Today’s interview is with Lucy Houlden, who used to work as an Editorial Assistant at my workplace Emerald Group Publishing. Funnily enough, we’ve never actually met in person, despite having formed a friendship online and knowing and working with many of the same people. She left Emerald a mere couple of weeks before I started. She noticed my new job role on LinkedIn and connected that way. Since meeting through Twitter, we’ve come to realise how similar our backgrounds and aspirations are. She’s an inspiration for me and further proof that coming from the North does not have to restrict your achievements in the publishing industry.
Please introduce yourself and tell me a little bit about your background and your career so far.
Hello, I’m Lucy. I live way up north in lovely Durham, which is a great place for anyone who enjoys the essentials in life (tea and cake!). I come from Lincolnshire, but I moved up to Newcastle to study English Language and Literature, with a plan to pursue a career in publishing. Since then, I’ve picked up lots of different experience, including proof reading for a student newspaper, doing an internship with a literary magazine, starting up a company newsletter, doing work experience at Dorling Kindersley, and working in academic and business publishing. It’s been a very busy few years! However, everything is about to change once again, as I’m soon going to be moving into a new role in digital marketing.
What made you so interested in the publishing industry?
As a child, I nearly always had my nose in a book, so the idea of working behind the scenes to make books happen really sparked my interest. Spelling and grammar always clicked well with me too, so it made sense to pursue a career which involved writing and editing. Since working in the industry, however, I’ve realised that it’s about far more than just editing, and it’s opened my eyes to other skills such as marketing.
I also found it really rewarding to work closely with authors and editors.
Tell me a little bit about how you got into the industry.
I first started gathering experience at sixth form, by becoming the Editor of my school’s magazine. Then, when I went off to university, I became a proof reader for the university’s student newspaper. After I graduated, I did a 3 month voluntary internship with a literary magazine called Mslexia, which is based in Newcastle. I was struggling to find a paid role, as there are so few creative jobs up in Newcastle, but I didn’t want to leave as I’d fallen in love with the north and I’d met my boyfriend up here!
Eventually, I heard about an open day at Penguin Books called Getting Into Publishing. You had to apply for a place at the event, and I was lucky enough to get one. It was a brilliant day, with presentations by members of staff from Penguin, Puffin and Dorling Kindersley (DK). There was an opportunity to network with the members of staff, so I did my best to meet as many Editors as I could, and got hold of lots of their e-mail addresses. The next day, I got in touch with everyone I was interested in working with. I was also given a leaflet about a competition DK was running, where you could win work experience by promoting a DK product using social media. I actually ended up winning the competition, but was also offered work experience by one of the contacts I emailed, so I got two work experience placements!
The first one was a three-week placement with the DK Editorial department, and the next one was a few months later and was a one-week placement with the DK Marketing and PR team. I had some really fantastic experiences with DK, including helping out with a photo shoot, going to an editorial meeting for Puffin children’s books, meeting the late Sue Townsend and getting her autograph, and going to a talk by the Editor of Vogue. I had a fantastic time, and getting the valuable experience under my belt meant that a few months later, I got my first paid role, as an Assistant Publisher for an academic publishing house called Emerald Group Publishing in Yorkshire. It was a long journey, and I had to be very persistent, but I got there eventually! After that, I went on to have a role with a business publisher in Gateshead, and moved up to Durham where I am now.
What has been the most rewarding part of your career in publishing?
I found it really rewarding when I ran campaigns at Emerald to promote the journals, and got some really good results from that. It makes you feel like what you’ve done is worthwhile when you can see the usage of the articles has increased. That’s what made me interested in pursuing the marketing route! I also found it really rewarding to work closely with authors and editors and solve any problems they had. When they gave me positive feedback, it made me feel really good that I was able to help them.
You might need to be flexible and make some compromises.
Tell me a little bit about Publishing In The North, your blog. What motivated you to start this up?
I started this blog quite soon after I started working at Emerald. As I mentioned earlier, it had taken me quite a while to break into a paid role in publishing whilst living in the north of England. I suppose I wanted to share some of my findings, and to show that it is possible to pursue a publishing career up here, although it’s very tough and there certainly aren’t enough jobs for everyone. I also wanted to try to create a central place for any news about publishing in the north to be advertised, such as events run by the Society of Young Publishers and job vacancies. Unfortunately, I have been extremely lax at keeping it going though, so it is woefully neglected!
I was partly inspired by a publishing blog called Diary of a Publishing Intern (now renamed Diary of a Publishing Professional, available at http://diaryofapublishingintern.blogspot.co.uk). It’s a really good blog as it lists opportunities such as work experience and jobs, but they’re mostly in London. I wanted to try to provide something similar for the north, although of course there is less going on!
What advice do you have for those who live in the North who would like to pursue a career in publishing?
Be persistent, as it’s not going to be easy if you want to stay up north! Do whatever you can to get some experience under your belt. For example, you could start writing book reviews, proof read your university newspaper or ask local media organisations if they could give you work experience. You might need to be flexible and make some compromises. For instance, you might always have dreamt of editing fiction, but if you want to stay in the north then you’ll have better job prospects if you consider a much broader variety of publications. You’ll also probably need to consider quite a wide search area. I worked in Yorkshire and travelled back to see my boyfriend in Durham at weekends for a couple of years, which was a compromise but it was worth it in the end.
Getting some work experience in London can also be very valuable in the long run. I know it might seem too expensive to go down there, but it is possible if you really want it. I did my work experience whilst on annual leave from my paid job in Newcastle (with their permission), and whilst I was in London I slept in youth hostels so that I could afford it! I would advise people to check out the Getting Into Publishing event at Penguin books as well, if it’s still running this year. It’s usually held in around October/November.
What’s next for you in your career? How has your time in publishing helped equip you for this next exciting step?
I’m soon going to be starting work at a digital marketing agency. I’ll be working in the Search team, so I’ll be helping clients to ensure their websites are performing well in search engine results, for example by making sure that their online content is top notch. There’s going to be lots to learn! Working in publishing has definitely helped me to reach this point, as I probably wouldn’t have realised marketing was a route I was interested in if I hadn’t experienced it as an Editorial Assistant at Emerald. There are also lots of transferrable skills between publishing and marketing, such as written and oral communications skills, problem solving, analysing data and working with external stakeholders. Working as an Editorial Assistant was extremely demanding and varied, and I think it’s prepared me for just about anything!
You can find me on Twitter at @LucyHoulden.
My (much abandoned) blog is at www.publishinginthenorth.wordpress.com
Do you have any further questions for Lucy? Input them into the comments box below and I will get them answered for you! Any other comments are also welcomed and encouraged.