Careers and Employability Service

I want to work in Publishing

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.

    PROFILE: Commissioning editor

    Involves: 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

    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 libelous information (see below for more on this)
      • 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 [19]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

    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.

    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 .
    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, production, finance, rights.

      Tasks  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.
      Skills 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
      Tips    You normally need a graphic design degree. Build a strong portfolio.
      Many publishers use freelance designers, illustrators and photographers.
      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. Good courses at London College of Communication
      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 , 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
      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 can be found at






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Last Updated: 11/04/2019