On the 7th of November I woke up at 5.30am in my old, single bed. Surrounded by flowery wallpaper and the sound of heavy snoring, I was back in my dad’s house. The night before I’d hopped on a train from Nottingham and sped back to Sussex, heading – almost immediately – to the pub. I may have only been home for 8 hours but I was sure as hell going to get a glass of wine in there somehow. During the catching up, one of the girls asked me what exactly I was doing London the next day. My answer – ‘I don’t really know, honestly’.
So, why am I writing this a month on? Haven’t I basically forgotten everything? A lot, probably, yes. But in that time several of the other attendees have written similar posts, and when reading, I’ve realised my experience seemed kind of different to theirs. So here’s that.
After waking up in the purest darkness I’ve seen for a long time, I shot a couple grumbling messages to those two pub friends about what a mistake it was considering we all had early starts, downed a coffee and a slightly hard pain au chocolat (thanks Dad) and headed to the station. The train was full of business-looking people in suits on their Surface Pros with large coffees. I was in the midst of the commute. Being a student, I never really see this part of life, and it was horrible, frankly. Everyone just looked so sad.
An hour and a quarter later, I arrived at Blackfriars. Scurrying out into the street with my overnight bag in tow, I fumbled with my phone and Googlemaps until I decided to just follow the young-slightly-arty girl in front of me. Lo and behold, she walked right into the correct building. This is where the fun (and panic) began, as upon entering there were sofas and sofas full of young-slightly-arty-but-also-scared looking people. I tried to strike up a conversation with one or two people, but the nerves hadn’t yet simmered and no one had had caffeine in hours so it proved slightly tricky. My heart did sink a little at this point, I must admit.
However, we were taken downstairs, given tea and coffee and a seating plan. Finding my table, I sat with a girl I found out lives a couple of towns away from mine in Sussex. Very weird. Slowly the table filled, we got chatting and opened the goody bags left for us on our chairs (including a hardback copy of Nevermoor by Jessica Townsend!). More chat and I found I had mutual friends with the girl sat on the other side of me. This was looking up.
So, the agenda begins. Essentially, we were delivered a series of short talks by members of each section of Hachette: Editorial, Sales, Marketing, Publicity, Rights, Contracts, Finance etc. Most were focused on telling us how they got to where they are, with only a quick overview of their roles at Hachette. This part concerned me, as I didn’t feel like I was getting to know all that much about the workings of the company itself, but more about the people who worked there. However, that all changed when at the end of the first talk, we were told to look under our chairs. There was a pack, with documents, flipboard paper, markers, a laptop etc. And one piece of paper that said the words: Vlogger/Blogger. We were then told that this was our group’s pitch proposal pack. We were going to design and pitch a book by the end of the day. Gulp.
Each talk ran much the same, with an absolute stand-out discussion by Sharmain Lovegrove of Dialogue Books, Rising Star and all-round incredible human, asking us to consider our approach to each section in our pitch. We had a kind of booklet that we filled out along the way. Luckily for our table, lots of us had experience watching and reading the content of our genre (watching YouTubers is my main form of procrastination) so there was a good base for us to work from. A main critique I’ve seen of the event was that we had nowhere near enough time to solidify ideas in our groups before the next speaker was up, which I do agree with. There were, however, a LOT of speakers, so the agenda had to be pushed quite a lot to stay on track. Lunch came and went, some fresh air grabbed (there were no windows in the otherwise awesome meeting space) and a bit more chatting done. Due to the lunch spread, the coffee and tea had been removed so me and my new pals had to go on a bit of an explore to find that sweet, sweet caffeine. A lovely woman named Sylvia who was helping run the event showed us where to go, and made the incredible suggestion to try the hot chocolate. It was so sugary I think I was feeling it for days after.
The second part of the day began similar to the first: talks, brainstorming, talks, brainstorming. It did begin to get a bit repetitive, and bless the girl who had to do the finance talk, but by that point people were getting a bit weary. A fresh face, however, was Lizzy Kremer of David Higham, a literary agency. Passionate, funny and kinda angry honestly, Lizzy did make for a change – there was a bit of tussle between her and the Contracts speaker, and I’m not entirely sure how jokey it really was. The talks ended, and here came the panicked part.
We got given half an hour to create our pitches. Half an hour! 5 out of the 10 of us had to present, and it just sort of worked out on my table that 5 people would want to and 5 didn’t. Miraculously, the sections of Editorial, Production, Design, Sales and Marketing all fell into the hands of people who wanted to present those particular areas. I was doing the Marketing and Publicity, and sort of felt like I took a bit of control of the organising. I was enjoying myself, I thought I had good ideas, and we got shit DONE. Our group were third or fourth in the track listing, so we had a few groups warm up to show us what worked and what didn’t. This was probably a bit unfair to the first groups, especially since they were presenting to the Big Cheese, Martin Neill, but I guess that’s just how it had to work. We made our pitch. It went well, we only left a few details out and the feedback was mainly positive. Sitting down, I felt relieved and full of adrenaline. It was kind of a rush. With big smiles from our lovely group, we took our seats to watch the rest of the pitches play out.
After every group had pitched, the HR ladies ran us through some CV and cover letter tips. You could see everyone scribbling furiously during this part – vital, vital info. Some tips included: they won’t get to your CV if your cover letter isn’t good; always always always check your work for spelling and stupid errors (one person addressed an application to Penguin instead of Hachette); and don’t tell the company how awesome they are – they know – tell them why YOU would be awesome for THEM instead. And that was it. Day over.
We were then invited to go up to the roof bar and have a drink with some of the staff. Unfortunately, me and another of my table girls were both looking at 3 hour journeys back to uni ahead of us, so we made our thanks and headed out. In hindsight, I really wished I’d stayed and just resigned myself to getting home at 1am, but the physical and mental exhaustion had really kicked in. I loved the people there, I loved the atmosphere, but I was completely networked out.
To the conclusion, then. When I mentioned the other blog posts I’ve read, I said my experience felt different to theirs. I loved the event completely. I didn’t see much wrong with it at the time, I thought it was a really great insight into publishing (ey). However, with time I see what they mean about organisation and timings. It did all feel a little rushed. I think I was just incredibly lucky with the group I had – we were quick to get off the mark so nothing felt too panicked. But there were probably more speakers than there needed to be. Lizzy was a refreshing addition, but I feel like we probably could have done without, if only for time’s sake. But these all seemed insignificant things to me.
The biggest issue I’ve seen is that this event wasn’t for certain people. Whilst I think Hachette did a really great job of giving a wide variety of invites (there was a concerted effort towards gender balance, racial diversity, and subject/degree/job backgrounds), they perhaps didn’t think about those people who aren’t natural networkers. To get a group of people interested in books together and not expect some introverts seems a little naive. From this, I understand others felt a bit disillusioned with the way publishing houses are run. You need to be a people person, it seems. I’m not sure to what extent I believe this is true but I can see where they are coming from. The day was incredibly draining. Especially since many people, like myself, had travelled for hours and hours to be there, there was a lot of pressure on the attendees to be on top form all day. This, obviously, isn’t entirely possible. I know that by the end of the day, I was exhausted and desperately wanting to be alone in my room. But as I found out from this event, I am a natural talker. I can lead conversations when others don’t want to, but I like to step down and let other people talk. My group all got so comfortable with each other so quickly, and I do think that’s mainly due to the outgoing personalities within each of us.
So, yes. This event was… socialiser exclusive. It was intense, long and taxing both creatively and physically. It probably wasn’t for everyone. I know that it challenged my limits, 100%. But that’s why I think I found it such a success. I barely knew anything going in and came out with a true feeling of ‘Yes. This is what I want to do.’ That’s invaluable to me. With time, I’ve been able to ruminate on what I’ve learned and apply it to my life. The things that were talked about have obviously resonated with me and made me feel so much better equipped than I was before. I loved the place. I loved the people. I loved the atmosphere of it all. More than anything, I felt at home. So, thank you, Hachette. For an amazing day, an amazing company and for showing me that I made the right decision pursuing this industry. Until next time.
Featured image courtesy of officelovin.com