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A day in the life of a publishing intern

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to be an intern at a book publishers? In this blog piece, our current Creative Access intern Kwaku talks about his internship at Canongate Books.

I found Creative Access quite by accident two years ago. Deep in the throes of a post-graduation funk of life’s greatest questions – who am I? Where am I going? Why am I here? – or much simpler: job hunting. I’d been freelancing wherever I could find it. I wrote movie reviews, I played journalist to my beloved Manchester United’s demise under David Moyes, and I found intermittent temp work here and there. Protagonist in my own bildungsroman. Having done an arts degree (English Literature with Creative Writing specifically) I wanted to write for a living or be around those that did.

I’ve harboured the dream of becoming a professional novelist and knew finding a food-on-the-table job I did not hate, whilst finding the time to write, would be perfect. Of course, I chose publishing. Job hunting is a lot like online dating; you invest it in a person remotely (browsing job boards), you think of the best opening line (cover letter + CV), and you hope for a first date (an interview). And if you’ve tried online dating then you know you receive as few replies as you do applying for jobs. Till one comes along that decides to take a chance on you. It was a Hachette position, through Creative Access, a BAME program that I’d never heard of before. I had nothing to lose and everything to gain. I put my best foot forward and applied. Weeks later I travelled to be interviewed; not for the role specifically I would find out during, but as a potential CA candidate. I assessed them as much as they did me. A charity looking to increase under-representation of minority groups in the ostensibly white middle-class dominated creative sector.

A false start and an interview later, they started putting me forward for some great positions. Interviews… went… less than great for a long time. My first CA position was an agent’s assistant at ICM. They are big. The small London team focussed on TV and my prospective boss offered me the job and endured a long process of receiving references on the account of one tragically passing away. She was really into me working for them. Long story short, I was not ready for the pressures of being a department head’s assistant and went away to do some serious soul searching.

I eventually found employment elsewhere and worked two jobs, seven days a week, for six months in a bid to answer the aforementioned life questions. I wrote, I continued running a comedy night in central London, and looked for that great role. In February of this year, there was an opening to be PA to Jamie Byng, the charismatic Managing Director (now CEO) of Canongate Books. Charles Bukowski, Nick Cave, Gil Scott Heron, Scarlett Thomas et al. Their list made me salivate.

It was a hot February Friday in Notting Hill when Jamie and I sat down for what I thought was an incredibly positive interview. I went home, emailed CA my feedback, and expected a job offer soon. Jamie texted me Saturday morning, during a shift at Waterstones, that he’d offered me the job!

In my first month, I’d met Miranda July and Michel Faber. By April, I got to rub elbows with Benedict Cumberbatch, Sir Ian McKellen, and Clarke Peters at the four night sold out Letters Live run at the Freemasons’ Hall. The 100 goody bags the performers left with after the four nights, I’d put them together. You’re welcome!

Jamie, very frankly, told me soon after joining that he knew I wouldn’t be his assistant forever and allowed me the room to bother the other departments that interested me. My mentor, the amazing Louisa Joyner, is Editorial Director there and sets me tasks of reading and reporting on prospective manuscripts on a regular basis. She told me to read with three questions in mind:

1. Would I fight for this title or another editor’s?
2. Would I buy this with my own money?
3. Would anyone else?

They sound like simple enough questions. But once applied, the reading experience changes; it’s not just about personal enjoyment anymore. You’re thinking about positioning in the market, comparisons to both list authors and external authors, what author endorsements you can find, the press campaign. I could go on. It’s sitting in on meetings, listening to departments talk about submissions they’ve received that is amazing. The eloquence and vocabulary on show is one I definitely want to learn. My year here I have the opportunity to do so.

Attending an induction day a few months ago, one of the CA members described the organisation as the friend that gets you in the door of what can be a hidden job market. My first job didn’t work out because I didn’t think I was ready or that I deserved it. But it’s imperative that you approach everything with self-belief as you wouldn’t be successful if you didn’t work your butt off to get there. Creative Access is a vital model, despite my initial misgivings, to help diversify the sector and bring in new thinking and skills in an industry that should be reflective of our society.