Insights from an intern: Behind the scenes at UQP
Ever wanted to lift the curtain on one of Australia’s leading publishing houses? Missy Burrell, Master of Writing, Editing and Publishing student at the University of Queensland, reflects on her time learning the ropes (and wrangling the pages) at UQP.
I’m sure you’ve heard the saying ‘never meet your heroes’. It was certainly something I was aware of heading into my first day of a 10-week internship at UQP. As a born and bred Gold Coaster, I tend to moon over UQP and its standing as Queensland’s only major publishing house with domestic and international distribution. I am an unashamed creep and commenter on UQP Instagram, it’s the first logo I look for on spines in my local bookshop, and I have been steadily stalking the team on LinkedIn for months. If your hero could be a brand, UQP would be mine.
But I know well enough that things are not always as they seem from the outside. Despite holding the position title of Intern, I am more Robert De Niro in The Intern and less fresh-faced uni student. I’ve worked professionally for over 18 years and have spent time within some of Australia’s biggest media brands, so I know firsthand that many jobs aren’t as glamorous or enviable (or ego-free) as one would think.
So I went into my first day fully-armed. ‘No, working at UQP was not going to be like an episode of Younger,’ was my mantra. I steeled myself for the possibility of cool co-workers, of meaningless tasks, of becoming the office joke. Or worse – that after shifting my career goals and diving back into study, I’d discover the world of editing and publishing was not really for me.
I needn’t have bothered. From the very first moment I entered the doors of UQP’s Brisbane offices, I felt truly welcomed. My mind spun as UQP Managing Editor Jacqueline Blanchard sat me down for an initial chat about current projects, my goals during my placement, and the importance of the editor/author relationship. I was being given unfettered access to UQP’s key personnel, and with a friendly smile and encouragement to boot. I don’t know if I have ever asked so many questions.
Over the weeks that followed I enjoyed weekly chats with Publishing Director Madonna Duffy, in addition to sessions spent with the wider team, covering everything from editing techniques, to publishing schedules, book rights and author contracts. I was like a sponge absorbing as much information and knowledge as I could in what I now regard as one of my most valuable learning experiences to date.
I guess the only way to pay it forward is to share some of the insight into the editing and publishing process that I’ve learned during my time at UQP.
What do publishers do?
Publishers oversee all areas of book production - from meeting with authors, to acquiring manuscripts, setting the editorial direction and determining commercial viability. They also oversee the sales of books, ensuring authors have enough marketing and publicity support to meet key targets. At UQP, there is a distinct focus on culturally significant works across genres such as fiction, non-fiction and poetry, as well as children's and young adult books.
What do publishers do for authors?
Publishers champion authors. Publishers read through manuscripts like pirates digging for treasure. If you’re what they’re looking for, you’ll be treated like gold. Publishers will create entire publishing proposals for an author and manuscript they believe in, outlining the synopsis, market comparisons and costs for the potential book. They will take this proposal to an acquisition or board meeting where they will fight to have the author included in the publishing line-up. If successful, the publisher will put together an offer for the author, which includes details of any advance payment, the form the book will take, and what editorial and marketing and publicity support the author will receive.
The relationship continues throughout the entire process of publishing and beyond, with publishers often keen to work with authors on multiple titles where possible. UQP is most proud of the relationship it builds between its team and authors, with many authors – like Tony Birch, Samantha Wheeler and Larissa Behrendt – choosing to publish multiple titles with UQP.
What do editors do?
Editors work with authors to ensure their story is as strong as possible, and their voice is clear. Usually one editor is introduced to an author during a ‘manuscript handover’ from the publisher, and they’ll chat about the editing process. The process is usually made up of three rounds of editing - the structural edit, the copy edit, and a final proofread. Throughout editing, the editor helps to refine and focus on the through line of the story, while keeping the author and their vision the top priority.
What do publishing jobs involve?
You can have a job in publishing without being a publisher. There are editing roles and assistant roles. There are jobs that deal in the rights and contracts side of publishing. You can work on the production side actually creating the books, managing reprints, and producing eBooks. Perhaps you have a background in communications and could jump into the marketing and publicity team. Or maybe you’re a driven sales person? There is one thing in common with all publishing jobs however - you’ve got to love reading books.
What is it like working in publishing?
Well, hopefully I can fill you in on this one day. For now, I can say I’ve enjoyed the variety of work in publishing. Getting across different titles, by different authors, at different stages of the publishing process has been a lot of fun for an avid reader like me. I believe it’s a career where no two days are the same, there’s juggling scheduling and acquisition meetings, briefing designers and typesetters, and reading each manuscript up to six times over. I don’t think you could be easily bored in this industry!
How do you get into publishing?
Like anything else, I think the best advice for those wanting to get into the publishing industry is to simply make a start. For me, that involves studying my Masters in Writing, Editing and Publishing at The University of Queensland and getting industry experience from my internship at UQP. Find out what courses are available near you, touch base with your local writers centre, volunteer with book fairs and events, and attend book launches to network with those inside the industry. And most importantly, stay on top of industry news and trends by signing up for as many relevant newsletters and social media updates as you can find (and your inbox can handle).
I thank the entire team at UQP for their warmth, consideration and helpfulness during my internship, and feel truly honoured to have been given the opportunity to gain these valuable insights into the publishing industry. Feel free to follow me as I try my best to dive into the Australian industry and connect with me via LinkedIn.