If you love books, or if you want to work in a creative field, a job in publishing might be for you! Here’s my advice on how to apply, the importance of getting work experience, day-to-day life, and the pros and cons of working in the sector.
An introduction to publishing
Getting into publishing wasn’t easy. I wasn’t always certain about the industry I wanted to work in but I knew I loved books, music, film and the arts, and intended to pursue a career in an industry that celebrated all things culture. Also, the publishing world is notorious for being difficult to break into, particularly if you don’t have professional contacts. However, this shouldn’t deter you!
What’s important to remember is that publishing isn’t all about editorial work. There are a number of roles in various departments, from Art, Design and Production, Sales and Finance, Rights and Contracts, Marketing and Publicity, to Editorial (just to name a few). There are also IT, office management, PA and admin roles, which can offer a route in.
Getting work experience can seem daunting, but in publishing, where resources are scarce and companies are often running low on staff, interns and volunteers are always appreciated. Keep an eye out for local and independent publishers, and take advantage of holidays, reading weeks or lecture-free days. If you show initiative and seek out indie publishers, they’ll greatly appreciate the effort and support, and it’s likely you’ll get some good advice, as well as bagging yourself a great reference for a future position!
You can also look for local magazines, or get involved with any arts and culture events, societies and organisations at the University (think Redbrick, The Tab etc.) – this experience will show you’re engaged in and passionate about the creative industries when applying for jobs. Lots of people who work in publishing also have experience of bookselling, so apply for jobs in your local Waterstones, Foyles, independent bookshops and libraries.
I’d recommend applying for positions whilst in final year if you’re looking to start a job straight out of university. Always apply for ‘assistant’ or ‘entry-level’ positions, unless you have extensive experience of working in publishing.
Sign up to , which features all jobs in the trade and education publishing sector and will help you get a good idea of what roles are available. Try for temporary and maternity cover positions, internships and work experience roles too, as other positions could always open up during your fixed time in a company.
Other good guides include: , and if you’re a BAME (black or ethnic minority) student, is a godsend. Keep an eye out for similar roles in other industries too – in theatre, music, film, museum and galleries, journalism, talent (agencies), radio, PR and advertising. All the skills developed in these jobs are transferable to publishing and the processes are very similar, particularly in production and editorial roles.
Working out where you want to be
Work out your strengths. If you like being a jack of all trades but want to be in the nitty-gritty of making a book from taking it on to sending into production, Editorial is probably the path for you. If you’re a stickler for timekeeping and scheduling, and love being in contact with all departments, Production is probably your area (you also get to do lots of cool stuff like pick out the different papers, colour and glitter charts, and you’re the first person who gets to see the book!). If you’re more into social media, creating campaigns and creative content, Marketing is your bag.
Other roles such as Publicity need people who love being on the road, getting in touch with journalists, magazines, newspapers and other press people, going on tour with authors and organizing events, so if you’re very much a people person, this is your thing. If you like coming up with concepts and would love the thought of coming up with artistic ideas for book covers, inside pages and merchandise, try the Art and Design path.
If you like using your languages and travelling (I’d strongly recommend to fellow language students), Rights is good fun. I’d suggest a role in Sales if you like the sound of pitching ideas and books to brands such as Amazon, Waterstones, WHSmith and Tesco. For those who like the sound of the legalities of book publishing and are interested in royalties, seek out Contracts roles!
My role is incredibly varied and I get to do something new every day: reading submissions for our editorial meetings, doing shadow edits, collating proofs (checking them for errors), creating reading group guides, author Q&As, cover copy, and coming up with taglines. Other times I might be booking travel and accommodation, mailing typeset manuscripts to proofreaders and copyeditors, sending book proofs to bloggers, authors and companies, doing sales and research projects, helping host events, and doing other PA/admin tasks.
What I love most about my job is my team. I work in a team of five at Trapeze, which consists of a Publisher, Editorial Director, Commissioning Editor and Editorial Assistant (and me). The team have been incredibly supportive, reassuring and grateful for everything I do. My favourite role at the moment is overseeing the ‘One in Four’ competition that Trapeze Books runs with Gingerbread and The Pool UK. The competition aims to publish a story by a debut author with single-parent family experience, and I’ve been fortunate enough to read the submissions and have a role in the shortlisting process.
There are great opportunities in publishing. There’s always an event or celebration – taking on a new author, a book release, if a book wins a prize – and you have the chance to meet agents, authors, and other media contacts. Another great thing about publishing is your voice is always appreciated – I have the chance to give my opinions on submissions, research and creating content.
One of the main issues that people find working in publishing (and other creative industries) is the low salary. If you’re looking to earn a lot, publishing isn’t the right career for you! It’s not a career where you get pay rises or promotions straight away. You work hard for some time to progress.
Another thing that can be a bit difficult to wrap your head around is the lack of diversity. Whilst there are incentives for things to change, it can seem daunting to be in a working environment where you’re a minority. Fortunately, most workplaces offer networks such as a BAME network, Gender Equality network, religious networks and LGBTQ+ networks. If you feel underrepresented, contact HR to ask about internal and external groups to help you get the right support and guidance.
How did I get in?
I worked part-time throughout my degree, and whilst this was taxing, it prepared me for working life. I created content for various media outlets at university such as The Tab, Erasmusu, Global Graduates and Student Hut, which helped me realise I wanted to be in a media role post-university.
Following my year abroad, I interned at Penguin Random House (). I soaked in what knowledge I could and asked my mentor to keep in touch and offer advice. In my final year I volunteered at , , and took on a volunteer PR/social media role at a reggae festival to explore marketing and publicity. Other work experience included events, retail and visual merchandising, which all plays a part in editorial tasks, and unpaid experience at in Birmingham.
In my final year, I applied for jobs. Even if you only have 15 minutes, look on job websites. You can see what’s out there, what companies are looking for, and learn what to say in your cover letter and I was accepted onto the (aimed at BAME students who want to get into publishing) at Hachette UK. Don’t feel pressured if you don’t have a job yet, as lots more crop up in the New Year and Summer Term!
4 things I’d recommend:
– Take advantage of any opportunities. I managed to get work experience at Packt Publishing following a talk for Careers Network on my experience in Penguin where I met an employer. I recommend going to – you can network easily and this is how opportunities arise!
– Sign up for the Careers Network – my mentor is a great support and it helps to have someone to talk to about your job.
– Weigh up your options. I was offered a few roles but thought some were too corporate, or weren’t the right working environment. Attend multiple interviews and consider the pros and cons of each before you decide!
– Remember publishing isn’t London-centric. I applied for roles in Birmingham too, and there are publishing houses across the country. If you’re looking to move to London, be aware that rent and travel costs could outweigh your earnings.
For more ideas on how to get into publishing, and where to look for work experience and jobs, head over to the blog post
This blog post was written by alumna Mireille Harper (BA Modern Languages, 2017) who is currently an Editorial Intern at Trapeze Books, Orion Publishing (Hachette UK).