Katie Sinfield is Editorial Assistant at Penguin Random House Children’s. Here, Katie talks about how she got into the industry, her learnings from unsuccessful interviews and the industry change she should like to see in years to come.
What was your route to getting your job as Editorial Assistant at PRH Children’s?
After University, I spent the first half of my twenties alternating between admin jobs in my hometown and travelling, until I decided to knuckle down. I did a two-week work experience placement at Random House Children’s Books in Editorial, and it cemented my desire to work in publishing. So, I moved to London with some savings, took a temp job in a different industry, and started applying for publishing roles. But my approach was unsuccessful for a few reasons: I was insecure about not being as young as others at entry level; I didn’t think I could afford to live in London on a publishing salary; I was intimidated by the competition. So even though I secured a few first and even second interviews, nothing landed.
I was made redundant in 2016 and, after going travelling again (thanks, redundancy money!), I decided that I should give publishing one last try. Unemployed, in my 30s, at my mum’s, I created an applications spreadsheet and applied more thoughtfully and intelligently this time, seeking out roles that actually complemented my skillset, and at places where I felt I could be passionate about the list, even if I wouldn’t be working on it directly. It took a few months, but I landed a role as an Office Manager and PA to the Publisher. After 18 eye-opening months, and having somewhat found my publishing feet, I craved a more creative role, so I used my experiences from both inside and outside the industry to put myself out there again, and moved on to PRHC. It was a long route!
It’s so interesting to think of all the things you learned along the way. I’m a big believer in some opportunities presenting themselves at the time when we’re ready to really make the most of them, and I can see elements of that in your route to where you are now. What inspired or encouraged you to seek out a publishing role in the first place?
I always wanted to do it but, for reasons outlined above, never got there. I carried this little secret desire around for many years until I realised I wouldn’t be happy until I gave it a proper go, so I starting nudging my way towards it. My work experience placement stoked the fire back up, and then getting made redundant years later was the final push: I had nothing else to lose by trying, and I’d gained a lot more confidence from my other career and life experiences to throw myself at it with gusto. I met and spoke with people who were working in publishing, and the connection I felt from our shared passion for storytelling convinced me I had to do it.
You changed careers, from nuclear construction to publishing. How did you find that transition?
I think for my first publishing role it was an easy enough transition, as I was going from one admin role to another whilst getting to observe, listen to and learn from departmental experts in a small publishing environment, which was brilliant. For the job I have now it was an easy enough transition for the admin part of my role, but the editorial part was completely new to me, so that was simultaneously incredibly interesting and exciting but also a bit scary – but nothing good happens in your comfort zone, as they say! It’s important to note that I work with incredible people who inspire and encourage me every day, and getting to work collaboratively on a range of titles with them has increased my editorial experience exponentially, to the stage where I can now take on solo projects feeling confident in my abilities and supported in my choices.
Having now gone through the process – and taken away some really valuable learnings – is there one piece of advice you would give to anyone looking to get into publishing?
I think the biggest piece of advice would be that whilst it’s important to listen to people who have done it before you, know that you’re still going to have to do it your own way. There isn’t a one-size-fits-all set of steps you can take that guarantees you the role of your dreams. Listening to my colleagues detail their routes into publishing, I found it reassuring that no one story was the same and that I hadn’t missed a trick – I simply got myself there in a way that worked for me. So, don’t worry about or get distracted by this person writing a blog, or that person doing a million placements, if that doesn’t feel natural to you, or isn’t available to you.
If you’re applying for the same thing over and over and not getting anywhere, perhaps it’s time to try changing tack. I wanted to work in editorial but didn’t have the experience, so I started with a purely admin role instead, using the skills I did have, and kept on learning about the industry as a whole from within a publishing house.
Have you thought about roles in other departments? Everyone wants to be in Editorial, but lots of other departments have to read manuscripts too! Have you considered working at a literary agency? In a library? A bookshop? A charity? Have you researched other types of publishing than trade? Looked into publishing houses outside of London? Have you signed up with publishing recruitment agencies, and thought about applying for temp jobs (if that option is available to you)? Is there an author/illustrator/book/campaign you’ve greatly admired, and could you apply for a role in that company?
Above all else trust in your transferrable skills. Figure out your motivations for wanting to work in publishing in the first place then show off your passion by becoming your own cheerleader, and go for it!
What positive change would you like to bring to the publishing industry?
There are many positives in this industry, but we’re undoubtedly missing out on working with some incredible new people because we need to take faster and bolder steps to making the industry more transparent and inclusive.
For example, when I’ve chatted with work experience candidates or people on Twitter who are curious about working in publishing, I’ve had the same response each time – people didn’t know anything about any department other than Editorial, and didn’t realise they could find another, potentially better fitting, route in the industry of their dreams. There’s definite work to do to demystify publishing as a whole, and I’m glad there are websites like People of Publishing to help in that respect.
I also want to see more job descriptions that encourage people from other industries to apply for publishing roles. We can only benefit from outside expertise and fresh perspectives! I want to see salaries on EVERY job posted (not just entry-level), and generally be part of an industry that encourages and supports open conversations about pathways in, salaries, training, and how to climb the ladder once you want to move on from your first role.
I want there to be more publishing career opportunities available to those who don’t want to or can’t work in London or the other big cities. I think some companies are starting to discuss whether they can create virtual work experience placements (as we’re all working from home anyway) as a starting point, and I’m so excited to see others taking steps to open offices around the country.
There are brilliant people already working hard to make transparency and inclusivity the publishing norm, but it’s on all of us to get moving and action our own tangible changes too. For example, a couple of years ago I tweeted about how difficult cover letters are to write, and a kind person who worked in publishing offered to review what I had so far and give me feedback. They could clearly and objectively see where I was going wrong, and after much frustration and stumbling around in the dark on my part I was incredibly grateful that someone had been open to helping out a stranger. If we all make changes and are open like this, as an industry I think we’ll see a big positive difference.
Katie Sinfield on Twitter.
Penguin Random House Children's website.