01 August 2010
Nine Top Tips For Getting Into Publishing
Cassandra Fox is the Publishing Training Centre’s Short Courses Manager. She has been working in publishing since she graduated in 1999, first as a non-fiction trade editor, then later as a commissioning editor working on educational books and electronic resources. She regularly takes calls at the PTC from people new to the world of publishing, wanting to know how to land that elusive first job. Here she offers some advice which might help.
Every year a fresh contingent of enthusiastic graduates emerges from universities, and tentatively knocks on the doors of the UK’s publishing houses in the hopes that their shiny degrees and high hopes will be enough to grant them entry through those glorious gateways. Sadly, of course, the majority of them will be disappointed at first, as for every entry-level vacancy advertised, there might be hundreds of eager applicants vying for that employer’s attention. So, if you’re amongst the throng, how do you stand out from the crowd?
1. Ask yourself: Do I really want to do this?
With increasingly fierce competition for jobs, employers will only be interested in hearing from applicants who have thoroughly researched the industry, and who can demonstrate that the idea of working in publishing has them chomping at the bit to get started. Carefully consider your reasons for choosing publishing as your future career, and weigh up the pros and the cons. The pay is notoriously low compared to similar industries, the hours often very long, and it can take many years of hard work on the bottom rung of the ladder, photocopying and running errands, before your career can progress to the stage where you are participating in more enjoyable activities such as working with authors, talking to customers, negotiating with retailers, and helping to shape a strong publishing list. You need to be sure you’re really willing to put in the hard work required to wind up in your dream job.
Download our factsheet as a first step to find out what publishing is all about: Book and Journal Publishing: A guide to the industry and career opportunities (file size: 266KB – opens in a new window)
You might also consider one of our introductory courses to help you work out what all the different departments within a publishing organisation actually do, how they fit together, and therefore what kind of role might suit your individual skills and interests:
2. Keep studying
The academic quality of candidates for publishing positions – particularly for editorial roles – is often very high. A Bachelors degree is a prerequisite for the large majority of publishing jobs, and some positions may also require a particular subject specialism (for example, scientific, technical and medical publishers may require staff to hold a Sciences degree). You may also wish to consider taking one of the many Publishing MA courses on offer. For a breakdown of the programmes available, download our Higher Education Guide (file size: 756KB – opens in new window)
Here at the PTC we offer a wide range of courses in all areas of publishing, and our reputation as the leading training provider for the publishing industry means that our courses on your CV will help you stand out from the crowd.
Remember that students and recent graduates may be eligible for discounts of up to 50% on PTC short courses. See our list of discounts for more details.
3. Be a joiner!
Getting ahead in publishing can often be about who you know, as much as what you know. Keeping in touch with acquaintances who are already working in the industry, and making new contacts, can mean getting to hear about exciting opportunities and openings as they arise. Moreover, publishing people tend to be a lot of fun! Check out the following:
- The Society of Young Publishers (SYP) - The SYP have committees in London and Oxford who hold regular speaker events, drinks evenings, picnics and lots more. Members have access to range of support services, including exclusive job listings, and access to benefits including a 20% discount on PTC courses.
- The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) - The SfEP is a professional organisation for editors and proofreaders based in the UK, whose members have access to a range of services including job vacancies, a bi-monthly newsletter, and the SfEPWiki, which is an ever-growing repository of the Society’s collective wisdom and experience.
- The Diversity in Publishing Network (DiPNet) - DiPNet has been established to promote the status and contribution of social groups traditionally underrepresented within all areas of publishing, as well as support those seeking to enter the industry. Membership is free, and allows access to a range of resources including job vacancies, careers advice, and special events.
- Women in Publishing (WiP) - WiP works to promote the status of women working in publishing and related trades by helping them to develop their careers. Members enjoy access to monthly meetings, a discussion forum, a copy of the Women in Publishing Directory, and a range of special events.
4. It’s not just about editorial ...
The large majority of candidates wanting to work in publishing, want to do so in the editorial department. Perhaps because it is often the editors of best-selling books that one hears about the most, perhaps because it’s the skill of manipulating an author’s text that seem most appealing, or perhaps they have heard the myths about glamorous book launch parties and long author lunches ... OK so these events do happen sometimes, but there’s also a lot of number-crunching, admin, and paper-shuffling (not to mention paper-cuts) that make up the day-to-day work of an editor. A lot of exciting work happens in production, marketing, sales, and rights departments too!
Joanna Everard, Head of Rights at A&C Black Publishers, says:
“Rights is a fascinating area to choose if you’re interested in the business side of publishing as well as the books. Selling rights is all about making books and content available in a wide range of languages, markets, formats and platforms. It’s an integral part in the publishing process and often plays a vital part in publishing decisions. It covers everything from translation rights to film rights and digital rights and involves contact with publishing partners in the UK and internationally. An interest in other countries and cultures is important, as is a willingness to travel to book fairs far and wide.”
And Kathryn Langley, Chair of the SYP, advises:
”Be open minded and determined. I was very set on the idea of becoming an Editorial Assistant in a fiction department of a big publishing house, however, my first job was as a Marketing Assistant for a magazine publisher. It was a small company and completely away from what I thought I wanted to do, but I found myself really enjoying the magazine environment and I was converted to marketing. Although I started at a fairly small publisher I've ended up working for a media giant in United Business Media. By opening up what you're looking for, your chances of securing that lucrative first job become much easier. There will be hundreds of people going for the jobs at the big houses so by looking at smaller houses, where you'll get equally as much experience, you'll find it much easier to get in and get on the ladder."
The PTC runs courses for every publishing department, suitable for those new to publishing, including:
5. Create a winning CV
For any job application, a professionally presented, accurate, and easy-to-read CV is a must – and this advice applies tenfold when it comes to publishing jobs. Your CV and covering letter are your first opportunity to show potential employers that you can think strategically about how information can best be presented to readers – a skill which is crucial to publishers.
Gaby Frescura, a Publisher at Oxford University Press, offers this advice:
"When I last recruited for an entry level position I received over 90 applications, and most of these had similar qualifications. Those that stood out had strong covering letters that addressed the job I was offering (many made it clear the candidate was applying for any and every publishing position, and these were immediately discounted) and showed interest and enthusiasm without being too long. Needless to say, spelling mistakes won't do you any favours for an editorial position."
How many CVs, I wonder, go straight to the reject pile because of spelling mistakes, poor presentation, bad grammar, and so on? Don’t let yours be one of them! Here are some pointers:
- Choose a style that means business – so, professional fonts, 12 pt type, black text, and short bulleted sections are what’s called for. Quirky fonts, photos, and other design elements all run the risk of making your CV (and you) look unprofessional and immature.
- Avoid using meaningless stock phrases that you can’t back up with a full explanation. So you’re a “self-motivated/self-starting individual”? Does this just mean you’re able to get out of bed without an alarm in the morning? Or you say you’re able to “work as part of a team or individually”? Well, that’s going to apply to any job in the world, so you’d better hope you have more skills than this! Stick to quantifiable, provable statements: “I am a graduate of X University (give degree name and result), whose recent work experience at Y&Z Publishers has furthered my ambition to pursue a career in publishing”. At this stage in your career, a lot of your work skills might be as yet untested, so the main points to get across to the reader are that you’re bright, you’re keen, and the vacancy they are advertising is exactly what you are looking for.
- For similar reasons, you needn’t give a very long list of your out-of-work activities – just give enough to show that you’re a rounded personality with varied interests, but your complete life story is not required here! Divulging details of more unusual hobbies on a CV can be a gamble – one employer might also share your love of civil war re-enactment, for example, and you will have a great ice-breaking topic of conversation for an interview, however, another employer may find this hobby quite off-putting and this could colour his or her view of the rest of your CV. If you state one of your hobbies as ‘reading’ (which should really go without saying for anyone who wants to work in publishing) then be prepared to have your reading habits scrutinized at interview, most likely by someone with some pretty firm opinions on what constitutes good literature.
You can find some more advice on CV writing on the excellent Bookcareers website.
6. Approach from the side
Daft as it may sound, one way to get into publishing is to start in another industry. Beginning your career somewhere which will give you a grounding in a related field – for example bookselling, teaching, librarianship or software production – means that you have a head start on other applicants who have not yet gained any basic office skills or knowledge of a particular field.
Kate Newport, Senior Buyer at Scholastic Clubs and Fairs, tells me:
“I started my career as a children’s librarian, which I suspect helped set me apart from other entry-level candidates as I had proven knowledge and experience of children and children’s books. When I started looking for a publishing job, I was offered a production position and an editorial position, however the pay was better for the production job, and it sounded like it could lead to other roles in the future, so I took that one!”
7. Apply for jobs!
Publishing jobs are advertised:
- In The Bookseller magazine and website
- In the broadsheet papers, especially The Guardian Media recruitment section on Mondays
- In local papers
- On individual company websites
- Through the SYP and BookCareers.com
- Through agencies (see 8, below)
- Internally (see 9, below)
Some positions are not advertised at all – they can be filled easily through word-of-mouth, and through CVs the company already holds on file from speculative applications. So don’t be shy about keeping in touch with contacts that you already have in the industry, and also sending out your CV with a polite covering letter to publishers that you might like to work for. There’s a useful list of publishers here.
Another myth to be dispelled is that publishing only happens in London, Oxford, and Cambridge. If you don’t live in these places, make sure you’ve explored all your local possibilities before you think about moving!
Clare Wheelwright, Head of Pre-press and Print Production at Nelson Thornes in Cheltenham, says:
“There are successful publishing companies in large towns and cities all over the country. When looking for a post, don’t forget to check specialist publishing recruitment companies, local newspapers and websites, as well as The Bookseller and the broadsheets. When I left University, I found a list of publishing company addresses at the library and sent them all an introductory letter and a copy of my then none-too-vast CV. I got a call and landed a temporary contract as an Editorial Assistant, and the rest, as they say, is history.”
8. Sign up to agencies
It is rare for entry-level positions to be advertised through agencies because most employers receive so many applications from new graduates on spec that they don’t need to go to the expense of using an agent. Nonetheless, it is worth signing up to several agencies so that they can get you registered right at the start of your career, and possibly offer you some helpful pointers as to how to go about tracking down that elusive first job.
Clare Law of Atwood Tate advises:
“Use a recruitment agency. We take the hard work out of job hunting and have jobs that won’t be advertised externally. We also offer advice on CVs and interview preparation and have background and insight on the company.”
Specialist publishing recruitment agencies include:
9. Get some experience
This is easier than it sounds – competition for work experience placements can often be nearly as fierce as for the permanent positions. Employers do look for work experience on CVs though, so it’s worth doing your best to secure a placement, even just for a few weeks over your university holidays, or while you are looking for a full-time job. This can give you a great feel for the day-to-day life in a publishing office, and put you in exactly the right place at the right time for when – should fortune smile on you – an entry level position happens to crop up at the company. Job appointments do happen in this way.
So, once you’ve got your foot in the door for work experience, it really pays to be ultra friendly and helpful to everyone you meet. Even if you are spending your time doing boring filing and photocopying, if you do so cheerfully, competently, and show a keen interest in everything else that’s going on in the office, the chances are you will stick in the memory of the hiring manager next time he or she has an opening. Smile, offer to make tea, and let them know you’d love to work for them for real one day.
You can find work experience vacancies advertised on the SYP’s website, and on BookCareers.com but you may find you also need to just send out a lot of letters and CVs on spec to publishers that you’d like to work for. If you’re doing so, try and get the name of a relevant person to write to – possibly the HR Manager, the head of the specific department, or in very small companies, the Managing Director. Make use of any contacts you might already have in the industry who might be able to get you a placement.
Social media is often a useful way of finding out about placement vacancies, as it’s a free and easy way for employers to advertise. Make sure to follow us on Twitter and Facebook so we can keep you up-to-date with vacancies that we hear about: