Arts Arts Editor Muse

In Conversation with Cat Mitchell

Elizabeth Walsh speaks with York graduate Cat Mitchell about her experience in the publishing industry

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Image Credit: Cat Mitchell

Publishing is an exciting industry but is often perceived to be elusive by those hoping to break into it. Typical myths surrounding the publishing industry include the idea that you simply must live in London in order to make it, and that without gaining experience at one of the big five, you have no hope. These are enough to make anyone nervous about starting out. However, these myths aren’t strictly true, and there are a number of ways of getting a foot in the door without having to up sticks and move to the capital. I recently had the pleasure of speaking to Cat Mitchell – a York Alumni and publishing professional turned Lecturer inPublishing and Writing – about her experience in the industry and the advice she would give to those looking to start out.

As an English and Related Literature Graduate, Cat has always loved books. With this motivation, she realised being part of the process of getting books into people’s hands and helping authors to get published would be a dream career. However, this dream didn’t materialise overnight. Following graduation Cat was unable to commit to full-time work due to health reasons and, instead of allowing this to hold her back, she took on a series of roles to gain experience. She explained that she did some marketing for a local women’s centre, worked at her local Oxfam bookshop sorting through book donations and listing them online as well as helping out at the local library. She noted that these roles gave her a great opportunity to learn the admin skills that are crucial for any entry level job.

A year after graduation Cat began to look for a publishing role and was successful in securing two work experience placements. I asked about this experience and how it helped her to land her first publishing role. She explained that generic office admin work really helped her to gain relevant work experience. The transferable skills gained in almost any job, from shop work to an office, including communication or organisation skills are not to be overlooked.

Her first experience was with Whitefox a small publishing consultancy company. As they weren’t widely known Cat told me that “they weren’t as inundated with work experience requests so when I got in touch they were happy to have me. Because it was a small team I learnt so much.” Smaller companies and indie publishers are certainly a great place to start when looking to gain experience, especially if you don’t live in London. Following this, Cat went on to secure a placement in the marketing department at Ebury, a division of Penguin Random House.

The work involved making posters, creating social media assets, and researching upcoming books all of which provided invaluable insight into the industry. However, Cat explained that the most useful takeaway was the importance of networking. While working at Ebury she asked to set up meetings with people working in different departments. She said: “This gave me an insight into the different roles there were, and also helped me network, which later came in handy. My very first role was a part-time internship at a literary agency that one of the contacts I made at Ebury recommended.” Having never considered working at an agency prior to this, Cat explained that it turned out to be a great first job as it allowed her an insight into the entire publishing process.

Fast forward from this first step into the industry, and Cat has worked on a number of exciting campaigns for well-known authors, including Ian McEwan and Jeanette Winterson. One of her favourite books to work on was The Last by Hanna Jameson. As part of the campaign the team organised an immersive, post-apocalyptic event at Harrogate Crime Festival where readers were invited to party at a hotel at the end of the world which is the setting of the book.

While Cat’s experience was mainly in London, that is not to say that you can’t find experience in other places. I asked her what advice she would give to those who don’t live in London. She believes there are opportunities for work experience everywhere and if you can’t find publishing-specific experience there is no need to worry. Some of the best places to look include the many book shops and book festivals across the country. Closer to home still are Cat’s recommendations of starting a book blog or Bookstagram both of which could be done from your bedroom. She summarised by saying: “Doing anything you can to showcase your love of books can be really helpful when it comes to the job application stage."

Updating your commercial awareness of the industry is another front runner. Cat suggested signing up to the Bookseller’s daily emails and going into book shops to see what the current bestsellers are. Following publishers and their employees on Twitter is another good way to stay in the loop and network remotely.

As publishing is so competitive it is important to be resilient. Cat talked about persistence explaining that although it can be disheartening to get lots of job rejections it happens to everyone. She explained that “[She has] had so many job rejections in my life, but if you keep persevering, it will eventually pay off. ” Everybody has unique talents and perspectives they can bring to the ever-growing industry and so if it is something you are really passionate about, it is definitely within your reach.

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