Getting into publishing

Publishing is a popular career choice and there is strong competition to enter the industry. Digital developments – from ebooks to apps and interactive fiction – have been prominent in the media, highlighting the exciting opportunities for new entrants unafraid of new technologies or fast-paced change. Companies have broadened out their view of what comprises a good candidate, to include digital literacy, an entrepreneurial mindset, and an appreciation of changes across other media and throughout society. There is also a greater variety of job roles to consider, as these merge across functional boundaries (e.g. production editor), take on a digital focus (e.g. digital product manager), or venture into multimedia (e.g. media research and commissioning).

Although many junior jobs that are advertised state that previous publishing  experience is necessary, entry to publishing  is paradoxically mainly at the bottom. You should therefore snatch any kind of work in any area of publishing, whatever the size of firm. Publishers usually recruit only to fill vacancies which, at the entry level, often occur at no more than a month’s notice. Working on a placement, a short- term contract, or covering for a permanent employee’s maternity leave, can be a good opportunity. Once in, you will be learning, gaining personal impressions of various jobs by talking to people, and, what is more, be in a position to hear about future jobs. From that bridgehead, it is usually easier to obtain a second job than the first, by moving sideways or upwards within or outside the firm.

Do not fear that your first job will necessarily determine your subsequent career. It is best to complete at least a year in the first job, but two to three job changes in the first five years are not uncommon. At the outset, it is preferable to think firstly of the kinds of books you would be interested in publishing  and hence the type of publishing  company (sometimes  it can be problematic to move across publishing  sectors); and secondly of the kind of work for which you feel you might have a particular aptitude.

To increase your chances, good office skills and computer literacy (e.g. knowledge of Microsoft Office) are necessary for all jobs. Experience of administrative work and proofreading skills are desirable. Strong writing and analytical skills will be sought, which may have been exercised in a piece of research at university. The ability to use publishing software such as Adobe InDesign and experience of ePub file conversion are highly useful alongside familiarity with social media and online communities. An understanding of HTML is increasingly important (set up your own website on WordPress); and explore Google Analytics. If you are a bookseller and want to move into publishing, two to three years of bookselling is ample. For any newcomer to the industry, work experience at a publisher will help your CV stand out, and a temporary job with a publisher during the summer may lead to the elusive first full-time appointment. The ability to drive is also useful.

FIRST STEPS

Market research

You must carry out research on publishing in general and on your target publishers in particular, and especially you should research the books these firms publish. Read the trade press available in print or online – for example The Bookseller (UK), Publishers Weekly (US), Publishing Perspectives (international), BookBrunch (UK), Publishers Lunch (US); Book2Book (UK), Digital Book World (US); read book reviews and sign up for Goodreads; and visit libraries and bookshops to look at publishers’ books and to seek advice from librarians and booksellers. You can also follow publishers on Twitter and visit their Facebook pages. For specialist areas visit the appropriate library or bookshop. When visiting bookshops, during their quiet periods try to talk to the manager who deals directly with the central office or publishers’ reps. When you have narrowed down the field or have secured an interview, you must visit the publisher’s website and catalogue before any further approach is made.

Networking

Networking is a key publishing skill and once developed will stand you in good stead even when you are settled in the industry, when you may be searching out new prospects for your business. Contacts in publishing provide insight into particular firms, offering you advice, spreading knowledge of your abilities, and alerting you to impending vacancies. Sometimes these contacts are influential enough to secure you a preliminary discussion or interview, though rarely a job itself. Therefore, first tap your family and personal connections; if you draw a blank there, take the initiative. You can network by joining the Society of Young Publishers (SYP )in a variety of locations including London, Oxford and Scotland. It holds frequent meetings and an annual conference, at which senior publishers speak, and publishes the journal InPrint. Membership is not restricted to people employed in publishing. Women in Publishing (WiP) holds regular meetings in London. Membership is open to women of any age in publishing, unwaged and students. You may be able to attend meetings of the Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) in London and around the country (small and medium-sized publishers), or go to events of organizations such as the Oxford Publishing Society (OPuS), BookMachine, or the Publishers  Publicity Circle (PPC). Publishing groups on LinkedIn provide contact opportunities, especially in non-consumer publishing.

QUALIFICATIONS

Most entry into publishing requires an undergraduate degree, and common subjects are English, History and Modern Languages. People with degrees in science and other specialities, such as law or medicine, are at a premium for publishers in those areas; and publishers developing digital products and services would love to recruit graduates from mathematics and computer science. A teaching background or experience in English language teaching is particularly useful for educational and ELT publishing, and African studies or experience of working for Voluntary Service Overseas for international educational publishers. Some legal background is useful for rights and contracts positions. Language degrees are desirable for rights and export sales departments of all kinds of publishers. The level of degree is less important. Those with doctorates seeking their first junior job may face the difficulty that they are that much older than competing younger applicants. Some of the major publishers offer graduate recruitment schemes. For example, under the long-running Macmillan scheme, a small number of graduates are selected each year and are given an accelerated, diverse and international experience to shape them for management positions.

Pre-entry qualification

Traditionally the only departments in which formal vocationally orientated qualifications were highly desirable were graphic design and production.  For marketing posts publishers have come to recognize the benefits of qualifications from the Chartered Institute  of Marketing (CIM). The pre-entry publishing courses, which used to concentrate on copy-editing and production skills, now also cover the business and marketing  aspects of publishing. At undergraduate level, students  can choose to study publishing  on its own or along with other disciplines. There has been a large increase in the range of courses available at undergraduate and graduate levels, with student places around several hundred per year. Their links with publishers, various work experience schemes for students, and the rise of their former students into management positions have undermined the traditionalist view that pre-entry vocational training is a waste of time. Attaining a BA or MA in Publishing does not guarantee a job in publishing but it substantially increases the chances – the established courses score impressive success rates. Some publishers, recognizing the quality of graduates from the main programmes, advertise job openings directly on their websites.

 

Work experience

There are some websites that advertise work experience, and some of the larger publishers have established mechanisms for recruiting students  keen to gain, mostly unpaid, placements.  You can write to the HR departments or if you have any contacts inside a publisher, use them to find out who it would be best to contact. Work experience is an excellent preparation for a career in publishing. By working in different departments you can gain first-hand experience of the different functions, find out about your aptitudes, and build a network of contacts: employers may treat it as an extended interview. Whilst there continues to be a large amount of unpaid work experience offered, there is a trend towards paid assignments (see the information at www.bookcareers.com).

Other experience which increases a job applicant’s attractiveness includes editing your school or college magazine, marketing and website work, and short-term work in a bookshop.

FINDING VACANCIES

Recruitment agencies

There are a variety of agencies that recruit for publishers. Examples are Atwood Tate, Judy Fisher, Inspired Selection, PFJ Media Recruitment, and Redwood. Some specialize in more senior positions and will help headhunt staff from rival companies. The agencies regularly advertise junior positions on their own and other websites. Some of the agencies encourage job hunters to register with them, offer free advice, and they will forward the details of likely candidates when a vacancy occurs. It is unlikely they will take someone on their books without a publishing degree and six months of work experience within the industry.

Publishers  also use agencies to recruit for temporary positions. There is always a demand from publishers  for temporary staff to fill jobs vacated by people on holiday or ill. In London this is a good way of getting the feel of different publishers and can lead to a permanent job.

Advertisements and search

Advertisements for publishing jobs appear in The Bookseller and the national press (mainly the Guardian on a Monday). Some companies use more generic recruitment websites, such as Monster, and publishers outside London may advertise locally. The high cost of advertising has prompted many publishers to advertise jobs on free websites, such as those of the IPG, SYP, and the Oxford International Centre for Publishing Studies; and on their own career web pages, as well as on Facebook and Twitter. Many jobs, especially in trade publishing, are not advertised at all, and publishers prefer to use word-of-mouth recommendations, especially referrals from their own employees. You need to use a variety of search engines to find internships, and try different key words, such as ‘publishing work experience’ or ‘publishing opportunities’: look through all result pages. Career-based websites, such as Prospects (UK) can be useful.

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