Don’t you have to know somebody who knows somebody who knew somebody else’s Grandfather’s niece? No. At least, not always. My job search, for example, didn’t involve anyone but countless internship enquiry letters and me. James Caan would have been proud.
Having recently returned from a year working as an English teacher in a far-flung corner of the Caribbean, I was keen to steer my future career down a foreign path if possible, and fell in love with foreign rights. So I submitted my enquiry letters to a few choice publishers and waited. And waited…
The waiting was dreary and each rejection made me question my decision but at last an offer came in: A 6 week placement in the Rights Department at Bloomsbury. I was absolutely over the moon! But, I had to wait 8 more months! So I lived and worked at home in Norfolk to save my pennies.
The placement was to be part-time, temporary, and unpaid (enough to move to a new city for?) so I got myself a Saturday job at Stanford’s Map and Travel Guide Book Shop in Covent Garden. This Saturday job soon turned into a FridaySaturdaySundayMonday job so I was working 7 days but loved it all. Working at Stanford’s was absolutely brilliant experience. I enjoyed meeting customers (and travelling vicariously…) and learned a lot by talking to the buyers and floor managers, as well as the publishers’ sales reps. I also loved getting books into the hands of paying customers!
My 6 weeks interning were soon up but I was delighted to be kept on as a part-time assistant to the Bloomsbury rights team on a temporary basis. While I was there, the Darley Anderson Literary, TV and Film Agency sent out an email which the kind rights people at Bloomsbury forwarded to me (okay, then I knew somebody who knew somebody).
I came for an interview for the part-time Rights Assistant job and have been here ever since! I continued at Stanford’s part-time, but was offered a full-time role at Darley Anderson after two months and went back to just doing Saturdays which I finally stopped completely after about 18 months.
I have now done three London Book Fairs and two Frankfurts and enjoy each one a little more than the last. The months before the fair are an incredibly busy time (I have just scheduled six meetings for this year’s Frankfurt and it’s only June!). Between reading all our new manuscripts and meeting with Scouts to talk about our new titles, we juggle what feels like a million things at once. And, as you can imagine, by the time the fairs come around, we are quite frazzled! But energised and excited too.
One of the things I value most about my job in foreign rights (apart from having a job in publishing) is working with such friendly and interesting people from all walks of life from all corners of the World. This includes authors, editors and everybody else in the industry. I also enjoy the social side of my job and I get to attend book launches, publisher parties and the odd film premiere and, to top it all, my home is filled to the brim with the latest releases which I am encouraged to read! I feel very lucky indeed and not once have I had those Sunday Night Blues.
So, if you would love to work in publishing, start by finding out as much as you can about the role you are looking for and decide the kind of books you want to work with.
Approach specific people within organisations; if you want to go into foreign rights, or marketing and publicity, don’t contact the editor in chief just because theirs is the first name you found. The internet has made this task easier than ever, plus there are endless blogs out there, and agents and publishers are often on Twitter so get online and do some research.
Then be patient. Waiting can be stressful and the rejections disheartening. But, if you can, use that time to read read read (after all it could be the last opportunity you have to read ‘non-work books’).
Once you have that first foot in the door, get involved, take on over-time if you can, go to networking events and company meetings, ask questions, and be helpful. And, like I said, working in a book shop is a brilliant way to experience the completion of the publishing process.
It really isn’t all about being in the right place at the right time, most of it is persistence, determination, positive thinking (and a high tolerance to a pasta-pesto diet… ).
Much the same as what is needed to be an aspiring author. Funny that.