A journey into publishing with Pan Macmillan

Posted on May 24, 2024

For May’s masterclass, we visited the book-lined London offices of Pan Macmillan, tucked away down a charming side street of Farringdon. Pan Macmillan is the publisher responsible for literary works by the likes of Tennyson, Hardy, H.G. Wells, and contemporaries such as Adeyemi and Donaldson. Unveiling the innerworkings of publishing and how to get into the industry was top of the agenda for our incredible panel featuring professionals from Pan Macmillan who shared their career journeys and advice. We learnt about the realities of their roles, the importance of persistence in forging a path in publishing, and the biggest mistake you can make when writing an application.   

Meet our panel 

Chaired by Ella Darlington, head of comms & marketing, Creative Access 

Andy Joannou, audience development director 

When the breadwinner in Andy’s family was no longer in the picture, he was 17 and needed a job – fast. Andy skipped university and went straight into the working world in magazine publishing. He shared how his early experience as a community manager there – before the age of social media – helped him develop crucial people skills. “People are scared of the digital sphere, they don’t understand it or are frightened of it. Sitting people down and explaining the reason why we do something or the benefit of it is crucial,” Andy explained. His role now involves overseeing Pan Macmillan’s digital media, ensuring their books reach as many hands as possible. 

Samia Gundkalli, CA alumni and editor (Macmillan Children’s Books) 

With a history degree and initial aspirations for journalism, Samia found her way into publishing through a Creative Access internship at Society of Authors. Now, she develops novelty books for children aged 0-5, from ideation to print. She’s noticed a major shift in right direction of representation in recent years: “Part of the reason that I’m in this industry is because I wanted to make the books I didn’t have growing up. Books from creators of colour that explores race and culture, and looking ahead, the goal is for people to just be writing their own stories.” 

Laura Marlow, senior audio editor 

Laura shared her journey from a third-year student at Goldsmiths to her current role. It was the initial setback of not securing an editorial assistant position (the most in demand of all the divisions), that led her to finding a place in the audio department. “I advise being as open-minded as possible because there are so many areas of publishing,” Laura noted. Her daily tasks include casting and production for audiobooks, one of the fastest growing parts of publishing, and a great way to meet stars like Olivia Coleman and Bill Nye.  

How to stand out in the application process 

All three panellists offered their experience and valuable advice on making your application stand out in such a competitive industry, and we heard what the red and green flags in an application are! 

Number one red flag? Andy cautioned against using ChatGPT for writing applications. “No.1, don’t use ChatGPT. We can read straight through it; it doesn’t convey the sense of passion and desire to work here,” he said. Instead, he named his green flag; applicants showcasing their love for books in their cover letters. 

Laura highlighted the importance of transferable skills over direct publishing experience: “I’m more interested in your transferable skills, whether that be running a university newsletter or working in hospitality. Make your application really specific for the role, because it stands out when a candidate has put a lot of effort into it.” 

Samia advised applicants to let their personality shine through: “Don’t be afraid to put your personality into your cover letter. Publishing is a really fun place to be, so put your sense of humour and self into it.”  

Leveraging networks  

Networking and mentorship were two key points brought up when discussing how individuals can advance their publishing career.  

Samia emphasised the value of mentorship, recounting her own positive experience with a mentor assigned through Creative Access: “Find your personal cheerleaders. I really valued having a mentor and I still remember the advice she gave me”. 

Andy pointed out the importance of asking questions and building a network: “The industry is not very transparent, and there’s lots of acronyms and confusing terms, so asking questions is crucial. I’m in a lot of Facebook groups of people that want to enter publishing and you can ask questions that way”, he shared. 

Laura echoed this, noting that chance conversations at events significantly contributed to her career progression: “Building your network at events, that’s how I progressed.”  

There’s a world outside of editorial! 

“The dream is always to be in editorial, it’s the most in-demand. But don’t be tied to one particular team. If you have skills in audio, sales, marketing, use those to get your foot in the door”, Andy advised.  

Samia agreed, telling the audience about colleagues who had side-stepped in the publishing industry having tried sales or rights and moved laterally to editorial or marketing. If you want insight into what someone’s role is like, Samia said: “Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone already in that role and ask for a coffee.” 

Laura pointed out that audio production often intersects with other fields, such as music and sound editing. “Look at what skills you can bring to the business that someone might not have if they’re already in,” she recommended. 

The impact of digital and social media 

In recent years, technological change has altered the publishing industry forever; with BookTok and audiobooks on Spotify we’re observing the power that digital has to dramatically boost sales of books and whole genres. What does our panel have to say about this transformative digital age and the publishing industry? 

Laura’s particularly excited about the potential changes in the audio market with platforms like Spotify entering the publishing space: “It’s going to change a lot of things in audio and open up audiobooks to non-traditional book buyers… The experience of listening to an author or celebrity reading their own book is a separate experience to reading it. Both here in-house and industry is very excited about it.” 

Andy described how social media channels are used to test marketing strategies and reach broader audiences. “We can test shout lines on social media. I don’t think anyone can question the impact of digital when there’s BookTok. TikTok has helped people that were always there find their voice,” he said. 

Wow! Another successful masterclass! We couldn’t have done without the fantastic team at Pan Macmillan and our amazing community, who asked brilliant questions and networked after. See you at the next one! 

Feeling like you missed out? Click here to watch the video of the whole panel discussion!