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Getting in to Publishing isn’t a breeze – but it is worth the effort!

By Joe S Sprecher, on 27 November 2018

VINTAGE This guest feature from Konrad Kirkham, Senior Production Manager at Vintage (Penguin Random House) and UCL alumni, discusses how he launched his career in publishing, why working in publishing does not necessarily mean working in editorial, and what a role in the production team of a publishing house involves.

So, how do I get into Publishing?

This is a question I am often asked, especially by people on work experience.

Personally, getting in to publishing wasn’t a breeze. I was fortunate enough to take one of a couple of popular routes in, which was to undertake an MA course in Publishing Studies (the other being extensive work experience). These are offered by quite a few universities across the country. Whilst I wouldn’t say it’s a pre-requisite, the MA gave me a great insight into the business side of publishing, set me up with a lot of contacts across the network, gave me a 6 week block of work experience and introduced me to a great group of friends – whom I’m still in contact with today. It helps to know as many people as you can in Publishing, so I was glad the MA gave me that.

After my MA, I was lucky enough to be freelancing from my previous job, during which I spent a solid year interviewing for any role I could find (it’s not easy getting your foot in the door and I’m afraid to say does require hard graft), before eventually landing a job in production at Pan Macmillan. The MA came in handy here, as one of my MA buddies already worked there and gave me the intel on the job, as well as put in a good word for me. Like I said, it pays to know people! What I did learn from this, was not to be disheartened when I was declined jobs. They are all super competitive, so getting an interview and honing my interview technique was good enough in some cases.

As frustrating as it is, Publishing isn’t that easy to get in to, nor is it cheap. If you’re not doing an MA, you might need to spend weeks working for a small wage. There are some schemes being introduced to help graduates, but they are highly competitive and still far and few between. Whilst there are people who manage to get a job without the MA or without work experience, you probably won’t find many.

What can I do to give myself a better chance at securing a role then?

My advice would be to work hard, learn about the industry and keep your options open. Don’t limit yourself to looking for the mainstream editorial, sales or publicity/marketing roles. There’s so much more to publishing. For instance production, design, foreign rights (sales of foreign language editions), inventory (warehouse/stock management), sales operations (focusing on the logistics behind the sales), contracts, finance, working for a literary agent. The list goes on! There’ll be less competition for these roles, and once you have a foot in the door, it’s much easier to move jobs within a company. I’ve known many colleagues who have started in one area, and moved after a year or so. The industry is keen on developing people’s careers and having in-depth knowledge of different areas is a huge bonus.

And if I pursue a career in production, what can I expect to be doing?

The production department provide the link between the creative teams and sales, and the printer. Our job is to make sure the books look good, are produced to a high standard, don’t cost too much to make, and are delivered on time.

In the life cycle of the book, the production team will get involved very early on. Editors will ask us to cost up a project before they’ve even bid for a new title (or are coming up with ideas for new in-house books). We then work closely with them to discuss formats, finishes, paper types, special inks etc., and get the costs from the printer to make sure the book will make margin. Once a book is acquired, we will provide schedules to the editors/designer and sales teams to make sure that they know when we require text/cover files, or any other artwork needed, and be in regular contact with the printer whenever any of the book specifications change.

Once a book is ready to send to the printer, dependent on the book type, we might organise for colour proofs to be sent in for us to check and adjust if necessary, or work with the printer to troubleshoot any issues that may arise during print production. We will then make sure that the books are delivered to the correct destinations, at the required dates, and process printer invoices once the books have delivered.

What do you particularly enjoy about working in production?

Production is a really fun, varied, and exciting department to work for. We work with most other departments in some way or another, and get the chance to create some really beautiful books! We’re the team everyone comes to for advice, and are ultimately in charge of the final product. I’ve worked across both children’s and adult production departments, so have been able to produce a huge variety of formats, from glittery board books, to complex children’s novelty books, or standard black and white fictions books. I’ve also worked on massive brands and authors, such as Julia Donaldson, Chris Ridell, Where’s Wally, We’re Going on a Bear Hunt, and more recently Murakami, Jo Nesbo and Nigella! There’s always new developments happening in the printing world, which gives us the opportunity to try some really fun things. Plus there’s always the added bonus of potential trips to China or Italy to go and see books as they come hot off the press!

Sounds exciting! Any last words?

Hopefully this has given a little bit of insight in to the publishing world, and that it’s not all just about editing a book. If you’re really committed to getting in to the industry, it’s definitely worth the effort. You’ll be surrounded by hugely passionate people, and have the chance to work in a really rewarding job. Good luck!

Media Week is now on! Hear from professionals across this sector with events on broadcasting and publishing still to come.

Wednesday 28 November 18:00 – 20:00: Get into Broadcasting: Film, TV and Radio

Thursday 29 November 18:00 – 20:00: Insights into Publishing

To find out more, visit the Media Themed Week page on our website and register to attend these events via myUCLCareers.

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