Talking about my work experience placements…

For as long as I can remember (any time is a long time in the life of a student) I’ve been applying for work experience at Penguin Random House. Working at Penguin is the dream, the forever job, the word at the top of my ‘Where I want to be in 5 years’ list. Imagine a shy, fresh faced 18 year old just finishing college, her A level exams on the horizon, a dreamer with a love of books, the world at her feet…but no sense of direction.

My excitement when I discovered Penguin Random House’s work experience placements was palpable. The random selection system put me at ease; the application process didn’t require me to prove myself, show my plethora of knowledge. I didn’t need to be the best, and neither did anyone else for that matter. The realm of possibility was intoxicating, it could be me. It could be anyone. It was a calling for diversity and it made me want to work for the company even more.

So I told everyone about it…multiple times (you have to understand, I was very excited). It made me feel grounded and like I finally had a direction. I love books. I love reading them and writing them, so why wouldn’t I want to be part of a company that creates them?

I applied. And I applied again. And again. Again. Again and again. I tried again in January, the process so mechanical, like a drive home from work when you completely lose yourself in auto-pilot. I expected to have to try again.

Mid-February I received an email at 7pm: ‘Hi Laura, You might remember applying for work experience with us not too long ago. Great news – you’ve got a place!’

I turned 21 in March.

I started my editorial placement at Michael Joseph at the end of April.

The fresh faced 18 year old with her A Levels under her belt turned into the determined 21 year old having just finished her second year at Uni, her dreamer personality and love of books still unchanged.

So now I’m sat at a desk at Penguin Random House, the Michael Joseph team surrounding me, Penguin General just to my right, Hamish and Hamilton directly in front of me…I’m not going to lie, it’s more than a little overwhelming but everyone is so friendly, you really start to feel like part of the team.

The first day or so (for me at least) was quiet and I didn’t have many jobs to do. This meant I had the chance to get familiar with the place (which can seem like a huge maze when you first arrive), and quite leisurely read through some manuscripts. This was a great tasks and I would highly recommend that you ask a member from your team if they can send you some because it’s a really great opportunity to see the kind of product they invest in. Looking at books that have already been put on the shelves is one thing, but reading somebody’s work, not knowing whether it is even going to get published is excited; you feel like you get an exclusive sneak peek at the inner workings of a book’s life cycle.

I also made a conscious effort to familiarise myself with Roost; the company website. Exploring the website in depth, I discovered new and aspects of publishing that I had never heard of before such as bibliographic and metadata. Looking at the Editorial and Marketing Process timeline gave me an insight into new vocabulary like AI, ONIX, B3 etc., further extending my knowledge from what they provide in the welcome pack jargon buster. All the time I was learning on the job, and getting paid for it!

After the first couple of days, my lists of tasks to complete suddenly grew. One of my first tasks was to help create mood boards for the January 2019 books. From a manuscript, the editor compiles a list of key words which encapsulate the theme, tone, genre etc. of the piece. It was then my job to search for images which would relate to the key words before printing them out (TIP: get familiar with the printers in the post room) and stick them onto a board ready for the editor to take to their meeting. This has a big impact on the production of a book, so you feel like you have made a positive contribution to the lifecycle of a book that hasn’t even been published yet.

I also helped create Gregg Hurwitz Backlist Sales, working out the lifetime sales of each of his books using excel spreadsheet. This was something I had never done before, however, I quickly learned how to format columns e.g. Value and ASP (I googled this instead of asking like the introvert I am and found out that it means Average Selling Price) is formatted as currency while Publication date and Quarter end date (three month period on a company’s financial calendar that acts as a basis for the reporting of earnings and the paying of dividends) understandably is formatted as dates. I learned how to do simple sums, tallying total values and coming up with the lifetime sales. This was a great task, allowing me to familiarise myself with a software and learn that numbers aren’t scary at all! The process was systematic and really spurred me to want to do similar tasks.

Reading submissions and providing feedback was also part of my role. The first one I read was a challenge, mainly because I assumed that I had to like it. I didn’t feel like I had the right or the credentials to say anything negative. After persevering through the whole manuscript I send my report back to the assistant editor whom asked me to feedback my thoughts. I gave my initial thoughts, focusing on aspects which were interesting and had promise before moving on to a list of cons; commenting on voice, narrative style, character development and readability. I didn’t make any editorial suggestions as I personally didn’t believe that the manuscript had the qualities to make it publishable. This is ok; you are entitled to your opinion just so long as you can back it up. This opportunity made me feel like a worthy member of the team, like I had a place and an opinion which was making a difference, whilst also extending on my editorial skills. It encouraged me to look for details, not just based on a gut reaction, but to draw out the positives and if something didn’t work then explain why. I had become part of a manuscript’s journey.

In my less busy periods, I also had the chance to set up meetings with staff. My first was with Katie, a publicity assistant for Michael Joseph and a part of the Scheme. My chat with Katie was so valuable; it broke down my barrier of shyness and made me feel at ease. Working at Penguin is a job for real people, people just like you and me; it’s not a cult full of superior superhumans. Boiled down to the simplest formula, all you need is passion, applicable skills, determination and knowledge. Hearing that felt great.

If there are opportunities to go along to meetings, take them! They are valuable tools to giving you a wider knowledge of the industry, company, department and divisions. In my first week I attended a meeting on production, editorial and rights, which really pushed my understanding of publishing into more than the division I’m doing experience in. This is vital, not just in shaping your career knowledge (here is a chance to find out what really excites you) but also informs you of necessary skills needed for the role, thus shaping future job applications.

Go into your placement with an open mind; who knows what you might discover.


My next placement was at HarperImpulse, an imprint of HarperCollins.

Editorial placements are vast and ranging depending on the publishing house. To find out what I got up to, head over to HarperImpulse‘s Facebook page and read my blog post:

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Laura Marie

Copyright: Laura Davis © 2018, all rights reserved.


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