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My summer of publishing with Creative Access by Melissa Gitari

This summer, I was lucky enough to work at the Society of Authors for six weeks, and attend a week-long Get Into Book Publishing course at UCL, both of which I applied for through Creative Access.

I recently graduated from the University of Leeds with a degree in English Language and Literature, and it was during my final year that I decided I wanted to pursue a career in book publishing.

I want to work in publishing to bring minority voices to the foreground, and the experience and knowledge I gained this summer has put me in good stead to achieve this goal.

Studying modules like African Literature and Postcolonial London introduced me to a range of inspiring and talented writers. However, there is still much work to do to ensure that such texts are not simply acclaimed for tokenistic reasons, but for being excellent pieces of literature in their own right.

At the Society of Authors (SoA), I worked as a Receptionist and Administrative Assistant alongside a cheerful and knowledgeable team. The SoA is trade union that defends the rights of all kinds of writers, whether that be through offering in-depth advice about a contract from a publishing house, or campaigning against companies like Amazon who allow extremely discounted books to be sold on their marketplace with none of the royalties going to the actual author. They also look after the literary estates of several noted authors, like T.S. Eliot and Virginia Woolf. It was uplifting to be a part of a community that champions the rights of creative people so fervently; it is easy to dismiss writing as a hobby, but it is in fact a trade, and like all trades, its workers need to be sufficiently remunerated for the services they provide.

The SoA also administer several literary prizes, the most well-known among them being the Women’s Prize for Fiction.

One of the job perks was being able to go into the small room in the basement that was crammed floor to ceiling with all the surplus books that have been submitted for the competition over the past few years – I felt like a child in a toyshop.

By the end of my time there, I’d left with over twenty books to add to my already hefty collection.

After my six-week stint at the SoA, I moved onto the Get Into Book Publishing course at UCL, sponsored by The Publishers Association, Penguin Random House and Hachette. The four-day course was intended to be a beginner’s guide to the different aspects of publishing, with lectures on topics like design, commissioning and marketing, given by people who work in the industry. There was also a very important talk about CV and covering letter tips, which opened my eyes to some of small but significant mistakes I’d been making on job applications. I really enjoyed hearing the speakers talk about their personal routes into publishing, particularly those who had tried for a long time to get where they are now. It can be disheartening when your job applications are met with rejections, so it was comforting to hear that this is perfectly normal!

The highlight of the week was the networking evening on Thursday night. Initially, the idea of being placed in a room with industry professionals and working up the confidence to initiate conversation with them filled me with intense anguish, but once I got there, everyone was super friendly and more than willing to share their wisdom with us hopeful newbies. I spoke to employees at Penguin, Hachette and Scholastic, as well as the course co-ordinator of the Publishing MA at UCL, who were delightful and full of helpful advice.

I am grateful to Creative Access for these invaluable opportunities to learn more about the book industry.

It can often feel like gaining access to jobs in the media is dependent on who rather than what you know

After this summer, I am confident that such barriers will not prevent me from achieving my goals.

Melissa Gitari can be found on Twitter at @mellie_gee