Career-in-focus series: 5x tips to help you succeed in publishing sales

Posted on July 17, 2023

This month our employer partner Penguin Random House hosted the latest instalment in our career-in-focus events series, this time to shine a light on publishing career in sales. These are events intended to demystify important, but lesser-understood industry functions – if you’re an employer and interested in doing a career-in-focus event with our community get in touch (details are below).  

At this panel and networking event we got to hear about four very different career journeys from Penguin Random House sales team members. We were joined by publishing and sales enthusiasts from our community at the Penguin UK offices for career wisdom, networking and free books!  

The panel which was chaired by Ella Darlington (head of communications and marketing, Creative Access) featured:  

  • Justin Ward Turner (international sales manager – South Africa) 
  • Riannah Donald (key account executive – UK waterstones)
Penguin random house creative access cara conquest victoria ajayi
  • Cara Conquest (sales director – international online, North American and South Africa) 
  • and Victoria Ajayi (senior key account executive – UK children’s non-trade) 

The expert speakers represented different areas of the publishing house as well as different career stages. And here are five potentially surprising insights we took from the talk on how to have a successful publishing sales career, according to our expert panellists: 

  1. Retail is a common route in. There’s lots of different routes into publishing but working in a bookshop is a common one. Senior key account executive, Victoria, explained how the skills required in retail are totally transferable to this industry, and her previous experience at Schuh really helped her develop the sales skills (such as KPIs, financial goals & competitive selling) that she uses in her role now. Similarly, sales director Sara, developed her ability to upsell, speak to people and have difficult conversations during her time selling advertising space. All the panellists emphasised that sales experience is incredibly valuable to the publishing sector as a whole. 
  1. Natural curiosity is more valuable than traditional qualifications. If you’re worrying that you absolutely *need* that publishing degree to get your foot in the door, the panellists say that you don’t! Strong sales experience is likely to be more useful than a publishing degree. What makes an individual really stand out is their curiosity and passion. Don’t underestimate how infectious it can be when someone explains the reasons behind their favourite book, or how much potential a candidate shows by being curious about how selling works or what makes different readers and retailers tick. Interpersonal skills like showing that you can bring people together, build trust and rapport, with an innate passion for bookselling, is what will lead you to success.  
  1. BookTok is exciting, and influential. Take a page out of key account executive Riannah’s book and keep an eye on BookTok (or Book TikTokers) for the latest trends and creativity. She also said it’s an opportunity to inject some extra fun into the sales publishing world: “In what other job would I get to dance, whilst promoting a book?!”.  
  1. Application advice. Apply for jobs you have a genuine passion for, and showing you’re passionate about the employer will carry you far – has Penguin (or even one of its competitors) printed a book you really love? Scroll through the website and bring your opinions on what book is going to do well next. Demonstrate promotional acumen with a curiosity of how they make money or how they target a specific demographic. If you haven’t got retail experience, have you ever set up a book club? Got people together for a cause? Is there an example of when you’ve changed someone’s mind? Think laterally about those skills, and also, use spellcheck! 
  1. Work/life balance. International sales manager Justin wanted to set honest expectations for the budding audience members on the busy and varied lifestyle of people in sales publishing: “My advice to anyone starting out is to ensure you can handle the workload, because it is a lot. So, learn how to say ‘no’ in a constructive way. Become confident in knowing when it’s useful for your time to be involved and when it’s not, because your time is important’. Useful advice for any industry! 

Are you an employer interested in doing a career-in-focus event with the Creative Access community? You can get in touch: info [at] creativeaccess [dot] org [dot] uk  

Job hunting, or career switching? Make sure you’re signed up with Creative Access and following us on all social channels to hear when the next event is. A very big thank you to Penguin Random House UK for hosting us! 

Creative Access community publishing and sales enthusiasts networking