Our First Publishing Jobs

Over the last months we’ve frequently posted blogs with advice on internships, applying for jobs and writing CVs, but today we want to share some of our own stories with you.

At the end of 2012 I made a video with my flatmate, Rosianna Halse Rojas (@papertimelady), called ‘Crisis 2k12‘. In the video we talk about how we’d both graduated earlier that year and had been applying for jobs in publishing ever since without any success. Watching the video now, one year later, what stands out most is how frustrated we were, because we couldn’t figure out what we were doing wrong!

As promised in that video, we made a follow up video the next year (which was about two weeks ago) to let people know what we were doing now and how we got to that place. In the previous video we joked about how in a year’s time we would have amazing jobs that we really loved, and guess what, it actually happened!

I feel like it’s quite important to share stories about that period between university and your first job (whether it’s your dream job or just the first step on the way there), as I wish I could have read them when I was most frustrated.

So here are some stories from people around the office:

I started work in the Production department at Dorling Kindersley before I’d strictly finished University (somehow applying for work experience was more appealing than revising for my finals) and work experience turned into a job as Production Administrator then Production Assistant then Production Controller . . . It took me four years to break into Editorial, and the key mistake I made was believing it when people (particularly HR) told me I’d ‘never make it’ into Editorial, that there was always going to be somebody waiting in the wings for Editorial openings. Well, that is true in a sense but someone has to be the person who gets that job and the key is to putting yourself in those wings. – Jenny

I basically owe it all to Barry Cunningham and the Chicken House team. I grew up in the village next to his and he was a family friend. He asked me once if I’d ever considered publishing as a career and I said not really, so he offered me some work experience at Chicken House to see if I’d like it. I did. A lot. I went to Chicken House a couple of times during my uni years and had a brilliant experience both times – I think they liked me too, as I was offered a maternity cover contract after my second stint! Sadly I had already decided that I wanted to do my Masters at that point, otherwise I would have bitten Barry and Imogen’s hands off to have had the chance to work with such a brilliant team. As it happens it all worked out nicely though, as now I’m part of another brilliant team here at Hot Key!
Barry even had another hand in that, as he wrote me an extremely nice recommendation letter which the recruiter (kindly…?) told me bumped me from the long-list up to the short-list of interview candidates. This was really just as well, as I nearly didn’t make either lists having made a mistake in my original application – I thought I was applying for a position at the Meridian publishing house, when in fact Meridian was the name of the recruitment company. I quickly realised my mistake though, and sent a very apologetic further email begging to be considered – which worked! So now I would always recommend to people that they own up to any mistakes they’ve spotted… because if you’ve noticed it the person reading your CV or covering letter certainly will have done too, and you never know, they might be forgiving…. – Naomi

I think I had seven interviews before I eventually landed my job, and it took me about eight months. Four interviews with Random House – but never heard back from them – and then three interviews at Little Brown, during which I almost got “sorted” out of my job! But persistence paid off, so that’s my biggest tip. Keep at it – whatever it is you want – until you get it.
In 2002, the Little Brown Children’s Books editorial department was moving from Boston to New York and needed a new set of assistants. Because I had interned there the summer before, I knew who to keep pestering. The lovely Alvina Ling (now editorial director at Little Brown) and Amy Hsu (now Amy Lin, freelance editor at must have been sick of me, but at last I was called for an interview. My parents were keen to get rid of me living at home, so they flew me up to NYC, but there were so many people clamouring for the two available jobs that the HR person split the interviewees into two piles. One interviewer was Cindy Eagan (amazing editor of all the GOSSIP GIRLs plus spin offs) the other was Maria Modugno. I was in Cindy’s pile and, during my interview, she told me that she’d already met the person she was going to hire in an earlier interview (the awesome Phoebe Spanier who became my LB partner-in-crime). I was so crushed. Luckily, because I had interned at Little Brown before, Amy noticed that I wasn’t in the pile for Maria and alerted HR. They called me back in for another interview with Maria, and I got that job. Phew! THANK YOU, AMY. And, so, to repay the good turn done to me, I do what I can to help young people find a way in to publishing, running the intern program (with Naomi Colthurst) at HKB. – Sara O’Connor

My first job in publishing was for Abner Stein Literary agency as a secretary to one of the agents – she promptly went on maternity leave and I found myself with much more responsibility than I could have imagined.  It was back in the day of manual typewriters and there was great excitement when the agency got a fax machine.  I learnt so much by being with a small team.  It was fantastic! – Sarah Odedina

My first job in publishing was right here at the very start of Hot Key Books – you can’t get more disgustingly lucky than that. I remember spending my first day in some sort of weird daze, wondering if I would get caught out (oh sorry, it wasn’t YOU that we wanted! It was the other girl with the complete knowledge on How to do Everything in Publishing*) as I tried to figure out how the heck you make coffee in a cafetiere.
A relative told me that you had to be extremely well-connected and London based to get into publishing; I wholeheartedly disagree. Always prepare for disappointment, and don’t think it’s easy, but you have to be determined and willing to put yourself out there. Not to mention a little bit lucky! I volunteered at LBF back in 2010, where I was tasked with looking after the speakers (human) and the speakers (technological) on the Children’s Innovation Zone. There I got talking to none other than Sarah Benton, who offered to see if there were any work experiences places free at HarperCollins (I was so nervous it didn’t even occur to me to ASK. Hint: definitely ask that question, no matter how tomato-hued your skin happens to be at the time). Two placements (I tidied the marketing cupboard, woke up at 4.45am every day and got to help some very lovely people), a degree, a ginormous overdraft, six depressing months living at home in Southampton/ scooping popcorn and 50+ increasingly desperate job applications later, I got an email from Sarah: a new company called Hot Key were looking for a sales and marketing assistant, and if I was still looking for a job maybe I should apply… hence the disgustingly lucky part. I have no idea what made you think of me, Sarah, but I can’t thank you enough – hopefully I can one day help someone like you helped me. – Cait

*Note: that person DOESN’T EXIST, so never be afraid to ask questions!

I hope that some of these stories have given you a bit more insight into the ways that people end up with their first publishing job. It’s a different path for everyone! We would love to hear some of your stories, whether you already work in publishing or are still looking for a job. Feel free to share in the comments or on Twitter @HotKeyBooks!

Here are some of our previous career advice posts:
The Best Job Application
How To Get a Job in Children’s Publishing
Publishing Career Advice from Auntie Hot Key