How to get into book publishing

Jemma Smith, Editor
January, 2015

The UK book-publishing sector employs around 27,000 people and if you're aiming to be one of them you'll need the right combination of skills and experience

Starting a career in a competitive industry is never easy but with bags of enthusiasm and a genuine love of books you could be the next big thing in publishing.

'Graduates should consider a career in the industry if they are passionate about reading and interested in what makes people read the books they do,' explains Carolyn Mays, managing director of Hodder & Stoughton.

Opportunities exist in: editorial, design, production, marketing and sales departments and more recently, with the introduction of ebooks, the growing digital market.

We asked the experts at two top publishing houses what you should expect from a career in publishing and how you can stand out from fellow candidates in this fast-paced, ever-evolving industry.

Developing your skillset

Most publishing jobs are based in London, where entry-level prospects are good. 'There are always opportunities in one department or another, but some areas, such as editorial, are more popular and competitive than others,' says Carolyn.

For Carolyn when it comes to being noticed, nothing beats experience, 'internships and work experience schemes are so popular because they give us a chance to assess the individual; are they a hard worker, cheerful, enthusiastic?

'If you impress the publisher at this point, they might think of you first when they have a suitable job.'

The majority of companies advertise internship opportunities on their websites and Matthew Hutchinson, publicity assistant at Penguin Random House recommends checking out industry sites such as The Bookseller, which is free to sign up to and sends out weekly jobs bulletins.

'Social media channels, (such as Twitter and Facebook), and blogs are also great resources for finding out about entry-level programmes and connecting with people in the industry,' adds Matthew.

Alternatively think about writing a literary blog and promote it via your social networks, you never know whose eye it may catch.

Finding a job

Roles will vary depending on what department you work in and while salaries are reasonable, publishing is not especially well paid so you'll need a genuine love of what you do.

'Graduate responsibilities will be to support the publishing and creative process, so having an interest in, and passion for the kind of books being published is essential,' says Matthew.

A career in the industry, working alongside like-minded people, can be incredibly rewarding, 'you get the chance to work with a variety of creative professionals all working under the same roof and towards the same end goal.'

Opportunities will differ depending on whether you work for a larger or smaller publisher. Each has both good and bad points. For example, the chance to meet and work alongside high-profile authors is more likely at bigger, well-known publishing houses, while access and exposure to other departments and experienced colleagues is more likely in smaller publishers. Matthew advises, 'the best way to find out where you fit is to gain experience in both and then reflect on what you do and don't enjoy about them.'

Expert advice

  • Sharpen your skills - 'demonstrate knowledge of spelling, punctuation and grammar. You won't get the job if you can't spell,' explains Carolyn.
  • Target your applications - 'start your cover letter from scratch and do your research into the department's role within the publishing process,' says Matthew.
  • Speak up - 'don't be afraid to have a view, particularly with editorial assistant roles, the interviewer will be keen to know what you thought of the book you are discussing,' adds Carolyn.
  • Think outside the box - 'don't just apply for the editorial positions that everyone else is applying for. Find out if marketing, publicity, rights or sales appeals to you,' advises Matthew.

Carolyn feels that winning candidates can be easily identified, 'relaxed, enthusiastic, but not over-confident candidates with interesting opinions about books and the direction that publishing is heading are the ones who will get the job.'