At the University of Worcester we host many guest speakers who give advice to the students, and share their journey through their careers as writers, publishers, editors (and many other careers linked to studying writing that our students might not have considered).
Due to lock down we had to cancel our reading series, masterclasses and career events so this week we will post some articles on those subjects. Today we have a guest post from Rachael Hum, who is an International Sales Director at Hachette Book Group.
I studied Creative Writing and English Language at Bath Spa University College. While I loved creative writing, I realised during my degree that I was unlikely to make my career as a writer. Which is helpful to learn sooner rather than later but doesn’t mean that I don’t write for my own pleasure and creative outlet. My degree cemented my passion for reading and learning, and without following this path I would not have found myself working in publishing.
I am an International Sales Director at Hachette Book Group. The basic definition of international sales is selling English language books, both fiction and nonfiction, to bookshops, wholesalers, distributors and intercompany offices around the world. Although I wish I could, I speak no foreign languages.
But how did I get to where I am? Well, I had no knowledge of publishing roles when I started out. All I knew was ‘I wanted to work with books’.
So I applied for every publishing job going with little thought, other than getting my foot in the door. Initially I wasn’t successful – ‘wanting to work in publishing’ is not enough to get you through a job interview. A publishing company wants to know why you want to work for them, that you will be passionate about their books and that you understand their business. And it helps to know what roles are available besides editorial – a sales, production, marketing or publicity team are unlikely to hire you if they suspect your only goal is to become an editor, or if you secretly want to be a writer and are waiting to be discovered… So do your research and sound passionate about the role and department you are applying for.
Once I figured this out, I focused my career choice, researched the company I was applying to, and was offered a job as Geography Marketing Assistant for Routledge Books. It was a great starting job. I learnt all the basic publishing terminology, how important and demanding authors can be, how fun conferences are and how much I loved publishing.
But my heart wasn’t with Geography textbooks and I signed on with a recruitment agency (who specialised in publishing jobs) and they secured me an interview at Penguin. The role was for international sales assistant – I’d never had any thoughts of working in sales, but from day one in the Penguin international department I knew this was the career for me.
I stayed with Penguin for three years and then moved to Simon and Schuster to be their European Territory Manager; I was responsible for Scandinavia, Spain, Portugal, Belgium and Malta. Four years later I joined Little Brown as their European Sales Manager and managed Germany, Switzerland, Netherlands, Scandinavia and Southern Europe. A lot of travelling! A few years later I was promoted to Head of Export and managed Australia and New Zealand. And now I am International Sales Director, managing a team of 5, responsible for US, North America and India.
Something I learnt during my career, is that you will move around a lot in your twenties and it’s important to do so – it’s the best way to gain experience by working with different companies and in my case different countries. The more experience you gain, the easier it is to understand your career path – marketing wasn’t for me but international sales was…
The most important thing is finding the right company to work for, and the right company is the one that will help you to grow; who will give you the experience you need and expand your role to make the most your abilities and experience. Don’t be afraid to ask in an interview what your career progression prospects might be. After you’ve explained to an interviewer what you have to offer, ask them what the company can offer you – it’s a two way street…
My role is varied, fun, exciting and challenging. Working in international sales is (in my opinion) the best job in publishing. It has enabled me to travel all over the world talking about books, to people who love books. It never feels like a hard sell – who doesn’t want to buy books! And my creative writing degree has absolutely helped me. I have to sell hundreds of books and obviously I can’t read them all (although I do try)… Being able to summarise why a book will be a bestseller, coming up with a killer one line pitch, identifying who the audience is for a book, predicting the potential sales levels for a book, persuading a bookseller to read a book, knowing they will fall in love with it and then handsell it to their customers etc – all of these abilities developed from skills I learnt during my degree.
If you’re interested in publishing then follow the major publishers on social media – all of them have Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts. Many publishers have intern or work experience schemes, most of which are paid. Some of the publishing houses in London even have rental schemes to help financially support your accommodation needs.
Above all – read! Read everything, keep your interests broad and read across genres. The major publishing companies will publish fiction, non-fiction, science fiction, fantasy, children’s, education and within the fiction lists you’d find crime, thrillers, women’s fiction, romance, literary fiction, historical fiction etc – the list goes on and on. The last question of a publishing interview is almost always, ‘what do you like to read’ or ‘what are you reading right now’, so while your passion might be for one particular genre which is fine, you’d do well to at least express a wider interest. In publishing there’s no limit to the books you might end up working with – and that variety is what keeps my job so interesting.