’ job.
The ‘alternative’ routes
So, these can be a range of things, from people who went travelling after university to people who have worked in completely different industries, to people who come with varying skills and expertise from other jobs. I recently spoke to somebody who got a job which around six people I know applied for who are all very qualified with internships, work experience and even current assistant roles on their CVs. She had travelled, worked abroad in a different industry and then applied for publishing roles.
These kinds of people “get lucky” I’m told, but it seems that more and more successful applicants are coming from these alternative routes while the people from the ‘normal’ routes are still stuck applying for jobs. I know a receptionist at a top 5 who can’t even get a look-in and have heard the same from their current interns. I know people who have moved to London for internships to then have to move back home when they don’t get a job at the end of it.
Why this sucks
It basically feels as though we are all being judged for our situations and financial statuses. People telling me that they think they got the job because they didn’t have a ‘normal’ route, and had more ‘life experience’ before applying for these junior roles makes me very frustrated. They get chosen over the person who has done the free proof-reading courses online, who joins publishing groups and attends meet-ups, who has done internships in the right areas at the right companies. I am not saying it’s not fair. I am simply stating that the ability to do the job should not be judged on life experience over work experience.
What can we do?
We can do lots of different things; if you are on a ‘normal’ route, you can take a look at shaking things up. Learn a language, or help out at literary festivals. Lots of jobs require author experience, so this can be invaluable. Look around you and try to see what people are not doing to figure out what you can do to stand out from the crowd. If you have something relevant and different on your CV, hiring managers will remember you for it. Try to stick out in their minds as much as possible.