An Open Letter to Graduates

We’re coming up to that time of the year again. That time when we come in to work, open up our Outlook, see what’s come in overnight and realise our inbox is bursting at the seams with emails from hopeful, enthusiastic, raring to go soon-to-be graduates who aren’t sure what they want to do, where they want to do it or how they want to do it, but know they want to work in Publishing. Publishing: that big, mysterious, incredibly popular, glamorous-sounding industry. We try to offer candidates the best advice we can here at Atwood Tate, we have this lovely blog with interviews, tips and hints, we meet all candidates face to face to discuss the industry and opportunities, we spend a lot of our evenings networking, visiting publishers, going to seminars, drinks (lots of drinks!), to the London Book Fair – all so we can offer the best advice we can to candidates. But I’m going to be honest and hopefully save you a teeny bit of time… Graduates: You’re doing it wrong.

I’ll elaborate. I might even include some bullet points later on if you’re lucky. Publishing is a very broad term. There are a lot of sectors, a lot of departments and at the risk of repeating every post on this blog – a vague, hopefully exciting, future. “Publishing” isn’t a career path. You’re going to have to narrow it down, I’m afraid. I assure you now, you won’t like every job in Publishing and you won’t enjoy or be good at everything. I’m even going to go out on a limb here – you might not even like trade editorial or publicity (and you definitely won’t be promoted from Editorial Assistant to the Boss of Everyone in a month, thank you E.L. James).

I don’t want this blog post to sound negative. I love that I work in recruitment for a vocational industry. People don’t work in the Publishing industry to make their millions(!), they do it because they’re passionate about it, and that enthusiasm is contagious – it’s fantastic to meet candidates who care so much about their career or future career. We care about the industry – we’ve all been there, worked in those jobs, completed those expensive internships, been the 17th person interviewed in a row for an entry level position. I assure you, no one has more empathy for you guys than us!

As promised, I’m going to bullet point this stuff out. Why are you doing it wrong?

  • A passion for books does not an Editor/Marketing/Publicity/Production Manager make. There. I said it. That’s not going to fly with hiring managers, I’m afraid. The industry is a business, not a book club. Get involved! What’s happening? Who’s buying who? What are people making? What trends are appearing and why? Go to the Book Fair, read the Bookseller online, subscribe to blogs like these. What’s selling and what isn’t? What are your opinions and predictions? Like the Kindle? Didn’t hate the Waterstones’ 3-for-2 offers? Opinions are good. Healthy. Have lots of them and share them – you might even find people that agree with you!
  • There is more to it than Trade. Some of the most exciting publishing developments are happening outside trade. STM, Academic, Educational – sure, you probably won’t meet Jacqueline Wilson for lunch or have Dan Brown on your speed dial, but the other sectors are doing things that really matter. Apps, e-learning, open access… Learn about these things, because they’re important, they’re making money and they’re making new jobs. These sectors have a really exciting future. (And a lot more vacancies!)
  • Internships. We go on and on and on about internships here, they’re an unfortunately expensive, time consuming and sometimes boring way of getting into the job you want. But I’m going to give you some tips. It might be exciting to work for the bigger ones and dream for two weeks that you have that super important, very glamorous, cocktail drinking, book launch attending job, but actually… have you considered the benefits of a small publisher? Not only will they be very happy for the extra help, but you’ll get to do more, see more, help more. You’ll get a better overview of how each team works together and why and it’ll help you with my first point – you can start to narrow down your search to one department. It’s also worth mentioning the larger publishers have enormous waiting lists for internships. Be savvy – write to smaller publishers, independent publishers, publishers slightly outside Zone 1… You’ll get more out of your work experience, I promise. Here’s some free earth-shattering insider knowledge: They’re more likely to remember you when they have an entry level role come up/someone they networked with needs an assistant. Avoid the revolving internship door and go somewhere you can really help!
  • Plan ahead. Read all of this and none of it applied to you because you know exactly what you want to do and where and on what lists? You know that in 10 years you’re going to be a Commissioning Editor for a classical music series or a Media Relations Manager for an STM Publisher because you love impact factors and showing off about them? That’s fantastic! Let’s make a plan. Who’s doing that job right now? Go to LinkedIn, go networking and start a conversation. How did they get there? Did they start at the bottom (yes!), do they have any advice (almost certainly!) and do they have any contacts they can introduce you to (always!)? Let’s face it, people in this industry love to talk.

To summarise: Get stuck in and don’t lose a drop of that enthusiasm you graduated with – just put it to the best use possible!

12 Comments

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12 Responses to An Open Letter to Graduates

  1. Sorry to be so pedantic but this seems like an appropriate comment to make on an article that is stressing the importance of industry awareness: the name of the company is ‘Waterstones’, not ‘Waterstone’! And they ditched the 3 for 2 offer more than 18 months ago!
    This is a helpful article though and I wish all the best to graduates – and soon-to-be graduates – like me currently looking for work in the publishing industry. There are a lot of us!

    • A good eye for detail will see you far, James!
      Typos corrected accordingly, so thank you for the feedback. It’s a tricky time for graduates, but hopefully it’s not all doom and gloom. Wishing you lots of luck with your job hunt, hopefully our advice here will help a little bit.

  2. Nicholas Whitehead

    Oh, well said! And it’s just the same in television. We had one student come for work experience at ITV and she was studying investigative journalism.
    “Great”, I said. “What do you want to investigate?”
    “Ooh, I don’t know really.”

    Perhaps graduates are all too young and they should have three-year gaps between school and university.

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  4. God, I remember the simple days of “I have a passion for books!” This article is amazing, and with a good dose of humour to boot.

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