Your first job is a foot in the door and doesn’t have to determine your direction for the next ten years.
Being a publicist in publishing involves a lot more than “fannying around with a press release,” despite what Bridget Jones’s Diary might suggest. Over my four years as Publicity Director, I was driven by the thrill of securing coverage for our books and seeing the sales rise partially as a result my efforts. However, at some point I realized I’d stopped learning. Yes, there were always new bloggers or new books to get to grips with, but the skills required of me were the same. I wanted to stretch my brain, roll up my sleeves and understand the mysterious process of getting a book into print; I wanted to be an editor.
The only way to put the wheels in motion was to tell those above me what I hoped to do in the future. That first step was nerve-wracking. The response from our bemused publisher was: “That isn’t a terrible idea.” Not exactly the ringing endorsement a self-doubting girl needs to hear but still, it wasn’t terrible.
When an Editorial Director position came up in my division, my immediate reaction was: “I’d love that job.” Then the fear kicked in. I have no experience, I thought. The other applicants will be so much better than me.
My younger brother told me to stop being a loser.
So, I decided if I could answer even half of the requirements of the job description then I’d apply. If I failed, mortification awaited, but at least everyone would understand I was serious about wanting to move up.
I went into overdrive to research and prepare for the interviews. By the time I was on the third round, I had even managed to persuade myself I could do this job: I had plotted out exactly where my experience was relevant, I had a clear vision for the next few years and I openly recognized where I would need support. Random House decided to take a chance on me. Accepting the role meant taking a significant pay cut but I didn’t hesitate.
I’ve now been in the job for three years and it is an absolute privilege. I’ve learned so much, and I enjoy having an impact at every stage of the publishing process. I still haven’t quite shaken the feeling of being an imposter, but it is so rewarding to acquire and work on a book that you think other people will love and then see it sitting in a bookshop window, or better still, in the hands of a fellow commuter.
I’d always had the sneaking suspicion that having a “grand career plan” was questionable. Switching careers relieved me of the idea altogether. When I gave a talk recently, I encouraged the audience to realize that your first job is a foot in the door and doesn’t have to determine your direction for the next ten years. Or even two, come to think of it.