What it's (really) like working in publishing

Hello hello, friends ! 

Thank you for helping me choose which article to post on Instagram ! Sticking to my resolutions real good and keeping the writing weekly for now, can I get an amen in here ?

One thing I love more than writing is talking. I talk. A LOT. Shoutout to my SO Léo for his patience. So I talk to lots of people, and when I meet someone new and tell them a bit more about myself I’m always met with mild amazement when I say I used to work in publishing for Quarto Brighton. I mean, this is a biased impression because a lot of the people around me love books, so the game is rigged. But still, I feel like publishing sounds both very glamorous and mysterious to a lot of people. So I thought it might be worth to condense all the usual questions and my answers in a blog format. This is going to look like I’m interviewing myself but never mind…

Mini disclaimer : all views are my own and this post is in no way associated with Quarto.

Starting with the most common question : How did you get the job ? 

Well folks, no big surprise or magical story here : I saw a job listing on It’s Nice That (suggested by a Facebook friend) and I applied. It was a listing for a Junior Designer at Quarto Brighton. I actually have no idea how many people applied in the end. The interview process was quite thorough, after a first interview which went well, I was invited for another one to meet my future manager and colleagues. I then had to complete a little design test to see if I was really the woman for the job : I got sent a brief to design a book cover about British Rock. Sent that along a few days later, and boom, I received an offer letter and a contract !

I was moving to Brighton and needed to find a job, so I wasn’t necessarily looking in my industry, but when this listing came along I knew it was the one for me. The subject of finding design jobs deserves a post of its own, but I spent a lot of time trying to make it right, polishing my portfolio and cover letter, researching the company, and it happened !

Wow ! Publishing ! That must have been really cool right ? 

Yes. Working in publishing is hugely rewarding when you have loved books since forever. There’s something magical about making books. I think it also helps to think of yourself as doing something useful when so many of us feel like our jobs and meaningless and full of crap. I mean, no one’s going to argue against making books? Who are you, the fire brigade in Fahrenheit 451 ? — fun fact, I had to look up the exact number as I’d written 482. THAT’s a book I have not opened in a while… But I digress.

How I felt when everyone wanted to print covers at the same time

How I felt when everyone wanted to print covers at the same time

So yes, the idea of making books is enough to get you out of bed on most mornings. However, it’s also really tough. It’s hard out here for printed media. Though it’s interesting to note that e-book sales have stagnated for a while, seemingly not threatening paper book sales as much as was once feared. There is a lot of pressure to profit, always more competition, which can make it quite stressful.

What were your exact role and responsibilities ?

My title was Junior Designer, under the responsibility of the in-house Art Director, part of a small design team. I was also the main POC with the Production department. Although I did have a fair amount of designing to do, my role was also hugely based on coordinating projects and liaising with freelancers. Initially this scared me, but when I left I was starting to really appreciate that part of the job, and it’s something I felt very happy doing at my last internship. I think this is the case with most design roles today : freelancers are almost always involved and you’re always going to have some degree of project management. We also had other duties like coming up with book ideas for meetings, researching current design trends, keeping on top of the industry in general. 
The Production part taught me so much about my job, and being a designer. It was really tough and I was thrown in at the deep end from the very start but I’m very grateful I was entrusted with so much responsibility. 

So, my exact role ? Laying out books, arranging meetings with teams, finding the perfect illustrator for a book idea, coming up with book cover concepts, making sure the files were print-ready, building dummies to take to book fairs… You name it.

Describe a typical work day.

There is no such thing as a typical work day for a designer in publishing... Some days I went to London to take photos of book covers in book shops, some days I art directed a photoshoot for a book about male hairstyling. Never a dull moment. Well one too many meetings sometimes, but you know. The days were packed with lots and lots of things. I think what I liked the most about the job is that it kept me on my feet at all times. You have to keep questioning yourself, researching your choices, comparing yourself to what’s already out there. Which is a double-edged sword because that can get to your head, but the price to pay is worth it. I can’t stress how much I learnt in the short time I worked there.
The year also has cycles, with major book fairs being pressure points in everyone’s schedule, so that directly influences what you do on a day-to-day basis. If London book fair is next week and you still have pending spreads and unmade dummies then you are in for a lonely and sorry time at the production department, desperately printing, cutting and sticking things down cries in publishing. If you’re in between book fairs and you need to get going with a live title and book freelancers then you might spend a week in meetings and phone calls, negotiating contracts cries in publishing. If, for some odd reason it’s a slow week… No, a slow day. A slow half-day ? You might find some time to wander in Waterstones and take some pictures for inspiration happy cries in publishing.

What are the people like ? 

As is often the case, the people were the best part. Don’t get me wrong, every company has its difficult (ahem) ones, but overall I felt extremely lucky regarding my colleagues and my teams. Different people taught me very different things and I think it’s a consensus in the industry that the people are great. I think it does help that it’s a field where people are generally very passionate about what they do. You couldn’t possibly be in publishing for the money (ha ha…), so you might as well love the goddamn books. I’m still in touch with some of the people there and I hope to be for a long time. 

What is the book industry like ? 

I think the answer to that question varies hugely depending on what kind of publisher you work for. Quarto is a big company, with offices all over the world and thousands of titles, so you do get a rather big-picture impression in the industry, in terms of numbers and trends. Things change very fast, so I’m not even sure anything I could write to answer that question would still be accurate. 

What were the hardest things about working in publishing? 

Deadlines and stress, easy one there. This isn’t hugely specific as I’m sure that answer would come up for a number of people but as I’ve mentioned before, the competition does push you to your limits. 

In terms of things more specific to my position, I would say it could get a little bit frustrating getting no design work done sometimes, in favour of things relating more to management or planning. It is also the reality of publishing nowadays that the vast majority of design work is done by freelancers, as in-house teams couldn’t possibly handle the amount of work that entails. So, although we did come up with concepts and brainstorm about design, it could be frustrating to give work to someone when really you’d love to do it yourself. Outsourcing is mostly a satisfying thing to do, but your designer heart does get a little sad sometimes. 

Would you do it again ?

Yes, in a heartbeat, although I think I would like to try something very different if I were to work in publishing again. Possibly in much smaller teams, or with a whole other type of content : maybe fiction books or art books.

I hope this was useful or at least interesting, let me know if you’ve worked in publishing or would like to in the comments !