Getting somewhere in crazy, unfair book world

A friend of mine recently picked up a temporary job in a bookstore. When I asked how she got the job, she replied: “How does anyone get anything in crazy, unfair book world?”

The answer was that she used her networks. She got a nice recommendation from a reputable source, and got the job.

In just over a year of searching for a book job, I’ve learned a lot. I started out on a working visa in New York, thinking if I could get one, entry-level job, I could come back to Australia and walk into any publishing job I wanted. I thought I was aiming low, when now, looking back, I realise I was actually aiming for the Holy Grail without any experience to back me up.

In New York, I searched the papers, the Internet, and noticeboards for positions, assuming that everything was advertised. A lot of the time I didn’t even get a rejection letter, so I spent months not knowing if my applications were progressing, or if I was making some kind of mistake with every letter I sent. When I eventually decided to come home, I did the same thing and started to think there was something wrong with me.

The day I arrived to volunteer at the Sydney Writers’ Festival was the day I wised up. All along, people had been telling me that jobs aren’t always advertised, but I didn’t believe them. They told me I would have to meet people and talk my way into a job rather than waiting for an ad, applying, and getting it. I’m a bit shy by nature, so the thought of approaching someone and asking for a job felt rude. And frightening. But after spending some time talking to a lady at the festival who had no more experience than I did, but had a much better job than me, I realised people were right. I had to let people know I wanted a job before they advertised.

I spent my time in Sydney meeting people. I talked to everyone: other volunteers, SWF staff, patrons, and people at my hotel who saw my volunteer shirt. I told them who I was, and what I wanted to do. I didn’t ask for jobs or help, I just had conversations and built up my confidence.

After that, I went nuts with the networking: I went to every festival I could get to, I went to coffee with my former lecturers and asked their advice, and I enrolled in a post-graduate certificate at a different uni so I could make some new contacts. I started commenting on book blogs, I got a Twitter account, I went to book launches, and I helped the lovely Managing Editor of this magazine edit the first issue. I volunteered for the Brisbane and Byron Bay Writers’ festivals, and I worked in the office at BWF for two months before the festival. I worked hard, and made sure everyone I worked with (staff, volunteers…delivery drivers) knew what I wanted out of my career. By this time, I was starting to build a nice little network that included some local and interstate publishers, festival staff in three states, lots of Aussie authors, and a bunch of lecturers and teachers.

In the beginning, it didn’t feel like my networks were working. But just as I finished my volunteer job with the Brisbane Writers Festival, I got offered a contract with Red Hill Publishing. How? Well, by using my Twitter network to reach out and ask a question. I asked the managing director of the company if they ever took interns. A week later, they’d looked at my resume and matched my skills to a paid position.

It wasn’t just luck, it was the fact that I’d networked with the right person at the right time. I have no doubt that later on, if I get an internship or another contract, or the Holy Grail—a full-time, permanent job in New York—that it will more likely be because I’ve used my networks and asked questions.

So, for those of you struggling with the ‘how do I get somewhere in crazy, unfair book world,’ question, I think for most of us, the answer is more complicated than get a degree, get some experience, get a job. It certainly was (and still is) for me and my bookselling friend.

Now, I have a helping hand for those of you starting out developing your network. My job with Red Hill Publishing is managing an event called Publishing Boot Camp. It’s a one-day event in Brisbane next month that aims to help authors and aspiring publishers to understand the business of books. Some of Australia’s leading independent book publishing professionals will walk attendees through industry standard publishing workflow: editorial, design and typesetting, marketing, printing and yes, ebooks too.

Not only is this an education event, it’s an opportunity to build effective networks. It’s a chance to chat with publishers, writers, marketers, designers, and the other delegates. You can ask questions and establish connections that will ultimately help you along the way in your career. If you’re interested in coming, you should visit our website: http://redhillpublishing.com/events/bootcamp2010

We’re offering Ricochet readers a 10% discount off the full $330 delegate rate. Simply visit the website to register and enter discount code: RIC2010 and hit ‘apply’ to claim your discount. If you have any questions about the event, feel free to e-mail me: melanie.saward@gmail.com or leave a comment here.

I hope to see and network with some of you there!

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One response to “Getting somewhere in crazy, unfair book world”

  1. phill says :

    Yet another example of the old adage that it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Well, to get the foot in the door anyway. After that, what you know does come into it a bit. (:

    Congrats on the job (better late than never) and good luck with the boot camp!

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