Always a Workie, Never Employed

Figures were released recently that showed just how bad unemployment has become over the last year. It is not just young people who are out of work but they are the ones struggling to make their mark on the career ladder. Many are staying at home with parents longer simply because they cannot afford to leave home.

In this unstable economic climate, many people are having to work for free just to fill the gaps in their CVs and keep learning new skills in the hope that this will make them more likely to find employment.

In May 2010, I quit my job to pursue a career in publishing and so began my time as a work experience person, or "workie" as we are often known. For anyone considering this as a long-term option, I hope you find the following helpful.
And may I just say an enormous thank you to all those who helped me as a workie - from the fantastic people I met at each company to my long-suffering friends and family who put up with my mood swings.
Amanda x


As many young people will no doubt attest to, not many people go to university knowing what career they want. I never really knew what I wanted to do for a career. I studied American Studies and Spanish because it interested me. I got to learn a language and debate international relations, film and history. I spent time living abroad, meeting people and learning about new cultures.

When I returned home after university, I fell into a sales/admin job because they were looking for a Spanish speaker, but after a couple of years there I knew it wasn’t where I wanted to be. I quit and did a CELTA teaching course only to be told that it was really difficult to find work in the UK teaching foreign languages and I would have to move abroad (something I was not prepared to do). So I fell into another job which was only meant to be a few weeks temporary work while I found something permanent. Over a year later, I was still there.

At the ripe old age of 27 I took a look at my life and realised I wasn’t happy. I was floating along in a job where the people were lovely, the pay was just about liveable and the job was so easy I could do it with my eyes closed. I wanted to go out there and find my dream job – but there was one small hiccup – I didn’t know what that dream job was.

So I started thinking… what do I love to do outside of work? The answer is writing and reading. I write stories and when I’m not in the mood to write, I read. Hmmm, books. Yes, publishing. That would be cool. Getting to read books for a living – perfect!

About a year before I had made this decision, I got a weekend job. I needed extra money if I was ever going to move out of home and found a job at a care home working with disabled children. It was the complete opposite of office work, running around all day after active children and constantly coming up with ways to entertain them. I loved it, but it was exhausting. After a few months, I started noticing the difference in my bank account. I was earning about £500 extra a month which was really adding up. The down-side of this was that my friends rarely saw me, I was often in bed by ten and I was never out to actually spend the money I was making.

So when I made the decision to go down the workie career path, I had savings. I spoke to people, I did my research and learned that many people did it for 4-6 months before finding work. I planned for about eight just to be sure. I knew that getting into publishing was not going to be all that easy, but if I didn’t do it then, I never would - so I lined up my first work experience placement and was off.

My first placement was above and beyond what I had imagined. As a first glimpse into book publishing, it was eye-opening. The team, all women, were so kind and helpful and answered any strange questions I had with a smile. I was even assigned someone who would take me to lunch one day to have a good old natter about what I was looking for and see if there was anything they could do to help. I spent most of the first week dealing with mailshots, sending books to reviewers and getting far too many papercuts in the process.

In week two of this placement, something magical happened. They saw potential in me and realised I could be utilized in other areas too. A massive author was about to release his new book and competitions needed to be coordinated with bloggers and online reviewers to coincide with the release. As well as working on this, I was invited to an event to hear the author speak and also went to a small book launch for a foreign author. This was also when I discovered the best perk of being a workie… free books.

On my last day, the HR woman who coordinated placements asked me what I thought about what I’d done and how it had gone. She asked if there was a particular department I wanted to work in and I told her editorial. Within a few days she had lined up a placement for me. And then the fun really started...


After only two work experience placements, the HR woman approached me and asked if I’d be interested in doing some holiday cover. Paid work in publishing! You can imagine how long it took me to mull that over. And it was when I started doing the temp work that I really saw what was involved. You feel like you’re learning lots when you’re a workie but only when I became a temp did I realise just how much work goes into the role I wanted. I was no longer sitting on the sidelines doing the work other people didn’t have time for; I was doing the job. I was suddenly thrown in at the deep end, dealing with Editors, Authors, customers and people in every other department in the building. I was coordinating meetings between Editorial, Publicity, Production. The most eye-opening part though was getting to read manuscripts.

I suspect any agent or editor will tell you that reading manuscripts is the most time-consuming part of the job – but it’s also the most vital. To find that hidden gem among the pile that will reach a massive audience, sell in the thousands, perhaps millions, is so important. As a workie, you will often be asked to read from the slushpile, but as a temp you are reading from the solicited manuscripts (those sent over from agents) so there's a lot of pressure on you to understand not just what's well written but what sells.

One fortnight led to another and another and before I knew it I had temped for most of the departments in the building. The money coming in also allowed me to relax. I didn’t feel bad if I treated myself to a £4 lunch from M&S every once in a while and bought new clothes occasionally – something I hadn’t done in months.

The BS Report
I also got to work on more high-profile books and learned all about the stresses and fun of picture research. I was held accountable for a lot of work. If previously I had been dropped in at the deep end of a pool, this was like being thrown in the sea from a helicopter. I was now dealing with external people not just about book requests and information but about money. I had a budget to stick to and costs to keep down. I had the power to argue a price or agree to it. This was a lot of responsibility but was also an opportunity to prove my worth as well as that of the photos. I was working late, checking emails out of the office to deal with American photographers on a different time zone and constantly wondering what I’d forgotten. While I was doing this I learned that the job I was currently temping in was actually available. I applied immediately and, a few days later, was told I had an interview.


HR people started to take notice after a few months. My ever-changing CV was getting more and more impressive. I had done temp work and work experience. I had worked in publicity and editorial, adult and children, fiction and non-fiction. I was clearly a massive reader and was serious about working in publishing. This was enough to get me to interview but sadly it was not enough to get me a job. People who had been in permanent employment for over a year in publishing were applying and next to them I couldn’t compete.

I had lots of great feedback and positive responses saying congratulations on making it to the interview stage. One told me that out of over 200 applicants, only seven had been asked to interview. I ought to have been happy about that but it had been months and I was still unemployed. The general idea was for me to “just keep trying”. So I did. But soon after the summer period finished, people came back from their holidays and my temping services were no longer required. I went back to work experience and started seeing what life was like in other publishing companies. After feeling like I had come so far, it was like starting again at square one. Every time I started at a new company, I was back to being unknown and handed the filing and mailshots, jobs which now seemed horrendous to me.

The interviews kept coming, but I never made it to the second interview stage – that is until I interviewed for my dream job working with three editors. Between them they represented two out of my top three favourite authors and I was giddy with excitement at the prospect of working with them. Clearly my enthusiasm was impossible to deny as they called me a few days later to say they wanted me back for a second interview.

Unfortunately, I didn’t get that job either but one of the editors was kind enough to call me and explain that they had nothing negative to say about me at all but somebody internal had applied who knew the company systems, knew how they worked and would be able to start the ground running. Again, I couldn’t compete.


Around the time when I started to temp, I decided to start blogging and joined Twitter. I realised there was an art form to writing reader reports which involved getting the perfect balance between your opinion and whether the wider market would enjoy it (even if you did not!). So I figured the best way to hone this skill would be to start reviewing things myself. I couldn’t decide between book or film reviews so started a blog that looked at both!

After only a few weeks of developing my social media skills into the world of Twitter and making new Twitter friends, I was asked to write reviews for other sites. I had met up with a well-known film critic and interviewed the creator of Filmoria, an up-and-coming film site, who liked me enough to ask me to send him some things. Then, I was told about a book review site Novelicious that was looking for reviewers. I applied and got in! I was suddenly the one being sent free books which only a few months early I had been stuffing into envelopes.

It was not all plain sailing though. Having other people to bat ideas off helped tremendously but I was not a professional and sometimes it showed. I had to make mistakes to figure out what worked and what didn't. I am also still haunted by my first negative review that I wrote, but knew that if I was to ever be taken seriously, I had to be honest – even if what I wanted to say was not very nice.

Over the next few months, writing for these two sites would open many doors for me. I was reporting from events, getting media passes, going to film screenings and reporting on films and books that hadn't yet hit the general public. And it didn't stop at writing the articles and reviews. Because of my fast-growing love of Twitter, I was able to discuss these things with other critics, authors and fans. I was even asked to attend a book launch at the Ivy and asked how I found the time to do it all. I would soon learn that when you love what you're doing – you find the time.


Anniversaries should be happy occasions. You are celebrating that you have survived a significant period of time. Unless, of course, the milestone you have reached is not a good one. When I reached the one year mark, things started to go downhill very quickly. I was still nowhere nearer getting a permanent position, the lease at my flat was coming to an end, I had reached a permanent state of exhaustion and my savings were depleting fast, even working seven days a week. Six to eight months, I'd been told. Not twelve.

But I had to soldier on. If I gave in now, it would all have been for nothing. So I found another placement and continued. And this was when the resentment really kicked in. I was asked to work for three weeks at a new department, instead of the usual two. At first, I had thought this was a great thing as it meant longer to prove myself and show off my amazing skills and dedication. Then I started the placement and realised this was not the case. I was there for three weeks, they explained, because I was going to “help out” the team while the assistant was away on holiday. Basically, I was going to do her job for her while she was away – and for free. This was a situation for a temp, not a workie. This was infuriating, especially when nobody took the time out of their busy schedules to even answer questions I had about the department and the role itself. It was a high-pressured environment and I got involved – two things I would normally have loved were it not for the constant voice in my head telling me I was being used. At the end of the three weeks, all I got was a “thanks, bye”. They even refused to write me a reference as it was “against policy”, even though everybody else I had asked had been happy to write one for me – including high-profile literary agents and editors.

Every day had become the same. I got up, went to work (suddenly very aware that it was for free), came home, started flat and job hunting, then went to bed and didn't sleep well. I was working every day and rarely saw my friends. When I did see them, I was on edge and snapped at the slightest thing. A week before the lease was due to run out, I still hadn't found a place to live or a job. I wasn't able to be happy for an impending family wedding and felt that the tiniest trigger would drive me over the edge.

Reluctantly then, I moved back in with my dad. Many twenty-somethings can relate to how it feels to live with your parents after you've moved away. No matter how welcoming they may be and independent you may feel while there, there is something soul-destroying about not being able to live away from home, especially after having done so at university. It feels like a massive step back.

For me, the biggest issue with this move was that my dad didn't live in London. The commute was suddenly much more expensive, much longer and without my car – another luxury I had had to relinquish a few months earlier – I was stuck out in the sticks away from the friends that had just about managed to keep me sane this far.

Though it didn't feel like it at the time, the move back home was just what I needed. It forced me to slow down. I spent my evenings watching TV and reading, actually remembering what it felt like to relax. Though more expensive, the commute into town was far less stressful than the tube and I seemed to slowly unwind as the days went on. By the time I found a flat back in London, cheap enough for me to just about manage a little while longer without a job, I felt a little more like my old self.


It felt like I had exhausted the larger publishers and still got nowhere. Things were now getting more desperate and I realised that a permanent position in publishing was now more important than one specifically within editorial, which is what I had been working for. I started applying for jobs in publicity, sales and anything that had an admin focus but was within a publishing company. I also started looking at the much smaller companies to see if they needed anybody. Unlike the big companies that advertise all their positions on their website, smaller companies often give an email address to contact to see if there are any roles available. I contacted a company I had previously asked about work experience and discovered that they were in fact looking for an Assistant to the MD position. I was delighted and then discovered it would also involve some editing. Would that be something I'd be interested in, they asked me. Absolutely.

I interviewed for the role days later and was told the following week that the job was mine if I wanted it.


I was fortunate that I managed to find a job that I wanted, where they wanted me. I honestly think I wouldn’t have lasted much longer the way I was going. My funds were quickly depleting, my temper running incredibly thin and my patience had disappeared entirely. I had no more energy to continue working weekends but couldn’t afford food if I didn’t. Working six or seven days a week had really started to take its toll.

It’s a double edged-sword really being a workie. For some industries it really is the only way to get noticed and set yourself ahead of the competition. You want more responsibility to prove yourself but without the pay that goes with it, you start to feel resentment. There is a reason you are only given mindless tasks and introductory insights into the role – you are not being paid. Work experience should be learning about the job and the industry, helping out where you can and getting to talk to people about what you should be doing next. It should not be a chance for companies to exploit hard-working people who are out of work and looking to make themselves more desirable to future employers.

There are more long-term internships available, some which pay a slight wage, as well as the usual two-week work experience placements that normally just cover your travel expenses but they are in high demand, especially in the current economic climate. So my advice to you, if you are considering this, is to think long-term. Can you afford to support yourself if you don’t find work in six months, a year, perhaps longer - and do you want it badly enough that you will keep soldiering on until somebody gives you a job?

With hindsight, and money in the bank, it's easy to say it was all worth it. I've met some great people, worked on some great books, made contacts and friends in many London-based publishers and literary agencies and now have the job I wanted – editing. But, looking back on how I was at the one-year mark, I know it could all have ended very differently.


  1. This is great! I wan't to read more at once!

  2. Brilliant, glad to see your hardwork and determination paid off in the end, well done. @grumpyduckuk

  3. What an excellent and fascinating post. Well done for getting so much valuable experience and for getting such a good job.

  4. Wow, well done for keeping going through so many trials, and getting to where you wanted in the end. Before I started writing fiction, I worked in TV where work experience is so often weighted towards what the company needs, rather than being mutually beneficial. It takes real determination to work for free and make it work for you!

  5. Thanks so much for the lovely comments. It was bloody hard work and I just wanted people to realise this before they opted for the "workie" route.

    And companies really need to stop taking advantage. I still can't believe the cheek of that one department - and to not even give me a reference!

  6. What a fascinating article. I worked in medical publishing a long time ago and even that is quite hard to break into.

  7. Hello Amanda! I wanted to say a big thank you for this article which I found genuine and very interesting and never flirting with pathos. I feel like I learned a lot from your article and I wanted to ask you a question:

    Was there any book about publishing (whether a memoir, a fiction or a career's guide) that you had found helpful before you dived into publishing and would advise me to read?

    I am a fresh graduate in Literature & Languages and have been working for a few months now as a translator. I like it! But I feel like I ought to try a few different things with my Master's degree. I love books and other cultures (I am a French native speaker and fluent in English and Spanish) so would like to make these coincide, I'm thinking maybe there are some roles in publishing companies that are somewhat international? What do you think?

    All the best! And thank you again for this article that I really enjoyed (and found on Novelicious).

    Bises. Lili

  8. Lili

    Thanks so much for your comment! I'm glad to have helped. I didn't have a book so much as internet research and asking around. If you want languages and publishing, I'd suggest looking into the international rights department as they are the ones that sell the rights to foreign publishers. If you can work in the European market, they'd love you for sure. Best of luck... and let me know how you get on.

    Amanda x

  9. Thank you, that's great advice! I will start searching the web to learn more about these departments, and shaping my resume in that sense to see if I can get to talk to some people who work in these roles. Like you, I feel like there are some really nice people in our industry and I believe that it's because most are passionate about books and culture which I think makes for a great work environment.

    Thank you again, and you can count me among your blog followers from now on :)

  10. Amazing. Thank you Amanda. I'm 27 now and have been trying to change my career path and have been losing my rag a little. I have a Masters in Literature and have work experience but nothing seems to be enough. Your account of events have made me realise that with a little more persistence, some extra work and just keeping your eye on the goal it can (not will) make everything worthwhile.
    Thank you =)
    Carly x (@woshixiongmao)

  11. Thank you very much for this very insightful article. I am also at the beginning of my career, trying to find a job, even if it is unpaid (at least for now), and it's still hard, even with a rather good CV for my age (23). Today I could say my luck changed, as I was asked to come interview for an internship, and although I am trying to stay positive, I am not getting my hopes high. The job hunt is so hard these days, there is a lot of competition.Good luck with your new job!

    1. Diana, I never asked... did you get the job? A x

  12. Awesome post, it was so interesting to read! Thanks for sharing it :)