Thinking about working in…. Publishing?

Publishing is a highly desirable industry for students studying Arts & Humanities subjects, often due to a shared love of books and creativity. The convenience of a lively literary scene surrounding the University of East Anglia facilitates the overwhelming passion for language, words, and reading in its students that is crucial for pursuing a career in publishing.

Although it is essential to have a love of books and reading, for most publishing roles, degree subject is irrelevant unless you’re looking for work in subject-specific publishing like science, medicine, or art. Remember that publishing is a business like any other, so a keen interest in the issues facing the industry and a good commercial awareness will get you a long way.

As with any competitive industry, breaking into publishing can be a challenge, but with the right blend of skills, experience and enthusiasm, you could land the perfect job to kick-start your career, working with words. At UEA, you can explore the local opportunities to get involved in publishing projects, whilst working towards your degree. 

If location is an important factor with your career choice, be prepared that most publishing jobs are based in London, where entry-level prospects are good. According to Creative Skillset, 34% of the industry is based in London, 24% in South East England, 8% in South West England and so on. However, if life in London really isn’t for you, then consult online directories of publishing houses filtered by location to find alternative hot spots. 

There are three main sectors in publishing: consumer, academic and reference, and educational.

  1. Consumer: ‘Trade’ Fiction, Non-Fiction, Children’s, Audiobooks, E-Books, Apps, Cartographic. Example: Penguin Random House
  2. Academic and Reference: Journals, Textbooks, Online Resources. Example: Oxford University Press
  3. Educational: Teaching Resources, Coursebooks, Revision Guides and Texts, Learning Resources, Digital Resources. Example: Macmillan Education

Digital publishing is also a growing field and many publishers are trying to become more digital in order to maximise distribution and appeal to a wider audience. 

Working in any of these sectors will contribute to your awareness of the publishing process and will help you develop the skillsets needed to thrive within the industry as a whole. Therefore, don’t be afraid to accept opportunities to gain experience in sectors that aren’t of initial interest, as these skills can easily be transferred to all publishing environments.

Within publishing there are opportunities in these departments:

  • Editorial
  • Production
  • Marketing
  • Design
  • Sales
  • Rights

Most people enter into publishing with their heart set primarily on editorial work. However, the best thing to do is be open to opportunities in less competitive roles which will not only broaden your perspective on the publishing process but may highlight areas of the varied industry that you prefer or are better suited to.

You could be a marketing executive, publicity manager, data controller, rights analyst, business analyst, project manager, commissioning editor… the list goes on!

“My first job with Reader's Digest was as the Junior Arts and Entertainment Editor, and my work largely involved marketing copywriting, with a few features and reviews thrown in. When the position of Assistant Digital Editor became available I put myself forward for the job. I worked very closely with the Digital Editor and my positive attitude meant I was eventually promoted to Assistant Editor and then Senior Editor, far more hands-on, editorial-focused roles.” - Anna, BA English Literature, Reader’s Digest, Assistant Digital Editor

If, at first, you are unsuccessful at securing a job with a publisher, taking a marketing, design, editorial or sales role in another company will equip you with equally valuable skills and massively build your CV. 

Employers often seek attributes which are not related to a specific subject. Having an undergraduate degree and a good level of computer literacy is often a prerequisite for publishing jobs, but you do not have to have a Literature degree. This is a common misconception. According to Creative Skillset, 16% of people in publishing take degrees in Science, 8% take other languages, literature and culture, 7% in History, and 6% do Communication/Media Studies.

In order to stand out from other candidates, demonstrate your knowledge of industry trends and your awareness of the issues facing the industry in your applications. The best way to develop your commercial awareness is through work experience, reading articles, and keeping up with your favourite authors and publishing houses.

When applying for jobs, make sure each application unique. Start your cover letter from scratch and target it to each company:

  • Research the company, the authors it publishes, its competitors and the wider publishing industry.
  • Demonstrate your knowledge of spelling, punctuation and grammar. Proofread!
  • Don’t be afraid to have an opinion. Consider your take on new publications, trends within the industry and what you like or think could be improved. They need a reason to hire you. What do you bring to the company that they don’t have?

Where possible, address it to a person. Do as much research as you can to find the person you are addressing it to. It may say in the job description or you could search their website for the Head of Recruitment. If you have to write ‘Dear Sir/Madam,’ or ‘To whom it may concern,’ then sign at the bottom with ‘yours faithfully.’

Questions to consider:

  • What made you choose this sector?
  • Which areas of publishing are you interested in?
  • How much do you know about that area of publishing?
  • What do you know about the publishing house you’re applying to?
  • What kind of skills and experience do you have that are relevant to the role?

Be sure to write your CV and cover letter in plenty of time so that you can receive some useful feedback from a Careers Adviser before the deadline.

Desirable attributes:

  • Enthusiasm
  • Love of books and writing
  • Excellent command of the English language
  • Attention to detail
  • Commercial awareness
  • Communication
  • Negotiation
  • Organisation
  • Time management

The number of applicants for jobs in publishing far outweighs the number of jobs available. Work experience, internships and placements will demonstrate your initiative, your ambition and will help you to stand out from the crowd. 

Most companies advertise opportunities on their websites, but also check out industry sites such as The Bookseller which advertise work experience and internships all year round. Don’t be afraid to make speculative applications. Many publishing houses don’t regularly have formal vacancy posts, but if you send them a polite speculative application for work experience, you never know what opportunities might arise.

“I joined the SYP (Society for Young Publishers) and went to their Careers Speed Dating Event in London –I left with my first bit of work experience at a rights agency. I was already entering Goodreads giveaways to make sure I was keeping up with new books out at the time. I managed to win one copy - it just happened to be a Penguin book. It arrived with a press release and a publicist’s email address – she was asking us to review the book on Goodreads. So, I did. I also emailed her my review, telling her I was a student at UEA interested in publishing. She offered me work experience and, after I completed it, I stayed in touch with her. When a job came up in her team I applied and got it!” – Stephanie, Penguin Random House, Marketing Executive

During your work experience, ask the team questions about their individual roles within the company and how they launched their careers; make yourself available to help out with specific projects or tasks run within the department; be proactive and show an interest in the work going on around you. Most importantly, enjoy it! One or two weeks in a company will fly by.

“The two main things I learnt from work experience is to smile and be eager to help with any task, you never know when the team will have a role open up and you want to be remembered as someone who will fill it well. The second is to stay in contact with whoever hired you for the placement, for the very same reason.” – Polly, BA History of Art

Wherever real-world experience is gained, make sure this is documented right away; it would be a shame to forget the valuable work you’ve been doing. Specific details to include might be: tasks undertaken, skills acquired or developed, and how this experience has shaped your understanding of the publishing industry. Use the CARL format to record your experiences (Context, Action, Result, Learning) as these details will be significant for updating your CV and preparing for interviews. 

Opportunities at UEA

Remember that there are many opportunities to build your CV within UEA itself. You can pursue your interest in publishing and meet like-minded people through Egg Box Publishing Society, Concrete, and the student magazines. 

“The most important society to me had to be Concrete. I was one of two Copy Editors of the paper in my final year. Not only did this teach me valuable proofing skills, build up my writing portfolio and offer experience in the environment of a busy newspaper, but it's also where I met my closest friends, who I would eventually move to London with.” - Anna, BA English Literature, Reader’s Digest, Assistant Digital Editor

You could write for and/or edit the annual creative writing anthology through Egg Box, or you could develop skills in marketing, editing, publicity, design and leadership by becoming a member of a committee of a society. It doesn’t even have to be a publishing-related society. Being publicity officer of a sports team for example, will embellish your marketing and publicity skills, whilst demonstrating your interests outside of books and publishing.

You can undertake internships through the UEA Internship Programme both during and after your time at UEA. These might involve marketing, editorial or publicity-work for UEA-related projects. So, what better place to gain valuable, paid experience than right on campus? You can visit MyCareerCentral for more information.

Also, you can visit the biannual Literary Festival held at UEA to watch new and award-winning writers showcase their work.

Visit the Recruitment and Opportunities Fair, Café Conversations, The Graduate Jobs Market, and other employer events to meet with professionals and make useful contacts. You never know, you may walk away with an invitation to work experience! 

Be Open

As competition for jobs is fierce, when applying for work in publishing, it is important to keep an open mind and not discount any opportunities. So, if your dream job is to be an Editorial Assistant, consider taking an admin role or a job in the marketing department. You'll still learn about the company and make valuable contacts, and you never know where these jobs might lead or what internal vacancies may arise.

“I started as a Communications Assistant at Penguin in the June of my final year at UEA-I was promoted to Junior Campaigns Officer the following year then moved teams within Penguin Random House to be a Marketing Executive at Ebury Publishing” – Stephanie, Penguin Random House, Marketing Executive 

The size of a publisher can create different opportunities. In a big, well-known publishing house, you are more likely to meet and work with high-profile authors. In a small publishing house, you are more likely to have greater exposure to other departments and gain a holistic view of the publishing process. The best way to know which size is best for you is to gain experience in both and reflect on what suits you.

Generic online sources

Career information and advice are across a range of creative sectors in the UK, with employment/career management support and access to vacancies.

Target Jobs

Professional bodies and Directories

It represents a diverse range of companies and publishers, with useful careers information and directories for networking opportunities and events.

The Publishers Association
Publishers Global

Labour market and industry information

Data and statistics which may communicate the ‘health’ of the employment market.

UK Creative
Department of Culture
Creative Industries Federation

Local/Regional Labour market information

A geographic search tool for publishers. However, many sites are membership-led and often require login for full access.

Norfolk Chamber of Commerce

Vacancy sources

Looking for internship and placement opportunities? You may be signed up by an agency who will offer your CV applications to relevant vacancies in the near future.

Inspired Selection
Creative Pool

Employer information

Search companies and their application processes for graduate schemes, internships and jobs vacancies.

Harper Collins
Random House
Orion Books
Little Brown Books

Event sites

Workshop programmes and talks related to publishing open to all attendees. This is a great way to network, meet like-minded people, and potentially gain work experience.
SYP Conference
Independent Publishers