How Publishing Hopefuls Found Work Experience During Lockdown
An interview with Lily Orgill and Christina Storey.
A huge obstacle publishing hopefuls have faced during lockdown is gaining industry experience. With many work placements and summer internships cancelled, many have had to think outside the box in order to learn new skills. In this week’s feature, we spoke with Lily Orgill and Christina Storey, two hopefuls who were lucky enough to find remote work placements. Lily secured a week of work experience with indie children’s publisher Sweet Cherry Publishing, while Christina took on the role of Social Media Consultant at Orphans Publishing.
Lily landed her placement by approaching Sweet Cherry after finding them online. They appealed to her as they are based in Leicester, not far from where she lives. Christina’s story is rather unique - Orphans Publishing approached her via Twitter! Christina’s university (Queen Mary University of London) featured her new Instagram book club on an alumni blog post, where it was seen by Debbie Hatfield, an editor at Orphans and QMUL alumni. Hatfield offered Christina virtual work experience, as she was impressed with her “willingness to turn this time into useful things.”
Instagram has been a key part of Christina’s placement, especially her involvement with the creation of an Instagram Live weekly series, which included brainstorming with authors and pitching to bloggers and influencers. “Pitching to potential guests was something I had never done over email so Google Docs came in handy as I was supported by Debbie constantly.” Similarly, Lily’s work also involved a lot of social media brainstorming, planning and creation. Picking up new skills came easily to Lily, although “it took a little longer to communicate as most of the time, chatting was done via the company’s instant messaging service, but I wouldn’t say it hindered anything at all.”
Of course, working remotely can also bring about challenges. One such challenge is the lack of face-to-face communication and inability to bond with colleagues in person. Luckily, a surge of interactive conference platforms have bridged this gap. Lily describes her first day as lovely as she was “put in a group with everyone on Monday so we could say our hellos, [and while] it’s definitely not the same as meeting in person, they were all so kind.” Christina also met her team via video-call and describes how she was assigned her own email address, which made her feel more included. She also credits the use of Google Docs, which made workflow more efficient: “It’s been great for Debbie to proofread my captions weekly and to organise everything.”
When asked whether they enjoyed working remotely, both answered with a massive “yes.” Christina thinks her work has saved her mental health over lockdown, as it provided her with a sense of purpose. “I think the main [positive] of working remotely is the flexibility of it.” Christina was able to complete her work experience alongside her part-time job. Lily also thinks there are huge positives to working remotely, particularly the inclusivity it has created. “If I had applied for this work experience when it wasn’t remote, I’d have had to consider how I was going to get there, [travel costs], could I take time off from my current job?” Being able to work from home has alleviated these worries, as well as creating a fantastic learning experience.
However, remote working can have its downfalls. Lily thinks that the biggest element lacking from her experience has been networking with other colleagues and having hands-on experience in a publishing house. She compares her placement with Sweet Cherry to her previous experience, saying, “At Penguin, I was lucky enough to use publishing systems such as Biblio, and I also assisted with an author signing, if that position had been remote, I would have missed out on that.” Similarly, Christina also thinks a downside of remote working is not feeling part of a team. She loved working independently, but says “there’s always going to be a chance of imposter syndrome - and even more so when you are working remotely.”
There are clearly major differences between gaining in-house experience and remote working. According to Christina, she doesn’t feel as though she’s gained the same quality of experience compared to working with an in-house team. While she loved how supportive the Orphans team were, she states that “not having a big team to bounce ideas off” was hard. She also missed being able to help with ad-hoc tasks around the office.
In contrast, Lily believes her remote experience has been just as valuable as in-house work. Although she missed the social element of an office, she doesn’t think this brought down the quality of her experience: “the core learning I gained was still fantastic and I will take it through to future opportunities for sure.”
The big question on every hopeful’s mind is: is remote experience here to stay? Lily thinks bigger companies will still favour in-person experience, but smaller indies are more likely to take on remote workers due to the ease and wider appeal. Christina reiterates this sentiment, and thinks virtual work is brilliant for accessibility. “Although it doesn’t give you all the benefits of regular work experience, it makes you more independent.”
Finally, we asked for their biggest piece of advice to other hopefuls looking for work experience. Christina emphasises that her placement became possible purely because of her online profile. “It’s great to get your name out there and show you’re being engaged.” Lily advised: “Don’t be afraid to just email the publishing house you’ve been looking at!” Asking if they have any opportunities could land you a work placement.
Finding work right now is tough, but as we have learnt, it’s still possible! Keep working on your online presence and networking skills, and you might just succeed. A huge thank you to Lily and Christina for participating - follow them on their socials: