Working in Publishing
Updated: Mar 10
No matter where you're starting from, there's a route into the publishing world for you.
But how do I get started in publishing? It's the question I get asked most by people who want to work in books. But unless you've attended one of the handful of Publishing Masters programmes around the UK, the information can be difficult to find. Here are a few options you might consider.
For decades internships were one of the few ways in which people could get a foot in the door in publishing. More often than not these were unpaid opportunities in exchange for experience, however legislation has been introduced in the last few years to regulate these practices. Before applying to an internship, I recommend reading up on what rights you have set out by the UK government. Now to applying! Internships are being offered all of the time by publishers big and small. They'll often advertise opportunities on their websites so it's worth checking out each publisher to see when they're taking interns. You'll want to prepare a Cover Letter outlining what interests you about the publishing house and a CV detailing your relevant experience. With any luck you'll land the internship and have the opportunity to show them your stuff. If you're even luckier, there might be a junior role available that you can apply to and then you're on your way!
There are great volunteer opportunities to gain experience that's valuable to publishers. Contact your nearest literary festival as they may need some help with their events. Your local library might also be in need of volunteers to work with the books or organise events. It's a tough market out there and you can use all the friends you can get, so volunteer with a group such as The Society of Young Publishers or The Young Stationers that offer networking, training opportunities and more.
There are a few Publishing Masters programmes around the UK that teach you the basics in publishing and provide internship opportunities: UCL, Kingston University London, University of Derby, University of Exeter, City University London, Manchester Metropolitan University, Oxford Brooks University and more. You'll get a broad sense of the history of our industry, the various departments you can work in, the expectations and typical roles and responsibilities, and they often ask guests who work in publishing (like myself) to pop in for a lecture to get a better understanding of how the landscape is changing all the time. For instance, the digital revolution has been slow to come in our industry but 2020 has certainly prompted widespread changes. And with bookshops being closed salespeople, marketing managers and publicists have all had to pivot to ensure their author's books find their audience. Learn about these topics and many others from professors and seasoned professionals.
Sometimes a lateral move is just as good a strategy as the direct approach. If you're interested in sales or marketing then working for a bookshop provides great experience. You get first-hand insight into planning events, buying-in books to meet customer demand, organising the kinds of marketing that customers find engaging and beyond! Publishers are always looking for ways to reach customers and bookshops are a bridge to that relationship. You might also decide to work as a freelancer and some popular choices include: cover designer, copyeditor, proofreader, typesetter, indexer, or publicist. The key is to build your portfolio, so you might start working with an indie press on a lower budget and scale up your rates and client list as you grow. As a freelancer you'll need a lot of hustle, but the rewards can be great!
If you've already been working for a few years in a different industry and you're looking to make a change then recruitment agencies can be helpful in connecting available candidates with job openings. A few agencies that specialise in publishing jobs include Inspired Selection, Atwood Tate and Redwood. You'll also find roles advertised in The Bookseller magazine. You'll need a paid subscription to access their content, but if you can spare the expense you'll discover loads of useful industry knowledge that will help you to catch a glimpse behind the velvet curtain.
I'm sure there are other ways people got their start that I haven't covered here so feel free to message me with your stories of how you got into publishing. Hopefully this is a useful starting point for readers.