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My job explained: Editorial secretary

editorial secretaryRuth Austin works in the picture book editorial department for Macmillan Children’s books. She supports the editorial team to ensure that the best books hit the shelves. We chatted to her to find out why she chose publishing.

Could you describe a typical working day?

There’s no such thing! I can be doing anything from proof reading, writing copy, taking minutes, organizing flowers for authors, sorting out a paperback, making dummy copies of books and co-ordinating sales material, managing reprints, dealing with submissions or developing a new project.

I also do more bonkers things to help out the editors like checking we have the correct number of snails on a draft page, researching exactly how bear cubs suckle or whether there are any poisonous red frogs in South America. It’s very diverse!

Why did you choose to work in publishing?

I did some part and full-time bookselling (about three years' worth) as well as some library work before I went to university. Although it still took me a long time to realise that I was drawn to the book trade itself. If you had outlined my ideal entry job in publishing it would have been this one – I’ve been very lucky.

What qualifications do you have?

I needed A-levels and a good bachelor’s degree. You don’t need any specific degree (some people think you have to have an English BA, but you don’t!) but I needed to demonstrate a strong visual awareness, because I work in the picture book team, so my MA in Material and Visual Culture probably helped.

How long did it take to train and what was the training like?

The training has been spread out over the course of the past year, and is very task-specific. You learn to do something as you do it! I like to think I’m still learning – one day I want to be an editor and so I suppose that’s what I’m training to do now.

Have there been any particular challenges in getting where you are?

I came to my ‘first’ job relatively late (age 25), because I took two years out before university and then I did an MA. In publishing it’s assumed that you’ll have done some unpaid work experience, because publishing houses rarely have the budgets to pay an intern. I couldn’t afford to do this in university holidays because I needed to make money to see me through the following academic year. This made it quite difficult for me when I first began to look around for work.

However, when I was unemployed, I managed to squeeze in a week at the company I now work for and I also had my pre-university experience to draw on. I mentioned in my application that I couldn't afford to do any significant amounts of unpaid work experience and I think they were fairly understanding about that.

What is the best thing about your job?

I feel privileged to be in my particular subject area; after all, everyone remembers their favourite childhood book! I also get a lot of creative satisfaction, and my job is extremely varied.

What advice could you give someone who wants to follow in your footsteps?

People view publishing as an elitist industry, but it isn’t really! Don’t be put off if you come from a low income background – try to get as much experience as you can in publishing or related industries, whenever and however you can.

You should also read lots – you’ll need a very genuine passion for books. Oh, and finally – don’t expect publishing to be glamorous!

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