Hidden Bookshelf 5: Your Survival Guide to Staying Motivated Whilst Looking for a Job in Publishing

Hidden Bookshelf 5: Your Survival Guide to Staying Motivated Whilst Looking for a Job in Publishing

The phone rang. I picked it up. I cried.

I’d been interviewing for a publicity assistant position at an independent publishing house. It was the furthest I’d ever got in a publishing job application process and I was beyond excited. I’d just had my final interview, and when the phone rang, I was convinced I must have got it. Right? Spoiler alert, I hadn’t. The rest of the evening was a mess, I was in such a state that my mum even had to go out and buy cake and fancy gin to console me with (definitely not a bad thing looking back). More importantly, it was something which really put me off applying for publishing jobs for a while. My hopes (and pride) had been totally dashed, and I didn’t want to put myself through the same process again.

My point is that job hunting at the moment is an ordeal. It’s tiring at the best of times, but a pandemic thrown into the mix? Nightmare. When I got my current job a few weeks ago, I had been applying since August of last year and had a spreadsheet of all my application with a stupid amount of red boxes (equalling rejections). It wasn’t a pretty sight. And it was HARD keeping motivated; there were points when I was seriously worried that I’d never be able to get anything. The job that I now have is at one of the Big 5 and for months and months I actually refused to apply to any of them because I thought that there was just no point, I wouldn’t get in.

So, without further ado, here is my guide to staying motivated whilst trying to land a role in publishing!

1. Show your creativity

This year has definitely been a hard one for getting publishing experience – with offices closed, it’s seriously hard getting internships, and jobs in a bookshop seem pretty precarious too (I got one and held onto it for a whole two weeks before another lockdown shut everything!). With this in mind, employers seem to really love seeing that you’re doing something which shows your enthusiasm and creativity. Whether this is blogging, starting a bookstagram or even volunteering to edit a journal (I’d definitely recommend taking a look at Ta Voix if you’re keen on getting into editing), any experience is good experience and will show how keen you are to work with books. I started my bookstagram in May of last year, literally, just to log the books that I was reading, but it was actually what ended up getting me the job that I’m in now! Even if something seems small to you, chances are it’s valuable to your job applications.

2. Be as annoying as humanly possible

Okay so this is kiiiind of a joke (but it’s also really really not). If you get the chance to talk to anybody in the industry, hold onto that chance and do not let it go. I don’t care how annoying you think you’re being; make sure that you’re asking all the questions that you want to, even if they’re basic ones (I made so so many people look over various CVs and cover letters). When I was applying to jobs, I used the Spare Zoom Project, something which matches you up with people already in the industry who are happy to help – this was honestly a lifesaver and I cannot recommend it enough. I also (and I know that this sounds nuts) tracked down a woman who went to my secondary school thirty years before me who now works in a literary agency and made her have multiple Zoom calls with me so that I could ask her literally everything under the sun about working in the literary industry. You might feel irritating, but at the end of the day this is your future career! Obviously, be polite and understanding if people are too busy to speak, but also keep finding new contacts to speak with; not only is it great for job application advice but they’ll be good contacts to have in the future.

3. Don’t get discouraged

I know that this sounds hard when applications are piling up and your list of rejections is ever growing (trust me, I’ve been there), but don’t let yourself be put off or put down. All of these jobs are so oversubscribed at the moment and it turns out that every hiring manager is looking for something slightly different. Just because you’ve been rejected from one job, doesn’t mean that you’ll be rejected from another. As cheesy as it sounds, when one door closes, another opens, and with every job application you’ll get better and better at writing cover letters.

4. Keep some kind of record of your applications

As depressing as it might look at times, it’s a really great idea to have some kind of record of your applications. I used a spreadsheet but if you can find another way which you prefer then go for it! Not only is it good in terms of tracking everything that you’ve applied for (some publishing houses are notorious for getting back to you incredibly slowly, and I was actually once invited to a first interview over two months after the closing date!), it will really show you how far you’ve come in terms of applications. When I look at the first cover letters that I wrote compared to my later ones, there’s such a difference and it’s only natural that they’ll improve massively over time.

5. Don’t let applications become your life

I’m definitely guilty of this; there were times when I spent hour after hour holed up in my room applying to every job under the sun, some that I didn’t even want. Instead of being like me, apply to jobs but also make sure that you don’t let them define you. Go for a run, do a dance workout (these have been my life in lockdown), or go for a walk with a friend, just make sure that there’s something to keep you upbeat when things aren’t going to plan!

So, there you have it, my top tips for trying to break into publishing (and how to survive while doing so). If you have any questions about applying then my dms are always open, I’m on bookstagram as @thingsthativeread or Twitter as @emily_egg.

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