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Open Book is an internship program whose aim is to foster a more culturally diverse publishing industry. The 2024 Open Book interns were announced recently. We caught up with Open Book administrator, Rebecca Slater and the 2024 interns, Nashin Mahee, Tayla Goodman and Olivia Garcia, to chat about all things Open Book. 

The Open Book internship came at the perfect time for Nashin Mahee.

“I was feeling a little lost on how I could get my foot in the door [of the publishing industry]. The [Open Book] application process was accessible and approachable, and truthfully I just wanted to try my luck. I’m so glad I did because I’ve been rewarded with the opportunity I’ve been begging for for so long!” Nashin said.

A proud Bengali-Australian Muslim woman, Nashin is currently studying the Master of Creative Writing, Editing and Publishing at the University of Melbourne and is the MZ Blog editor for Grattan Street Press.

Tayla Goodman, an Indigenous woman from Sydney, enrolled in a business administration certificate at the start of the year. It was the impetus for her to apply for Open Book.

“I’ve always loved the idea of working with books and being able to share my interests with others so that they can discover the same passion for reading. At the start of this year, I began a short administration course that constantly had me thinking about what I was supposed to do after [completing the course], so I began searching and came across the Open Book application,” Tayla said.

Olivia Garcia was raised in a Spanish-speaking home and grew up immersed in languages and stories. She completed a postgraduate degree in editing and publishing at UTS last year.

“Publishing has always been a huge interest of mine, and I spent much of my time at university building up my experience and involvement with the industry as much as I could. Having graduated last year, I was ready for the next step in my journey and the Open Book internship was the perfect opportunity for that,” Olivia said.

Open Book is opening publishing pathways

Synonyms for “open book” include transparent, clear as day and accessible. While that’s a fun bit of wordplay, those words also speak to the goals of Open Book. Founded in 2021, the program is the brainchild of a group of publishing industry professionals who were eager to see a shift in the industry when it came to cultural diversity.

Open Book is a paid internship that places interns with publishings houses in Sydney and Melbourne. Interns spend 21 weeks with the program and gain experience in editorial as well as production, sales, distribution, marketing and publicity in the trade, independent and educational publishing sectors. The demand for the program is represented in the number of applications: over 300 for the 2024 intake alone.

The Australian Publishers Association’s 2022 Workforce Diversity and Inclusion Survey found that less than 1% of Australia’s publishing professionals identify as First Nations; only 8.5% identify as Asian; and 10.5% identify with a non-British European culture.

In 2020, Beatrice Davis Fellowship winner Radhiah Chowdhury explored inclusivity and representation in Australian publishing. Her report, It’s hard to be what you can’t see: diversity within Australian publishing, looked to the UK for lessons on diversity. Chowdhury’s recommendations highlighted the need for more inclusive hiring, improved training and professional development and a focus on retention.

As Open Book administrator Rebecca Slater explained, pathways to a career in publishing have not historically been straightforward.

“Traditionally, the entry pathway into publishing in Australia has been pretty restrictive. Unpaid internships through university courses have long been the norm, and there are very few graduate programs or cadetships publicly available,” Rebecca said.

“Open Book wanted to challenge and open up these pathways to encourage a more diverse workforce, and there is strong evidence that targeted paid internships are an effective method of achieving this.”

Along with their placements, interns are paired with a mentor who is on hand to guide and support them. Additionally, and very importantly, Open Book offers training and resources on cultural safety to the participating publishers and organisations.

Building experience and knowledge top list of intern goals

The 2024 interns are right at the beginning of their experience. But they’re already clear on the goals they have for the program.

“Two of my main learning goals are building on my current experience and knowledge of the industry, but also getting in-depth looks into the sides of publishing you don’t often hear about as much,” Olivia said.

“It’s such a multi-faceted industry, and the more I learn about just how many steps it takes to bring a book from an idea to the shelf, the more I want to get involved.

It’s so great that interns are able to work in so many departments too. It’s not every day you get to be an editor, publicist and sales rep, and it’s been extremely rewarding so far.”

For Nashin, it’s the opportunity to test her editorial skills and build connections that tops her list of goals.

“My studies have taught me a lot of ‘theory’, but now I want to see how I perform in real life. I also want to learn more about the different types of editorial roles available in the industry so I can find out exactly what kind of editor I am and can grow to be.

“I am looking forward to forming lots of meaningful connections with people in the industry, as well as being able to proofread, edit, and be involved in the making of a book. I am looking forward to it all, really – even all the meetings and emails!”

For Tayla, getting deep into the processes required to bring a book to life is something she’s excited about.

“I mainly hope to understand how important each role in producing a book is, as well as gaining any knowledge I can from asking questions and observing all the steps that take place on the way to completing a book and after it’s been published.”

Open Book a positive experience for interns

Five interns have gone through the program since its inception and the three interns from the 2023 intake all now work in full-time roles in the industry.

“On the whole, the program has been a really positive experience for interns,” Rebecca said.

“Interns have loved being able to see the variety of ways to work in publishing, meet like-minded book lovers, and gain a huge amount of industry experience in a short period of time.

“We’ve been so thrilled to see so many of our interns go on to work in the industry, and hope to support more career pathways for culturally diverse aspiring publishing professionals.”

For the 2024 Open Book interns, their career goals are pretty straightforward: find a way into the publishing industry

“The biggest goal for me would be to enter the publishing industry in my dream role,” Tayla said. “But in reality if I can get my foot in the door of the publishing world, I would be happy to get a start on my plan to inspire others.”

Olivia has wanted to work in publishing since she was 13, and while hopeful of finding an opportunity after the internship, she’s mindful of making her goals too narrow.

“I do think that setting too specific a goal can sometimes close you off to other opportunities, so I’m also very excited to see where this path takes me. Living and working overseas is another of my dreams, so maybe I can combine the two!” she said.

“Perhaps not an uncommon answer, but I am looking to get a job in publishing as soon as possible,” Nashin said.

“I am confident and eager to start as an editor, but I am also open to other areas of the industry that may catch my interest. At the moment, I am really enjoying working on the pages of a work in progress, and I hope to continue working as closely in the future.”

Learn more about the Open Book program.