Insights from launching the Open Book internship

Open Book Internship Logo, Open Book spelled out in colourful letters

Earlier this year the pilot Open Book internship got underway, with an aim to foster cultural diversity within the Australian publishing industry. 

Open Book received over 200 applications for its inaugural program, with interns in both Sydney and Melbourne now undertaking their paid 6-month internships, each with three different publishers and supported by an industry mentor. 

Black and white photo of Grace Heifetz
Agent Grace Heifetz, chair of the Open Book Advisory Board

We caught up with agent Grace Heifetz, chair of the Open Book Advisory Board, to find out about the process of having a more accessible recruitment and selection process, along with some of the learnings so far.

Open Book received over 200 applications for its inaugural internship program, which aims to foster cultural diversity within the Australian publishing industry. How did you get the word out? 

From the outset, Open Book was conceived of as a joint initiative. The program started as a series of conversations from across the industry, about the lack of cultural and linguistic diversity in the Australian publishing sector, and what we could collectively do about it.

By the time the program launched, we had over 20 publishing houses and literary organisations involved, as well as funding partners in the Copyright Agency and the Australia Council for the Arts, and partnerships with peak industry bodies like the APA. All these organisations assisted with spreading the word and sharing news of the pilot program through their networks.

While this outreach was incredibly valuable, we also wanted the program to reach candidates outside of the standard publishing recruitment streams. As such, in the lead up to launching the program, the planning committee of our Advisory Board did a lot  of outreach to community organisations in Victoria and New South Wales – including Aboriginal Land Councils, centres and businesses; multicultural and neighbourhood community services and centres; libraries, bookstores, writing centres and many other cultural and community hubs. 

In terms of marketing and publicity, we also had beautiful social assets designed by the talented George Saad, as well as an extensive publicity plan devised and implemented by members of our Board. 

How did your application and interview process differ from more traditional hiring practices? 

In creating the program, we wanted it to be as accessible as possible to a broad range of candidates – not just those who are following the ‘traditional’ Masters of Publishing route. As such, we devised a selection process which, in the first round, required candidates to answer a series of questions where the answers were completely open – and, crucially, didn’t require a resume/CV or details about their education. 

The selection process was overseen by five members from our volunteer Board. In selecting this panel, we were conscious of ensuring it was as diverse and representative as possible, in terms of cultural background, age, and experience. We also contracted Diversity Arts Australia (DARTS) in a consulting role to help oversee the selection process and act as an external third party.

Working together, our panel and DARTS whittled down a shortlist, who were then interviewed over Zoom. Given the varying degrees of professional experience of our candidates, we tried to make the interviews an informal  and comfortable experience for prospective interns. These conversations were as much about the interns asking us questions as vice versa – which led to a generative and thoughtful experience for everyone!

What have you learnt from the Open Book process so far that could help publishers hoping to attract more diverse applicants?

The first thing to say is that there is an enormous wealth of talented candidates from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds who, given the opportunity, are incredibly eager to break into our industry.

The second, is that recruiting these individuals, and bringing them into our industry in a way that is successful, safe and sustainable, takes time.

When we first started talking about the program, I think there was a lot of excitement and a real sense of urgency to tackle the lack of diversity in our industry. The program was originally meant to launch early 2021, however, due to COVID and other factors, we ended up delaying the internship until this year.

In hindsight, I think this was the best thing that could have happened for the program. It enabled us to slow down, take stock, and ensure that all the proper consultation, research, and legal structures were in place before launching the program out to the world. That being said, it’s still a pilot program, and we have a lot more learning to do. But in this case, slow work is good work, and I hope that we can continue to develop and improve this program into the future.

More on Open Book

Further information about the interns, and several of the shortlisted candidates, has been published on the Open Book website to assist organisations looking for new staff. 

Open Book is a paid internship program aiming to increase cultural diversity in the Australian publishing workforce, which is supported by the Australia Council and the Copyright Agency. The APA is a partner of the Open Book program.