After graduating from the University of Leeds with a degree in Accounting & Finance in 2021, Ellie began the MA Publishing course at Manchester Metropolitan University. Since February 2022, she has worked as a marketing & publishing assistant at Saraband, as well as SYP North’s Treasurer & Secretary.
Thanks for answering some questions for us, Ellie. As someone who's in the first year of their publishing career, your experiences are literally as current as we can get! How did you first get into the publishing industry?
After finishing my undergraduate degree in Accounting & Finance, I had no idea what I wanted to do. I was interested in marketing and advertising, and I started looking at masters degrees in these areas in my hometown. I found the MA Publishing course at Manchester Metropolitan University by chance and saw, to my surprise, that they accepted finance graduates. I’ve always been a huge bookworm but publishing wasn’t something I’d considered before as I’d always assumed it was for English graduates. I started the course in 2021 and the staff on the course were really supportive, always sharing job opportunities, specifically in the north. The advert for my job at Saraband was sent round to us by one of our lecturers and I decided to apply, hoping to get some application experience and feedback. I couldn’t believe it when I got the call to say the job was mine – it was a total shock!
Congratulations for breaking into the industry! Your role at Saraband is Marketing and Publishing Assistant. So far, has your job been what you expected?
Yes and no. I knew a major part of my role would involve social media management and newsletter writing, and those are two of my biggest responsibilities. Working in marketing and being towards the end of the publishing cycle of a book, I didn’t expect to work so closely with some of our authors. It’s been great fun having authors involved in the marketing campaign for their books. For Adam Farrer’s Cold Fish Soup, Adam was really keen to be involved from the start and is willing to make video content for socials which has been great for engagement. I didn’t expect to work with any authors so closely.
So what does a marketing and publishing assistant do?
Most of my day-to-day involves social media management, so, creating content, engaging with our audience and planning content strategies for the future. We send one UK newsletter and one North American newsletter per month which is my responsibility too. I’m also responsible for submitting to literary prizes, submitting eBooks for promotions to Amazon, Kobo, etc, blog post writing, adding new books to our website and shop, writing press releases and reaching out to press, liaising with bookshops, and some typesetting and editorial duties. Working for a small press means there are much fewer members of staff compared to large publishing houses. While most of my job revolves around marketing, I do also get to experience other areas of publishing, like editorial and production.
Learning about other departments and being able to take on such a variety of tasks and responsibilities is such a positive side-effect of working at a small press. What are your favourite parts of your job?
I really enjoy writing the newsletters each month. It’s a direct and guaranteed way to speak to our audience and I’ve really enjoyed developing and evolving our newsletter strategy. It’s interesting to track insights for each newsletter and see if there have been improvements when trying something new. We have done a couple of one-off newsletters solely dedicated to one book in particular, such as the paperback release of Case Study by Graeme Macrae Burnet and Adam Farrer’s, Cold Fish Soup. These one-off newsletters really allow you to tap into the message and the feel of the book. Newsletters can be a really creative way to market books, which I love.
What are your least favourite parts of your job?
I think the aspect of my job I feel is my weakest is the PR side as I didn’t really know what is expected of a press release and the right way to convey your message to press. It’s something I’ve been doing more recently and have had guidance from my boss but it’s still something I know I need to work on. I wouldn’t say I necessarily dislike any parts of my job, but because PR doesn’t come as naturally to me as other aspects do, I do struggle with it.
That is a really great viewpoint to have when it comes to skills you're looking to develop, because sometimes the parts of our job that we feel most uncomfortable with are the parts that push us out of our comfort zone and encourage us to keep developing our skills. It definitely takes a lot of time and energy to learn and hone those skills.
Have there been unexpected challenges to working in book publishing, especially at a time when the industry is still recovering from the peak of the pandemic?
It has been a worrying time with the cost of living crisis, as obviously this will impact any sector. It’s meant that costs to publishers have gone up but we also realise we can’t raise the prices of books by much as this could impact a customer’s willingness to buy. It’s tricky!
It certainly is. Are there specific insights or pieces of advice you would like to give people looking to break into the industry?
I think getting involved in the industry in any capacity shows your interest in the sector. For example, attending book festivals and events, volunteering for organisations such as The Publishing Post, becoming a member of the Society of Young Publishers, taking up part-time employment at your local bookshop or library, or starting a book blog.
You should look at job ads for the area of publishing you’re most interested in and see if there are any skill requirements that come up frequently that you can work on. For example, if you’re wanting to go into marketing, setting up a blog or social media account and growing an audience can allow you to gain valuable digital marketing skills, such as writing copy. If you’re interested in production or design, getting to grips with software such as Adobe InDesign would look great on your CV. I’d also say to make a professional Twitter account and connect with lots of publishers, authors and agents on there – publishers love Twitter!
Publishers really do love Twitter, hah. Ellie, thanks so much for sharing your experiences with us, your advice is really great and I'm sure it will help a lot of people work towards getting their first jobs in the industry.