top of page

How I got into the publishing industry: Fran Roberts

Fran is a marketing manager with 12 years of industry knowledge behind her. She has worked for the likes of Palgrave Macmillan, I.B.Tauris, DK and The London Book Fair, and most recently found a home at Reaktion Books. She spends her spare time reading, writing and mentoring young publishing hopefuls.


Fran, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us! Let's start off with how you first started out in publishing.

I actually started out by accident! I left my admin job at a telemarketing company and got a temporary job at Palgrave Macmillan as a marketing administrator. They must have seen something in me (or I made such a nuisance of myself) that they gave me a permanent role as marketing assistant after three months. The moment I joined the team, I knew I wanted to be in publishing. I really credit Palgrave with giving me that opportunity to flourish. I spent over two years with them before moving to I.B.Tauris, and they taught me everything I know about book marketing today.

It's brilliant that you could enter the industry in a temporary role and get a feel for it on the job. And you're a marketing manager now! What does a marketing manager do?

Difficult question! In a team as small as Reaktion’s, I do everything in marketing. That goes from the admin to the author care to the social media to the designing of adverts. No two days look the same. In larger teams, marketing managers often have assistants or executives they manage too. So there is some degree of people management. As a rule, the manager has to have a view of the bigger picture, so to speak – so some knowledge of the budget and overarching plans is essential. I often find myself writing campaign plans not just for books (or a selection of books) but for the company as well, to improve the brand name.

What are your favourite parts of your role?

Definitely the more creative stuff. I love to get my teeth into a good advert on Canva or InDesign or Photoshop. I also like the planning part – the creation of campaign plans that I can see come to fruition. There’s something so rewarding seeing a book become a bestseller. With the planning, you get to be creative too – deciding what will work for that book and what won’t, and having fun with creating your assets.

In certain departments (most of them!), we really do need that solid mix of creative and organisation to do our jobs effectively. And we're all working towards the goal of helping a book to actually sell. What are your least favourite parts of your role?

Another tough question! I think perhaps it’s when things go awry. We have plans in place for most eventualities, but it’s never a good feeling to see a campaign start to flop or an author find themselves in a difficult position. This doesn’t happen often, but it can occur, and you just have to manage it as it comes and have contingencies.

The life of a book can be so unpredictable, can't it? From the point of acquisition, every department is making decisions and projections for the book, but none of it is certain - we're all making educated guesses and calculated risks. And things do sometimes go awry, unfortunately. You’ve worked for both large and small publishing houses. What are the main differences between the two? Is one better than the other, in your opinion?

I think the biggest difference is the people power. In larger companies you often have a whole team of people working towards one goal. That can include designers, assistants, executives, social media managers, and all manner of people. In smaller companies it’s often just you across all formats, so to speak. I wouldn’t say one is better than the other, they both work very differently – and often have different budgets – so it’s personal preference on whether you’d like to work for a larger or smaller company.

The industry has changed a lot over time – within the past few years in particular. Have you experienced unexpected challenges during your career, and have you noticed any positive industry shifts?

I think the industry is changing for the better, but it takes a long time to move such a behemoth as publishing. The younger professionals coming into the industry and moving into the middle of their careers are certainly shaking things up – as well they should! I have had my own challenges – workplace environments that don’t sit with my values and so on. But it’s up to the person whether to work to change it, or change their role. I think younger professionals are a lot more savvy at this than I ever was. It’s about being confident enough to have a voice and using it. Something not all of us find easy. I think publishers such as #Merky Books and Dialogue are doing fantastic things for the industry. Change and inclusion can often feel like it comes at a glacial place, but there are people out there working to change it!

What advice would you give to anyone hoping to break into the industry now?

Don’t get caught up in the qualification/internship cycle. I don’t have a publishing degree or any internships under my belt, and I did OK! That’s not to say they aren’t valuable, but there are other ways into the industry. Know your worth as well. Ask for that pay rise, be confident about going for roles that you want. It’s very easy to think, “Oh, I’m not qualified enough or experienced enough” but actually people are now looking for more experience outside of the industry too. Working with books is one of the best things in the world, but it’s not the be-all-and-end-all. If you want to get into marketing, say, try to find somewhere that will give you marketing experience that you can then transfer to publishing. And talk to your peers! There are so many knowledgeable people out there willing to just get a coffee and chat. I’m one of them. My DMs are open on Twitter for anyone to ask me about publishing and / or marketing. I love to see people thrive.

Thank you for sharing your experiences with us, Fran!

If you're reading this and would like to get in touch with Fran for advice, you can find her on Twitter here.



bottom of page