I want to work in Publishing

Find out how you can start a career in publishing. Here we list potential job roles and some of the leading companies in that sector.

Job roles

Editorial work

Many students who wish to work in publishing state that they are interested in editorial work particularly working on works of literature.
However getting into publishing is challenging and it is worth considering other roles such as marketing, production, rights, publicity, sales etc.

Commissioning editor

Prospects Job Profile: Commissioning Editor 


  • Most graduates will begin as EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS, DESK EDITORS or COPY EDITORS.
  • Competition is severe: even for secretarial posts as everyone wants to work on the editorial side of publishing!
  • It is essential to make speculative applications. It's a matter of luck as to whether you get an interview, as there are always hundreds of applicants for each job.
  • Successful candidates are those with relevant skills (proof-reading word-processing and desktop publishing) or experience (bookselling, library work, etc). Try to get unpaid work experience with a publisher initially.
  • DON'T say that you want to go into publishing because you like books.
    DO stress organisational, selling & communication skills.
  • The Writers' & Artists' Yearbook is an excellent starting point.
  • Your CV needs to be carefully written with excellent spelling and grammar and excellent use of words.
  • Profile: Commissioning editor

Copy Editing

    Often this is the stepping stone to becoming a commissioning editor (see above)
    It involves:

  • Proofreading: correcting manuscripts: checking for flow, sense, clarity, consistency, grammar and correct facts and possibly libellous information.
  • Preparing copy for typesetting
  • Checking proofs from printers
  • Liaising with other departments (production, marketing, sales) & companies (paper mills, printers, distributors etc) to ensure time & cost schedules are met.
  • Editorial assistants liaise with authors, agents, and the design, production, marketing and publicity departments.
  • Copy editors often start out as secretaries or editorial assistants.


Many proofreading posts are occupied by freelancers working from home; companies such as Penguin employ large numbers of these. As well as being expert on grammar, you also have to check for continuity and consistency. Get experience on the student paper or any other publication. This will help set you apart from the many hopeful start-up freelancers who bombard publishers with CVs. There are many courses available many of which will not carry much value in the job market, but the exceptions to this are the respected training bodies Society for Editors and Proofreaders and the Publishing Training Centre
ZigZag Education have produced a Proofreading Training Pack which is very good value
Good advice on proofreading as a career


Prospects Job Profile: Bookseller 

Tips: Get some experience as a shop assistant in any type of shop. Apply speculatively to local bookshops for sales assistant posts.

Administrative & secretarial work

This may be a back-door route into publishing. You will need good word-processing and computing skills - get any office experience where you can boost these. You may be able to do a word-processing or desk top publishing (DTP) evening course at your local college - our postgraduate links has links to databases of such courses 

Knowledge of the book trade generally, gained through working in a library or bookshop, is invaluable. You will get to know what the public wants and may meet publishing reps and gain some inside information. Ring all the local bookshops and libraries you know and ask them for a job!

Other roles

Books are products, just like bars of soap or chocolate, and need to be packaged, promoted, and sold at a profit. About seven times as many people work on the commercial side of publishing as on the editorial side in roles such as sales, marketing and Graphic Design. 


  • Tasks  Responsible for the manufacture of the book, including cost, typesetting, paper, digital format and quality.
  • Skills  Deadline orientated, Good organiser, Negotiating skills, Excellent project management, Multi-tasking: work on several projects at a time. Knowledge of HTML, CSS and Photoshop.
  • Tips    You will normally start as an assistant production controller and have to look after the scheduling and delivery for particular books.


  • Tasks Look after the credit control, forecasting, budgeting and book profitability, cash flow and pay roll. Work with suppliers including invoicing.
  • Skills  Attention to detail is very important. Able to talk about finance issues in a way the average person can understand.
  • Tips    Initial posts might be as a sales ledger clerk or purchase ledger. With responsibility for cash payments to the publishers. Qualified accountants may be employed.


  • Tasks  Developing innovative marketing campaigns for titles. Involves promoting books to consumers and to book sellers via newspapers, radio and on-line methods. Preparing presentations. Working on pitches for new books. Balancing budgets.
  • Skills  Creative, Good copywriting skills, Understanding of retail and consumer trends, Well organised , Multi-tasking 
  • Tips    A degree in business or marketing would be helpful here. Work closely with editorial and publicity


  • Tasks  Combined with marketing in smaller publishers. Gets media exposure for new titles. Responsible for publicising books: arranges signings by authors or gets them slots on radio programmes. Fast paced.
  • Skills  Excellent communication, Excellent organiser, Able to cope with pressure. Time management
  • Tips    Usually enter as a publicity assistant. Get work experience with a publisher


  • Tasks  Sells books to bookshops, wholesalers, supermarkets, libraries and school suppliers. Sales representatives will give presentations to branches of major bookshops and independent bookshops. Export sales involves selling titles abroad and can involve overseas travel.
  • Skills  Communication , Persuading, Customer focused, Numeracy , Presenting skills, Time management , Energy
  • Tips    Working in a bookshop can be a good starting point.


  • Tasks Drafts contracts between the company and authors, acquires publishing rights and negotiates deals. They will also deal with legal issues such as copyright and litigation. Work closely with the editorial team.            
  • Skills  Good attention to detail, well organised, good negotiator
  • Tips    Often you will start as a contracts assistant. A law degree would be an advantage here.


  • Tasks  Sells licenses for books and other formats (film & TV translationsmerchandising) in UK and abroad. Can be extremely lucrative. Can involve travel abroad to trade fairs. Negotiating contracts for serialization in a newspaper, a film or a translation. Prospects Profile - Publishing Rights Manager
  • Skills  Negotiating , Persuading, Multi-tasking, Language skills, Commercial Awareness, Numeracy
  • Tips    Normally start as a rights assistant. Not many people know about rights, so it's an advantage if you've done your research. Must enjoy selling.
  • But remember that publishing is not just about books – it covers periodicals, multimedia and websites.

Occupational Profiles for a variety of job roles in publishing




Publishers with graduate recruitment programmes

Most publishers do not run graduate schemes and competition is strong, even for routine clerical and secretarial posts. It is essential to make speculative applications and not rely on advertised vacancies.

Other publishers


Recruitment Agencies

  • JFL Search and Selection specialise in Publishing. Recommended by a Kent graduate.
  • Career Moves used by Penguin
  • Creativepool covers the creative industries including: Advertising, Architecture, Graphic Design, Journalism and Writing, Media Careers, Multimedia and New Media and Publishing

Vacancy information

 “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
.... 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" 
The Bookseller

Find out more

Other information resources

  • Creative Skillset ways into the industry details of job roles
  • Prospects Overview of the media and internet sector in the UK
  • The Writers and Artists Yearbook (available in most libraries, including the Careers Information Room) is the best print source of information on publishers: their specialisations and contact details
  • The Book Trade Charity supports those finding employment in the book trade by covering interview costs including: travel, subsistence, overnight accommodation, appropriate clothing. One Kent student received £500 from the charity.
  • IHS Jane's Information Group provides the government and the Ministry of Defence with specialist research gathered from open sources in the area of defence and law enforcement in particular. Publish this information in a series of magazines and often used as a source in the news. Look for individuals with specialist knowledge in areas such as International Relations, Strategic Studies, War Studies and Politics. A genuine interest in defence is helpful and editorial/journalistic experience also helps. Also run an internship programme.


An MA in Publishing can help your CV to stand out but is by no means essential. University of Kent advice on all aspects of further study

Useful skills

Learning to use desktop publishing software will greatly improve your CV for publishing and journalism jobs. Microsoft Publisher is part of MS Office and although basic, will get you started. Even better are Quark Xpress and In Design: you can download fully working demos of these professional packages which you can practice and then add to your CV. Adobe Photoshop (image manipulation) will also help, as will basic web page design skills as so much publishing is now electronic.

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