Publishing is a competitive industry, but that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to break into. If you are passionate about books and curious about how they get from the author’s pen to the reader’s hand, then a job in publishing might be perfect for you.
For the purposes of this article I will be focusing on my experience job hunting in trade publishing, the arm of publishing which publishes books for a general audience. However, it’s worth remembering that there are other options. Academic and STM publishing offer many opportunities for people who are passionate about sharing cutting edge research or communicating important information to the public.
1. Be open minded about your role. One of the biggest misconceptions people have about the publishing industry is that everyone who works in it is an editor. In reality, editorial is just one department of many within a publishing house. Other roles include selling foreign rights, marketing and publicity, cover design and typography, book production and international sales. Outside of publishing houses, literary agents and scouts help new manuscripts to find the right publishers and match film and TV producers with material for adaptation. Be open minded about what might be right for you — if you are the sort of person who is always excitedly pushing new books into other people’s hands then marketing might be a perfect fit, whereas foreign sales could be ideal for someone with an international mindset and a love of travel.
2. Do your research. If you want to work in publishing, you need to know the industry. An easy way to start is by looking through your bookshelves and seeing who publishes your favourite books, which will give you an idea of each publisher’s taste and brand. Once you have an overview of the key players, you can do more research based on your specific interests. Remember that publishing isn’t just about producing physical books — audio and ebook publishing make up a significant and growing portion of the market, and might be where you find your niche.
3. Get on Twitter. One of the best ways to keep up to date with industry news and job opportunities is to follow publishers and publishing professionals on Twitter. This is also a good way to see which new and upcoming books publishers are promoting, information you will want to have ready in any interview scenario. In terms of job opportunities, many publishers and agencies advertise job openings online. @Pubinterns and @JobsinBooks are two good places to start.
4. Join the Society of Young Publishers. The SYP have branches in London, Scotland, Ireland, Oxford, the South West and the North (primarily Leeds and Manchester). By signing up you get access to events, their annual conference, their magazine inPrint, online forums and an exclusive jobs board — which happens to be where I found my first job with Northbank!
5. Seek out experience. Internships can be a great way to get an inside view of how things work within a publishing house, scout or literary agency. Unfortunately, unpaid internships are fairly common in this industry, and the London-centric location of many publishers can be limiting (although do check out the Spare Room Project, who might be able to help with temporary accommodation.) However, paid internships do exist, and while everyone will be applying for internships at the big publishers, roles at smaller publishers may be less competitive. Working at a smaller company may also give you a greater breadth of experience as you are likely to work across multiple departments and take on a wider range of duties. If you aren’t able to do an internship, there are other ways to gain relevant, transferable experience. If you are still at university, see if you can get involved with a student magazine, radio station or newspaper.
You could even approach the faculty about running a new project such as a creative writing competition. To gain marketing skills you could offer to run the social media for a small business or society, and budding editors might read manuscripts for indie publishers for free at the weekend. Starting a book blog, working in a bookshop or volunteering at literary festivals are all good ways to build skills that will stand out on job applications, and any administrative experience will be helpful for landing an assistant position.
6. Be personal. As publishing is a competitive industry, you can expect to send a lot of applications. When it comes to cover letters and CVs, the best thing you can do is make each one specific to the company and the role you are applying for. If you can, find out who will be reading applications and address it to that individual. Do your research into the company, and write about why you want to work there. Work out exactly what the job advertisement is asking for and make sure you address each requirement in your cover letter. Yes, this is time consuming, but it is necessary to show that you care about the company and understand the role you are applying for.
7. Proofread your application. Publishing professionals are experts on the English language, and attention to detail is a key skill you will need to display. This is particularly true of editorial roles, where the ability to ensure copy is grammatically accurate is key, but applies across the board. With so many applications being received for each position, you don’t want to give the reader an excuse to reject yours based on a spelling or grammatical error. Double-check your application, and if you don’t know the difference between an en-dash and an em-dash now is the time to learn.
8. Play to your strengths. While many people in publishing come from an English Literature background, you shouldn’t feel that you need an English degree to break into the industry. In fact, having a somewhat unconventional education or work history might help you stand out. The key is being able to demonstrate how the skills and qualities you have developed will make you an asset to the company you want to work for.
9. Read, read, read. If you want to go into publishing it goes without saying that you like to read, but it’s worth highlighting how important this is. Keeping up with new releases shows engagement with the industry, particularly if you can demonstrate an awareness of current trends. If you are applying for a job within a specific genre you need to be able to show that you know your stuff and are genuinely passionate.
10. Persist! I didn’t get the first job I applied for in Publishing — in fact, I don’t know anyone who did. My internship at Northbank began as a short term, one day a week position, which grew into a full time role as Operations Assistant. You never know where things will lead, so stay positive, be proactive and say yes to any opportunities that come your way.
Inside Book Publishing by Angus Phillips and Giles Clark
How to Get a Job in Publishing: A Really Practical Guide to Careers in Books and Magazines by Alison Baverstock, Susannah Bowen and Steve Carey
How to Market Books by Alison Baverstock
Most publishers have a jobs page:
Ciara Corrigan is Northbank Talent Management’s Operations Assistant.