By Elizabeth Guess, Leyla Mehmet and Aimee Whittle
This week we spoke to Tanuja Shelar, Marketing Manager at Lume Books…
Could you tell us about your journey into publishing, and about your experience trying to enter the industry whilst abroad?
It took me three years to find a full-time publishing job in the UK. I spent the first two years of my search completing my MA in Publishing at Kingston University and working for the KU Big Read with Professor Alison Baverstock. She taught me about publishing, but also about working as a professional in the UK; for example, she helped me learn about the unwritten rules of networking and how to build relationships with colleagues.
I then spent a few months unemployed, trying to look for a role. During this time, I volunteered at Society of Young Publishers (SYP). I’d definitely say joining SYP was an excellent decision as it not only helped me network with publishing professionals, but it also gave me the opportunity to develop new and relevant industry skills.
Whilst searching for a role, I had several interviews without any luck. One day, Sam Missingham (a publishing legend and queen!) decided to tweet about me looking for a role and I received three interviews! I booked one of them and started working as Marketing Assistant at Yale University Press. I am now working as a Marketing Manager at Lume Books.
As an outsider (new to the industry, city and country!), I would have found finding a permanent role much more difficult had I not networked, found my publishing tribe and built professional relationships in the industry. However, I think it’s important to say that there were some tough times where I almost couldn’t make rent or had to choose between dinner and a networking event.
You completed an MA in Publishing. Did this help with entering the publishing industry and if so, how?
As an international student, I think my MA was the perfect place to begin my journey. My course included masterclasses which hosted brilliant publishing professionals like Valerie Brandes and Sharmaine Lovegrove. My professors were also active in the industry. The classes made the publishing process much more familiar and helped me to learn the lingo! However, I think that it’s possible to gain this knowledge from an internship or working as a bookseller and/or by attending publishing events.
Your last role was Marketing Executive at Yale University Press. How did you find academic publishing and what drew you to this role initially?
I just really needed a job by that point! My preference for a role was in marketing, so I am really glad I got the job. I had heard good things about Yale University Press (YUPL) from the company’s previous employees, so I was happy to join. I don’t think publishing hopefuls should be too picky when searching for their first role in the industry. Just get in first and figure out what you don’t like rather than what you think you might like.
Academic publishing was the perfect place for my first role. As the market is so well-established, marketing campaigns for these publications are almost formulaic; this meant that my marketing skills developed immensely without the pressure of coming up with radical marketing ideas. My design skills also improved under the keen eye of my marketing manager.
Moreover, Yale University Press is the most trade-like academic publisher in the industry; they publish books in a variety of subject areas. I found working on their books really exciting! Overall, I would say that this job cemented my understanding of marketing books and built a great foundation for me to confidently make the move to trade.
You were the 2021 Chair for SYP UK. Could you tell us about this experience?
This was absolutely a once in a lifetime opportunity – wonderful, exciting and utterly exhausting!
I am so grateful that I had such a good committee who helped me set up events and innovate SYP UK. I am so proud that we were able to rebuild and launch our website, a project our predecessors had set up. It was the perfect time to enhance our digital platform and create more online resources for our members.
The workload meant that this position really was a second job! I had to manage a committee whilst also helping and managing the expectations of other SYP branches. It was a huge undertaking, but I had previous UK chairs who supported me and gave me valuable advice throughout the year.
Personally, it was a difficult period. It wasn’t under the best circumstances as, after I took on this role, I was stuck in India for six months because the UK and India kept banning travel due to COVID-19. As a result of the time differences, I’d have meetings with my team or our partners at 12am IST.
Moreover, I had also taken up a role that was completely outside of my comfort zone. I was uncomfortable telling others, especially people who were more senior than me in their publishing jobs, what to do. I had to quickly accept it as a part of my job and get over it. It was also difficult to have unpleasant conversations or saying no to someone.
The best part of being a part of SYP is the friends you make, the collaborative work that’s put out and the skills you develop throughout the year. For that, I will always be grateful! Despite the difficulties, I am so happy I did it. It was a pivotal role that helped me grow immensely and those people management skills do come handy in my current role.
You also co-host the Oh My Lit! Podcast which celebrates writers of colour. Could you tell us a little about that and why you started it?
Oh My Lit! exists because my reading list was shamefully white. It took a long time for the idea to come to fruition, mostly because I was terrified to do something I had no clue about. The podcast also exists to help me move away from the idea of “perfection.” We are not a professional podcast. We are improving as we grow and that feels great! Also, I have the best time with Rosa - she is such a good friend, co-host and project partner. We are looking forward to interviewing more publishing professionals and authors next year.
Do you have any advice for book lovers wanting to start a podcast? How have you found this?
Just go for it! Get in touch with other podcasters and ask them for help and tips. I would recommend experimenting with Audacity, Zencastr, social media and any other free tools available.
Focus on creating a podcast on a topic you are passionate about and love to talk around – it will become easier to do it every week. I would get used to creating consistently before thinking about monetising. Although people say the market is saturated, I would recommend going for it anyway! There’s space for everyone.
Do you have any advice for publishing hopefuls abroad hoping to enter the industry in the UK?
I’m sure this is something that’s been said before, but I would recommend familiarising yourself with the industry and its people as soon as possible. Network! Network! Network!
If you are looking for visa sponsorships find a job with the big five or the big indies. Try to get as much work experience as you can whilst you look for a permanent role. Get involved in publishing projects like The Publishing Post, Bad Form or the SYP! Joining these projects helps you develop friends, allies and skills. To finish up, I want to sign off with something my professor once told me – be shameless. Go after what you want and the worst you’ll hear is no!
You can follow along with Tanu via her Twitter (@tanuandbooks), and also listen to Oh My Lit! via all good podcasting apps.