Underlining the Pros and Cons
Deep down I was hoping that working for a travel guidebook company was the one. The elusive career I had been searching for. From the outside it seemed genuinely perfect, allowing me to travel, be creative, innovative, solve problems, and I hoped I could find ways to tie in making a difference and strategic thinking.
I arrived in Chalfont St Peter on a crisp Monday morning to start work at Bradt Travel Guides, and for the first time I could feel the chill of winter coming on. My stomach was bubbling with excitement and apprehension - I was 30 minutes early as I so wanted to make a good impression for what was, quite possibly, my dream job. When I got into the much toastier office, I was shown a desk and promptly given a long list of simple tasks to get on with.
I merrily got on with resizing photos and uploading them to the company website, I copied and pasted text to create articles, and did some proof-reading. Once I wrote some tweets. Fine, I was there to work as the intern after all.
After a couple of weeks, I started to get a more balanced feel for working there and the editorial process. What I quickly came to realise was that editing guide books does not leave an awful lot of room for creativity on the editoral side as books are in a strictly standardised format, which is of course incredibly useful to the reader. However, rigidly sticking to this also doesn’t leave a huge amount of space for genuine innovation or variety, things that I am beginning to understand that I crave. This clearly works for the company and employees, I just realised that I’m not such a good fit for it.
Part way through my time with Bradt I spoke to the commissioning editor, as I wanted to find out about other areas of the business. The editor was responsible for assessing proposals for new book ideas and writing samples, before negotiating contracts and finally working with authors to shape the structure and direction of books, prior to them being project managed by the editorial department. I learnt that this interested me more and probably would be a better fit for my skillset, as it is essentially ideas driven and there is far more opportunity to think strategically about the business – something I am actively searching for. So definitely a career idea to store for later. Who knows, maybe for another of the 25.
Within editorial though, the main issue for me was that being a travel editor requires paying intimate attention to detail, yet my strength lies more in 'seeing the bigger picture', to quote an old civil service competency. I believe that self-awareness is an important part of success, so acknowledging where my strengths and weaknesses lie and acting accordingly is a big part of what I'm learning this year. Add to this that I’m pretty dyslexic (I am sure readers have noticed my occasional spelling mistakes!) and it would be a veritable recipe for editorial-related disaster. Well not disaster, but a few-too-many typos in books.
I also discovered that the editorial side of things is almost entirely desk based with relatively limited travel. This seems to vary massively by publisher, but made me realise that it was still far too office-based for me. The old concerns I had about a sedentary 9-5 job would certainly still be true if I chose this career path.
Much of my time at Bradt was spent reading guidebooks that were either published or about to be, and this reinforced how much I really do love the writing side of things. I think I probably knew all along that I wanted to do the writing far more than the business end of publishing.
As I have said all along, the point of 25before25 is actually going and trying those careers I’ve had a mental question mark over. Far better to figure it out during a 3-week internship than once you have a permanent job in the industry, which is what I was seriously considering doing around 9 months ago.
It is important to mention here, I think, that I am comparing these experiences to my own set of self-determined criteria. I am really grateful to Bradt for giving me the opportunity to work with them and I have no doubt there are many people that this would be a perfect career for.
Learning that some of the careers on my list aren’t for me is genuinely a really helpful outcome as it narrows down my options in a positive way and allows me to make an informed choice.
And hey, I still have 22 others to choose from.
This article also appears in the Editing/Publishing careers page.