My first job in book publishing

(This post really should be subtitled ‘How Bloomsbury Publishing marketed a title so well that I was compelled to write about it!’ Read on and you’ll understand why.)

My publisher Charlotte Harper of Editia is located in Canberra so it’s not that often we see each other in person. Last week we spent some time together and she passed along a package sent to me via her office.

In a time of digital publishing, digital marketing, digital everything, what I love is the targeted marketing of a Bloomsbury’s title. 

The parcel was beautifully wrapped with a tag on the outside:



On opening the parcel there was a book proof. Ok, at this stage you may be thinking – ho-hum, what’s the interest in that? But wait, there’s more….

The proof for My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff (release date June 2014) came with a personalised letter. While I may deduct small points for the fact that they spelt my surname McGuire instead of Maguire, I’m awarding bonus points for the content of the letter that came from Alexandra Pringle, Editor-in-Chief of Bloomsbury Publishing.

The letter starts out:

“You always remember your first job – your first step into the world of publishing. Reading this wonderful memoir, My Salinger Year by Joanna Rakoff – her account of her first job for an old-established literary agency in New York in the 1990s – I was transported back to 1978.”


The letter then continues with a personal story of Alexandra’s first job in publishing when she was 24 years old. She captures so perfectly the experience of a young worker (or as she explains her job, “Office Slave”) and the menial tasks, along with a few mishaps.

The letter says:

“We know that you are fully-fledged in the world of publishing now
and that’s why we wanted to share this with you!”.

Ok, how do they know that? As far as I know, no friends or former colleagues work at Bloomsbury. Someone has done their homework! And I like that. It makes me feel that this has been really well targeted and it’s personal.

Another thing I really loved?

“Here is a proof to enjoy, to cherish, to share – and to take you back.”

Now let’s just focus on the ‘share’ bit of that sentence.

Bloomsbury have included in the proof a ‘Pay it Forward’ concept along with a library-like card no less for people to sign and date!



Will I do that? Hell yes! I will absolutely be reading this book, filling out the card, and passing it along to someone else to read. Preferably someone who has worked in publishing! And I hope they ‘Pay it Forward’ by loving the concept as much as I do.

Now do you see why this post should be called ‘How Bloomsbury compelled me to write about My Salinger Year because they marketed the book so well!’

Have I read it? I’ve started but I’m not through it yet. But that is, only because I have a pile of ‘To Be Read’ March release books by some of my favourite Australian authors. Will I keep reading My Salinger Year? Of course, I’m loving it. But before I read a word did I expect to like it? Absolutely. That is already half the battle won.

I am enjoying hearing of Joanna’s start at her first job. She captures perfectly the uncertainty of the newly employed and the absolute lack of knowledge of what others assume to be basic tasks. It  reminded me of my very first job (not in publishing) and how embarrassingly bad I was at typing letters. On typewriters, with carbon paper to create copies. Yes, that’s how long ago it was! But it also reminded me of being in senior management positions and helping work experience people work use the photocopier. For instance, when you place a manuscript into the automatic feeder it’s important to have the paper facing in the right direction if you don’t want a whole ream of blank paper to be copied.

So apart from compelling me to write this post and promote their book, Bloomsbury also made me think about my first job in publishing!

But they also have made me think about the way that books are marketed in the digital age, and how in this instance the memoir was targeted so well.

This form of targeted marketing is not always possible from a cost perspective. I know that. Someone had to research the mailing list, find out who had a history in publishing. Someone had to hand write the ‘Pay it Forward’ cards, stick a small envelope to the inside of the proof, nicely wrap the book with the tag on the outside and post it. All of this on the off chance that someone like me would want to write about My Salinger Year.

But the result is the marketing worked. It elicited an emotion in me that a Netgalley proof just won’t do. Before starting to read the book, the presentation and thoughtfulness  stirred some desire to write about it.

Such manual labour intensive marketing effort makes me question – in the digital age – how best should publishers and authors promote their books?

This has been the eternal question for writers and publishers – the most brilliant book in the world by an unknown or mid-list author won’t sell unless people know about it.

But lets focus on the fact that Bloomsbury has not only made me want to write about their promotion but also transported me back to my first job in publishing.

I was 21 and I’d just moved from the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney up to Palm Beach. I was looking for a job in North Sydney and not too focussed on what it may be. One day I saw an ad for a job as Assistant to a Publisher. Knowing nothing else about it, I knew I wanted the job, badly. That job changed my life because it set me on my career path.

It was in an old building* behind a petrol station in North Sydney working with small start-up within a magazine publishing company. Working for a kindly Publisher, I wasn’t in the hot and fast world of trade  – that came later. The book team was responsible for creating recipe and craft books with content initially mostly drawn from Family Circle and Better Homes and Gardens. The book-publishing arm was called Advertiser Books and in those heady days were the first books at the supermarket checkouts. They were running out the doors they sold so fast. With the company later purchased by Rupert’s Nephew (aka ‘The Man from Uncle’) it was rebranded Murdoch Magazines, with the publishing arm called Murdoch Books. We moved to a much slicker Artarmon office although I soon departed to live in Melbourne for four years. Of course times have changed, and now Murdoch Books has been acquired by Allen & Unwin.

My first job in publishing was to support the kindly Publisher and the nice Production Manager in mostly secretarial tasks. My joy was being able to work with the editor and (excitement) write captions and help with photography styling in minor ways. I loved dealing with every aspect of the publishing and creation process. I progressed through to Editorial Assistant and then, following the opportunity that arose, Production Co-ordinator. That set me on my path of working in production with jobs in business publishing and illustrated until I DID work in the hot and fast world of Trade Publishing. Books. Precious Books. (Cue Gollum speaking and substitute the books for the ring and you’ve more or less got it.)

In the book blurb for of My Salinger Year it talks about the ‘old fashioned world of publishing’. It reminded me that nowdays not all remember the days before digital layouts. A time when a concern when sending book boards with bromides to the filmhouse (remember them?) was the potential of a folio slipping if the wax melted in transit. Yes, there may be books out there with that quaintly old fashioned production issue. I remember when working at another illustrated publisher when we first started doing book layouts in house. Hell, I’ve been around so long I can remember the huge time savings when our office got a fax machine and we could deal with our overseas and interstate suppliers more easily. And for those of you who are too young to have lived through this time I can assure you that there was a lot less time wasted in the office because there WAS NO SOCIAL MEDIA! But possibly a lot more consumption of cakes.

Through my career I’ve detoured at various times, away from book publishing, although I’ve always worked with content production. I’ve worked in the early days of online publishing and mobile content development – in a time when phones were only used for phone calls. I’ve project managed technical projects. I’ve developed a passion for crowdfunding and authored a book about it. Naturally enough, with my crowdfunding interest I pay particular attention to the books/publishing + crowdfunding space. But always I have one or more books on the go and feel very grateful to the writers who create the worlds I inhabit for a while. A long time ago I wrote about just why books are important to me and you can read about this here.

While working for that kindly publisher wasn’t my very first job, it was the job that changed my life. Before that I didn’t have any burning passion or career aspirations.  But the moment I started there I knew  publishing was my place.

Thanks Bloomsbury for taking me back!

My Salinger Year is a June 2014 release

* In a strange coincidence when that old building was redeveloped it was where my most recent job in publishing was located – at Random House Australia.

I have two questions and I’d love to hear from you in the comments:

  1. What was your first job in publishing (if you have worked in publishing)?
  2. What form of marketing books works for you as an author (if you are a writer) and a reader?

March 2014

8 thoughts on “My first job in book publishing

  1. No, Anna, my first job wasn’t in publishing. The ‘old’ world of publishing is a mystery to me – in fact the new world of publishing is too, pretty much.

    What sells? I’m attracted to a ‘story within a story’ – when the message about the book tells me a little story first up, that makes me want to read the book for the expanded story. I’m hoping the Marketing ‘story’ on my first published book will say – Julia learns a sexual predator has controlled her family from within, for decades, since her bewildering childhood. She sifts through the outcomes, gathers fragments and unlocks the code to the past, exposing a conspiracy of secrets and lies. How can she live beyond an untruthful childhood? Can her family survive? – and that will make the book a MUST for everyone. My job is to make it un-put-downable. I’m on final edit, working on it as we speak, so to speak.

    • I’m so looking forward to reading it! The book description sounds like it will be a MUST for everyone. Knowing you, it will be just as amazing as you are. x

  2. Lovely article – the kindly publisher – do we know where he is today? You know what my first job in publishing was and like you it was life changing and working in the world of publishing especially food and cook has been my passion and joy for over 25 years! And while I am not as involved today writing my blog gives me much enjoyment and helping people here in the Bay produce professional newsletters and publications for their food businesses certainly keeps me interested.

    • Hi Rachel, thanks for reading and commenting! No, I don’t know where he is today. I’ve done some online searches but can’t turn him up. By now he’d be a kindly grandfather I imagine! Yes, we had sooo much fun working together in publishing, I will never forget it. And absolutely, writing your blog and focussing on the Bay is an extension of your work in cookery books for all those years. You are and will always be an inspiration to me. x

  3. Anna, I loved this story: I can just see it. I used to walk past the building in my teenage years and dream…but my very first job was waitressing. Full time, which I quit to work on a film set and travel.
    Later, when I finally came to work in publishing, via childcare and some freelance copywriting, I was lucky enough to land two wonderful jobs: one with a literary agency (and a unique, warm and generous mentor with a long-running history in bookselling as well as agenting; I loved hearing about what X was like when they weren’t CEO but the lowly sales rep) and the other with a trade publishing house (where I again had a generous and cheeky mentor with buckets of experience, and an invaluable ability to keep things in perspective). I still remember some of the dippy things I did (outdated versions, or terribly tiny print setting, of mss printed out…all 522 double-spaced pages) but I also remember the joy of being surrounded by the book business – wheeling and dealing on the one hand, and cubicles of busy editors on the other. Working on my own, freelancing, I sometimes miss that. But when people drop in to the reading room for a writing session or a bit of reading or a chat about books, it feels like home again 🙂 And it’s still much better than The Job I Never Should Have Had But Would Do Again For What it Taught Me, which was a lot of admin for a small construction firm (matching invoices, payroll, editing a PPE manual).
    When I was at the publisher – Allen & Unwin – some of us received Virginia Hausseger’s book WONDERWOMAN with a ‘pass it on’ worksheet with space for three people’s names and responses glued in the back. I’m not sure how the campaign went: I gave the book to three people, all of whom gave it back to me saying they didn’t ‘do the homework’ (so I sent their comments to Marketing by email). I think the beautiful stationery makes a difference: like most things hand-made, it invites interaction. The lesson: in the digital age, whether onscreen or on paper, User Experience counts 🙂

    • Hi Salena, Thanks so much for taking the time to reply in such depth to this post! Perhaps with your agency experience I should Pay It (My Salinger Year Forward to you?! You are very lucky to have had such wonderful mentors so set you on your life in publishing and editing. I’ve had some wonderful managers but I’ve also had some that are memorable for all the wrong reasons! However, I think in some ways they also shaped how I managed my teams.

      1. There was boss that used to throw his phone across the room when he got angry and yell at people. He taught me if there was a hard conversation to be had that you shouldn’t humiliate someone in public. And, naturally, don’t lose your temper in the workplace.
      2. There was the boss who was taking kickbacks from suppliers to place large print contracts. He taught me how important it is to demonstrate the correct ethics in the workplace and lead by example.
      3. In my second job (in PR) there was the owner who used to storm through the office screaming “Your all idiots and I’m the only one with any brains around here!”. She taught me to treat everyone with respect no matter their professional position.

      Like you I miss the team in my working life at the moment but thanks to wonderful workshop participants and book events I’m always in contact with people. I’ll be in touch when I finish the book to send it on if you like? Anna

    • Thanks Michele! Every now and again I get ‘compelled’ to write the more personal post…. not that I’ve been doing very much blogging so far in 2014!! Ax

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