I first heard about the Spare Room Project from a co-worker who had already been through Work Experience at Penguin Random House. The second I received the email from PRH that I got in I went on the Spare Room Project website and signed in.
December is a tricky month in itself, so finding accommodation during this time becomes even trickier. Luckily there was a spare room for me and the wonderful Carole Tonkinson welcomed me in her house.
Not only did I live with a professional in the Publishing Industry, but I also lived with an English family for two weeks. As an immigrant I think I can call this a ‘two birds-one stone’ kind of thing. Add to it the fact that I was saved from hotel or AirBnb expenses, well, that is the perfect hat-trick.
This is an amazing program that does more than help you save up. You are learning in every moment of the day, in your work experience and at your home away from home. You don’t only see what publishing means in those 9 to 5 hours. Living with someone who works in the industry also gives you a chance to see how this career that you are pursuing affects your personal life outside the office space and the heap of manuscripts. The experience itself is as important as the work you are doing in your placement.
I really hope more people get to know about this program as well as get involved in it. People in the book world must stick together.
I have a lot to thank the Spare Room Project for. Without this generous, kind-hearted initiative I’m not sure I would have been able to secure my publishing placement due to anxieties about funding the expense of moving to London for a couple of weeks. As a product of the SRP I have made several publishing connections – predominantly authors and their publicists, as it was a very kind author who let me stay with her. I have to thank the Spare Room Project in large part to the publishing role I secured at the beginning of this year. I had narrowly missed out on a couple of publishing jobs in the past that according to the interviewers was due to lack of industry experience (which I could not afford to travel down from Manchester to London to do!); the security that the SRP offered essentially enabled me to gather the relevant experience to boost my CV and impress a publishing house enough to offer me a permanent position, which I am soon to have been working in for six months! I cannot thank James Spackman and this initiative enough, and I hope to one day be able to offer a spare room of my own to a budding intern.
Written by Isabelle Grey on 23rd July 2018
Isabelle Grey is a former journalist and television drama writer whose DI Grace Fisher crime novels are published by Quercus. Her latest, Wrong Way Home, was a Sunday Times Crime Book of the Month.
I came across the Spare Room Project on Twitter and immediately thought: what a great idea! It’s no good us publishing folk in London wishing for more diversity and greater opportunity for those who can’t afford to gain the vital experience and contacts offered by internships in London if we don’t put ourselves out to make it happen. I have a daughter (not in publishing) whose early career choices were dependent on being able to take up London internships –, and I therefore also have her old bedroom as a spare room.
I was particularly happy to have a Spare Room Project intern from the north of England, as I grew up in Manchester and understand that for many people the north-south divide can be very real. Once I welcomed Sian I realised that I wasn’t putting myself out in the very slightest – quite the opposite. It was a breath of fresh air having her in the house and hearing about her degree (so different to my day), her experience, ideas and plans, and about her placement with the Cornerstone publicity team. She was curious about every aspect of publishing, and it was wonderful to think that the future of publishing lies in such inspiring young hands as hers.
She was also the perfect guest! When a friend later needed someone to promote his rock star memoir online, I immediately thought of Sian, whose work exceeded his expectations. I was thrilled to hear that she’s gone on to a permanent job with a London publisher, and it’s always a pleasure to run into her at various literary events.
However, hearing about how many other jobs she first had to apply for – even with a first-class degree and two internships under her belt – highlighted how disadvantaged candidates must be who are unable to take up internships because of the expense of accommodation – such a simple thing for many of us who live in London to provide.
When dates allow, I shall be happy to offer my spare room again, and would hugely encourage others to do the same.
I heard about the Spare Room Project from a random post on Twitter and decided to give it a go. We hosted the very lovely Faith Stoddard, who is doing a year-long editorial placement at Ebury Publishing. She only needed a couple of nights a week, so we agreed to host her for 4-5 weeks. But she was so sweet and it was all so easy, that she is still staying with us now, 2 ½ months later. She’ll be with us for another month, when we will need her room again, and overall it’s been a great experience. I have loved being able to help, particularly as Ebury is where I got my first publishing job. Our spare room was mostly being used for storage, so as well as being a nice thing to do, it also gave us a massive incentive to sort the room out – double win!
Before staying with Hannah through the Spare Room Project, I’d had no experience whatsoever in publishing, and probably wouldn’t have been able to if not for the Spare Room Project. Accommodation in London was something I was really worried about – I live in East Yorkshire, which is usually at least a four-hour train journey, and I don’t have any relatives I could stay with. Before I was offered my room, I’d planned on paying for my room at university in Oxford and commuting from there, which I was more than a little apprehensive about!
I was attending a publishing course at University College London, after receiving a sponsored place through Diamond Kahn Woods Literary Agency. UCL was a really easy commute from Hannah’s house, and Hannah and her family were absolutely lovely (even feeding me, which they didn’t have to do). Hannah was happy to chat about her job as a freelance publicist and her extensive experience in the industry, including showing me what she was working on and telling me about different publishing houses. She even gave me a contact in Oxford to get in touch with when I was back at uni, which I was massively grateful for. The unofficial mentoring I received from Hannah really helped me with what I was learning on the course.
I would love to see publishing become more open to those living nowhere near London and without the funds or connections to stay there without help, and the Spare Room Project is a brilliant scheme for helping people make their first steps. I’d definitely recommend it to anyone in a similar situation – it allowed me to experience the industry for the first time!
Paul The best place to start is your entry into publishing – did you feel you had to get work experience before you started applying for roles?
Josh Definitely. Although there’s a strong publishing scene in the north, I also wanted to gain experience with large trade publishers, and felt this was necessary before I’d be considered for full time positions. Coming down south for work experience was really the only way I could get into the London side of the industry.
Paul And you were at Bloomsbury for quite a while?
Josh Yes, the initial stint was one month, unpaid with travel expenses, and then they brought me back for another month paid – it was during the second period that I applied for, and got, my current role.
Paul So how did you find out about the Spare Room Project?
Josh Through my MA – a lot of my tutors had been in the industry and had gone freelance. James Spackman (founder of the Spare Room Project) was on their radar, so I contacted him on their recommendation and it all went from there. I wouldn’t have known about this option without the course, as publishing is still an oddly difficult industry to learn about from the outside. Without the Project I wouldn’t have been able to afford to come to London for work experience. What made you want to join the Spare Room Project as a host?
Paul I was very lucky getting into the industry. I didn’t do a publishing Masters or any similar courses. I took a year after my degree working as a waiter and then as a bookseller (with a bit of travelling), and once I’d established that I wasn’t going to be a writer, I decided that publishing was the way to go, so spent a lot of time researching different roles and different ways in. I was very lucky that my parents lived (and still live) just over an hour’s train ride from London – it was a pretty long commute, but it wasn’t prohibitive – and that meant I could live at home whilst doing work experience. The expenses I got from both placements I completed were enough to cover my travel, and I didn’t have to worry about somewhere to stay before I got my first job at Orion. Reflecting on that experience, and talking to other people and their routes into the industry, you come to appreciate more and more that the whole work experience question is very difficult. It’s something that publishers still look for, but that does tend to narrow down your pool to a much smaller group of people who live close to London and who have the kind of financial security needed to effectively work for nothing for a period. I know that before the Spare Room Project kicked off the whole question was getting very controversial, particularly with a lot of the longer-term internships that were being offered for minimal pay. You can’t work in the industry for any length of time and not realise just how skewed the industry can be just by geography for a start, against people who don’t live in the south east. When the Spare Room Project started I had been in my flat for about 10 months, and it was now set up for me to have guests. The Project was pushed internally at Orion by our MD, so I thought it was worth getting involved with.
Josh Would you say, since the kick-off, you’ve seen publishing become less London-centric, with more people from outside London able to come down for work experience? Do you think that’s resulted in more non-Londoners in full time publishing jobs?
Paul I don’t think we’re there yet – it’s going to be a long process for the industry to become completely open – but we are seeing a change in terms of how far people are looking, how roles are being advertised, CV requirements (university degrees are now no longer a requirement in some instances) and things like that. From Hachette’s perspective there’s been more clarification about making the process easier for people from further afield – we can help with expenses for people from outside the M25, for example. Some of the boundaries that are preventing people from taking up jobs are slowly being eroded too. Orion now offers a rental deposit loan scheme as well as the season ticket loan scheme for full-time employees, which makes that first step of getting into the city so much easier. Going back to your experience of the Spare Room Project, from my perspective I get a list of names of people looking for places to stay, and when they need them – you just email James if you can help, and then he emails to make the introductions. When James put us in touch you were in London and looking for somewhere for the final weeks of your second placement. Was the Project still helpful financially at this point in your internship?
Josh Yes, absolutely. At the end of the first month I’d already spent a lot of my savings funding the placement, and my pay from my second month hadn’t come through when I contacted you. Thankfully hosts from my first internship were happy to put me up again – I had three days’ notice between being asked to return to London and my second internship starting. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity, and through Spare Room contacts I managed to have accommodation in time.
Paul I remember that our first actual meeting was pretty awkward – I’d sent you the list of flat details, where everything was, how to get there etc. in advance…
Josh And rules about the ban on tuna, and not to eat the peas in the freezer…
Paul Yes, I forgot about that! But I was running off to play hockey, you were caught in a train strike, and the centre of Surbiton was blocked by a food market – so it was literally a 30 second hello at the station, here’s the keys, here’s how you get back, good luck! Did it ever feel awkward, going into strangers’ houses through the Project?
Josh I was nervous at first but everyone was very welcoming. In my head I wasn’t just representing the Spare Room Project, I was also representing my university course and the area that I came from, so I felt I needed to be an ideal candidate. I wanted to set a good example and hopefully encourage hosts to take on more people from the UCLan course. The first place I stayed, I wasn’t feeling very sure of myself, and I’d only been to London once before, so that was a bit of a learning curve. Everyone was really friendly, though, so even when my hosts weren’t in, I didn’t feel out of place in their homes. The Project breaks down that barrier of initial contact, and after that it’s pretty comfortable. How did you find it, and how many people have you hosted?
Paul I think I’ve hosted five people now. It’s been really good meeting new people who are interested in the industry – one in particular was coming to a one-day conference about the industry, and was still working out if publishing was for her. She was a high-achiever, and very intelligent – fascinating to talk to. The others were much more set on coming into publishing, and it was really interesting talking to them about what they were learning about the industry, what direction they were looking to take, and what they were hoping to gain from their experience. It’s always good to meet new people, but it’s also great to get a different perspective on the industry from someone who’s just entering it. I’ve been in publishing, and at Orion, for nearly 12 years now and I’ve seen it change an awful lot in that time (I pre-date the ebook, weirdly), and you get real insight from speaking to people coming in at a different time with different goals and inspirations.
Josh That was going to be my next question – through the Spare Room Project do you get a different sense of the industry? You’re sitting down for meals together, and talking to your guests most evenings – I found it fascinating talking to people in different publishers, in very different careers, opening up about their time in publishing. Did you feel the same?
Paul Definitely! I’ve been very lucky that my career path has taken me through lots of different areas, such as rights, ebooks and now audio. You pick up some things working with people on a day-to-day basis, but you never stop learning. Speaking to people who are involved in the Masters programme, where you get that breadth of teaching, you do learn a lot. The change of focus is interesting too – listening to what people have to say about educational and technical publishing, the children’s market, coding and digital work. You get an extra insight there, and it reminds you of everything you need to try and engage with. We do tend to get stuck in our ways in publishing, so it’s great to get that different focus and shake things up a bit. You managed to turn your internship into a full-time role whilst staying with me, which was great – would that opportunity have come up if you weren’t down for that second stint at Bloomsbury?
Josh Not at all. I had a similar pattern in both stints, where I was coming in early, making myself useful, and then staying late to apply for jobs. I did the same in my second stint, and was fortunate to have the combination of being in the right place with more experience behind me. If I’d been at home when the role came up, I would have applied, but I would have had to worry about train costs for the interview, and missing a day of paid work to come to London. Being in London for the interview period, and having worked with everyone in the team, made a huge difference.
Paul Is there anything you’d change about the Spare Room Project?
Josh Not really. The Spare Room Project gives a great opportunity to people that wouldn’t otherwise be available. The only thing which needs to happen is it needs to spread wider– it needs to be pushed again in the Bookseller, and be brought to the attention of people at all levels of the industry. Hopefully seeing that this type of support is available will encourage people outside of London to take advantage of work experience and internships here.
Paul Beyond that, there’s more that the industry needs to do to encourage people from different backgrounds into publishing – what do you think needs to happen there? What’s the next first step to being more inclusive?
Josh I think establishing links with undergraduate and Masters courses further afield, and working with organisations like SYP North, would be key. It’ll be hard to cast the net wider without people from different backgrounds knowing about the support schemes the industry now offers. As you said, publishing houses are also starting to provide financial help for travel and accommodation, and offering paid work placements is incredibly important for bringing in new people from different backgrounds. For instance, Bloomsbury currently runs a paid internship scheme that lasts 3 months.
Paul So my last question for you is… when you have a spare room of your own, are you going to sign up and start hosting people?
Josh Funnily enough I do have a spare room now, and I am going to sign up next year. I really benefitted from hosts going out on a limb and welcoming me into their homes, so I’m keen to give back when I can.
Paul Great! Another pint?
Josh Sounds good!
Written by Hamza Jahanzeb on Monday 25 September 2017.
I am very grateful for the Spare Room Project, as it allowed me to partake in internships I would not have had the chance to complete otherwise. This is due to me being based in Lancashire, and most publishing internships are based in London.
As all publishers don’t always necessarily pay interns, it is difficult for those who live outside of London to even consider applying – due to the financial burden that comes with renting a room and sustaining one’s daily expenditure. I gained a greater insight as my host Katie provided useful tips for someone like who was entirely new to the industry at the time. I also gained a better understanding of the different departments within a publishing house, as well as having a mentor who was encouraging and motivating.
I felt like not only was I a guest for my host, I made the most from the opportunity by attending publishing events that were also being hosted in London, and I felt most welcomed at these events. These included: a #BAMEinPublishing event (organised by Wei Ming Kam and Sarah Shaffi) at the Harper Collins office in London Bridge and Borough Book Bash – an informal get-together where industry professionals and those in pursuit of an internship/job socialised.
The scheme alleviated any stress that I had regarding the cost of renting a room in London for a short period (which can provide to be extremely difficult if the internship you’re assigned is only two weeks as was in my case!). I felt really determined and grateful for the chance to stay with a lovely host, but I also ensure that I optimised my time and felt that I gained a lot from the experience overall.
I highly recommend the Spare Room Project to anyone who is considering a publishing a career and who doesn’t live in London; I would like to see more inclusivity within publishing, and this initiative is a great one that I believe others can get involved in.
It’s a fantastic idea that I’m really glad I found. I was living in Edinburgh at the time, so having free accommodation for my week of work experience in London was incredibility helpful. The lady who hosted me was so lovely and welcoming, and I’m very grateful she was such a wonderful host.
Amazing experience, and made a friend for life!
I met some really lovely people. Being able to stay in London during my internship instead of commuting 3 hours a day meant I was able to really immerse myself in the publishing industry and was a lot less stressed about catching a train at a certain time. I learned a lot from my hosts and I know work in the same building as them so I see them from time to time!
Thank you for providing me with accommodation – my experience was lovely and I do occasionally contact who I lived with as they have been so nice to me and we genuinely have maintained a professional relationship between us. Living in different areas of London also helped me explore neighbourhoods to find a place for myself (which I have). All in all, 10/10.
The project gave me peace of mind and allowed me to be close to the office where I interned. It also helped me to meet new people in the industry, who were very willing to tell me more about their experiences, the industry and their companies. They were also very helpful in my research for my dissertation among other thing. All in all it was a priceless experience and I would genuinely recommend it to anyone lucky enough to get an internship.
Not only does The Spare Room Project enable aspiring publishers to get a foot in the door of what has long been a London-centric industry, but it provides a vital network of publishers through which connections can be made outside of the workplace. As a result, the experience I gained while undergoing an internship at Faber & Faber was twofold and I have been able to approach the next stage of my career with a refreshed enthusiasm for publishing as a community of dedicated and welcoming individuals.
The Project is a great initiative and definitely helped me! If I had one niggle, it would be that I only found out about the room three days before I had to be London, so after quite a bit of panicking I’d decided to commute and booked a couple of train tickets. If there could be a date set for two weeks or so before the internship as a deadline in which you’d hear back, that would be really helpful for organisation – but I understand that the admin would make that really difficult while it’s still a small project!
It was fantastic – the SRP allowed me to intern for longer than I could have afforded to on my own and provided me with a far more insightful experience (living with a publishing professional / London local was helpful beyond words).
I learnt as much from my hosts about the industry as I did during my work experience. Also, being from outside London, it was a great way to experience big city life! I’m endlessly grateful for the Spare Room Project and my hosts; I know I wouldn’t have my present job without them.
I’ve only used the Spare Room Project for a couple of days while I was volunteering at LBF 2018. However, it’s been really an incredible experience because the person that hosted me was extremely kind and welcomed me in her house with open arms. In fact, she also gave me a lot of advice for my job applications and told me about her own career path, which I found incredibly inspiring.
I really appreciate the Spare Room Project, I think it’s such a great initiative that makes internships a lot more accessible to people who don’t live in London! I have had such a positive experience with a very kind family! Nothing but positive reviews for this, please keep doing the great work you do!
I can’t thank James enough for the encouragement, support and opportunity to stay with a publishing professional. I will pay it back, and know that if it wasn’t for James, I wouldn’t be working for Penguin Books. It is so important to take away the barriers that restrict those who live outside of London. Many thanks and it has helped me on it own career path – and knowing that such scheme existed has allowed me to feel confident and not have to worry about the financial costs of staying in London. What a truly superb initiative!
I was able to get accommodation last minute via another SpareRoom student and it made my first week at the internship considerably easier
A wonderful opportunity that not only supported me during my internship but also was such an unusual way to get to know a publishing professional outside her job, share ideas and get career advice from her.
The whole experience with Spare Room was excellent. I am so appreciative of this project because it meant I could have the opportunity to do work experience in London. It gave me a good experience of living and working in London which has definitely motivated me and made me less scared to work there. Thank you so much for helping me in my career!
The Spare Room project allowed me to connect and engage with my host in the world of publishing. Their knowledge was above anything else and I truly felt welcome in their home. They were able to give me tips as well as guidance on how to get the best outcome from my internship.
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