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  • Writer's pictureThe Publishing Post

Industry Insights: Mike Hart, Publishing Assistant at Barbican Press

By Molly Arabella Kirk, Kat Lenahan and Gabriela Kaczmarek


This issue we spoke to Mike Hart, a Publishing Assistant at Barbican Press, about the ins and outs of the publishing industry, his experience working as a Publishing Assistant and what inspired him to switch career path and work in his current role.

 

Could you tell us about your publishing journey so far? How did you learn about the industry and land your first role?

 

My journey into publishing came after a short career break. With a background in education, I was looking for a change that would build on my skill set while providing a fresh challenge. With student loans now available for postgraduate study (not an option when I graduated), I jumped at the chance to earn my Masters. I’ve always loved books, both reading and buying them (and giving them a good sniff), so MMU’s new Publishing course quickly caught my eye. Its vocational focus and aim at making graduates meaningfully skilled and employable stood out to me. This seemed like the opportunity I’d been hoping for.

 

The Masters programme was fantastic, and I especially loved the practical elements. I learnt a lot about the industry and met many talented and supportive people. It became clear early on that networking was crucial, so I wasted no time in nurturing solid contacts and building a strong LinkedIn profile, which would later prove crucial for me.

 

Finding my first role was, admittedly, a bumpy ride. I managed to secure a number of interviews, but also endured a lot of rejection, usually with employers wanting more experience. Being a competitive industry, it was tough at times to stay motivated. Almost a year after graduating, one of my contacts found a role they thought I’d be a good fit for and reached out through LinkedIn. They put me in touch with the employer and after a couple informal meetings via Zoom, I was officially offered my first publishing role. Seven months on, I’m still in that role, and my confidence and knowledge has grown significantly. Despite a difficult year of rejection, it was worth persevering to find the role that was right for me.

 

Publishing Assistant roles can be quite broad; what are your typical responsibilities, and do they vary a lot day to day?

 

In one sense, there is a regularity to my role: work through my inbox, update my to-do list, prioritise the day’s tasks and work through them, and some days meet people via Zoom (I’m fortunate that my role is fully remote). On the other hand, my job is different every day. A big focus is marketing and PR, which covers everything from writing pitches for our books and emailing literary festivals and reviewers, to managing the social media accounts and designing advertisements to run in trade publications. Some days there’ll be a response from an interested reviewer, which means a trip to the post office to send them a book. I also manage our website and newsletter, as well as keeping in contact with our fabulous authors.

 

Another big aspect of my role is managing the metadata for our books. This means updating databases with keywords, reviews, author biographies, BISAC codes (subject categories for retailers), price changes, currency conversions, international rights information, etc. My limited knowledge of HTML and InDesign have also proven useful so far, so it’s never a bad idea to offer any additional skills you may have.

 

What is it like working for a publisher based outside of London? How do you think publishers can support greater regional diversity within the industry?

 

Finding a role near where I live was important for me, so I limited myself to jobs that were either based in the Northwest or offered fully remote working. I hear a lot that the industry is changing, and roles are more flexible, and I think this is true; but it isn’t changing as quickly or dramatically as it should. I just don’t understand why somebody with skills, passion and ambition should miss out on an opportunity to join a career because of where they choose to live. How does your location affect your ability to write, design, edit, manufacture, promote or sell a book?

 

I appreciate a renewed approach post-pandemic, but the reality is that the Big Five are still primarily rooted in London and want you in-office most days. Luckily, I find independent and academic publishers more interesting and dynamic anyway, so while there were fewer opportunities overall, the ones that did come up were much more enticing. And a pint up north doesn’t cost two hours’ pay.

 

Barbican Press calls itself a “micro publisher.” Have you always been interested in the world of small presses? What are some of the advantages of working for an independent publisher?

 

Barbican Press represents what is exciting and ambitious about independent publishing. At its heart, we are a tiny team of three, though we also have designers and typesetters we work with, and sales and distribution teams. Despite our small size, we dream big, having recently launched in North America. Our books are exciting works of transgressive fiction and stimulating non-fiction that bigger publishers would pass by. Books we are releasing this year include a personal reflection on nature and the climate, a sexy psychological thriller set in Spain, a short story collection of gay male experiences, a powerful memoir of a teenager living with undiagnosed anxiety and OCD, a rediscovered work of fiction based on real experiences during WWI and a memoir of a life spent travelling to some of the earth’s last wildernesses. Such a catalogue could only exist from an independent publisher willing to take a chance on good writing. That’s not to say the balance sheet isn’t important, but we are much less driven by sales projections, so every title we publish has something original to offer.

 

Martin, my manager, takes a collegiate approach to running Barbican, so my opinion on every decision is both valued and encouraged; it can be hard to trust yourself at first, but Martin nurtures confidence. I also have a lot of flexibility. In bigger publishing houses, you’re put into a box and specialise in one aspect, whereas smaller presses allow you to see the whole process and be a part of each. As well as publicising our titles, I have edited, proofread and contributed feedback on cover designs for upcoming books. Independent publishing is very much about taking a holistic approach to introduce the world to books worth reading, and I’m not keen on stepping away from that any time soon.

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