Features

Wanted: first job in publishing

Alison Baverstock, author of How to Get a Job in Publishing, talks to The Bookseller about the myths that surround working in publishing and gives career tips to people wanting to join the industry.

“Getting a job in publishing is really tough.” This is a statement that even the most senior publishers will recall being told when they first embarked on a career in the publishing trade.

However, Alison Baverstock, who has co-written a new practical careers guide out in April, How to Get a Job In Publishing, disagrees. “It isn’t that hard, you just have to really want to do it,” she says. Helen Fraser, m.d. Penguin UK, agrees. She is quoted in the guide as saying: “It took me a long time to get my first job in publishing but a publisher said to me, ‘Everyone who really wants to get in does, so just persist,’ which I did—and it worked.”

But how do you know you want to work in publishing until you’ve tried it? Baverstock, who along with co-authors Susannah Bowen and Steve Carey, is an experienced publisher-turned-trainer, hopes the guide— which uses quotes from members of the trade to help readers decide whether it is the industry for them—will give a real flavour of publishing.

In the guide, Martin Neild, m.d. at Hodder Headline, shares his opinions on the perks of the job. “There is no other career where you can pick up a little knowledge on so many different things and meet people from popstars to politicians, poets to princesses.”

Baverstock, however, points out some of the less glamorous realities. “You have to have a professional altruism in publishing; the success of the product matters more than being credited for the work you have done. Lots of people don’t have that quality, in which case they would be miserable in publishing.”

No golden handshake
Along with job suitability, pay—or lack of it—is another important consideration. Publishing is certainly not a guaranteed route to making a fortune and, compared to the more profitable professions such as banking or the law, salaries in publishing are markedly lower.

The response to The Bookseller’s recent online blog “Making Publishing Pay” provided evidence enough that some in the industry are disgruntled with what they earn. However, Baverstock says publishing can be rewarding in other ways. “You get good levels of responsibility quite early on. You can often trial new products in a way you wouldn’t be able to in a higher-profit industry. It is essentially an entrepreneurial profession—the fact people stay such a long time shows people love doing it”.

Choosing which area of publishing to focus on, whether it is trade or academic, fiction or non-fiction, adult’s or children’s is another difficult decision. Then there is the choice of which department to work in—editorial, marketing, sales, production or elsewhere.

Baverstock, who is a senior lecturer for the MA in Publishing Studies at Kingston University, says: “One of the challenges of teaching students is that often when they arrive, editing is the only bit they understand so they decide that is what they want to do. I have two missions; first is to explain that there are more options than being just an editor; and second, to get them to appreciate that publishing goes on at all sorts of places that are not traditional publishers, for example producing resources for charities.”

Baverstock realised early in her career that she was never going to be an editor as she did not have a sufficient grasp of detail, but that she was a natural marketeer because she was inspired by ideas and bigger plans. She hopes the guide, which includes a “what kind of person are you?” quiz will help readers identify whether they are suited to sales, marketing, publishing or copy-editing.

Preparation pays
Once candidates have a clear idea of what they want to apply for, Baverstock’s key tip for securing that all-important first job is preparation. She says that an understanding of publishing as a business is essential.

Neild from Hodder Headline puts it perfectly: “Never say, ‘I want to be in publishing because I love books’. Of course that is important but you need to make it very clear that you understand publishing is a profit-orientated business like any other.”

Baverstock explains that being clued up on the issues facing the industry—from the changing role of the author to digital rights and intellectual property—is impressive to an employer and work experience is often the best way to develop this commercial awareness. Candidates should utilise contacts in the industry to secure placements and actively research companies to find out what they can offer.

There are various opportunities to network and the annual London Book Fair on 14th, 15th and 16th April is one of the best. The Bookseller is running a careers centre on all three days of the fair, offering careers advice and an opportunity to speak to publishing professionals from the Random House Group, which is sponsoring the event.

Alison Baverstock will be also be chairing the seminar “Getting Ahead in UK Publishing” organised by the Society of Young Publishers on 15th April at the fair, which will provide guidance on kick-starting a career in publishing.

FINDING THAT FIRST JOB
Alison Baverstock’s top tips for securing a first job in publishing:

1. Relevant work experience—it shows real passion for, and understanding of, what you want to do as opposed to a vague desire to ‘work with books’. 

2. A publishing MA—it will equip you with an overview of the industry, an enviable contacts book, practical skills and understanding.  

3. An interest in communication—from having an opinion on the latest mass market advertising campaign for cars to why those two people you overheard on the bus ended up having an argument. 

4. Good manners and a memory for names and faces. Old fashioned though it may be, publishing often works on patronage, and if you can build up good contacts you will find your path eased considerably.

5. Research skills—find out all you can about the company you are applying to so your application can be really specific.