To mark #WorkinPublishing week we hosted an all-star panel (including four of our very own Creative Access alumni!) from leading publisher Penguin Random House. The panellists talked about their journey into publishing, the day-to-day of their roles, and gave a bucket-load of inspiring advice for those pursuing a career in the book trade. Below are some of their top tips, or you can head over to our YouTube channel to catch up on the full conversation. The panel comprised of:
- Josie Dobrin, Founder & Executive Chair – Creative Access
- Mubarak El Mubarak, Head of Digital Marketing & Brand – Penguin Michael Joseph
- Candy Ikwuwunna, Brand Marketing Manager (Youth Engagement) – Penguin Random House
- Malissa Mistry, Sales Manager – Vintage
- Gaby Puleston-Vaudrey, Editorial Assistant – PRH and BBC Audio
- Priyanka Moorjani, International Communications Assistant – Penguin Random House UK
The panel covered wide-ranging themes from favourite books to top tips for covering letters and interviews. On the subject of CV and applications, Malissa, stressed how important it is to tailor your cover letter to the role in question saying “it will take more time, but applications that aren’t changed across roles are immediately obvious to the reader. Instead, break down the job description into key points and apply your skills and experience to any activities or requirements. Find something you like from the publisher’s output or activities to talk about in the interview or application.”
When moving to interview stage, Gaby cited that she used the STAR method; this stands for situation, task, action, and result. Think outside the box when it comes to your experience, as interviewers will be more interested in your approach to a challenge and how you applied yourself to it.
“And most of all, take a deep breath and remember that an interview is still just a conversation with someone.”
Gaby described passion for books as ‘the one thing you can’t learn.’ This is something that anyone entering the industry will have but being able to showcase your genuine interest in the current book market when applying or interviewing is key.
There are plenty of ways to show you have your finger on the pulse, whether it’s through knowing the top charts or having a favourite BookTok campaign – something that Candy remembers bringing up in the interview for her current role.
Before he found his internship, Mubarak spent 9 months applying and getting nothing – ‘I had to check if my inbox was working!’ – and said that you don’t need to rule out a career in publishing to justify taking a break from sending applications. No two paths into publishing are the same.
Priyanka also mentioned that gaining publishing ‘adjacent’ experience is still massively worthwhile and sets you up for success even if you aren’t landing the dream job just yet. If you have experience on TikTok, highlight that on your CV. Even if you think it’s just silly videos you’re making from your bedroom, BookTok is now a hugely influential platform and can shape the market.
Gaby advised using transferable skills – such as the ones she gained as a student ambassador – when writing successful applications, and Malissa described how helpful it was to build an understanding about books and current trends by starting out as a Christmas temp at Waterstones.
The panel discussed the ongoing dilemma of whether or not a degree is needed to enter the sector. Whilst acknowledging the benefits of university eduction for those who can access it, the consensus from the panel was that there’s no barrier to entry without it. There are numberous pathways to a career in publishing – such as publishing apprenticeships – and plenty of other things will stand out more on your CV. Of the panel, only Priyanka had completed a Publishing MA; she said that it was a good route to picking up more publishing vocabulary and getting to grips with the process, but that the essentials of what you need to know can be learned and fleshed out through doing the job.
When discussing the skills needed for their individual roles, Gaby (who first worked with an independent publisher before moving to her current role) said that needs will vary between teams. Priyanka – working in communications – communicates with a lot of different people! She encourages individuals in similar roles to think about how to adapt their tone and approach with different people you’re in touch with, from more informal conversations with book bloggers to an attentive and generous approach to relationships with authors. Malissa said that to succeed in sales you don’t need to be an extravert, but you’ll be good at building genuine relationships with external parties, and this is just as valuable as hard data.
Mubarak had a final piece of wisdom on this topic:
“It’s not about never making mistakes; there’s no point when you stop learning and it’s important to understand how issues arise and keep asking questions when you’re unsure.”
The panel also spoke about diversity within industry; Priyanka didn’t shy away from the topic of where the publishing industry can do better when it comes to hiring talent from under-represented backgrounds. However, the diversity (or lack thereof) of larger publishers is becoming increasingly transparent – Penguin Random House has recently published statistics on this. Candy said that since coming back to the industry after a short hiatus, efforts across the board to improve social inclusion is more noticeable with positive action schemes like those run by Creative Access or The Scheme by Penguin Random House.
Candy’s final piece of advice was to not give up!
“It might take a while, but everyone’s journey is different.”
And don’t feel afraid to reach out to publishing industry experts who are public on social media. ‘I reached out to someone who directly helped me with my application,’ Gaby said. People who are as passionate about publishing as you are often generous with their time in giving feedback.
You can watch the full panel conversation on our YouTube channel here
Follow Penguin Random House on LinkedIn to keep up with the latest news from company news, employee stories, new roles, programme dates etc. or explore publishing roles from the wider industry on the Creative Access opportunities board.