My Job: Explained (Production and Art Assistant - Publishing)
Updated: Jun 30
Name: Rachel Hart
Job Title: Production and Art Assistant at a commercial book publisher
Describe your role:
My role is to support the production and art teams in my company in order to ensure that our books have their artwork created on time and are printed, produced and shipped in time for us to hit our publishing schedules. My day to day tasks involve tracking the progress of our titles and chasing designers and editors, as well as making small edits to covers and creating the front and backmatter (like the title page, copyright page etc) of books using indesign and photoshop. I also check over all of the files and send the books to the printers when they’re ready.
How long have you worked in the industry?
Almost 2 years
How did you get into this role/industry?
I spent a tonne of time thinking but I didn’t really know what I wanted to do until after I graduated! I’d completed a summer placement during my undergrad in the HR team for a global FMCG company (Fast-Moving Consumer Goods), and because of that I was fast-tracked to the assessment centre for their HR grad scheme but my heart wasn’t really in it. During final year, I had attended a couple of talks by publishers which had excited me and I figured that trying to working in the industry would be a great way to combine my love of reading and writing with my more creative side.
Publishing is notoriously tricky to get into without work experience or internships under your belt. When I finished uni in 2018, I stayed in Bristol (where I’d been studying) and spent about 6 months interning part-time as a publishing assistant for a children’s publisher at the same time as working 2 other jobs in retail and tutoring. I then undertook a month long full-time internship at an academic publisher as a production assistant. When it came to moving to London, I was better placed to apply for entry level roles in publishing as I’d had a bit of varied experience and knew some of the basics already.
What's the best part of your job?
When the batches of books get delivered to the office every month and we get to see the physical copies of what we’ve been working on digitally. I also like the fact that I get to talk to lots of people during the day as part of my role in overseeing where different books are in the production process. Working on the book covers is fun too!
What's the hardest part of your job?
Having to keep on top of lots of different schedules for various titles. It’s difficult for me to ‘tick off’ things on my to do list because so much of my role relies on other people, and there’s a lot of back and forth with edits and changes that need tweaking. So that can be frustrating for me as I’m quite organised and usually like to get things ticked off quickly. We also print a lot of books every month so it’s tricky to make sure they all get sent off on time for their pub dates!
What skills would you say are necessary for this role?
Organisational skills are an absolute must, as is an ability to gently prod editors or designers when they’re running late on their deadlines.
What advice would you give to someone thinking of entering this industry?
Please don’t be disheartened by how difficult it is to get a foot in the door without work experience and internships which are often low paid or totally unpaid. The industry has got some major diversity issues and it’s historically been very white and middle-class but times are changing and companies are becoming more aware of these barriers to entry. Find work experience where you can, and be proactive about emailing companies rather than waiting for internships or work experience to be advertised online, as they often won’t be. I’d also advise signing up to job newsletters like the Bookseller’s newsletter or an agency like Atwood Tate as they’ll send you vacancies you might be interested in and give you advice before any interviews.
What surprised you most when taking on this role?
How much responsibility I was given from day 1. If I didn’t send books to the printer, they just wouldn’t get printed. If I accidentally added an extra 0 to the order form, it could cost the company a load of money. If I wasn’t proactive in getting a cover signed off by the editor and author on time, the book couldn’t be sent to print. It seemed like a lot of pressure at first but I feel much more confident and in control of the processes now.
Are there any things that you didn't expect to be doing that has been asked of you?
When I first started, I thought the role would be entirely production based, but it’s been great to be asked to work on covers and design elements too!
If you weren't in this job, what else would you want to be doing?
I’d love to do something to help tackle social issues - maybe working for a charity or think tank.
(Rachel also runs an art instagram, make sure to check it out https://www.instagram.com/rach_hart_makes_art/)
The My Job series was created to help those unsure on the industry they want to go in, so this is an insight on the day to day life of different people in different industries. If you would like more details on working in this industry please drop me a message and I'll direct you to the interviewee! If you would like to get involved, please let me know.