My Two Week Work Experience at Penguin Random House

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.

 Dear Hollie,

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.

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The morning walk over the jubilee bridge to reach The Strand.

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.

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Look, I like views ok? Overlooking the Thames from the seventh floor.

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!

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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!

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Everless by Sara Holland

Publisher: Harper Collins
Release Date: 2nd January 2018
Rating: ☆ ☆ .5
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The novel, pitched as Red Queen meets Downtown Abbey, is set in a kingdom where time is a commodity that flows through the blood and is hoarded by the rich, and centers on a 17-year-old girl who becomes the next handmaiden at the Everless Estate only to find herself at the heart of a centuries-old rivalry over the secret to immortal life.

1507201345324So this was kind of…blah. And I hate saying that, because ‘blah’ isn’t a good review is it? But how can you describe a book that makes you feel nothing?

Everless is pretty much a textbook YA court fantasy story. I knew what would happen, and it felt horrible that I didn’t care. My mind began to automatically skip over sentences that weren’t dialogue until at one point I didn’t even know what was going on and had to force myself to go back over it. It still didn’t make sense.

There seems to be a half formed plot about Jules’ past that makes her obviously ‘special’, but what it is is half-assed and doesn’t make for much of a shocker moment. Yeah, of course she’s special, yeah of course she’s the only one who can save the kingdom. The rest of the characters? Kinda boring, a bit 2D. I only gave it 2.5 stars because the beginning didn’t at least drag and I kind of enjoyed the magical ‘blood-iron’ system that allowed people to pay in time.

Something very refreshing in this story however was the inclusion of LGBTQ characters within the world. While it was unfortunate that they were side characters, or extras just passing through, it really showed the kind of worlds that Holland will be writing in the future. Inclusive, diverse, and different. It’s so hard to find historical-esque fantasy that will include dragons but find non-straight people ‘unrealistic’, and so I am pleased that we’re finally building the blocks to a more well rounded genre.

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‘I’m Going To Read It Anyway & See What I Think’

As a blogger, I read book reviews almost daily. Whether it be here on WordPress, Tumblr, Instagram, or Goodreads, I use them as a guide to find out whether a book I’m thinking of reading is really worth it. Granted, you don’t have to use them, and I’ve often dived into a book without knowing what it’s about or what people have said about it (it’s one of my favourite things to do), but hey, reviews are useful!

As a book blogger, I also write them, and while I don’t write reviews of books that I just stopped reading after a short while for no particular reason, I do write reviews of books that I did not like and also include, if necessary, warnings about scenes or chapters that some may find triggering and/or upsetting. I want my reviews to, if positive, entice readers into picking up the book and sharing the joy that I felt. But I review the books that I did not enjoy to make aware to my readers and others who are browsing the reviews on goodreads of why I don’t think said book is worth your time.

However, at the end of the day, I cannot decide for you whether or not you read a book; my opinion may contribute to that decision, but reading tastes are reading tastes and my opinion will not be the same as yours. And that’s ok!

Whether or not a reviewer likes the book or not is very different to a reviewer stating the problematic issues in a book.

Vocal debates on this topic have been surfacing around once a month about these two definitions and how they’ve been overlapping. While the same issues happen with disabled bloggers, LGBT+ bloggers and Muslim bloggers, it’s specifically POC bloggers who are constantly being harassed online for their reviews of books that they have stated have racist content and therefore should be at least called out on to make others aware.

The problem does not lie in bloggers making readers aware of racist content, what is worrying are the many (white) people who respond to these criticisms with ‘I’m going to read it anyway and see what I think’.

In my scenario, where I give a book two stars because I didn’t enjoy it, that’s where a statement like that would be ok. Books are subjective, and ‘the writing style is poor’ is an opinion that another reader may not share. However, when POC review a book and say it’s racist, a white person cannot then decide to ‘see what they think’, because here are your two outcomes:

Outcome 1: You read the book and agree yes, it is racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if there’s does not mean anything unless you’ve waved in on it.

Outcome 2: You read the book and disagree, it is not racist. You have therefore ignored the claim of a person who actually experiences said racism in real life in favour of yours, as if you can decide what does and does not clarify as racism.

I think the crux of the matter is people don’t like it when they are told not to read a book. Of course, when someone tells you not to do something, you kind of wanna do it, right? But here’s the thing, racism is not an opinion. That book, whether you read it or not, dislike it or not, has racist content. So, you cannot ‘read it and see what you think’. And when these bloggers/reviewers are asking you not to support these books, they are not trying to restrict your reading, they are trying to let publishers know that books like these cannot slide, that they are problematic and should not be getting published in the first place. Institutional racism is deep and ingrained and small justices can make large waves. Read the books if you want, but keep aware, and support the voices who are hurt by racist, homophobic, and ableist content.

You see a person stepping on another person’s foot without realising. They walk away. The person whose foot has been stepped on is hurt and rubbing their foot. They come up to you. “Did you see that? That really hurt.” Would you then question if that actually hurt them? Or would you have to find out for yourself and step on their foot too?

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RTP #3: Crippling Self-Doubt (A Light Post)

Welcome to the post-change up blog, where, if you haven’t read this post, I’ve been making a few changes in regards to my life. It seems the changes this season aren’t stopping, and while I’m changing my schedule, how I manage my time, and the way I look after myself, I am also changing something so huge that it may affect my whole damn career (if it ever gets that far):

My WIP! shock.gif

Since I began kneading a story into shape when I was around fourteen, I have been entirely focused on this WIP which, for the sake of not getting confused, we will call it Sci-Fi WIP. Sci-Fi has taken up so much of my time and thought that it has become this very well rounded novel with 100,000 words and has been critiqued by many beta readers. It was part of my dissertation, as well as having gone through bouts and bouts of edits. I even got to the point of researching agents.

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But that’s where it hit me.

I’m a writer who doesn’t necessarily like to stick to just one genre. I find myself pulled to multiple genres that I’d love to write. But it also means that I’ve sensed a pattern when it comes to debut authors and even authors who churn out books; they keep to their genre. It may be personal preference, but there are crime authors, high fantasy authors, contemporary authors, romance authors etc. Authors do not generally branch out, and if they do, they’re already fairly high profile or it’s only a gentle nudge into a different direction.

A part of me is scared. If I manage to get my Sci-Fi WIP published, are the publishers/my agent going to turn around and say “What more sci-fis have you got for us?” Because here is the thing; I have 0. Big fat fucking zero. This is the only sci-fi story I have ever written, because most recently, I have found my genre to be contemporary. Yes, contemporary with a little darkness, with a little magical realism, but contemporary no less.

I had to have a long hard think: if I had to, what would be the genre I would be able to write for the rest of my life? And I had my answer.

In a perfect world, I would be known as Hollie Wilson, author. But I understand that people write to their strengths as well as for the demand of their audience. If I’m going to get a debut out there, it can’t be a sci-fi, because I’ll feel the pressure to write more sci-fi, of which I know I can’t.

But contemporary? Well, I may have some stuff on the back burner constantly when it comes to it.

And so now, I am working on a new WIP, which we’ll call Church WIP. I have 10,000 words of garbage, and I’m excited to actually show you my writing journey.

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RTP #2: The E Word

Funnily enough, I do a lot of editing.

I write a blog, as you know…you’re reading it, and I am constantly proof-reading and checking to make sure every single blog post makes sense. Back at uni, I used to edit and proof-read my essays, stories I wrote for assignments, as well as being the best friend in the world and editing other people’s dissertations.

I charged in chocolate back then.

I also got into the editing game on Wattpad, where I exchanged proof-reads for views. While this sounds nice, it actually took up so much time and I got nothing in return. Turns out, a lot of people don’t know what grammar or correct English is and also don’t follow up on their promises.

But it’s editing this novel that has got me seriously questioning my own abilities as a writer and amateur editor. This manuscript will be the first thing an agent sees of your work. It is basically a CV; it shows what you are capable of and how talented you are and you have to boast and big yourself up by making sure every single sentence, every word in that story is relevant and supposed to be in there.

So it’s not just grammar and spelling and correct sentence structure. It’s not just about competency, it’s also about making major changes and finding inconsistencies about large themes in your story. I have scrapped big chunks of scenes in this WIP because I’ve read it over and physically wanted to shield myself from the cringe. Some things just don’t work, and despite how much you enjoyed writing it and thinking it up, sometimes it’s gotta go.

#2 Making sacrifices is hard, but it’s gotta be done.

You may love that one character, that one scene, that one line of dialogue, but when you’re polishing that manuscript, you can’t afford to have things in there that don’t need to be. I like to write quite a bit and then come back to it with fresh eyes and it really puts stuff into perspective; lines that I laughed at while writing aren’t so funny anymore, a character isn’t relatable anymore, just annoying.

I have so much information about my world in my head that it’s hard to come back to the novel without already knowing so much about it. I don’t notice plot holes or things unexplained because “duh, everyone knows that.” But oh, no they don’t.

Enter beta readers, the simultaneously most scary and exciting beings you’ll meet on your publishing journey. Beta readers, I have found, are so necessary when getting your manuscript perfect. I’d never planned to recruit any until I realised everyone did and it’s just SO IMPORTANT. I’ve been loving the feedback I’ve been getting, mainly because they’re asking questions about things I never thought to ask, to wonder, that people might even think. One beta gave me a huge list of things she didn’t understand, and honestly it was a life saver. I couldn’t imagine not giving my manuscript to beta readers, but instead to agents, and missing my chance because no one had the foggiest as to what was going on.

I think that’s it for today. If you’re editing, I salute you. This is bit is definitely harder than writing the actual thing.

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RTP #1: In The Beginning…

In the beginning, I had an idea.

This idea became dreams, day dreams, and conversations with anyone who would listen. This idea became words on a page, words on a screen. Pinterest boards. Playlists. Maps drawn on napkins and names taken from Facebook pages and baby names books.

I sat in cafes and holiday homes and on my own bed, typing and rattling my brain until last week, I mother. fucking. FINISHED IT.

My WIP, currently titled …’WIP’, stands at 100,500 words and is what I also like to call my baby. It’s this giant fat file that sits in my documents as well as on a USB. And here is tip number one that you should follow no matter what stage you’re at in getting published:

1# KEEP COPIES OF YOUR NOVEL

Save, save and save. Keep it on multiple devices. The other day, my laptop decided to show me a blue screen of death with a sad face (yes, really), which told me my computer had crashed and that they were trying to fix it. As a writer who had never backed up her stories before, my heart stopped beating. I felt the cold grip of death that morning.

Until, of course, it fixed itself and I backed that shit up about 1000 times. Drama over. Real, professional life begins.

In this series, I’ll be documenting my journey to getting published. It will be silly, rambly, and have some advice that you can listen to if you want. Disclaimer: I have never been published, nor do I have wonderful wisdom about the publishing industry. This is about my bumps in the road, and how you, a beautiful writer, can be prepared for them. Posts will sometimes be words of comfort, and sometimes be practical things you need to remember when writing letters and approaching important people with the power to make your novel a reality.

The first step is to have a finished product that you wish to publish. That is not something I can help you with; and idea has to be your own, the words have to be your own, and the passion? That’s all got to come from you. So, if you’ve got something, even just a flicker of a story, then GET WRITING.

Writing is great. Painful and hard, but great nonetheless. It’s what I love doing, and what I’ll always love doing. And who, when has this passion for something, turns away the opportunity to get paid for doing it? I am imagining it now, the thought of waking up and getting excited about going to work.

Anyway, enough of dreaming, it’s time to work.

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