What is Publishing?
Publishing is any means of making information available to the public. The publishing industry encompasses book, magazine, newspaper and digital publishing, but this article will focus on careers in book publishing only.
The UK publishes somewhere in the range of 100,000-200,000 new books every year, making it one of the biggest publishing centres in the world, so you're in the right place for a career in publishing!
Within the book publishing industry, there are several sectors that you can work in:
- Trade publishing (also called consumer publishing): These are the books you see when you walk into Waterstone's or any other regular book store. This is the most popular sector for publishing job applicants, so also the most competitive. Within trade publishing, there are sub-sectors:
- Adult non-fiction and fiction (and all the different genres these entail)
- Children's fiction and non-fiction
- Eductional publishing - schoolbooks, teaching materials, study aids, etc.
- Academic publishing - including HE textbooks, monographs, and other work of a serious academic nature
- STM (science, technology, and medical) publishing
What career opportunities are there in publishing?
When most people think of publishing, they think of editors. Editors are the people who select books for publication and essentially manage the process from contract to publication. But there are many, many other people involved in the process, so I will briefly explain what the different departments of a publishing company do.
The editorial department are in charge of selecting books to be published and working with the authors and with the other departments to get the book ready to be published.
A lot of people have the misconception that editors spend their days reading literary fiction and taking famous authors to swanky restaurants. You may be doing some reading of literary fiction if you work in such a publishing company, but do be aware that this is such a tiny part of the publishing industry and also the most popular for job applicants, so these jobs are FEW AND FAR BETWEEN. Don't get your hopes up.
So what do editors do? Some of their duties include:
- Selecting titles to be published. Depending on the sector you're in, this may be by reading submissions (of either proposals or completed manuscripts) that have been sent in, or you may think of an idea for a book and try to find an author to write it. When you've found a book you want to publish, you've still got to get permission to publish it by convincing your colleagues that will be profitable for the company.
- Issuing contracts to authors (sometimes this will be done by a separate contracts department if you're in a large publisher)
- Chasing up authors to see if they're doing what they should be doing (writing their book)!
- Finance and budgets. Essentially calculating how much your books are likely to earn - is it profitable for the company?
- Reprints. Choosing when to reprint books and managing the process.
- Liaising with production and design. Essentially telling them how your books should physically look and feel like.
- Liaising with marketing and rights departments. Giving them all the important information about your books so they can do their jobs.
- Sales conference presentations
- Writing copy for jacket and promotion blurbs
- Etc, etc!
Editors normally start off as 'editorial assistants'.
Marketing and Publicity
Marketing and publicity are sometimes separate departments, sometimes combined. Marketing and publicity are all about getting the public to know about your books, and hopefully buy them. Marketing normally entails activities which cost money (ie. advertisements), whereas publicity involves free attention (ie. book reviews).
The entry-level role in marketing is a 'marketing assistant'.
Production and Design
Designers design how the book looks, both the cover and the internal page layout.
The production department liaises with printers to get the book made.
Self-explanitory, really! Sales reps meet with book shop buyers and try to convince them to buy their books.
The rights departments sells the 'rights' to their books (ie. translation rights, film rights, merchandise rights, digital rights) to other companies. Foreign rights are a major aspect of this. Rights people sell translation rights to foreign publishers (often at foreign book fairs - this role involves a lot of travelling). If you speak other languages, this may be a good job for you.
How can I get into publishing?
The first thing you should know is that publishing is a VERY popular and competitive industry, so getting a job won't be easy. If you don't have the determination, persistence, and passion needed to get your foot in the door, then you won't. I once read a quote that said 'everyone who really wants to get a job in publishing eventually does'. It just may take awhile. Editorial is the most competitive department, and trade publishing is the most competitive sector, so have a good hard think about whether there are other areas of publishing that might interest you. Most editorial assistant jobs get hundreds of applicants EACH. But if you want it enough, don’t let that deter you. If you're still interested, read on...
First of all, a degree is absolutely necessary to get into any area of publishing. It doesn’t matter which subject your degree is in, although a substantial number of people who work in publishing have English degrees. If you have a degree is a slightly rare subject, you’ll have a good chance of getting a job in the relevant area of publishing. For example, someone with an architecture degree would be highly attractive to a publisher that specialises in books about architecture!
Although it is not by any means necessary, getting a master’s degree in publishing can put you at a great advantage when applying for jobs. MA Publishing courses usually boast a 80-90% post-graduation employment rate in the publishing industry. A master’s degree in publishing shows employers that you’re really serious about and dedicated to getting a job in publishing, which can only help.
I cannot overstate the importance of work experience. YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO HAVE IT. There’s honestly no point in applying for publishing jobs if you don’t have any relevant experience. The best thing you can do is get work experience at an actual publishing company. Most publishing companies are happy to have an extra pair of hands, especially when they don’t have to pay them (sucks, I know). The major publishing companies get thousands of people wanting to work for them for free, so try smaller lesser-known companies. They’ll be especially grateful for the extra help.
How to get work experience? Some publishers have an application process specified on their website. If there’s a publisher you want to work for, search on their website for ‘work experience’ and do exactly what they say you should. If they don’t have the information listed, call them up and ask if they offer work experience. If they do, they’ll probably give you the email address of someone you can send your CV and cover letter to. Try to avoid sending emails to generic emails (ie. firstname.lastname@example.org). They probably won’t be read. Always get the name of an actual person if you can.
There are listings of publishers offering work experience on some sites, for example http://www.bookcareers.com and http://www.thesyp.org.uk (but you have to pay for a membership for the latter). But certainly don’t limit yourself to these listings.
Talk to people. If you tell your friends and family that you want to work in publishing, often you’ll hear ‘Oh, my friend/cousin/postman’s daughter works in publishing’. This is a goldmine! Get in contact with this person. There’s a good chance they can get you work experience wherever they work.
As I hinted at in the last section, a huge aspect of getting into publishing is who you know. Go to publishing events (The Society of Young Publishers holds LOADS). Talk to as many people who work in publishing as you can, extract their knowledge, and make it evident how dedicated you are to getting a job in publishing. If a job comes up, they’ll think of you. Publishing is a hugely sociable profession, so get to know people and get them to know you.
Pay and Conditions
Here’s the bad news. It doesn’t pay well. If the size of your payslip is hugely important to you, don’t even bother. People go into publishing because they’re passionate about it, not because of the money.
Bookcareers.com published a salary survey recently. They found that:
- The average overall salary was £24,871 (£23,942 in 2004)
- The average starting salary was £17,300 (£16,300 in 2004)
For the full results, go here: http://www.bookcareers.com/survey2008/results/results1.htm
Why do people go into publishing? Mainly because they’re passionate about books, and working with something you’re passionate about offers considerable job satisfaction.
As for the conditions, it’s a fairly typical 9-5 Mon-Fri office job (some overtime is to be expected). Some foreign travel is possible, especially if you work in rights.
One of the perks of working in publishing is the people! You will work with other highly educated people who are as passionate about books as you are. Also, I’ve personally found that everyone I’ve met who works in publishing is very NICE and willing to talk to you about their jobs and getting into publishing. So, don’t be afraid to talk to people. Publishers don’t bite.
If you want any hope of getting a job in publishing, you need to know about it. It's not enough to simply reel off a line about how much you love books in a job interview. Learn as much as you can about publishing, and it will pay off.
For a more detailed elaboration on how to get a job in publishing, read the aptly titled 'How to Get a Job in Publishing' by Alison Baverstock. For a general overview of the publishing industry and process, read 'Inside Book Publishing' by Giles Clark and Angus Phillips.
Bookmark http://www.thebookseller.com and read it every day.
The original author of this article is 'Pink Bullets'. I am an MA Publishing student. I also have a part-time job as an editorial assistant, and I've done a couple of other work experience placements. I mainly know about editorial, since that's what I'm interested in, but feel free to PM me with any questions you have about anything to do with publishing. :)
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