How I Got into Publishing – Interview with Carl Smith, Editorial

I remember very clearly the day I met Carl. It was at the SYP drinks of the 2017 London Book Fair. I had just started my role at PRH as well as joining the SYP London committee. At the time, Carl was looking for a job and we started chatting about publishing and our experience in the industry. He was clear in his goal, but also realistic on the journey ahead of him to get to his dream job. Back then, I didn’t know we would have continued to work side-by-side at the SYP nor that we’d become good friends. Carl’s support has been so important to me both personally and professionally, and I am now honoured to be sharing his story which I’m sure will inspire and help many in their journey to publishing.

1.Tell us a little bit about yourself!

Hmmm… I’m from Hull with the accent to match (though my young nieces say I’m quickly losing it). Everyone’s publishing journey is very unique and mine is no different. I’ve worked in a few departments and within business and trade publishing. It’s been just over five years (September 2013) since I got my first job in the industry and I now work as a commissioning editor for an independent publisher of primarily crime and thriller titles.

My particular journey certainly hasn’t just been highs, and amidst the lowest of lows I created my Twitter feed (@thatpubblogger) and blog (That Publishing Blog) in order to reach out to those in the industry and hopefully help those just starting their way within it.

2. When did you know you wanted to work in publishing?

Throughout my twenties, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do. I started working in education but never enjoyed it, so went back to study for an MA in English Literature with the intention of undertaking a PhD. As the academic year was coming to a close and the PhD was in view, I applied for work experience with Penguin Random House and secured it. After my placement, I decided to try to make it in this industry rather than keep studying for another three or four years. By that time, I was thirty.

3. How did you land your first publishing job?

It certainly took a long time. Nine months applying for jobs following my MA and a number of interviews later I got my foot in the door of a financial publisher. Originally the role was only meant to be maternity cover for three months, and I apparently (or so the manager said) only got the role as I seemed like I’d be fun to work with for that short period. Hopefully, there actually was more to it than that, yet I didn’t care given I’d finally landed a job.

Even though it was meant to be temporary, I ended up staying there for three years. During that time I took on extra responsibilities and got promoted, and am incredibly grateful for how much faith they showed in me throughout that time. I left the company due to redundancy, and it felt like I was back to square one.

This time around I seemed overqualified for many jobs, yet not qualified enough for others. I found it harder to find where I would fit in. It took another nine months to find a role, which ultimately came about via a work experience placement. After working more in business publishing, this time I focused on trying to enter trade publishing. During this period I undertook a number of work placements with various publishers. I gave my all in each one, and eventually, that paid off as one of those companies offered me a role without the need to interview – they’d seen what I could do and wanted me to work with them. Which leads me to…

4. What advice would you give to someone looking for their first publishing job right now?

Know that it can take a long time, but don’t give up. Give your all and it will be recognised. No matter what you are doing – be that a placement or just an application – give your all to it. If you put in a half-hearted effort during a placement those you’re working for will be able to tell. That they could be harmful if you then apply to them down the line. Ask questions. Speak to other departments. Save copies of the work you do to show potential employers. Make notes and if you don’t understand something that is discussed be sure to seek clarification. It is the same with actual job applications.

If you don’t put in any research or know much about the company, you aren’t that likely to get the job you’re applying for. You need to understand what products that company publish and what their ethos is. Importantly, you need to understand where the role you’re applying for fits within that company and what you will be working on. Also, keep in mind that it is a business. Everyone ‘loves books’ in publishing, but understanding how they are made and why they sell is even more important. That may seem pretty obvious stuff, but then you need to know how to use that information in the application itself.

I believe what makes a good application is conveying all this knowledge in a succinct way alongside illustrating what your USP is. What is unique about you and why that makes you ideal for that particular role and company.

5. What is one thing you wish you had known wher you were applying for jobs?

It can take a long time to get your foot in the door. On my first go around I think I went into my applications without my eyes open. I found my work placement with Penguin Random House without really trying; then immediately found a second one straight after. That gave me a false sense of what the industry is like and how easy it would be to secure a job. But I didn’t get my first role as easily as expected.

You are up against so many people for these jobs and I never knew that. It certainly wouldn’t have stopped me applying for the jobs, and it shouldn’t stop you, but knowing how competitive the industry is would have made me more proactive.

I didn’t think about other ways I could get the relevant experience needed to prove my worth. If I did I would have done things so differently. I would have started a blog earlier; I’d have joined Twitter earlier (as someone who suffers with anxiety and depression it can a vital tool to network without having to physically enter a room with hundreds of people); I’d have joined book clubs; I’d have looked for organisations like the Society of Young Publishers earlier (I never knew of them until I attended my first London Book Fair in 2017, which is incidentally where I met the host of this blog). Essentially, I’d have just tried harder to be involved.

Knowing how competitive this industry is would have made me look sooner at myself and the skills I had and the ones I need to develop more. I think that would have helped me, and hopefully doing the same could help you.

Thank you for sharing your story, Carl!

4 thoughts on “How I Got into Publishing – Interview with Carl Smith, Editorial

  1. It’s always reassuring when I read stories about other people who moved into publishing at an older age, rather than getting into it straight after graduation. It makes things feels a lot more achievable. Thank you for this, and thanks to Carl!

    1. Thank you, Claire! I’m so pleased to hear you found this helpful. It was exactly the reason why I wanted to start this series: to share different paths and experiences!

  2. I’m in the same boat at the moment – overqualified for entry level roles but not enough experience to get up to the next level. Unfortunately I can’t afford to do a work experience placement so I’m struggling to figure out a way around that. But it’s nice to hear from someone who didn’t necessarily end up in what they wanted to do straight away 🙂 Thanks for sharing your experience Carl, and thanks Ain for capturing it!

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