By Nelima Begum, Editorial & Marketing Assistant at The Literary Consultancy
I’ve always thought the road to ‘success’ was a straight line – you get good grades in school, graduate from university and suddenly the universe will just deem you worthy of your dream job and you get to live your best life. No. Maybe some of you already knew before graduating but I sure didn’t – looking for ANY kind of job post-uni is difficult, let alone the one you want to pursue a long-term career in! And if that career is in a creative industry, well, you may be in for a bumpy ride. When I graduated with an English degree in 2017 (why does that feel like centuries ago now?!), I was having an existential crisis every other day thinking about my career, what I wanted, how far I’d like to go and who I’d want to work for. I. Was. A. Mess. Looking back on it now, those feelings were totally normal – you can’t make a decision like that in a day. When I sat down and made a mind map of things I was interested in, spoke to people about my options and spent many a late night in bed staring at the ceiling, I decided that more than anything, I wanted to work with books. They’d shaped me, changed my outlook on the world and I wanted to be a part of the industry that churned them out: publishing.
“Looking for ANY kind of job post-uni is difficult, let alone the one you want to pursue a long-term career in!”
How? How does one get into publishing? It was like I’d just decided and now I didn’t know where to go. I started with creating a LinkedIn and then progressed to the jungle that is Indeed.co.uk. Neither really gave me anything substantial and so I thought to Google publishing houses and apply directly through their websites and portals. To keep track of everything, I made a spreadsheet of EVERY job I applied to and had columns for whether I got an interview and whether or not I received an offer. Each stage of progress was marked by red, amber and green boxes and after a while, I realised that the whole spreadsheet was red. All of it. What was I doing wrong? I made it a mission to get in first with every vacancy but everything just got so overwhelming – why were there so many areas in publishing, which role was I best-suited to? I thought you just needed to love books? No one wanted to hire me without experience but no one was giving me the opportunity to gain experience either. It felt like the biggest catch-22 and after a bag of rejections a few train wreck interviews, I was almost ready to give up and NEVER look at another publishing job description again.
“after a while, I realised that the whole spreadsheet was red. All of it. What was I doing wrong? I made it a mission to get in first with every vacancy but everything just got so overwhelming – why were there so many areas in publishing, which role was I best-suited to?”
Then, just like those moments in cartoons where the clouds part to allow a big ray of sunshine to come through and the birds start singing, a friend of mine told me about a handy little (not little at all) organisation called Creative Access which is dedicated to creating diversity and inclusion in the UK’s creative sectors. Plagued with disappointment, I felt like this was my lifeline and started looking at the opportunities page on their website. I was amazed to say the least – so many vacancies with such big, reputable names in a variety of industries! I starting applying like no tomorrow and was pleased to see my CV and cover letter going further than it ever had before. Suddenly, I was interviewing with places like Bloomsbury and Pan Macmillan! Each interview taught me something different so even if I wasn’t getting the job, I was still getting better each time and growing in confidence, too. I found myself checking the Creative Access website pretty much every day and becoming more optimistic with each application.
“I found myself checking the Creative Access website pretty much every day and becoming more optimistic with each application.”
Suddenly I landed my first role in publishing – Submissions Administrator for The Future Bookshelf, a creative writing initiative being run across four imprints within Hachette UK, which sought to encourage submissions from writers from under-represented backgrounds. It was something that spoke to my heart and I was over the moon to get it! While there, I had a fantastic manager who, knowing it was my first job, did everything to make sure I got as much experience and exposure to the industry as possible. I was reading submissions, co-ordinating readings for colleagues, getting involved with social media and even putting data together for team meetings. I loved every minute of it and was trying to learn as much as I could. I got to sit in on meetings, have one-to-one chats with people from every department and even pick up skills in copy-editing and proofreading. It was an incredible first job because I had the opportunity to learn a bit of everything and network with smart, creative and talented people who had worked on incredible books. At that point, I’d decided I wanted to work in editorial. Even though I was sad to see my contract end after six months, I knew I had enough to apply for another job. Back to the Creative Access website I went.
My second job was at HarperCollins; I’d applied for their BAME traineeship (through the Creative Access website, obviously) and after 2-3 rounds of interviews and a terrifying presentation in front of company executives, I got a rejection. It was a bitter feeling to say the least BUT, they liked how I came across and kept me in the pipeline, regularly sending me and other candidates they’d liked but not hired, vacancies before they went live on the website. That’s how I landed my second job – Marketing Intern at Avon, a commercial imprint publishing everything from women’s fiction to crime and thrillers. It was great – different, but great! How I’d ended up in marketing, I wasn’t sure but because it was such early stages of my career, I thought to be open to everything. I learnt LOTS when I was at Avon; Photoshop, creating digital content, helping out with marketing campaigns, reading submissions with the team and learning all things social media. It was wonderful but it was another six-month contract and I was nearing the end. At the time, there weren’t any other permanent jobs going, so I thought to do what I always do: go back to the Creative Access website!
“I feel like my previous roles had prepared me for this moment”
Then I saw it – an entry-level role with The Literary Consultancy (TLC), an editorial consultancy based in Farringdon which prides itself on working with writers of all kinds and providing a variety of services, hosting events and creating content dedicated to their development and success. They were hiring an editorial and marketing assistant and I went for it. I feel like my previous roles had prepared me for this moment – editorial AND marketing? It HAD to be for me. I was abroad the week that they were interviewing, but the team were lovely enough to interview me via Skype! I felt very lucky and to this day, am full of gratitude for their time and consideration. Long story short, I got the job and was over the moon. I bid farewell to the lovely folk at Avon and began my new venture at TLC.
I’ve been working with TLC for almost a year now, and there isn’t a day that goes by where I don’t feel blessed to be here. I have an incredible team (see pictured) who are so dedicated to overseeing my professional development and are forever creating opportunities for me to get involved with whatever crazy, cool, creative project they’re working on next (watch this space for something exciting in the coming months which yours truly will be doing!) I love working with writers as well as our team of industry experts, having fun with TLC social media, getting involved with marketing campaigns and events and everything in between. This job is a dream and I wouldn’t have this (or any of my previous jobs) without Creative Access. They are an incredible resource and have been a beacon of hope for me for almost two years now! An incredible organisation, I have hope that thanks to their tireless efforts and dedication, creative industries WILL reflect society and WILL progress for generations to come.
“This job is a dream and I wouldn’t have this (or any of my previous jobs) without Creative Access.”
Sometimes I feel like my way in was just a happy accident and other times, when I’m being contemplative and thoughtful, it feels like the stars had aligned and I got what was meant for me. My point is that success is NOT linear, but you should enjoy the journey and learn all that you can from it. Every job was a stepping stone and gave me a wealth of experience and knowledge, each one developing me more than the previous role. I’m incredibly excited for my future at TLC and can’t wait to see what else comes my way. My advice to applicants, job-hunters and publishing hopefuls is to work hard (network, volunteer and put yourself out there), be patient, remain optimistic and know that it will happen for you when the time is right…
Oh, and check the Creative Access website on the daily – in case it wasn’t obvious ????