I’ve run Jobs in Books for over two years, and having worked in both publishing and bookselling myself in a variety of roles, I wanted to create something useful for those looking to work in the book trade. Not so much a guide but more of an informative look at all the options available, leaving the ultimate decision to you.
So, you want to work in publishing?
Publishing is just one part of the book industry. Trade publishing, although the area most budding jobseekers want to head for, is by no means the only part, even if it is the most desirable. There are academic, STM (scientific, technical, medical), art and non-fiction specialist lists, packagers, literary agencies, literary festivals, museums, charities, associations, wholesalers, buying for retail, libraries and one place that I believe loving books can be enough to secure a job…the bookshop.
In a bookshop I feel you will learn more about the book trade as a whole than anywhere else. It’s a retail job with shift work in the bigger chains and the knowledge you learn here is so intricate and will stay with you for your career wherever you work in the industry. You will also learn the art of good teamwork, customer service skills, buying and commerciality. I worked for Waterstones before getting a job in publishing and got involved in author events, Bath children’s and adults literature festivals and also buying non-book product.
This job doesn’t require a degree last time I checked but that may depend on the individual stores.
What about degrees?
I wrote my own blog post on this the day after Penguin Random House made their PR announcement about removing degree requirements from job applications, and in it I say that a degree is not a passcard to your chosen job. It is further education, and doing a degree in any subject will teach you skills in debate, problem solving, reasoning, rationalising and of course widen your knowledge of your chosen subject. You may also learn independence, make new friends and develop social skills - as in enjoy yourselves! Some universities offer publishing as an undergraduate module or elective.
Remember: You do not need an English literature degree to work in book publishing but that’s not to say it’s terrible if you have one - like me.
Should I do a Masters?
I have taught on the Masters in publishing at University College London but there are other UK universities that offer the course. A Masters will give you an overview of the publishing industry but check the syllabuses of different universities as not all the courses are the same, some are more digital focused and others have particular emphasis on certain areas of publishing.
These courses often have speaker-led sessions where people come in from the industry and talk about the specific areas that they work in. The skills you learn here are academic in the sense of coursework but some of this can be project-based and may involve creating an actual book for the university press, marketing concepts or trailing an innovative publishing idea.
Some courses also offer internship opportunities. Teamwork, digital skills, presenting and most importantly having a network of students and alumni coming with you into the world of work and beyond are some of the expected benefits.
Remember: A Masters in publishing is not a required qualification but it's a good way to investigate the whole industry.
Are there any apprenticeships?
Cambridge University Press offers an apprenticeship scheme. It is in the minority at the moment but the large publishers, including Penguin Random House and HarperCollins, are thinking about starting their own schemes so watch this space. In November 2015 I went to The Birmingham Skills Show alongside the Publishers Association and the Independent Publishers Guild to talk to school-leavers about working in publishing. There was very little knowledge about what the industry did and therefore apprenticeship schemes could be said to be vital in allowing more people to get into the industry.
Remember: Publishing is now finally opening its doors, but there is more work to be done.
What other routes are there?
Now that Penguin Random House and Bonnier have publicly announced that they are not treating degrees as essential requirements for their roles it may mean that more people who haven’t got a higher education qualification can enter the industry. School and college career services will need to be equipped to give out this information and also will need to update their services, so if you are thinking of a career in publishing at this level you will be well-informed.
If you work in another industry then you will have transferrable skills that work in the publishing and the book industry too. It’s not just about having worked with books, be proud of what you have done and showcase that on your CV. Remember, the art of publishing is to produce good content and that content can be anything from literary fiction to law texts for students to how to cook a cake in a microwave. That means everyone has at least one transferable skill somewhere.
If you can’t get a job in a publishing house straight away, go and work where you can - we all need to earn a living, and open up your CV to as many skills as you can pack in.
Remember: Not listing a degree as a requirement is also done by other publishers who just haven’t announced it publicly. Don’t assume - read the job description.
What about Internships?
I get asked a lot whether unpaid internships are what you need to do to get a job in publishing. I did one myself for six months - working a day every other week whilst I was still a full-time bookseller. I negotiated a way I could fit it into my life and what I was prepared to do and this was my choice. However I would think very carefully about this option. It’s better to go for graduate schemes like those run by Hachette and HarperCollins, for example, where they pay you, or even find a smaller publisher that is offering to pay. Don’t be scared to insist on minimum wage.
Remember: Doing an unpaid internship does not guarantee a job in publishing. I would say that working in a bookshop is equally as beneficial and you get paid for it. Doing a paid internship is the better option all round.
What are publishers looking for?
That depends on a whole host of things. The important thing to remember is that publishing is a term that holds a host of different meanings and therefore publishers as companies are not all the same. They are all shapes and sizes, some are huge conglomerates and others are being run out of their owner’s house. Some publishers produce books. Others do magazines and licensing, digital output and apps and some create content for a variety of buyers. As I said at the beginning, don’t forget to look at bookselling, wholesalers, buying and charity work too for other interesting roles.
If you are passionate about books and love reading that’s great because most people in the industry do too, but your CV is not the place to talk about what genre you love most or your favourite authors. It’s a place to sell your skills to the employer, publisher or not.
Talking of skills, get them all down and be proud of them, as long as they are relevant and useful to the jobs you are applying for. Don’t use your CV to fabricate what you actually know, it won’t work in the long-run. Be yourself and sell yourself.
When you are writing a cover letter do not make it generic as recruiters will be able to tell. A good tip is to write your cover letter as an answer to what they are asking for in the job description. This will ensure you do not miss the key requirements for the role and that you have a good idea of what they are looking for too.
If you want further CV advice I would recommend getting in touch with a recruitment agency. Jobs in Books works with all the publishing recruiters in the UK. Atwood Tate and Inspired Selection are the largest and Redwood recruitment is smaller but well-known in the industry. See the Jobs board for more agencies.
Remember: It’s all about turning what you have done so far into skills on your CV that are relevant to the role you are applying for.
Networking and Associations
The book industry has lots of associations that exist for many reasons. I have listed my personal top three here:
We are the book industry trade press and have been reporting on the industry since 1858. We do the UK official book charts with data from Nielsen each week, the Buyer’s Guides for book buyers, talk about the industry to the wider media and run conferences and events such as FutureBook, Marketing and Publicity, Children’s, Author Day and the British Book Industry Awards.
It’s also the home of Jobs in Books, of course where there is a blog space for students, People and Moves information, My Job In 5 and the Jobs board of course. You can also follow @Jobsinbooks, and sign up to our free Friday Jobs email. We also offer a student subscription here, for anyone studying anywhere.
The Society Of Young Publishers (SYP)
Jobs in Books is an official partner of the SYP - a voluntary organisation that was set up to provide a network for those in their first 10 years in publishing. They have a committee and a chair. A new chair is elected each year at Stationer’s Hall in January and throughout their tenure a host of events is planned to encourage new members to join, ranging from careers speed dating and mentoring with people from publishing through to a book group. There is also a big conference each November where members past and present and key guest speakers attend to discuss the industry.
There are divisions in Scotland, the North and a brand new Ireland branch. Find them on Twitter and follow for region-specific information. If you are a young publisher (or student) you can join here. It’s a great way to meet a network of people that you can keep in touch with throughout your career. They also have a quarterly magazine called In Print which you get as a member. You never know, you could end up on the committee.
This organisation works across the media and publishing to provide paid internships to those that come from a BAME background. Its main mission is to diversify the media industries and it has conferences and events for those that join.
Jobs in Books works to help promote its services and it relies on publishers signing up to its internship scheme and offer places to its candidate pool. It’s something that should only be encouraged to grow so sign up and also if you work for a publisher please consider finding out more here.
An extra one - STM Early Careers
This organisation is for those considering a career in academic publishing. It is voluntary and run by people working not just in London but across the UK. It is relatively new having been founded in the last 18 months and I have just started working with it at Jobs in Books. It has conferences planned internationally and you can find out more about it here.
Who else is out there?
The Publishers Association (PA) lobby for the industry and produce all sorts of facts and figures here. It also ran the Work In Publishing campaign in 2015.
The Booksellers Association (BA) is similar to the PA but for the UK book trade. It is also the creator of the popular Books Are My Bag campaign. Find out more here.
The Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) is focused on indie publishing from Bloomsbury to small presses. Find out more here.
The Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SFEP) is good for budding and freelance editors although it does charge a member fee. It offers courses and networking opportunities. Find out more here.
The Publishers Publicity Circle (PPC) produces a directory of media contacts for members and has meet-ups so publicists at all levels can meet various contacts. Find out more here.
There are lots more I haven’t included but this is a start and over on Twitter it should be easy to spot who is active and who is following who.
That’s all folks.
Except it isn’t because you can follow me over @Jobsinbooks, tweet at me and ask me about working in publishing by emailing Jobsinbooks@thebookseller.com. Visit our Jobs board here, careers section here and stay in touch.
Good luck in your job hunt from me and everyone at The Bookseller.