I Want To Work In … Publishing

Bored Bard


Job roles

Editorial work

I see lots of students who wish to work in publishing. When asked what they want to do in publishing, invariably the answer comes back, "editorial" despite this being a small proportion of the available jobs. When I ask them which type of editorial, the reply is always "literature", despite this being an even smaller segment of the market!

Very few students seem to wish to work in (or in many cases have even heard of) marketing, production, rights, publicity, sales, etc. If having looked at all the other varied roles available in publishing, you stilll feel that you are most suited to editorial work, then you should definitely go for it, but you will have a much easier entry path if you consider the other available options as well.

PROFILE: Commissioning editor
selecting, reviewing & arranging material for publication. Managing the various stages of book & production. Brief the design department, and work closely with marketing and publicity. Finding new authors and maintaining good relationships with existing authors, negotiating with agents, attending book fairs, contract negotiation, overseeing the writing process & development of projects, commissioning illustrations and photographs, selling ideas, budgeting & financial forecasting.
Employers: Publishers of books, magazines, trade periodicals, large companies producing in-house magazines, professional bodies publishing their own journals.
Related jobs: trade publishing, journalism, PR.
Satisfactions: Seeing a gap in the market & developing a successful product to fill that gap (i.e. producing books that are popular & sell well). Working with a group of dynamic like-minded people. Working with products you can believe in & see the need for.
Negatives: "Low salary - publishing is notoriously badly paid. Long hours."
Skills: communication, organising, negotiating, cooperating, business interest & aptitude, attention to detail, determination, enthusiasm, good command of, & feeling for, the English language and good computing skills.
Advancement: Usually start as an editorial or publishing assistant. Can then become junior editor, editor, senior editor & on to editorial director or can move into other departments - particularly marketing.
Degree: Any degree subject acceptable. There are a number of postgraduate publishing courses which may increase your chances.
Vacancy Sources: The Bookseller (weekly), The Guardian (Monday). You will normally need to make many speculative applications.
  • 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 www.prospects.ac.uk/commissioning_editor.htm

Copy Editing

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


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 www.sfep.org.uk and the Publishing Training Centre www.train4publishing.co.uk

ZigZag Education have produced a Proofreading Training Pack which is very good value

Good advice on proofreading as a career http://libroediting.com/2011/10/26/proofreading-as-a-career

How to Edit and Proofread Your Way Around the World https://geediting.com/blog/edit-around-world how to earn money editing and proofreading online to fund a location independent lifestyle.

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, production, finance, rights.





Design Design eye catching covers for books and sometimes graphics for the inside as well. Supply artwork for campaigns and advertising materials such as posters and leaflets. Arrange photo shoots for covers, cast models, carry out picture research, and make sure you have the right to use images. May be responsible for the typography (fonts) and commissioning illustrators and photographers. Knowledge of design software such as InDesign, Quark XPress and Photoshop.
Good communication skills: you have regular discussions with the editor and freelance staff. Flexibility.
You normally need a graphic design degree. Build a strong portfolio.
Many publishers use freelance designers, illustrators and photographers.
Production Responsible for the manufacture of the book, including cost, typesetting, paper and quality. Have to organise the printing and binding of the book with printing companies, arrange delivery and shipping, and buy paper. You are the first person to handle the new book!

Deadline orientated
Good organiser
Negotiating skills.
Excellent project management.
Multi-tasking: work on several projects at a time

You will normally start as an assistant production controller and have to look after the scheduling and delivery for particular books. Good courses at London College of Communication
Finance Look after the credit control, forecasting, budgeting and book profitability, cash flow and pay roll.
Work with suppliers including invoicing.

Attention to detail is very important. Able to talk about finance issues in a way the average person can understand.

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.
Marketing 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. Creative
Good copywriting skills.
Understanding of retail and consumer trends
Well organised
A degree in business or marketing would be helpful here. Work closely with editorial and publicity.
Publicity 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.

Excellent communication
Excellent organiser
Able to cope with pressure.
Time management

Usually enter as a publicity assistant. Get work experience with a publisher
Sales 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.

Customer focused
Presenting skills
Time management

Working in a bookshop can be a good starting point.
Contracts 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.

Good attention to detail. Well organised
Good negotiator

Often you will start as a contracts assistant.
A law degree would be an advantage here.
Rights Sells licenses for books and other formats (film,TV, translations, merchandising) 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

Language skills
Commercial Awareness

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.


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 at http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/postgradmenu.htm .

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!

PROFILE: Bookseller
Involves: Selling books to customers. Checking stock & shelf filling. Buying from publishers' sales staff, catalogues, book fairs & auctions. Creating displays. Dealing with enquiries. Processing orders.
Employers: Major national bookshops or chains, Independent booksellers
Related jobs: librarian, information scientist, retail manager, publishing sales representative.
Satisfactions: 'Working with books in a relatively pleasant environment (although second-hand books can be dusty & dirty). Helping customers with sometimes complex enquiries.'
Negatives: "Poor pay Work can be routine & physically demanding: on your feet most of the day. Weekend work."
Skills: spoken communication, cooperating, organising, persuading, stamina.
Advancement: Usually start as a sales assistant, but most managers would be recruited from these. Will need to be mobile to take up management positions in other shops. May be able to move into publishing sales or general retail management.
Degree: Any degree subject
Tips: Get some experience as a shop assistant in any type of shop. Apply speculatively to local bookshops for sales assistant posts.


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 can be found at www.prospects.ac.uk/links/PubPrint

Professional Bodies

"When there are a lot of people willing to do a job, that job generally doesn't pay well. This is one of four meaningful factors that determine a wage. The others are the specialised skills a job requires, the unpleasantness of a job, and the demand for services that the job fulfills ....
In glamour industries like publishing, advertising and the media, swarms of bright young people throw themselves at grunt jobs that pay poorly and demand unstinting devotion"


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

Children's publishers

 “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


Vacancy information

Recruitment Agencies

Other information resources


An MA in Publishing can help your CV to stand out but is by no means essential.

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. See our Computing Skills page for more details of how to get these packages www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sk/computing-skills.htm

Also see

Last fully updated 2013