We asked professionals working for a top publishing house to offer advice to those looking to land their first publishing job - explore the various routes into the industry and discover how to make your application stand out from other candidates

Study a Masters in publishing

An undergraduate degree has traditionally been the prerequisite for most publishing jobs, with these courses typically helping you to develop a good level of computer literacy.

However, it's a false assumption that English is the ideal subject for entry into the profession. For most publishing roles, the degree subject is irrelevant, unless you'd like to work in subject-specific publishing, such as science, medical, history or art. In these cases, a degree in one of these subjects may improve your chances.

While it's true that employers are more interested in a graduate's skills and competencies - for example, demonstrating excellent time management and attention to detail - than having degree-level qualifications, postgraduate courses in publishing are becoming more popular.

A Masters in the subject may not be able to guarantee you a job or a higher salary, but it can prepare you for what to expect from this demanding career.

'My Masters gave me a base-level understanding of what the publishing process looked like before I went into my current job,' says Priyanka Moorjani, international communications assistant at Penguin Books UK. 'Creative writing also provided insight into the industry from an author's perspective - from agent negotiations to the author questionnaires a publishing house would need prior to publication.'

If your first degree is in a completely unrelated area, an MA in publishing can also provide you with industry-specific skills, a network of contacts and a greater understanding of the different roles available.

Jonathan Herbert, rights assistant at Penguin Books UK, explained, 'A Masters in Publishing, though not essential, gave me a good grounding in how publishing works. I was given great networking opportunities and enough confidence to know which area of publishing was right for me.'

Universities that offer Masters courses in publishing include:

  • City, University of London
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Kingston University London
  • Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU)
  • University of the Arts London (UAL)
  • University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)
  • University College London (UCL)
  • University of Exeter
  • University of Plymouth
  • York St John University.

To see what's on offer, search for postgraduate courses in publishing.

Look for a publishing internship

The number of applicants for publishing jobs far outweighs the number of positions available. Therefore, it's vital to give yourself an edge by gaining some form of work experience, either during your summer breaks or immediately after you graduate.

You'll find that internships and placements give you the opportunity to discover what it's like to work for a publishing house and if the career really is for you.

However, if you haven't yet been able to add this kind of relevant experience to your CV, when applying for jobs it's important to highlight the skills you have developed so far in your career through study, work experience and any other extra-curricular activities you've been involved in - for example, if you've worked in a bookshop or volunteered at a literary festival.

Most entry-level publishing jobs are based in London, where prospects are good. Penguin Books UK also offers a number of entry-level roles in Frating, Essex.

Opportunities exist in editorial, design, production, marketing and sales departments and, with the popularity of eBooks, the growing digital market.

Publishing companies typically advertise internship opportunities on their websites.

For example, Emily Large, recruitment programmes advisor at Penguin Books UK, explains how they run a number of emerging talent programmes and insight opportunities, which are advertised via their careers site. These range from two-month summer internships to a six-month programme.

'None of these opportunities require a CV to apply and instead we look for specific qualities displayed during the selection process,' reveals Emily.

Matthew Hutchinson, publicity manager for Penguin Books UK, also recommends checking out industry sites such as The Bookseller, which is free to sign up to and sends out weekly jobs bulletins.

'It's important not to get taken advantage of by unpaid work experience. Penguin Books UK and a growing number of other publishers now pay work experiencers a minimum wage.

'With any experience make sure you get the most out of your time with a team by asking specific questions about their work, requesting experience in other aspects of their role, putting yourself forward to help out with a specific project, or asking to be introduced to colleagues in other departments. Two weeks will go by very quickly, so be proactive and show interest in the work around you.’

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

'Staying in touch with people you meet face-to-face is also important. Sending a short email, just to say 'hi' and to tell your previous mentors where you've gained experience recently could go a long way and shows initiative.'

Alternatively, you could start your own literary blog and promote it via your social networks - you never know whose eye it may catch. Read more about setting up a blog and other ways to get media experience.

Land a publishing assistant apprenticeship

For school leavers, the Publishers Association has revealed a new apprenticeship standard through LDN Apprenticeships for those starting out in the publishing industry.

The Level 3 Publishing Assistant Apprenticeship, equivalent to studying A-levels, will take 15 months to complete and is delivered through a combination of online and in-class learning, workshops, site visits and one-to-one coaching sessions.

As an apprentice you'll get to work across key aspects of the publishing process, from the product's conception - be it a book, eBook or journal - all the way through to production in paper or digital format. You'll also get an understanding of the sales, marketing and publicity side of things.

As you'd expect, most publishing apprenticeships are based in London, and you may be able to find work with a renowned publishing house as well as smaller publishers. For instance, editorial apprentices working for Bloomsbury in their adult trade division are paid £20,000 per year, as they work towards their Level 3 qualification.

Read about other media apprenticeships and explore what is an apprenticeship?

Get a publishing job

Roles vary depending on the type of publishing and the department you work in, and while pay is reasonable you won't find top-level salaries in publishing, so you'll need a genuine love of what you do.

Areas of book publishing include:

  • academic
  • commercial or trade
  • educational
  • fiction
  • professional (finance, law)
  • scientific, technical or medical (STM).

Digital publishing is also a growing field, especially in academic, educational and STM publishing.

Matthew explains why it's important for you to choose the right area to work in. 'Graduate responsibilities include supporting the publishing and creative process, so having an interest in, and passion for the kind of books being published is essential.'

As competition for jobs is fierce, it's important to keep an open mind and not discount any opportunities - for example, if your end goal is to work in editorial, don't turn down an admin role or a job in the marketing department. You'll still learn about the company and make valuable contacts, and you never know where these jobs might lead and what internal vacancies may arise.

Opportunities differ depending on whether you work for a large or small publisher. Each has 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.

'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,' says Matthew.

No matter where you work, there's no denying that working alongside people who share your passions can be incredibly rewarding. 'You get the chance to work with a variety of creative professionals, all under the same roof and towards the same end goal,' says Matthew.

Explore the roles of a publishing rights manager and publishing copy-editor/proofreader.

Increase your chance of success

If you're determined to get ahead of the competition:

  • Do your research - not just of the company you'd like to work for, but also the authors it publishes, its competitors and the wider publishing industry.
  • Show you're the best candidate - 'give some detail on your competencies and how they match up with the requirements of the role. As recruiters, we want to know about your past experiences and why this makes you the ideal candidate,' says Francesca Rothery, recruitment advisor at Penguin Books UK.
  • Have a clear career plan - 'in your cover letter or application, explain why you're interested in joining the that specific team - we want to see your enthusiasm for the role,' says Francesca.
  • 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're discussing.
  • 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.

Find out more

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