One day, whilst working my last shift at a small bakery in my hometown, I received an email.
Usually, when it comes to the industry I work in, you’re not allowed to go on your phone. Hell, I’m not even allowed my phone on me just in case I even think about looking at it. So, bless the job Gods that it was my final day and that my manager let me look at my phone. This email is an email I’ve been crossing my fingers for for years. I began applying for work experience in every publishers I could think of back when I graduated university in 2014. It would have been great to do work experience during my course, but I hadn’t even thought about it; I had no idea what I wanted to go into. But, now that I knew that publishing was a thing and it could be a thing I would enjoy, I wanted to try work experience to see what it was like. I hadn’t the foggiest what it was like in a publishing house and I hadn’t even thought it could be a valid option for me to go into. So, I set off, applying my arse off for everything that I could that wasn’t a placement that started the next day (which happens alot…who can drop everything like that?), and now, 2017, is finally my year.
Do you remember applying for work experience with Penguin Random House?
YES. YES I DO.
Que me jumping around our large bakery kitchen and my manager not really understanding what this meant. I would be living in London for two weeks, working within the very walls that publish Phillip Pullman, John Green, Jeff Kinney, and so many more amazing children’s authors. I was working in Children’s PR and Marketing. Oh my God. OH MY GOD.
I packed my bags and headed to my friend’s house (who lives near London); my heart in my throat and my legs all wobbly. I’ve never even set foot in an office, let alone a very important one in the centre of London. I was ready but also very unprepared, and had no idea what to expect from this experience. I watched so many videos about it, read so many blog posts, but I still couldn’t figure out what was going to happen. I hate not knowing how to do a job before I do it. I like to know immediately. But with this, it seemed a little impossible to find out other than to actually just go and do it.
Penguin Random House is huge. It’s huge. Only part of the company is at The Strand, where I was based. The other part is in Ealing, and then all the other parts are in other countries across the globe. While I felt like a teeny tiny person walking into the biggest building I’d ever seen, I tried to remember that this was just a small part of the company; an imprint, a department within an imprint, just to make it small enough to handle.
I was welcomed, shown around the whole floor and introduced to the other work experience. I was shown to my desk, helped with a log in situation, and then…left. This was a large part of the experience that felt a little wrong. I had points of contact, sure. I had another work experience colleague who had already been there a week who could have helped me. But instead, I sort of just sat there for two hours, reading and re-reading the introductory notes that made little sense, until I kept badgering the other work experience to give me something to do because no one was emailing me anything.
Nothing really happened until Wednesday, when I was tasked with Instagram market research. It meant I could work all day, answer emails, feel like an adult in the workplace for once and not ask to go to the toilet and take breaks whenever I wanted. I had hot chocolate on tap, could eat at my desk, and leave two minutes early so I didn’t have to run for my train. All of these things sound a little bit ridiculous, but retail man, they let you do nothing.
I spoke to few people in my first week save my colleague, Aliyah, who couldn’t not talk to me because I asked so many questions. It was a strange environment; everyone seemed to be on good terms with each other and there was definitely a friendly atmosphere, but for some reason it didn’t stretch to me and Aliyah. Throughout my two weeks I barely got any “Morning!”s or “Goodbye!”‘s apart from a few people, despite speaking and doing work for the people who didn’t say it to us. At first, I knew they wouldn’t engage in small talk too much because everyone was busy. The office was abuzz with busy-ness. But saying hello and goodbye? I assumed and still do, that it was because forming a bond with the work experience is futile; we change so often, having a new person each week, that they might not even be able to keep up with our names. There were brief moments during mailouts in the second week where they would ask us questions, especially Lily, The Scheme intern, who was lovely and who we helped out on a campaign that meant 700 books needed to be wrapped and packaged, as well as one of our points of contact, Beth, and my desk neighbour, Clare (in which we never spoke about what her role was but I think it was important!). But other than that, I found the experience in the first week pretty lonely.
It was only in the second week where I felt two strong emotions; extreme negativity towards the experience, and extreme joy over it.
The second week meant a new colleague as Aliyah went off to smash the world of PR and events (the industry she was going into), and I was met with Aislin (who had flown from Ireland for her w/e!), in which we got on super well and I was able to teach her everything I had learnt over the past week. Meaning she would not feel how I felt in my first few days. We worked on most of our tasks together, including sourcing book jackets on software called Biblio, take instagrams for an online competition, and of course, mail outs. SO MANY MAILOUTS. This was a negative for me in the moment; it was tiring and I think I have permanent back damage from the booths we had to sit in while doing it. But looking back, while I didn’t enjoy that experience nor did I feel I was learning anything from it, I understand that it was a necessity when it came to marketing and PR. Everyone got stuck in when they had free time, and they will continue to do more long after I had finished my two weeks. It was a part of the job, and gave me an insight into the nitty gritty of the department, realising that the work didn’t get shipped off to a distribution centre or onto a production line. It was their work. It was something they had come up with for an event, for a campaign, to advertise and market the books they loved. And their ideas were being implemented. For all the work I did mailing things out, sending competition winners prizes, and packaging 1000 goody bags for children at an event, that was definitely a lot of people I was making happy.
So while I would crawl back to my friend’s house, tired and hungry with all of my joints in pain. I knew it was worth it. It may not have been exactly what I thought it would be, but it was real, and it was accurate. I expect that actually working there, there would be a little more guidance and a lot more interaction with others. I was just an office junior, but going into marketing at entry level, or going in entry level at any other department; they understand that in all other places, things are a little bit different, that a big publisher will be different to a small indie one. Even the publisher a few tube stops down will have a different system. They would train me, and I wouldn’t turn up to the job not knowing what to do.
Or, at least I hope I wouldn’t.
For all of you wondering whether to apply for work experience with Penguin Random House; do it. But don’t let it be the only work experience you do. It was one of the easiest to apply for, with the most preparations in place, but it is just one example of working in a publishing house. I’ve talked to friends about their experiences in smaller publishers and what they have said has been way off from what I’ve experienced. I have loved it so much, and I felt a little lost when it was over. It was so worth it, and it’s a great thing to put on my CV.
So thank you Penguin Random House!
If you’re thinking about applying for Penguin, or just want to know about my work experience in general, feel free to leave questions in the comment section and I’ll answer as many as I can!