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Thursday, October 14, 2010

Secret Publishing Business!

I went to the children's and YA division of awesome Australian publishing company Allen & Unwin with some classmates yesterday (A&U are the ones that scored the Australian rights to Harry Potter way back, so they've done pretty well for themselves) and I learnt lots of secret publishing business!

Firstly, I was shocked to find Allen & Unwin was NOT a huge building, but is in a terrace house like this:

This is NOT Allen & Unwin, but very similar, and for all you non-Melbournians, the yellow one is ONE house, and the white one is another house...they're little. And quite close to each other.

The Sydney office of Allen & Unwin is bigger, employing 100+ people, but the Melbourne office which is just childrens and YA has a mere sixteen employees, and they work on - I'm hoping I'm remembering this correctly - 40 or so books a month. Um..WHOA.

[EDITED TO ADD - Turns out, no I wasn't remembering this correctly - it's 5 books a month. But still WHOA, for 16 people!]

Gotta love the work to do it, don't you think? Still think it's for you? I guess you're wondering how one gets a job, then, huh? Well the lovely Publishing Assistant Julia Imogen who talked to us said something I totally wasn't expecting.

Eight years ago when she was employed there, she answered a small ad in the local newspaper looking for an administrative assistant. There was no mention of publishing or editing or books, it was all quite tricksy. But that's actually quite smart on the employers part. Think about it. The minute you put editorial, publishing, books etc into a job ad you have everyone with an English major applying. Can you imagine that stack of applications? That's a bit daunting, hmm? So don't discard those admin ads. They might just be the job you're looking for.

Another way you can get hired is by doing an internship there. They have had several interns who have been there at the right time and brought back in as temps or even like Penni Russon, freelance editors. Though taking on an intern is NOT like getting free help, Julia says. It's quite a commitment. There's training to do and depending on the intern, different levels of supervision required.

At Allen & Unwin they have a pretty intense database system in which everything that has been done for and about a book or author is recorded and can be accessed by all the different departments. For instance, a blurb will be needed by sales for a pitch to booksellers, publicity will need it for promotional items and designers need it for the back copy of the book. And they need the most recent version, too! The synopsis/blurb submitted with the original manuscript may be very different to what it should be for the final, edited book.

The room we had our meeting in had two walls of books (which we all had a bit of a drool at) and some books had more copies on the shelf than others. Why was this? The number of books on the shelf represented the number of print runs they had had, so you could immediately tell which books had been selling well and which ones hadn't.

There are gazillions of different roles and jobs within publishing and in this era of e-books, some employees have had jobs CREATED for them, because they were so good at that side of their work. Books have personalised websites now, facebook fan pages, someone is in charge of the company's twitter account, iphone apps and even more I don't even know about.

So there you have it. Secret Allen & Unwin business. Don't let them know I told!


  1. That's so cool, thanks for sharing! When you mentioned how small the Melbourne office is, my first thought was 'hey, we could totally take them, and then we'd have our own publishing company, woo!'. Then I read on. It sounds like a victory might lead to rather a lot of hard work. Second thoughts.

  2. Yes, victory in this battle would lead to an AWFUL lot of work. But if you love the work...

    Glad you liked the post!

  3. Hi Sarah, Thanks for the cool write-up and I'm glad you enjoyed your visit. And super thanks for the cakes that arrived a few days later. We've already featured them on the Alien Onion blog! However, here's a teensy reminder about the importance of fact-checking :-)
    Sydney office has around 100 staff; the Books for Children and Teenagers section works on approx 5 books a month. (If we had to do 40 a month, we'd die!)

  4. Yes, quite rightly pointed out, Julia. Fact-checking is incredibly important. I clearly didn't remember it all correctly. I KNEW 40 seemed like a massive undertaking! Sheesh! :) I'm glad for your sake that it's only 5!

    I shall amend my mistakes. Sorry about that.


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