Work Experience: Big 5 vs Indie
With Lucinda Tomlinson and Alex Haywood
Internships and work experience are key to landing your first role in publishing, but with so many amazing publishers out there, it can be hard to know where to start.
In today’s feature, we wanted to focus on comparing work experience with major publishers versus independent presses. We spoke with publishing hopefuls Lucinda Tomlinson and Alex Haywood, who have completed various placements at both Big 5 publishers and indies. Alex has completed placements at indies Profile Books, Head of Zeus, Hachette Children’s Group and DK Books. Lucinda was an intern at indie Profile Books, an Editorial Mentee at Stripes and completed a placement at Transworld PRH.
Alex described working with the Big 5 as “bewildering in the best way possible.” Her first placement was at Hachette and sparked her desire to start her publishing journey. “There’s nothing like being a little starstruck and working on these campaigns with big budgets to become sold on the idea of publishing as a career.”
Lucinda believes that the biggest advantage of larger publishers is working with a bigger team, as there’s more experience to draw from and tricks to pick up from colleagues. “It was interesting to learn about the types of publicity campaigns and events that a larger publishing house creates, and the relationship they have with other departments.”
However, Lucinda warns that being part of a large team can be a disadvantage if you don’t use your time wisely; “it would be very easy to learn solely about one department and neglect to see where they fit into the larger company.” In order to resolve this issue, Lucinda set up meetings with colleagues from other departments.
Additionally, Alex states that there’s less direct involvement in campaigns. “At big publishers, it’s more of an admin based role. Whilst this is really important (after all, every entry level role has admin), this can be a bit disillusioning.”
In terms of their experience with indie presses, what stood out to Alex was that she was involved in everything. She saw all the teams working together, which gave her a much better sense of the publishing process as a whole. “Working at indies provides a whole new view on working in publishing which shouldn’t be overlooked for bigger brand opportunities, as fun as they are.”
Lucinda reiterates this sentiment, saying that a combination of smaller teams and being there for longer meant there were more opportunities to take on different tasks. “I was made to feel really welcome and as though my thoughts on submissions mattered just as much.”
When asked whether there were any challenges to working with indie publishers, Lucinda said that she doesn’t feel as though she missed out on anything, as both the Big 5 and indies used a lot of the same software and processes, but are just scaled differently.
Budgets can largely vary between companies, and Alex says that despite indies having smaller budgets, it allows them to think more creatively in terms of marketing and publicity. Alex also points out that most smaller publishers will have open submissions which is great for developing her editorial eye; “expect a lot of slush, making tea, coffee, greeting delivery drivers, BUT also finding the odd gem or two.”
Working with different sized publishers will almost certainly lead to a different kind of work experience. Alex says that “at the Big 5 you get excitement but at indies you get detailed experience.” The good thing is that no matter the company, you’ll always be welcomed by your team.
The biggest difference to Lucinda was the number of books she interacted with: she worked on less titles at Transworld than she did at Profile Books. In terms of gaining experience, she advises to know what you want to get out of your placement beforehand. “If you know that you want to get into a certain department then the immersive nature of a larger publisher might benefit you more, whereas if you’re less sure, working at an indie often gives you the chance to try your hand at tasks from different departments.”
Lastly, we asked which type of publisher they preferred working with – Lucinda sees the benefits of both, saying “at a larger publisher there’s a bigger support network on hand to learn from, and at an indie there’s closer involvement with the rest of the team.” They’re both equally as great as each other.
Similarly, Alex states that she’s more concerned about loving the books she’s working on. “I don’t know where I’d pick, both have their advantages and disadvantages, although I definitely want to visit the Carmelite House roof terrace at least once more…”
Publishing is an exciting industry to work in, and as these two hopefuls have shown, this is largely due to the huge variety in companies out there. We hope that this has opened your eyes to the world of Big 5 vs indie publishers, and that no matter where you find yourself, you’ll gain a pretty excellent insight into the industry.
Special thanks to Alex and Lucinda, and be sure to follow them on their socials:
Lucinda’s Twitter: @lktomlinson
Alex’s Twitter: @_alexhaywood / Alex’s Instagram: @alhaywood