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23 September 2021

Developing your career: how to move upwards

In a bespoke session at this year’s London Book Fair, Suzanne Collier and Hermione Ireland discussed five areas to consider when developing your career.

1. Get training

Training is valuable and can be an easy way to get experience. It will build your confidence, help you get promoted and unlock new ideas.

Look at the jobs you’re applying for and read the ads. Identify your existing skills, those you’re missing and what’s essential or nice to have. For example, if a job description specifies fluency in languages, you will need to learn those languages. However, if the ad says it’s an advantage to speak another language, this would be a ‘nice to have’.

Other examples include knowing InDesign, understanding metadata or how Facebook ads work. Many of these skills can be supplemented by informal or formal training.

From the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG)’s Skills Hub (free for IPG members), to the Publishing Training Centre (PTC) and BookMachine, there’s plenty of choice for developing your skills with industry-specific or other relevant training.

2. Get noticed

Attitude is paramount, particularly when seeking internal promotion. You need to instill confidence in your line manager and help make their life easier, with a ‘can do’ attitude and the ability to communicate and solve problems.

It’s important to work smart, not all hours of the day, to prove you’re a great worker. A good leader is not the first one in or the last to leave. And don’t let people exploit your good nature!

If you’re ambitious, discuss your goals with your line manager. Let them know you’re keen (but not that you want to be managing director), that you value your job and would like to stay in the business. Ask them to help with your career roadmap and get you to the next level. If you work with someone whose role you aspire to, talk to them, informally or formally, about what to learn while in your current role.

3. Manage staff when you lack experience

Management and leadership skills are different, and you need experience of both. Management is usually taking responsibility or control of things or people, ensuring delivery of a project. Bring people with you and don’t isolate team members. Leadership is more about taking people on a journey, focusing on their goals, encouraging and motivating them. If you have the chance to manage, try to bring in your leadership skills, and vice versa.

Volunteer to lead projects when you can, those that allow you to lead a team or take charge of a situation. Perhaps something new comes in or you feel your boss has too much to do. Offer to take on a project but be specific about your role to avoid getting the most junior or mundane tasks.

If someone is working on a difficult project and you can see a solution, offer your advice and input and ask if you can take ownership in any way.

In the absence of in-house opportunities, consider voluntary organisations with committee roles – for example, the Society of Young Publishers. This can be a great way to gain management and leadership skills, which you can transfer to an office environment.

Don’t worry if you’re applying for a role which requires management experience and you’ve only managed one person. The skills you’ve learned are just as relevant to managing a team of several people. Focus on what you like about managing, how you manage difficult people and have demonstrated lateral thinking when working with other teams.

4. Gain commissioning experience when you have none

Do you work outside editorial and want to make the leap into commissioning?

Meetings and one-to-ones can give you an advantage, with the chance to come up with clever ideas. Discuss your ideas and proposals with the publisher or senior commissioner and back them up in writing.

If you have knowledge of a niche market, immerse yourself in the subject and become the go-to expert within the company.

Subject knowledge can sometimes outweigh publishing skills. If you have a passion for a particular genre and want to work for a publisher who publishes in that genre, research the subject area and the market – the authors, jackets, content, prices, the competition. And predict trends if possible.

Suzanne has a great example of this. Previously working in sales for a specialist transport publisher, her role involved talking to customers and so she learned what books people were looking for. She scoped out ideas, which were taken up by the publisher. This gave her the confidence to speak to senior people in the business and propose more ideas about what they should be commissioning.

Commissioning requires time and energy. Be commercially aware and know what sells. Look for strong ideas and other angles that will give you the edge. Keep an open mind – pay attention to social media, listen to people, talk to retailers.

5. Decide whether to stay or go

You’ve been in your role for a while and want a new challenge. Do you stay in the hope of being promoted, or move on? Every situation is unique, from your skills, the company you work for to the opportunities available. Some businesses have a strong culture of wanting to keep talented staff, others are tied to their budgets and will let people leave.

There are two key signs to consider. Are you being encouraged and developed, or held back and discouraged?

Perhaps you have the chance to take on more responsibility, but your company can’t or won’t to pay the extra salary. You could negotiate but, whilst you should never undervalue yourself or work for free, it can be better to stay put, gain experience and aim for short-term promotion. After a while you could ask for more money or you may feel the time is right to move on.

Hermione has experienced better promotion opportunities by moving – including being offered permanent, more senior roles after completing freelance maternity covers.

She’s also been promoted within a business after handing in her notice. She doesn’t advocate taking another job just to negotiate a better one, but you may find that if you’re offered a job elsewhere your company won’t want to lose you.

Sometimes, however, it’s better to move, whether for a fresh start, new challenge or a more senior job title. Be prepared to take risks and don’t be scared to move if a new job comes up.

Suzanne Collier

Suzanne Collier is the founder of Follow her on Twitter @SuzanneCollier and     @bookcareers.

Hermione Ireland

Hermione Ireland is managing director of Académie du Vin Library. She is the tutor of the PTC’s Introduction to Marketing for Smaller Publishers virtual course.

Follow her on Twitter @hermioneireland.