Working in Publishing


Publishing – it’s one of those industries that lots of graduates want to work in but it’s also changed rapidly in the last few decades. So if you are interested in working in this field, maximise your chances of getting a job by understanding just how publishing works.

It’s not about how much you enjoy reading

It sounds like a cliché but we’ve seen the evidence – some graduates think that because they enjoy reading they will enjoy working in publishing. Or that because they are good at reading they will be good at publishing. But publishing is about selling a product (a book/journal/magazine) to a buyer (the public/a university/a business). It’s about knowing what the audience wants, what they would like to read about and, ultimately, what will make the business money. It’s not about your personal tastes, or enjoyment for that matter. One industry professional I have met told me that any job application that started with ‘I want to work in publishing because I like books’ was more than likely to end up in the bin.

Get some commercial awareness

Once you understand that publishing is a business like any other (ie there to make money), you need to understand how it makes money and what might affect this process. This is known as commercial awareness and is the one thing that employers tell us graduates lack. Why is one publisher doing financially better than another? Who is a publisher’s main competitor/rival? What effect might an industry award have on a publisher? How are traditional publishers dealing with the rise in self-publishing? You might get asked these type of questions at interview, so be prepared. Also, extra brownie points if, at the end of an interview you ask a question that involves some commercial awareness, like….

‘I know that (name of competitor) have (recent publishing news). How do you think this might affect your profits/marketing strategy/talent retention?’

It’s more than just being an editor…

So most people have heard of an editor but do you know the range of people that are involved in making a book? From the designer who creates the cover to the marketer who plans the marketing campaign to the sales person who makes sure the book is stocked in bookshops. Understanding the sheer number of people involved in publishing is important – you will need to talk knowledgeably at interview about these other roles. And you might come across a role that you hadn’t heard of before but that catches your fancy.

…Or working in fiction

Think of publishing and you might think of Waterstones. But there is more to publishing than ‘trade’ (the term for fiction and non-fiction books that are sold in bookstores to a general audience). There is ‘educational’ publishing (which includes ‘academic’ and ‘schools’) and ‘business’ publishing too.  And because these are generally not as well known to graduates as trade, these areas of publishing might be slightly less competitive to get into.

Get skilled

Whether a job description asks for it or not, having specific skills related to publishing will only be a benefit in terms of putting you ahead of the competition and will help to convince employers that you are serious about working in this industry.

The Publishing Training Centre offers short courses on things like proofreading or editing. You can also build your skill-set by finding volunteer work related to publishing, setting up a blog or getting involved in one of the student publications like CUB magazine. Have a think too about improving your digital skills in relation to publishing – understanding XML or HTML, for example, would be an asset.

For more information on working in publishing check out these these useful sites:

The Bookseller:

Essential reading for anyone interested in working in publishing.

The Society for Young Publishers:

Great organisation for networking and finding out more about the industry. Take a look at the careers information under the Home tab.

The Publishers Association:

Lots of useful tips and info.


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