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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

From The Publishing Post to Penguin Random House: An Interview with Shaniah Shields

By Ho Jia Wen, Leanne Francis, Yumna Iqbal and Michelle Ye

Photo by: Shaniah Shields

We had the pleasure of interviewing Shaniah Shields, our former team member, about her new role as a Marketing Assistant at Penguin Random House Children’s. Shaniah talked to us about her journey into publishing, her favourite reads of 2023 and her top tips for publishing hopefuls.

Tell us about your journey into publishing


My journey into publishing was honestly quite conventional. I started working at Penguin Random House Children’s in August 2023. I had an English degree and did a Masters in Publishing during lockdown. I knew that publishing was very competitive and wanted to make sure that my CV was as strong as it could be, so, during my MA, I joined The Publishing Post’s team dedicated to spotlighting the BIPOC community. This was a way to learn more about the industry, but also put my thoughts out there. Through interviewing different authors, I was building connections and, as publishing is one huge network, this was invaluable. 

I also volunteered for a network called Children's Books North after completing my MA, where I worked with them as a network champion. Children's Books North advocates for regional voices in publishing. Their network is made up of published authors, illustrators and publishing professionals who are based in the North of England and Scotland. As someone from the North, that was amazing to be part of because I’m really proud of my northern identity. Publishing is very London-centric, so it's important to make sure that we're providing opportunities for people outside of London and the South. There's lots of talent there! 

After that, I was a bookseller for eighteen months at Waterstones. I worked in a big store where we did events, so I got to liaise with different publishers, like Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, and continue to build my network. I think that being a bookseller is so valuable if you want to get into publishing because you're talking to the end consumer. You're talking to customers and recommending books, so you can notice trends and popular books, as well as the gaps in the market. That's valuable information because publishing is always trying to look forward in terms of trends. 

Being a bookseller with an MA in Publishing and lots of volunteering work put me onto a really lovely path. Later, I did a mentorship with Creative Access. Through that, my mentor sent me the job advertisement for my current role and I applied for it. That's how I got here today.

Do you think it was harder because you are from the North of England, and most roles are based in London?


This is something that I am personally very passionate about because I don’t think people should have to move to London if they don’t want to. Publishing should be accessible but currently it isn’t. It is a massive industry and, as a whole, they’re working towards change, but change is slow. For example, Hachette has offices in Sheffield, Newcastle and Bristol. There’s HarperNorth as well, but for only two of the “Big Five” publishers to be venturing outside of London, it makes things harder. Publishing as a whole needs to get better, to be more regional, and to offer more opportunities to people up North, as well as other parts of the world. There are fantastic indie publishers but as they are small, roles can be even harder to find. Those roles are arguably even more competitive than the ones in London, because more people from the North and other regions are applying for them.

What made you want to get into publishing?


I think the main reason I wanted to get into publishing was to make change, positive change. Growing up, I didn’t see myself in the books I read. I want to make it different for the next generation of readers, so that they never pick up a book and don’t see someone who looks like them. I think that’s really important. That’s especially why I wanted to get into children’s publishing, because change does start with you and, if you’re passionate about something, it shows. I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to go into marketing or editorial, but I knew I wanted to get into children’s publishing. After learning about different departments during my MA, I realised my skill sets were better aligned with marketing or publicity. I’m also a big bookworm so working with books really is a dream!

Could you tell us a little bit about your current role as a Penguin Children’s Marketing Assistant?


One thing that I say to people who want to get into publishing is that every entry level role is half-admin and half what you specialise in. For the admin half, it’s things like booking meeting rooms, taking minutes and managing people’s diaries. The other side of that is, in my case, marketing. It’s creating campaigns, assets and assisting at PR events. I recently worked on a Jeff Kinney (author of Diary of a Wimpy Kid) event, which was so surreal to me because I actually read those growing up. It felt very full circle to actually meet Jeff.

A normal day-to-day for me would be reading lots of emails and attending meetings, making sure that I’m organised and on top of things. Then campaign work, such as creating assets, learning about different audiences and working with my team. Publishing is such a collaborative industry, especially marketing. We have brainstorms which are so helpful when making campaign plans and thinking of ideas. Having that freedom to be creative is something that I really enjoy about my role.

What advice can you give to publishing hopefuls as a former team member?


My top piece of advice is to do your best, because it is so competitive. Make your CV and cover letter as tailored to the role you’re applying for as you possibly can and apply for roles you actually want. It does show when you apply for hundreds of roles with the same CV and cover letter. Try to make your application as bespoke as you can, because you will really stand out to recruiters.

Develop your skills and network before you're in the industry – you don't have to wait until you’re in the industry to create your network. For example, I have a Bookstagram and a BookTok, and through those social media apps I'm able to make new connections and speak to people in the industry. Take advantage of things like The Publishing Post, the Society of Young Publishers and The Bookseller, where so much information is available to you.

If you know the department you want to go into, such as marketing or publicity, look out for campaigns that you can talk about in an interview. Don’t be afraid to take inspiration from campaigns outside of publishing too. In terms of interviews, cover letters and CVs, make sure that you research the company that you're applying for. Make sure that you know their list – the books that they publish – because it really does help make you stand out in interviews.

Above all, just be yourself, because you can offer so much. I know it's difficult, but try not to lose hope, because you will find the right role for you. It might take a little bit longer than it does for others, but keep applying, and hopefully you'll get the job that you want soon.

What were your favourite reads of 2023?


I had ten five-star reads, but the following were standout reads which I’d highly recommend: Small Worlds by Caleb Azumah Nelson, Recitatif by Toni Morrison, Manifesto by Bernardine Evaristo, Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin.




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