What working in book publishing taught me

Let’s just start off by saying that I am by no means a publishing expert or veteran of the trade. I spent just over eight years working in book publishing, but I suppose that’s eight more years than most people – so I do know a little bit about the book trade.

I got my experience mostly in London where I worked for the Penguin Group and then after that for a short time at Walker Books, followed by some time at Harlequin.

Penguin was lovely but I was a very small fish in a very large pond. I even had my brief brush with fame when I bumped into Jamie Oliver (literally) in the lift. He was heading up to the 10th floor to see some very important people and I was doing what a publishing junior often does, lug huge boxes of books around and become very sweaty. It was not really my finest or most glamorous moment.

Walker is a really lovely independent children’s publisher who publishes the Where’s Wally titles, Anthony Horowitz and Maisy the Mouse, amongst others. Harlequin publishes romances titles and their best known imprint is probably Mills & Boon.

The amount of writer wannabes who turn their noses up at Mills & Boon always makes me laugh.
Do you know how HARD it is to write those stories?

And do you know how much money those authors make? The answers are VERY and A LOT. (I also featured on the cover of a book for Harlequin but that’s another blog post entirely…)

Anyway, enough of my CV, the point is that I learnt a few things during my time and I thought I’d share them with you:

1. Never think that writing a book is going to make you either rich or famous.

The sad truth is that most of the time readers will not remember the name of the author they are reading or simply won’t care. It’s also the sad truth that nearly all (probably 95%) of authors do not make a lot of money from book sales.

2. Which leads us to point 2: Don’t give up your day job.

Most authors are either chefs that publish a cookbook on the side or child psychologists who write parenting manuals or policemen who write thrillers by night. There are very few authors that wake up in the morning, make a cup of tea and then just write all day for money.

A very lucky few.

3. Write, read and write some more.

People who say “they don’t have time to read” but still think they’ll publish a book one day are a bit deluded. How else will you polish your craft? You need to learn from the experts and then you need to practise and practise some more.

4. Think about your target market.

At the end of the day your book is a product, just like a new flavour of chocolate or a brand of soap. You may not like to think about it that way but sorry, it is. Publishers want people to buy their chocolate or soap, so they need to think about who would ever read your book. Is it aimed at teenage girls? Cynical parents? No one at all? Keep that in mind.

5. If you’re going to write a memoir, take a step back and ask yourself: is my life really that interesting?

Publishers are inundated with memoirs and only the unusual, exciting or extremely well written ones ever get published.

6. Are you willing to promote your book yourself?

With the onset of social media it’s no longer okay to hand over your book to the publisher and expect them to do all the hard work. Get articles published online, tweet about it, tell your friends and family, offer to speak at your local bookshop and anything else you can to get people noticing (and buying) your book.

Marketing your book is your job too.

7. Leave it to the experts.

If you’re lucky enough to ever get a book published – take your publisher’s advice. You might think your cover “needs a little more red” in order to reflect “the book’s overarching themes of discontent and struggle”, but trust me, they know what they’re doing. If you actually want people to buy your book, listen to them.

Ultimately, publishing a book should never be seen as a vanity project or an indulgent exercise. It’s not about you ticking something off your bucket list or making your “unique” voice heard through pages of edgy prose.

A book is there for its audience.

Whether its there to entertain them, educate them or make their lives easier, always keep them at the back of your mind when you’re writing. After all, they’re the ones who’re digging in their pockets and paying for your book, so you need to offer them something in return.

I may no longer work in publishing and the industry may be changing on a daily basis – but a lot of the above still apply.


*Please note that none of these views reflect the views of any of the publishers I have worked for*

Read more of Belinda's posts on her blog.
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