Fiz Osborne is Editorial Director, Illustrated Books at Scholastic Children's Books and has worked in the publishing industry for almost fifteen years. Here, she talks about her route into publishing and why a senior role can be worth the wait.
On paper, my route to publishing was a pretty standard one, and I still find that surprising to be honest. As a kid, I did love reading, but I wasn't well-read. Still, the books I did read helped me develop my love for words. I didn't have many books at home, so my local library was my gateaway into literature and spent a lot of time there.
I come from a working class background, so the fact that I could go to university didn't initially occur to me - at first I assumed that I'd get a job straight after my GCSEs. Then I assumed I'd get one after my A levels. (What that job it would actually be, I had no idea.) It wasn't until loads of my friends went off to uni that I thought, well, if they can do it, why can't I?
But what to study?
English was the only subject I connected with in school, so when I first looked into courses that was where I started. And I'd love to tell you that I researched universities and picked one after loads of careful consideration but... My then-boyfriend was already at Nottingham Trent and I wanted to be somewhere close-by (anyone who knows me now will find the idea of this mildly hilarious). While I was researching universities near Nottingham, I came across the Publishing with English course at Loughborough University. (I'm not actually sure if this course is still available.)
Another thing I'd love to tell you is that uni days were some of the best days of my life, but... they weren't. The two positives I took away from my three years at uni are:
And when I say "my degree" I don't mean everything I learnt during that time, I mean simply having a degree on paper. Because, while I didn't know much about publishing back then, I did know that, at the time, anyone who wanted to get into the industry in almost any capacity needed to have a degree. That was my motivator. And back then, uni fees weren't anywhere near as high as they are now. If they had been, I can't imagine I would have made the same choice, because I'm not an "adademic" person – and by that I mean that I don't enjoy learning in that environment – I don't love rules and my brain gets bored/slows down to an unhelpful pace if I don't have 101 things going on (turns out, this characteristic is helpful in publishing).
So anyway, I graduated! A minor miracle! And then I went back to my hometown and started working in an admin job while doing extra shifts at a retailer I'd worked for since I was sixteen. I didn't know how to get into publishing or what area of publishing might be a good fit for me, but in all honesty I also didn't actually start job hunting in earnest for about eight months. I should probably add here that I didn't know internships existed and, even if I had, I would never have considered one because working for free was NOT an option for me. Anyway, when I did start looking, I applied for loads of entry-level roles in London - funnily, not just because that's where all of them were but because I actually wanted to live in London too – and the one I got was as Editorial Support Co-ordinator at Elsevier. I'm not gonna lie, when I got that job, I felt like I'd MADE IT.
While I was at Elsevier, I was promoted to Production Editor but I knew my heart wasn't in it. I worked across scientific journals, and science... well, I didn't love it.
But, while I was at Elsevier, I also came to the conclusion that I wanted to work in children's book publishing, and my first role in children's was as Production Controller at Scholastic. I've said this a few times before, but I think every editor should spend some time in a production department, because the skills I learnt while there – project management, negotiation, people skills, learning about book specifications, costings/P&Ls and the cost implications of publishing decisions – were invaluable.
After a year and a bit, I became Assistant Editor, Picture Books and Novelty at Scholastic – and I'm not exaggerating when I say that at that point something clicked and I felt like I'd found my absolute calling.
Here's how my career trajectory looked once I hit Editorial:
Assistant Editor > Junior Editor > Editor > Senior Editor > (two years freelance) > Commissioning Editor > Senior Commissioning Editor > Editorial Director.
As career trajectories go, that's a pretty standard-looking one right there. As a side-note, the two years I spent freelance were the most stressful two years of my life and I didn't enjoy them at all. At the time, I wasn't anywhere near as financially stable or independently driven as someone needs to be to succeed as a freelancer. But, I made some brilliant contacts and learned a hellova lot, so even those two years felt worthwhile once I'd moved a safe distance from them. Bad experience is still experience, after all.
When I was working in more junior roles, I remember being desperate for that next promotion. But, looking back, I strongly believe that I have benefitted from the time it's taken me to get to where I am, because in that time I've learnt not just how to do my job but how to do my job really, really well. When I became Editorial Director for Illustrated Books at Scholastic, the learning curve wasn't as steep as it may have been otherwise. If you're anything like me, your job satisfaction will be partly tied to how well you feel you're doing. Well, you will do your job better if you allow yourself the time to learn the many facets of it without putting pressure on yourself to do the next thing right now.
So far, my editorial career has spanned almost 15 years and I'm able to say that I still absolutely love it. I guess that's part of what drives me, because it's not all sunshine and rainbows. Publishing careers are stressful, and draining, and tiring, and thankless at times. But they're also enormousy satisfying, incredibly rewarding, endlessly creative and pretty exciting. And if you don't love it you won't stick with it.
One last thing: you'll get out of publishing (or any career) what you put in. So if you work hard, it will pay off. It'll undoubtedly take a bit of time – everything worthwhile does – but it will pay off if you work hard and stay determined.
And what do I do in my role as Editorial Director? Well, you can find that out here.
Fiz Osborne on Twitter.
Scholastic Children's Books on Twitter.
Scholastic Children's Books website.