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From Journalism to Publishing

Phoebe Morgan talks about her career journey from journalism into publishing as commissioning editor at HarperCollins.
Written on 07/16/2018 - 13:38

Describe your career before moving into publishing.
After I graduated from Leeds University with an English degree, I trained as a journalist in London on the NCTJ fast-track course. This was a super intense, four month course during which I learned everything there is to know about media law, public affairs and news reporting, as well as reaching 100 words per minute in shorthand (something I’m still very proud of because it was HARD!). Following the course, I was lucky to secure a role as a news reporter at a local newspaper in Surrey, where I then worked for just under a year. During this time I covered a lot of court cases, some fairly harrowing, attended lots of village fetes, local elections and public events, and crucially learned the importance of sticking to a deadline. Being a journalist was an incredibly eye-opening experience; it’s not an easy role by any means, and in the end I made the decision that it wasn’t quite right for me and set my sights on publishing.

How did working in another industry help you into publishing?
Working in journalism teaches you a lot about persistence and tenacity – as a reporter I had doors slammed in my face and some very awkward conversations but you have to keep going and get the story, otherwise you’ve nothing to fill your paper with! I was responsible for my own edition of the newspaper so it was quite pressurised, and that taught me a lot about the importance of never giving up – meaning that when the time came to apply for new jobs I was incredibly dogged and just kept going. Training as a journalist gave me quite a few transferable skills – I knew how to write to deadline, I was a fully paid up member of the grammar police, and I had a good eye for detail which is essential in both journalism and publishing (especially on the editorial side).

What was your first role in publishing and how did you get the job?
My first role in publishing was as a Publishing Assistant at Octopus Books, part of Hachette UK. I couldn’t afford to leave my job in journalism until I had another job lined up to go to, so once I decided I was unhappy at the newspaper I began applying for assistant roles in publishing houses – the vast majority of which were in London. I was living in London but working in Guildford, so it was tricky to get back for interviews etc and looking back it was a very stressful time. I didn’t get the first role I applied for but I did get quite far down the line with a few roles, so I often felt as though I was very nearly there. However, some of the final rejections were so soul-crushing and I had moments where I never thought I’d be able to break into the industry. Eventually though, Octopus offered me the role, and I was absolutely over the moon.

What would you say are the pros and cons are of coming into publishing from another industry?
I think the pros are that I came to publishing with a different perspective because it wasn’t my first job out of university; this gave me lots to talk about in interviews and a fresh way of looking at things which I think employers liked. Coming from another industry means you already have a sense of the working world, and your place within it too. Publishing can be quite a sociable industry – everyone knows everyone – and coming from another industry can give you confidence to enter into that world without feeling too panicked. The cons are I guess having to ensure you convince an employer to take a chance on you, explain why you left your previous role and sometimes, join the ladder at a slightly later age – however I have found all these things are manageable and they haven’t been huge problems.

What skills do you use in your current role that you gained earlier in your career and that have helped you progress?
Journalism definitely taught me the importance of sticking to deadlines and this helps me stay on track with all my books, ensuring they meet the critical path and that they go to print on time. I was also taught about proofreading and writing copy as a journalist, both of which have helped me in publishing – I really enjoy writing back copy for my books and making it as tight as possible (it’s much easier than writing a six-word headline!) and having had to check facts again and again in journalism to ensure you get the story straight (and don’t get sued!) means that I pay attention to detail in my authors’ books.

Why is publishing a great place to be?
I am grateful every day to work in the publishing industry, and so glad that I made the leap from journalism. At the time I was really worried about failing – after all I had trained to be a journalist and I felt as though I was a bit of a quitter for leaving that industry so quickly – but now I am 100% sure I made the right decision. Publishing is such a rewarding place to work – there’s nothing like the thrill of finding an exciting new manuscript or signing up a new author, and seeing the books you edited out on the shelves is wonderful. Some of the time, as an editor you really are getting paid to read which is amazing, and I also like how creative the industry is too. I think it’s a very friendly industry – almost everyone you meet is very nice and willing to help you and offer advice where necessary, something I really appreciate. Plus there are a LOT of prosecco moments…