Petra Green, Head of The Publishing Training Centre gives essential advice for working in publishing today
by Bel Kelly
What are four essential skills you need to work in the publishing industry?
It partly depends on which area that you’re working in—marketers need different skills from editors, who need different ones from finance people or digital project-managers. If I had to think of four that would be useful in all roles, I’d say:
Publishing is a people business. There are always lots of different people involved in putting a book, journal, website or other product together, so you need to know how to interact with people and keep them informed and involved. I’d include good written and spoken skills here too.
Publishing is a very deadline-heavy industry. Books have clear milestones or key dates before they go to print, and then more dates and events once they’re published. Marketing is all about sending out the right message at the right time. Being able to juggle different tasks and prioritise them, to get things done on time, is crucial.
Many people think that publishing is about reading books and taking authors out to lunch. It is, for some (mostly editors and literary agents), but it’s a business, and businesses are about making money. Understanding the market, what consumers want, what needs you are fulfilling, is essential.
If the pandemic showed us anything, it’s that we need to be flexible to survive. If you can adapt, move quickly, take risks, try something new, then you’re much more likely to succeed than if you keep repeating what you’ve always done. There’s value in that, but it’s not a long-term strategy for growth, either as an individual or an organisation.
Petra Green is Head of the Publishing Training Centre, and a freelance publishing consultant and trainer.
She has spent 25 years in book, magazine and online publishing. She has run dozens of projects across data, editorial, events, market research, marketing and production for previous employers and clients.
How has Covid changed the needs for certain skills within the industry?
I think it’s brought digital to the fore and made people realise that people are much more mobile and open to reading in different places and in different formats. Anything more technical or digital is in demand. But the need for core skills—excellent proofreading, copy-editing, copywriting, and good grammar—is still there.
Is there anything editors should be doing now to broaden their skill set for the future?
Keeping up to date with training is good. Watching TED talks and thinking more widely about how readers will consume books and information. Watching for trends in other areas and industries. Spending time with children and teenagers to understand how their minds work and what books or products they’ll be buying in future.
What are three steps an editor can take towards getting freelance work?
Become as well-qualified as possible by taking PTC or CIEP courses to demonstrate your ability. Keep training refreshed and up to date. Even bite-sized or smaller courses from places like FutureLearn can be valuable.
Ask previous clients and colleagues to say something nice about you, and use them in your self-promotion and marketing.
Let people know
Tell people that you’re looking for work. Every email, every phone call, every meeting, every book fair, every social-media post is an opportunity to tell others that you’re available for work. If people don’t know you’re looking, they won’t ask!
What is a usual day for you at The Publishing Training Centre?
It’s very varied. I work two days a week, so I have to cram a lot in. There are meetings with my team, PTC authors or tutors, and third parties who we’re working with.
I’ll also speak to publishing companies who we’re going to train in-house to discuss their requirements and plan out a programme for them. I try to keep on top of trends by reading the trade media (Bookseller and BookBrunch), marketing (Marketing Week) and charity press (Third Sector), as well as training and general management (CIPD, ITT, Management Today).
I’ll see what we’re doing on LinkedIn and social media, work with our existing partners and try to build new relationships. I write a regular update to the tutors and have to produce board papers and reports, so there’s some admin and reporting too.