By Alicja Baranowska
A year ago, I was standing on the stage of the Royal Festival Hall in Southbank Centre, talking about how lucky I was to find the industry to work for that felt like coming home to.
At the time, I was doing a part-time internship in academic publishing and working a few shifts at a bar but, a day after my Master’s graduation, I started my first full-time job in publishing – as a Publishing Assistant. In a different city.
When the pandemic hit, I was commuting every day from London to Oxford, with a journey often taking me longer than three hours one way. In many ways, my first year in publishing has been completely different than I imagined. I had been in the office for less than two months, exhausted due to the commute, when we started working from home in the first lockdown.
I have since moved out of London for my publishing job whilst most people generally migrate into London for this exact purpose. Oxford would have been a lovely city in different circumstances, but with the COVID-19, restrictions and not being able to travel to see my family and friends, things have not always been easy.
But despite these challenges, I have had a busy and enriching year. I have learnt so much, discovered so many new authors and I have started focusing more on my writing.
Upskilling and Learning
While for many of us the past year has brought our lives to a standstill, making it impossible to look for new opportunities or feel like we are moving forward at all, we now have the time to learn new skills that can benefit us in the future. Whilst I don’t recommend pushing yourself too much, especially if you are either studying or working from home and spending most of the day in front of your laptop already, a lot of events and courses have moved to online platforms over the past year and as a result, become more accessible, especially for those of us who don’t live in London.
The Society of Young Publishers and BookMachine are offering a variety of interesting and helpful talks and workshops for those already working in publishing, as well as those trying to break into the industry. With so many different courses, talks and events, you can potentially explore different routes or paths you can take in the future. Personally, I have also been focused on improving my French lately as I hope I’ll be able to use it for work one day!
Networking in the Pandemic
The thing that I struggled with the most these past few months, especially when I moved to a different city in the middle of the pandemic has definitely been networking. Whilst it won’t replace the social interaction in person, there are quite a few ways to connect with the publishing community even now.
If you haven’t already, I would definitely recommend joining the SYP and taking advantages of what they offer. Throughout the pandemic, the majority of events have been happening digitally for months now, and it can allow you to attend the events you’d normally not be able to be part of. Depending on the SYP branch, they run schemes for both getting into and ahead in the publishing industry, and I would definitely recommend looking it up when the applications reopen once again. I have been lucky to get into the SYPAhead scheme, which is a great way to get to know different perspectives and gain new skills. Moreover, I have joined the Oxford branch this year and I’ll be organising this year’s publishing conference alongside the rest of the committee, which will be another great resource for learning and networking no matter the form this will take.
I have never been good at stopping and taking a break, but even if we feel like we have so much more time now on our hands when we are not commuting to work, I have discovered that I lack energy and that constant fatigue has taken over my life. It’s important to take care of our mental wellbeing.
It’s all good to focus on work or applying for your dream position, but it is essential to sometimes step back and breathe, and find other ways to engage with the world. For me this year, it meant a lot of reading, writing and running. While we spent a majority of our day online either working, studying or having social interactions this way at the moment, it’s good to disconnect every so often, and let your eyes rest. When it’s not raining, I love to walk around listening to the audiobooks, and I definitely recommend trying that. You get the best of two worlds that way – fresh air and a good book!