Dealing With Rejection: Publishing Edition

Getting that first big break into the industry can feel a lot like climbing Mount Everest, it’s harsh, cold, and if I’m honest kind of isolating. It took me a year to get my Marketing Assistant role at Oxford University Press, after doggedly pursuing a role in trade unsuccessfully, and the relief and excitement I felt when I got the role was immense. Finally it was over, no more spending hours crafting the perfect cover letter with no response from publishers, the door had cracked open for me and I’d slipped through.

This post is partially influenced by this thread on twitter in which, if you don’t fancy clicking on the link, Linked In revealed the amount of “applications” for this Editorial role at Penguin Random House. People reacted really strongly to the thread, and honestly it was shocking to see that nearly 1500 applicants had applied. It’s worth mentioning that this likely reflects the amount of people who have clicked the link and not the amount of applicants, but it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that there would be at least 500 applications for one job. It’s horrible to see numbers when it comes to applications and it’s definitely unnecessary information that can make you feel like crap, but I still think it’s an important to acknowledge it. If you are applying for a role in publishing, especially in editorial, you’ll always be competing. This role, at Cornerstone, is a dream role for many people and so when applying for one of the big five you should expect competition to be stiff. It’s like applying to Vogue, Nintendo, or Disney, the jobs are always going to be popular and oversubscribed so it’s often perseverance that makes the difference here.

It’s especially hard right now, as many people are looking for work. Most jobs are probably going to see an increase in applicants at the moment, and so even a normal admin job will be receiving more applications than normal. So I’m going to take you through what I so often told myself to get through the job application burnout:

  • Take time to process: You don’t have to jump straight back into the saddle after being rejected, give yourself a bit of time to breath and think. This helped me think about whether anything went wrong, both at the application stage and after an interview so that I could work on that for next time. Give yourself a second to bounce back, you deserve it!
  • If you don’t hear back in two weeks, move on: Yep. It sucks and it happens way too often, but sometimes a job that you’ve applied for will never formally reject you. I definitely got obsessed with my email after applying for roles, so in order to save my brain I started considering myself rejected after two weeks. I did get asked to attend the interview for my role at OUP well after this window had closed, but it came as a nice surprise because I hadn’t been obsessing.
  • Persevere: I honestly believe that the key to getting into the industry is to keep on applying. It can feel like an impossible task but you have to keep trying! Tailor that CV, go to panels and workshops, and throw your hat into the ring for roles, just don’t give up!
  • Don’t just apply for the Big Five: Look man, I hate to say it, but most people dream of working for one of these guys, if I had to pick any publishing role it’d be a Marketing one for Harper Voyager, but ho boy is that job going to be a competitive one. I personally think it’s much easier to move around once you’re in the industry, it is almost expected, so apply for roles you hadn’t thought about before. Academic publishing roles usually receive less applications, but will still give you all the skills you’d need and the people are absolutely fantastic!
    You are limiting yourself, so look outside of the big five and you’ll find an industry that’s just as innovative and interesting.
  • You can’t just love books: The vast majority of people applying for a role in publishing love books, and you should try to avoid making your whole cover letter about that passion. I usually dedicate one paragraph to explain why I want to work at that particular publisher, and the rest should be about why you have the skills to do the job. Passion for the industry is important, but I’m going to tell you what I always have to remind myself, Publishing is a commercial industry, so they’re always going to try and pick the person that can best do the job and you need to show that first and foremost.
  • No Deadlines: Don’t do the classic “I’m going to get myself a publishing job in three months”, it puts an immense amount of pressure on you! Instead plan for the long haul, think about getting a job to supplement your income while you try to find that role, it’ll take some of the financial pressure off your hunt.
  • Experience, Experience, Experience: I constantly tried to do things that would grow my skills and look good to a publisher on my CV. I took a horrible admin role at Next that involved me sadly sitting in the warehouse for most of my shift, but it gave me the proof that I could manage my own time and take care of basic office things like filing. Admin roles are great, book blogs/industry blogs are great, and working for a Bookseller is even better. Often Bookselling roles are hard to come by and even harder to get, I was rejected from one because I mentioned too many fantasy books when discussing my favorites, but the industry knowledge is invaluable. Target the key skills on a job description, and work on the ones you are lacking while you are searching for a role.
  • Ask for feedback: Most publishers won’t give you feedback on a CV or at least I’ve never gotten any, but if you get to the interview stage they’ll usually give you some useful feedback. I always find this hard to hear and I definitely don’t enjoy reading it, but it’s important so that when I interview again I’ll hopefully feel more confident after targeting my previous pitfalls.
  • Talk to People: So many aspiring publishing professionals feel disillusioned when trying to get into the industry, I know I did, but talking to others attempting the same thing definitely kept me going. There’s twitter, the SYP, BookMachine, and here’s also this wonderful Facebook group for people on the hunt for roles.

The hardest part to swallow is always the fact that lady luck also has a hand in everything. The road into publishing can be a long one, for some it’ll be just a few months, for me it was a whole year, and for others it’ll even be longer. You have to be kind to yourself and allow yourself room to grow, publishing is an amazing industry that’s notoriously hard to get into and you are definitely not facing these struggles alone.

Take care out there, and here’s an adorable hedgehog to keep you going! As always if you need help feel free to drop me a message on twitter, and I’ll do my best ❀

My Other Publishing Content
Work Experience Master Post | When to Quit | Publishing Skills Academic Marketing Assistant: What do I do? | First Year in Publishing

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