Bright Network speaks to Sarah Lansbury, senior marketing professional and graduate of Birmingham University on how she climbed the creative and competitive publishing career ladder.
How did you manage to get that first foot through the door into the world of Publishing?
After graduating from Birmingham University with a BA Joint Honours in English and Theatre Arts, I knew I wanted to work with books and literature. Many of my friends were joining graduate recruitment training schemes but in the world of publishing, media and the arts, this just wasn’t an option. I began contacting publishing houses, hoping for an internship but no-one could accommodate me for another year! That was my first big lesson – it’s never too early to start planning your next step and I should have thought more about this while I was studying.
One of the publishing houses suggested I contact literary agencies as that’s often a good way into publishing. I did just that and was lucky to get an assistant’s job at a film and literary fiction agency. My speculative letter landed on the agent’s desk on the morning her current assistant handed her notice in. I travelled to London the following week, had an interview and was offered the job later that day. I began working at the agency a month later.
Describe your career to date
I spent 18 months working at the literary agency, and as the agency was so small, I got the opportunity to work across many different areas. I learnt many new things including how authors and screenwriters obtained deals from publishing houses and TV/film companies, how the creative processes developed as well as gaining knowledge of the nuts and bolts of how a company works along with the necessary administrative tasks which are crucial to success.
I knew now it was definitely a publishing house I wanted to work for – I wanted to be more involved in the whole process of putting a book together – not just at the start when the author gets their publishing deal. I applied to Hodder & Stoughton and landed a role in the Sales & Marketing department of their Children’s Books division. Now that I had experience and started making contacts in the industry, it was much easier to land my first job in a big corporate publishing house.
Whilst at Hodder, I worked on a variety of projects and this is where I really formed a love of marketing, not just publishing. After a year I was promoted to Marketing Executive and then became a Marketing Manager after a further 2 years. Working on Children’s books allows you to be so creative with your marketing ideas and this was an area of publishing I wanted to stick with.
After a fantastic time at Hodder, I moved to Scholastic where I began to work on some amazing children’s brands including Horrible Histories and The Hunger Games. As Senior Marketing and Communications Manager, I was heavily involved with promotion and brand management surrounding their TV and film adaptations. It was a hugely exciting time, and with the rise of social media and digital platforms, a plethora of creative opportunities was opening up enabling us to engage young audiences.
How is the marketing department structured in Publishing Houses?
When I joined Scholastic, the Marketing team was part of the same department as the Sales team and reported into one Sales and Marketing Director. There was a separate Publicity team dealing with press, media and author tours. However, with the rise of social media, digital platforms and a shifting change at the retail end – how booksellers and bookshops were buying books from publishing houses; the structure of our department needed to change.
The Sales team created their own department, with a core focus on the changing face of buying and selling; and the Marketing and Publicity teams merged together instead. A more holistic approach was required to give a renewed focus on promotional planning and campaigns, digital marketing and reader engagement. A single Marketing and Communications department was therefore created. You’ll tend to see that this is how many industries now run their Marketing departments.
Do you have much interaction with other divisions publishing different types of books?
At Hodder, as they publish a whole range of books across different genres there were times where you could meet up with your marketing equivalent in the adult fiction or nonfiction division and share ideas and brainstorm. This was hugely beneficial and something now which is a more common place. It’s also great to have this contact should you wish to move and work on other types of books. I would definitely suggest bearing this in mind when you’re applying for jobs as you’ll have a better chance of varying your portfolio in a larger company.
What skills and qualities are essential for a marketing role within publishing?
You must have a passion and interest in books, yes, but you must also have a passion for marketing and brand development too. The publishing world is a very different place to the one I started out in 14 years ago. Where and how books are sold is very different and you’re competing much more now with other forms of entertainment. You need to keep abreast of what other industries are doing and how they are marketing their products.
Positivity, a sense of humour and a willingness to muck in is a must. There will be times where you might need to sit and stuff 300 envelopes in order to drive a particular campaign forward!
What are you up to now?
I left Scholastic a couple of years ago when I went on maternity leave and I now work as a Freelance Marketer to balance my career with childcare. I’ve been lucky enough to continue to work on high profile book brands, most recently The Gruffalo at Pan Macmillan as well helping to market new start up companies and products.
Look at our list of Journalism and publishing internships to take the first step into this exciting industry.