From the 9th to the 20th May I undertook a two week work experience placement at Penguin in the Penguin Press editorial department. It was a brilliant experience and I left with way more free books than I could carry. Here’s what I learnt and got up to during the two wonderful weeks…
Having commuted from Brighton really early that morning I arrived outside 80 Strand about an hour and a half early, so spent the time wandering around and sitting by the Thames (which was quite calming). As 10:30am approached I made my way to the Penguin reception and got given my security pass for the two weeks. It’s a really impressive room, books and bright colours everywhere, so as you can imagine I was getting pretty excited. I was actually really nervous but within about 10 minutes of arriving and being allocated my desk my nerves had just about gone which I was relieved about. This was mainly due to the fact that everyone there and the team I was going to be working with were so incredibly friendly and approachable.
Due to some technical issues with the laptop I was given and my email account I was told to read through some work experience documents and given some short stories by Truman Capote to browse through until they got everything set up. After stocking up the printing room with envelopes for the office, the main job I had during the day was to tidy up the penguin classics in the classics section and go through a catalog to check which ones were there and which were missing. This might sound tedious – but as an English Lit student it was interesting to sift through such an enormous amount of classic literary texts, many of which I’ve been reading over the past year!
My nerves had completely gone by the second day and I was really looking forward to it. The first thing I did was to attend the ‘Hot Titles’ meeting where sales teams were informed about important marketing and publicity news that they could pass on to booksellers and how they were going to promote and generate interest around new books. During the meeting I got to hear about titles like Madonna In A Fur Coat by Sabahattin Ali, that they were about to publish. Today was the day that I also came face to face with the terrifying photocopier machines. Having never used any of this size before it was slightly daunting but I soon got the hang of it and photocopied quite edited manuscripts for the editorial staff.
Mastering the Gratis ordering system was my next task. This was a really outdated system which you had to operate using only a keyboard, so it took a few goes to understand how to navigate it. Using this, I had to order in several books by Simenon to the office, send out some physical copies by international post and order others to be sent from the warehouse. The next thing I had to do was to proofread The Happy Reader and check for inconsistencies, spelling errors, grammar etc. Some really interesting book proposals and extracts were forwarded to me throughout the day so I could get an idea about the kind of things the department were interested in publishing. Most importantly, I also figured out how to navigate the building and find the kitchen, stationary, post and photocopying rooms which I would become frequently acquainted with over the two weeks (when I was finally brave enough to go and make myself a cup of tea!)
Carried out research on W. H. Hudson and a few of his texts, then had to research and find some information on black female civil rights writers that Penguin could potentially publish. Everyone enjoys free things, right? Well you can imagine the feeling of delight I experienced when told that I was entitled to two free pulp paperbacks per day, amazing! The next task involved sorting out and organising an editor’s book shelves on which there were several duplicates of the same books and I was allowed to help myself to any that interested me. Cool right? A book lover’s dream.
Had to create several letters on letter head paper to send out with copies of a recently published book to people who might review it/provide a quote/be interested in it including people like Jeremy Corbyn and Mary Beard. There was a tea time in the afternoon and then someone from the office was leaving so I got invited for a beer, which was, unexpected? but a nice way to meet more of the staff. I also photocopied quite a few edited manuscripts.
In the morning I had to proofread some notes on a manuscript and could have a flick through to see how it had been edited. After lunch, I spent some time researching useful background information on a couple of specific plays/texts by the author Israel Zangwill, who he was admired by and recent critical reviews of his work. I’d never encountered his work before so undertaking this research was really interesting. I also had to photocopy some chapters from a Virago Press book for an editorial meeting.
I had to read a really witty extract from a new book they were going to publish in July and try my hand at writing a blurb for it. The book was based on Donald Trump and so it was difficult not to laugh out loud at parts. I then got to compare my blurb with the one they’d actually chosen to use and having never written anything of this kind before, it was interesting to see how they’d approached it compared with my attempt.
Unfortunately I had an exam at University which meant I missed out on three days of my placement in the second week, which I was really upset about!
Did some more research on neglected black civil rights writers, and got given a few piles of free books just before I left. The most interesting were the colourful pocket penguins which came out in shops yesterday I think. The two weeks flew by way quicker than I imagined they would and i’m gutted that I had to miss three days of my second week. However, it was a great experience and it was helpful as it allowed me an insight into how a publishing company works and reassured me that that publishing is where I want to head in the future, hopefully!
Overall, I think what made the two weeks such a positive experience for me was the people at Penguin. Everyone was friendly and welcoming and treated you like an adult, which made the whole experience very enjoyable. Work experience will involved menial tasks like photocopying and posting books, but you’ve got to start somewhere!
Got a placement? Advice?
Be confident, smile and don’t be afraid to ask for help. The staff were all really friendly, helpful and approachable and were open to answering any questions, so do…even if you think they’re not worth asking. Don’t be shy, say yes to everything and just give each task a go!