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How I got into the publishing industry: Helen Weir

Helen Weir is Senior Commissioning Editor at Two Hoots, an imprint of Pan Macmillan publishing illustrated books. At the time of posting, Helen's role was Editor. Here, Helen tells us how she got into publishing.


Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us, Helen! First off, can you tell us about your journey to becoming Editor at Two Hoots? I was studying Philosophy at university, with absolutely no idea what I would do next, and one holiday I was able to do a few days of work experience at a publishing company. After university, I worked admin jobs to save money, went travelling, then did two part-time unpaid internships while working part-time admin jobs and living at home with my parents in London. One was at a tiny literary publisher, one at a literary agency.

I was certain I wanted to work on literary fiction as that is what I tended to read for pleasure, but then a family friend who worked on picture books told me about an entry-level role on his team, which I ended up getting. I am extremely glad that I got into picture book publishing, partly because of the opportunity it provides to work with incredibly talented artists as well as writers. Every area of publishing has its challenges and rewards, but I do think there is something to be said for not working on the books you love to read in your own time. I’m glad that when I read a book in the evening or at the weekend, it’s always something I have chosen rather than a manuscript I have to read for work. I was a PA/departmental assistant at Random House Children’s Publishers for about a year, which was a really valuable experience, and was where I fell in love with picture books. My role was made redundant, which was tough, but also a useful experience itself. It taught me to take nothing for granted – plus I was given interview training as part of my redundancy package, which came in very handy. For the next few months I applied to countless editorial assistant and publishing admin jobs, usually getting no reply. It was disheartening, and I was prepared to go down a different route when I interviewed for and was offered an editorial assistant role at Egmont. I still remember that feeling – it was like I’d hit the jackpot or found the holy grail, I was so ecstatic. After a year at Egmont I moved to Two Hoots as assistant editor, and was promoted two years later to editor.

I love hearing about people's work history and how their different jobs tie together over time. In hindsight, it all looks so purposeful, but of course it doesn't tend to feel like that at the time! So, what inspired you to seek out a publishing role? I love reading and always have. A few of my sister’s friends worked in publishing and though they didn’t all love their jobs, it showed me the existence of publishing as a career option. Throughout school and university, I really had very little idea of what jobs people did, particularly in the creative industries. As soon as I realised there was a job that involved reading books and talking about them, I fixated on that.

Did you always know that you wanted to get into Editorial? Yes, but until I started working in publishing I knew next to nothing about the other areas. As an industry we could do a lot more to publicise all the other jobs that you can do, many of which involve exciting/interesting things like international travel, event planning, investigating new formats and materials, author care, data analysis... there’s something for everyone, and almost all of them are creative in one way or another.

Having now gone through the process, is there one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to get into publishing? The first step is by far the hardest. Don’t give up! Look for temp agencies that place people in admin jobs within publishing companies – it’s a great way to get your foot in the door while also earning money. If you can show how brilliant you are, and how passionate you are about books, then you will be in a good position if any entry-level roles come up. If you feel disheartened, or anxious, or plagued by self-doubt, then try to remember that everyone feels like that some of the time, and it will not last forever. You will get there eventually. You’re not being rejected because you are rubbish – it’s because everything is oversubscribed.

What positive change would you like to bring to the publishing industry?

For entry-level salaries to be increased across the board to a level which makes publishing a viable career choice for everyone regardless of their background.

I would love to see union recognition at more publishing companies – the National Union of Journalists and Unite are both unions that represent publishing workers. Unions are democratic entities so they are what you make of them, and the more people that join, the more effective they can be. Joining a union and participating in union activity also helps give you an understanding of your own rights as a worker, as well as connecting you with people at other publishing companies (which also can be handy for networking). It also gives you access to expert advice and support should anything go wrong at work.

Helen Weir on Twitter.

Two Hoots on Twitter.

Two Hoots website.

Pan Macmillan website.


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