How to get into publishing

Author
Jemma Smith, Editor
Posted
February, 2017

To impress publishers, you'll need a genuine love of books, as well as the right qualifications and experience

Breaking into a competitive industry is never easy but with enthusiasm, knowledge of the UK publishing industry (thanks to some research) and the right combination of skills and experience, you could be the next big thing.

'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 industry.

Achieve the right qualifications

An undergraduate degree is the prerequisite for most publishing jobs, as is a good level of computer literacy.

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

Postgraduate courses in publishing are becoming more popular, and while they won't guarantee you a job or a higher salary, they can help you to stand out in a crowd.

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

Universities that offer Masters in publishing include:

  • City, University of London
  • Edinburgh Napier University
  • Kingston University London
  • Plymouth University
  • University College London (UCL)
  • University of Central Lancashire (UCLan)
  • University of Derby.

Search postgraduate courses in publishing.

Gain experience

Publishing is oversubscribed and the number of applicants far outweighs the number of jobs on offer. Therefore it's vital to give yourself an edge by gaining some form of work experience, either during the summer break or immediately after you graduate.

Internships and placements give you the opportunity to discover what working for a publishing house is like and if the career really is for you. Almost all employers expect to see this kind of experience on your CV.

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,' she says. '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.'

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,' adds Carolyn.

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, Facebook and LinkedIn), and blogs are also great resources for finding out about entry-level programmes and connecting with people in the industry,' says Matthew.

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

Find a job

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

Areas of book publishing include:

  • academic
  • commercial or trade
  • educational
  • professional (finance, law etc.)
  • 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. '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 administrative role or a job in the marketing department. Even sat on the reception desk of a publishing house, you'll learn about the company and make valuable contacts. 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. 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.'

No matter where you work there's no denying that 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,' says Matthew.

Increase your chance of success

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

If you're determined to get ahead of the competition don't overlook the following points

  • Research - not just the company that you intend to work for but also the authors it publishes, its competitors and the wider publishing industry
  • 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.

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