This post was written by Meghan Moore, CAL SET Member and student at the University of Birmingham

For a long period of my life, I have wanted to get into publishing. As an English student, I love books and I wanted to help create them and find great ones to share with more people. But I also haven’t really understood what that meant. People would ask me what role I was interested in, and I would usually say “editor”, mostly because I wasn’t sure what the other roles were, or which ones would even interest me.

Although Penguin Random House are most famous for their work experience schemes, I decided to look into Harper Collins. They are a little smaller as a company and publish a lot of the books I enjoy reading. I was also lucky enough to know somebody who worked there already and they were able to help me find the right person to email about work experience. When I first asked about work experience at Harper Collins, I asked to work in Sales. I had heard “sales” and assumed this meant selling something to someone in a creative way, rather than physically trying to sell books. I wanted to influence people to read books I was passionate about, so on reflection it was Marketing I wanted to do. I also didn’t know what an Imprint was, so when I was told I’d be working with the Avon Imprint, I didn’t understand what that meant (something I’ll explain below). However, all of these small mistakes and misunderstandings have taught me a lot, and this is why I’m writing this blog post, to pass on my knowledge to you.

What is an Imprint?

An Imprint is a smaller branch within a publishing company that publishes specific types of books in order to market them to different demographics. For example, Avon publishes commercial fiction (summer reads and crime novels, as it was summed up to me), and work with authors like Kitty Neale and Tracy Buchanan.

It’s important to know what an Imprint is because it will also help you focus on where you might want to work. For example, if you know you want to work in a genre like romance, you might want to work for Mills&Boon, another Harper Collins Imprint. If you want to work in academic publishing in a specific subject, you will need to look around at what companies have imprints that interest you. You might also realise that you want to work more centrally; after my time with the Avon team I completed another week of work experience with the Digital Team to expand my marketing skills, and I found that it suited me much better. I realised that I wanted to market all types of books and reading rather than a specific group.

To give you an idea of the range of Imprints in the publishing industry, Harper Collins currently have 17 different Imprints and Penguin Random House has nearly 250! It’s worth doing your research into the kinds of books you might like to work with as this will suggest the kind of imprints you want to target.

What are the different areas of book publishing?

There are many areas of book publishing, but here are six of the key ones:

  • Academic/educational – Publish work written by scholars to be used in places like universities. A thesis would be published by academic publisher. This will also include textbooks for schools. Look at who publishes the books on your reading list (such as Oxford University Press) – these are likely to be academic publishers
  • Scientific, technical or medical – Similarly to academic/educational, these will focus on books targeted at the professionals who work in them, about specific topics in the field
  • Commercial/ traditional – Publish books to be read by a general audience. Publishers like Harper Collins are commercial publishers (but they may branch into other areas)
  • Mass Market paperbacks – Publish the small, pocket-sized books that you might get as a gift for someone
  • Religious – Publish things like religious texts and guides about them. Thomas Nelson is an example of one of these
  • Customer – Publish books that promote a certain company or organisation, like catalogues covering what a company does

Many of these areas will also include a form of digital publishing, and the majority of companies will be grouped together. Most companies will publish in a variety of these areas, but you might need to find the right imprint that does it within the company. Looking to see if a company publishes only in these areas is also important.

What roles are there in publishing?

As with any large industry, there are a variety of roles. The one that most frequently comes to mind for students is that of an editor. Not only do editors edit, but they are also tasked with finding the books and authors that they think will suit the publisher’s target market. Editors also look at extracts from a variety of different authors and see which they think are unique and well written.

Copy editors are similar but different; they work in a variety of different fields of media and are more focused on the grammatical side of editing; if you’re good at proof-reading your essays, you might be a good editor.

Literary agents are also similar to book editors. They find the promising authors in the first place and will get the extracts that editors use. If you like the prospect of discovering the next J.K. Rowling, then becoming a literary agent might be up your street. You’ll need to be bold and resilient to fight for the books that you’re passionate about.

You also have marketing professionals who will create social media posts, posters etc. to encourage people to read the books the publishing company are releasing. You have the people who work digitally with things like audio and e-books; they’ll write the scripts and the code so that the books will work with the e-readers (you will often get the training for the code work but you will need to work hard at it).

If you work in sales, you work at selling the books to the bookstores so they can sell them. You’ll need to be convincing, with good communication skills and a great knowledge of the products.

Looking into all the different roles, and recognising they exist is a crucial step when figuring out if you want to get into publishing, and the most useful areas to pursue work experience in. You want a job that enthuses you, and it might be that editing isn’t the one you actually want, though it is the most well-known. It’s also important to remember that you won’t go into one of these roles straight away. Expect to start as an intern or assistant and put in the hard work to get into the role you really want.

How do you get publishing experience?

The only way to get into publishing is by getting experience. But how do you get it? A lot of companies have work experience schemes (visit this post for a list of schemes). Even if a company doesn’t appear to have an internship scheme, email them with a speculative application (and be politely persistent to make sure they have read it!). Volunteering at literary events can help, such as the Birmingham Literature Festival or the Book to the Future Festival which happens on campus, and if you’re interested in marketing or digital work, finding a job that allows you to work in those fields is very helpful. The Publishing Insight Guide about publishing is also very helpful.

I hope you found this post insightful. Knowing things like this can help because you can focus on absorbing all the information you can get while you’re on work experience, rather than wondering what everybody is talking about!