If you have excellent grammar and communication skills and a keen interest in publishing, consider a career as an editorial assistant
An editorial assistant provides support at all stages of the publication of:
- online material
- publicity materials.
In this role you'll support senior editorial staff in all aspects of the administration, commissioning, planning and producing of different publications.
You'll need a great eye for detail, the ability to spot mistakes and excellent time management skills, so that you always hit strict deadlines.
The tasks that you undertake and your level of responsibility will vary depending on the size of the organisation and the type of publication that you are working on.
An editorial assistant role is typically an entry-level job for careers in the editorial industry. Progression to more senior roles such as features editor or commissioning editor may be possible once you've gained the necessary skills and experience.
With the growth of digital publishing there are increasing opportunities to work for online publications, which can involve editing and writing website content and using social media.
Editorial assistants perform a range of administrative and editorial tasks necessary to the production of publications.
You'll often be involved in projects from conception to completion, from receiving copy from authors through to the handover to production staff.
Your duties may include:
- supporting editorial staff in all activities leading to publication, including acting as a personal assistant to commissioning editors and overseeing tasks such as issuing contracts and dealing with royalties
- liaising with other in-house teams, writers, photographers, printers, designers and production staff to negotiate and monitor timescales for stages in the publishing process
- dealing with the administration of work commissioned to freelance writers, picture researchers, photographers, stylists and illustrators
- organising and researching projects to tight deadlines
- summarising written material
- correcting manuscripts
- obtaining rights to use materials from other publications
- using computers for word processing, desktop publishing and email
- dealing with phone and email queries, e.g. from writers and the public
- filing, photocopying and other routine administrative tasks.
In some areas of editorial work (e.g. for an in-house company publication), the work may also involve:
- writing articles and reports
- amending articles
- collating the work of several authors
- using specialist electronic publishing packages (e.g. QuarkXPress or InDesign).
In online publishing, your duties could also include:
- proofing, editing and writing online content including via social media
- uploading text and images to a website using a content management system
- compiling and distributing newsletters using specific software.
As your expertise develops, the role may involve:
- assessing manuscripts and making recommendations on their publication to senior editorial staff
- responding to copyright queries from writers and other publishers
- updating and rewriting material
- using your own specialist knowledge to contribute ideas
- sourcing freelancers or other authors to produce new materials
- assisting with the art direction and design of publications
- writing your own material.
- Starting salaries are likely to be in the region of £15,000 to £23,000, and vary according to the size and type of employer.
- Average salaries in publishing are around £26,500. After several years' experience, senior editor salaries range from £23,000 to £40,000, with higher salaries possible in larger publishing houses.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Working hours are typically 9am to 5pm with some extra hours for overtime, often without payment. Work may involve extra hours as deadlines approach.
Career breaks and part-time or freelance work are possible.
What to expect
- Work is largely office based, although more opportunities for home-based working are emerging with the growth of digital publishing and the potential to work electronically.
- The working environment and dress code are typically informal, although this depends on the publisher.
- The most likely areas for freelance work are proofreading, translation, copy-editing, copywriting and styling. For industry-specific support and advice see the The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP).
- Women make up around half the workforce in publishing. Around 8% of the workforce is from a black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) background. The Publishers Association - Inclusivity aims to encourage and support underrepresented groups into the profession.
- Most publishing opportunities in the UK arise within a 50 mile radius of London, with some positions available in other regions. Oxford also has a strong publishing centre and there are opportunities in other major cities, such as Edinburgh. Skills gained with UK publishers or on UK postgraduate courses in publishing may also be used overseas.
- Travel within the working day is uncommon. Overnight absences from home and overseas work or travel may occasionally be required, e.g. to attend conferences or book events, although these are often attended by more senior staff.
Although this occupation is open to all graduates and those with an HND, the following degree or HND subjects may increase your chances:
- arts and humanities, in particular English
- journalism, media or communication studies
- social, economic or business studies.
Entry without a degree or HND is sometimes possible. However, most entrants at editorial level are graduates.
Specialist knowledge gained through a degree may be an advantage for some specialist publications, e.g. science or engineering.
A pre-entry postgraduate qualification is not essential, but can be useful. Postgraduate courses that include placements and contact with people in publishing provide a good introduction to professional skills and networking.
A pre-entry certificate or postgraduate qualification in journalism may be very useful for entry positions in magazines and trade publications. A short publishing course, not necessarily at postgraduate level, may give you an edge over other applicants.
A second language is useful as some publications, particularly magazines, are printed internationally. You should also have an understanding of the publishing area you wish to enter. Read issues of trade publications such as The Bookseller to increase your knowledge.
You'll need to show:
- enthusiasm, interpersonal skills, self-motivation and flexibility
- IT, administrative and secretarial skills, including word processing and research skills
- a high standard of written and spoken English
- attention to detail, together with the ability to proofread
- the ability to stay calm under pressure, work well with others and show initiative
- creativity, and in some cases digital-editing skills. You may also need knowledge and experience of social media platforms such as Twitter
- time management skills, including the ability to keep to tight deadlines.
Pre-entry experience is desirable, if not essential, as competition is very strong.
Writing or editing experience is usually expected by employers as it shows your commitment to the industry. To arrange work experience placements, seek advice from people already in publishing and send speculative applications to companies.
Work experience can help you to build up your skills, knowledge and contacts, and give you an understanding of how publishing works. This can include:
- job shadowing at a magazine or newspaper
- working in a library or bookshop
- doing temporary administrative work in a publishing house.
Create your own website or blog to showcase samples of your work and develop an online social media presence, through Twitter and LinkedIn for example, to promote yourself and your skills. You can also use these social media platforms to follow companies that interest you.
Work experience opportunities, jobs, relevant news and articles are often posted on a company's social media pages, so make sure you research these regularly and keep up to date.
Make the most of any experience you can gain while you're at university, for example, writing for the student magazine or joining a relevant club or society. This is a great way to build up your skills and experience and demonstrate your interest, while building a network of contacts.
Many large and some smaller publishing houses offer work experience placements, which usually last around two weeks. These are typically unpaid, although expenses may be reimbursed.
Publishing is a diverse industry encompassing both large, multinational groups with a varied range of publications and small, independent, specialist companies with a much narrower focus.
Publishing can broadly be divided into six main sectors:
- magazines and newspapers
- academic and professional journals
- public and not-for-profit publishing
- directories and databases
- digital publishing.
As advances in technology have created new areas of business for publishers, digital publishing is growing. Many publishers complement their traditional print publishing with websites, CD-ROMs and other multimedia products, such as e-books. There are many new companies that specialise solely in electronic publishing.
Opportunities also exist in organisations that have a publications or publicity department. These organisations range from commercial companies that produce in-house newsletters to smaller charities or not-for-profit organisations that need to communicate with their employees or donors. Working as an editorial assistant in one of these organisations gives you an insight into the publishing process, from initial ideas through to the final product.
Look for job vacancies at:
For most publishers, recruitment is seldom planned in advance. Publishing is popular with graduates, so jobs often appear in the specialist press or through recruitment agencies rather than in national newspapers, in the hope that the advertisements will attract only a small number of suitable applicants.
Many jobs are not formally advertised and you may be able to get employment through networking or word of mouth. Attending literary festivals, book fairs and other relevant events is an excellent way to:
- meet publishers
- make industry contacts
- find out about opportunities
- make yourself known.
Very few graduate training schemes exist, although some large companies offer such schemes, which attract a large number of applications each year.
There are several well-recognised publishing recruitment agencies that might be useful if you already have some work experience. Find a full list of recruitment agencies on The Bookseller.
Speculative applications have a greater chance of success if you're targeting small to medium sized publishing companies, and if you have already made personal contact with someone in the organisation. Do extensive research to make your application as strong as possible and ensure your applications are word perfect.
When making speculative applications make sure that you outline the skills that you feel you can offer and how you can contribute, for example, the ability to research and collate information, social media skills as well as writing and editing skills, which can all be useful to a potential employer.
Once you've graduated, consider finding a part-time or temporary job - a surprising number of publishing careers start in this way and lead to permanent positions. Posts such as administrative assistants, editorial secretaries, copy editors and other related jobs are often a good stepping stone into publishing.
People are often recruited to trainee positions through contacts (developed through visiting book fairs, work shadowing and talking to people working in publishing), specialist training courses or because they have made direct contact at the right time.
Training takes place mainly on the job. Short courses are available, which in smaller organisations may have to be taken in the employee's own time. Larger publishers may have structured training programmes for new entrants or may commission customised training.
For courses which can be studied online throughout the year, take a look at Publishing Training Centre. Topics include:
- electronic and digital publishing
- production and other basic publishing skills, including grammar
- rights and contracts.
Evening courses for publishing employees and prospective entrants are run by the London School of Publishing.
For advice on skills development and occupational standards see the Publishing Skills Council, organised by Creative Skillset. Creative Skillet also runs training courses and put on events, as do Publishing Scotland and Publishing Ireland.
Training and advice for careers in publishing is available from the Professional Publishers Association (PPA).
Promotion depends on proving your abilities and developing a reputation within the industry for consistent high-quality work.
It may be advantageous to work as an editorial assistant on several publications to gain specialist experience, for example, in children's or academic titles.
It should then be possible to progress from editorial assistant to a features editor role in magazines, or to development editor, editor, project editor and ultimately on to senior commissioning editor and other managerial positions in publishing.
Competition for promotion from one level to another can be intense. Larger firms may have scope for you to progress within the organisation, but in smaller firms promotion may mean applying elsewhere once you've acquired basic skills and experience.
Editors often become freelancers, especially if working from home suits family or other commitments. Freelance work has many benefits, such as:
- reducing the need for travel
- working to your own timetable
- having a varied working life.
However, freelance rates vary and many benefits are forfeited, including holiday pay, sick pay, pensions and maternity cover.
Freelance work attracts high competition and you'll need previous experience and contacts in the publishing industry to be successful.
Publishing is growing in the Middle and Far East. If you're an experienced editor, you might consider working overseas.
Find out how Nikky became a senior content executive at BBC Bitesize.