You love books and reading in general and the behind-the-scenes process of it all intrigues you. Perhaps you want a career in publishing? “But how do I break into this illustrious industry?” I hear you ask. Fear not, this blog is here to guide you on starting out in the industry. In fact, I wish I’d found such a post when I was researching career choices.
It’s not essential to have third-level education for entry-level jobs, although more and more publishers are looking for candidates with at least a degree, so it does help. Most people tend to come from an English literature background but all backgrounds are welcome. In fact, a background in, for example, science, technology or law will help you stand out from the crowd and can give you the edge when applying for publishing jobs in those areas.
There are a number of undergraduate and postgraduate publishing programs throughout the UK, available either on their own or with English, media, business and other such subjects. It’s more commonly taken at Masters level than undergraduate level.
As mentioned, study is not a prerequisite, but if you can afford it, it is advisable. It gives you a thorough grounding in every aspect of the industry, and is highly likely to allow you the opportunity to build experience and contacts – the two most important keys to your publishing career.
Internships are pretty much essential in breaking into publishing. Unfortunately, most are unpaid internships. This means anyone that can’t afford to work for free for a number of months may find it well-nigh impossible to get their foot in the door. The good news is that the industry is recognising this and taking steps to increase the diversity of the workforce. Diversity is a major buzzword in publishing right now. And rightly so. Penguin Random House pay their interns, as do Witherby’s. There are bound to be more . (If you are a publisher that pays your interns and want your name added, just let me know.)
But the majority are still unpaid internships. Many publishers are quite small and the one thing you will hear over and over again is ‘Publishers don’t make any money’ so it is understandable from a business point of view. But if you’re serious, try interning just one or two days a week in a publishers while holding down a paid job elsewhere to pay the bills. Or interning while at university. Publishers are an understanding bunch and generally realise that, as an unpaid intern, you have a life and commitments outside their business and can accommodate you in this respect. Be open and honest with them about your situation, and as with all job prospects, be punctual, neat, courteous and willing to learn. You’ll go far with just these traits. No one expects you to be a whizz kid.
As for finding these internships: if you are at university your lecturers or careers department should be able to provide you with leads. The internet is your best friend here. Particularly Twitter. @pubinterns is a good one to follow. Find and follow anyone connected to publishing; jobs often show up on Twitter. Make a list of all of the publishers in your area and contact them to find out if they require any help. Most people in the industry remember what it was like to be in your shoes so they are quite open to being approached. They are also very busy people – keep your email short and to the point. If it can’t be read in well under a minute, it probably won’t be read at all.
CV and cover letter
There is a wealth of information out there on this, most of it better than anything I could advise. The main thing is to ensure there are NO TYPOS!!! Otherwise it’s going in the bin. Keep the cover letter brief (200 – 300 words) and do an individual one for each application. No one size fits all here. Create a LinkedIn profile too.
If it’s in your area, join the Society of Young Publishers (SYP). Even if it’s not, membership gets you access to the jobs board, various discounts, and the quarterly magazine Inprint. The society is aimed at those who have been in the industry for under 10 years. The events are frequent and informative, and offer an unparalleled opportunity for networking.
If you’re particularly interested in editing and/or proofreading, it’s worth joining the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP). Membership will give you access to jobs, training and networking. On another note, as an editor/proofreader, you can create a profile on Reedsy and find authors looking for editorial services.
One book you must read is Inside Book Publishing by Giles Clark and Angus Phillips. It will tell you everything you need to know. It’s a bit dry, but so incredibly informative. In fact, so informative that by the end of our first semester on the MLitt one lecturer was adamant that we stop referencing it in assignments. 😛 A prettier alternative is The Publishing Business: From p-books to e-books by Kelvin Smith. Equally as authoritative.
Sign up to the newsletters from The Bookseller (UK based) and Publishing Perspectives (US based). If your budget allows, sign up for the weekly magazine from The Bookseller. These will all keep you abreast of what’s going on in the world of publishing internationally.
Skills that will be useful whatever department you end up in will be Adobe InDesign and Photoshop, and coding such as Python but especially HTML and XML. Adobe is expensive to obtain but if you can access it, it’s 100% worth it. There are a wealth of free video tutorials online to guide you through. For coding tutorials try Code Academy or Free Code Camp. Just last week we also learned about something called regular expressions (regex) which seem like they would be mighty helpful if only I could wrap my head around them! I should get back to study . . .
So these are my essential tips for getting into publishing. Is there any glaring point I’ve left out? If so, tell me in the comments! Soon I’ll post Part II where I discuss the different sectors of publishing and outline the different departments within a publishing house.