I recently attended a university student networking event. (It’s that time of year.)
At events like these, the idea is for professionals and alumni to mix and mingle with students to help them make contacts and find work. We’re there to give advice and suggest strategies based on our experience. Should you apply for an MA. Where are the most useful work placements? What do you do if you want to work in publishing and you don’t live in London? Good questions all. And alongside the old hands are more recent graduates, fresh into assistant or junior roles in local or large corporate environments. They’re also well equipped to talk about what employers are looking for now, to give tips on making applications stand out and on how to behave whilst doing work experience.
An observation. Whilst the book publishing world I have known for the last few years has never felt more challenging, exciting, dynamic, entrepreneurial and essential (I could go on), very little seems to have changed at events like these. The core of advice remains largely the same. No one mentioned LinkedIn, let alone Twitter. One of the questions I was asked to address was “is publishing dying?”. I realise that this was intended to make me launch into a staunch defence of the industry, to repeat that the rise of self-publishing and Amazon and consolidation doesn’t have to lead to diminishing opportunities for traditional publishing careers in editorial and marketing. But instead all it made me think was this: we all have to do a bit better.
If trade publishers are not going to morph into tech companies or retailers in the immediate future, if their proposition is the acquisition and exploitation of commercial rights, experimenting with new models along the way, then there needs to be a bit of a rear guard action at graduate events that connect new entrants with professionals. We need the next generation of publishing professionals to see that this is an world worth entering. To those students and graduates I say: go in with your eyes open, but embrace the process of dynamic change. You will be driving what the consumer facing, reader-centric manifestation of book publishing will be in 2030.
Maybe publishing is to blame. I lost count of the number of students who said they had applied for internships and not been accepted, or worse, not had any response at all. We hope whitefox can help some of them. But maybe academic institutions need to look within themselves, too. It will be in the interests of careers services departments at universities everywhere to help students leverage the skills they’ve acquired whilst studying. But if you’re, say, reading English and you know you want to go into, say, an editorial role in publishing any time soon, perhaps it would be good to think about what the context for that is going to be, not just now, but over the next ten years.
What we mean by publishing has never been more fascinating and fluid. We just have to get a bit better at illustrating that and its implications to the next generation of participants.