Becky Chilcott splits her time between her job as Design Manager at Macmillan Children’s Books and working freelance for a variety of clients, including UCLan Publishing where she is Art Director. Becky also lectures on the MA Publishing course at the University of Central Lancashire and volunteers as Events Curator at the St Bride Library in London.
Huge thanks to Becky for telling us about her route into publishing, and for giving us the very first design-related post on the site!
What was your route to getting your job as Designer?
When it came to thinking about what to do with myself as I was completing my A-levels, I was thinking about studying English and Music at university. Having visited a few courses and different places, I worked out it wasn’t for me. I had always enjoyed my Art GCSE and A-Level classes – mainly because I was fairly good at it and it was assessed on coursework rather than solely on exams – so I enrolled at a local college to do an Art Foundation course for a year. The Foundation gave me a really good insight into different areas in art, including graphic design, and I suddenly found something that clicked with me creatively and that I wanted to continue doing. From there, I went to university and studied graphics for three years.
It's fantastic that you felt that creative click so soon! So, what inspired you to seek out a publishing role?
I didn’t really know the job existed until I graduated from university and started applying for jobs. I applied for anything with the word "graphic" in the title - both locally and across the country. Initially, I had interviews for lots of different roles that I didn’t get, including photocopying (reprographics) at a local private school, typesetting tool catalogues, designing magazines... the list goes on.
But when I came across a job advert in the Guardian for a Junior Designer role at Random House Children’s Books, it felt like I had stumbled across something I knew I had always wanted to do without realising it existed. I remember applying for the role so clearly. The covering letter and tweaking my CV took about two days to do and I can still remember thinking it was the best one I had written. I felt really excited and positive about it all. And, luckily, after two interviews and a few months of waiting to hear back, I got the job!
Coming across a job like that, very much by chance, is so fortunate. You didn't always know that you wanted to get into book design, then?
No. Growing up, and throughout school, I never really understood or realised what design was. We did Art and Design and Technology at school and one of my teachers kept telling me I had good design sense and should think about graphic design, but they never clearly explained it to me and I didn’t think about investigating it – the internet wasn’t really a thing at that time, so finding things out took a lot more effort than it does today! I never had pressure from my family about what I should do with my life either, so just followed my heart and did what I enjoyed which luckily led me to where I am today.
I don’t want to make it sound like it was an easy route into publishing. I do feel lucky that I was in the right place at the right time, and interviewed by the right person who thought I would be the right fit for their team. That opened up the door for me, but I think that following the path of doing what I enjoy gave me real motivation to work hard and keep going, and it paid off.
Having now gone through the process, is there one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to get into publishing?
Be yourself and do your research. A lot of people out there are applying for publishing jobs so you need to make sure you stand out from the crowd and get noticed. I don’t mean that your CV needs to be overly designed in a funky font, coloured bright yellow, or singing and dancing. It sounds so simple, but just doing research into the job you are applying for and answering the specific details of the job ad can make all the difference. It shows that you have read the job spec, have good attention to detail and want it enough to put the time in, compared with someone who has just sent out a blanket covering letter and CV – which people can see in an instant has been done in haste. And being yourself in the covering letter, rather than tailoring yourself to what you think the employer wants to hear, will help you shine too. It will come across much more authentically, so tell them what you are passionate about and why you want to work in publishing – if it is serious, geeky or silly it’s true to you and that’s what people want to see.
And lastly, what positive change would you like to bring to the publishing industry?
I would like to see Publishing expand more outside of London, across the country north and south. UCLan Publishing and a number of smaller independent publishers have been doing this for a long time, and the recent moves from HarperCollins and Hachette are all steps in the right direction too, but I think there is so much more we can do.
Becky Chilcott on Twitter.
UCLan Publishing website.
Macmillan Children's Books website.
St Bride Library website.