I can't possibly be qualified for this
Our guest blogger this month is Françoise Harvey, Editorial Associate at Mslexia. Whilst at University Françoise worked part-time as a reporter for the local paper newspaper and post-Uni in legal publishing before joining Mslexia. A writer of short stories and poems and one of the founders of Literary Salmon, Françoise gives every aspiring writer tips on how they can make their voices heard.
When Wayfinder Woman approached Mslexia to see if one of our small team might be interested in writing a guest post about women in publishing, I volunteered – and then started worrying what I could possibly say. I’ve only been working in publishing for nine years. I’ve never worked at one of the big publishing houses. I can’t possibly be qualified for this.
Then I realised: that’s it. The subject of this post. Even though I’ve been lucky and worked for publishers that value the women that work for them and listened to our opinions, I still assume that my voice doesn’t count. I still get intimidated by the big names and editors – and I’m already in the industry. So how bad does it look from the outside?
I’m lucky. I’m white and middle class so doors open more easily, and university was expected of me. I’m practically a stereotype. But because I grew up in a small village and went to a little uni, and because London never really fit me, I don’t feel cosmopolitan enough to be working in publishing. Somehow, young me had the impression that that publishing was for a well-groomed, Oxbridge elite
And how much more difficult to feel part of it if you’re working class, or a person of colour, or come from a family who don’t particularly love books. What if you’re based miles and miles away from the media hub of the south east? Publishing looks like a locked door. But while this post can’t fix social issues inherent in the people who might be doing the hiring, I can offer advice to anyone out there who wonders how they can help unlock the door from their side:
Grab every opportunity
Don’t turn down opportunities because you worry you won’t be good enough; gather the skills where you can. I started in production and shifted to editorial, and the skills I’ve used and developed have spanned from proofreading and editing, to website design, ebook conversion and dealing with printers. None of those things are a skillset that ‘belongs’ to other people. If lessons are offered, take them, if they aren’t – well, see step two.
If your local library still stands, read everything, get on the computers and check out codecademy for free coding lessons (increasingly needed in publishing), start a wordpress account just to mess around and get used to the innards of it (so many company sites are based in wordpress). Just f*king google it. Don’t be afraid to press buttons.
Be confident, but don’t be arrogant. If you know the answer, speak up – you don’t learn anything new by repeating the old things; but you also don’t learn anything new by stamping over others’ ideas.
Don’t wait. An entry-level job might ease you in, but you’re light years ahead if you’ve already figured out how to make an ebook or put together your own small publication. There’s free software, there’s guides and online seminars. Want to get some editing experience? Approach some of the many small lit mags out there and see if they need readers, sifters. Practice, network, communicate. Twitter is your friend (but always be polite!).
You are not alone: If you’re looking at a career in publishing, chances are you’re a bookworm. Publishing is a place for readers and writers. Every woman in the Mslexia office is a writer, whatever her role in the office. Everyone in the production department of the legal publishing house could hold their own in a conversation about books.
And finally – if you’re young, and interested in publishing, but worried that it might not be for the likes of you – check out Arts Emergency, who will set you up with a mentor to help you out. (and if you already work in publishing (or any humanities-based job) consider signing up as a mentor, or donate to them).
Have you got a story to tell? Have you mentored a woman in publishing or elsewhere? Get in touch and join the WayfinderWoman community.