How to create a career at a major publishing house

February 19, 2010

SHORTCUT: You might like to read just the bits in bold if you are in a hurry.

I started at Macmillan in 1996. I was in Queensland in the North East of Australia, about to get on a boat to sail around the Whitsunday Islands, when I saw the advertisement. It was quite big on the page. The one thing I remember about it was the big powerful logo. (We call them the Macmillan wings. Maybe that’s because they carry you places. They sure have carried me and my family.) The job was for a Sales Representative. I had just finished my first career as an English teacher. Before I’d left, I clearly remember in answer to the collegiate query of “What next?” I’d said “I want to get into publishing.” As a result I think if you say something out loud it does increase the chances of it happening.

I ended up applying for two jobs simultaneously. One was at Macmillan, the other was Oxford University Press. Oxford offered me $25,000 and a white, four cylinder Mistubishi. This enabled me to negotiate $29,000 to go along with a four cylinder maroon Mitsubishi at Macmillan. My first day, I was handed 10 globite suitcases full of books, each weighing around 10 kilograms. It was my job to visit school libraries and sell them. This I did for exactly 12 months. Everything I learned during this time was like gold, though it didn’t seem like that back then. Getting rejected several times a day teaches you to find the right words to avoid rejection and create value for another person. And talking directly to customers cannot be substituted by any other form of training in business. These two things together made my career.

During my time as a Sales Representative I took steps to create value for the person I wanted to work for next. This was the Publishing Director, a great guy called Rex Parry. I managed to pass enough leads on potential authors to Rex to get his attention, and when a Trainee Editor role came up, I was a shoo-in. I put together about half a dozen new projects for Rex and his Publishing team over the next twelve months without a whole lot of sweat because I’d already navigated the process of connecting with authors and commercial opportunity in the previous role.

Plump with success, I resigned. But I’d managed to convince Rex to commission me as an author on a Health book series, which I had a vague background in. I spent the next two years on Lord Howe Island, working labouring jobs and writing the books. I also surfed my brains out and caught a lot of fish.

In 2000, I returned, again in a Sales role, before graduating to Publisher in 2002, working again with Rex Parry. From this time to the present, I think I leaned on my initial entrepreneurial experience at a percentage of about 75. For the next seven years, I looked after about $4 million in revenue per annum, before planting a customised publishing business that grew sixfold in two years from inception.

I’ve had an interesting career at Macmillan, seeing many sides of the publishing enterprise. On March 23 this year, I will have done a decade, making me a Gen X guy with Boomer tendencies.

Publishing is about selling information that helps, moves, inspires and teaches. If you connect with any of the bold statements published here, you’ll be great in our industry.


4 Responses to “How to create a career at a major publishing house”

  1. Susan Says:

    Such wisdom.

  2. HI Ben

    Thanks for this inspiring post. I’ve just moved to Sydney, hoping to work for one of the big three publishers combining three of my favourite loves education, publishing & technology.


  3. kathy houden Says:

    mmmmm Very interesting

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