How to get started

Want to get into publishing?

First of all, find out a bit more about it. Check out the information available in the careers section of your local library or careers office, dip into one of the books recommended below and talk to people in the industry – us!

Come to one of our speaker meetings and take the opportunity to meet like-minded people and network in an informal atmosphere. Don’t be afraid to talk to people about the industry; everyone is happy to give advice and help as much as they can.

This is only a brief guide, but should lead you to all the sources of information, jobs, courses and training that you will need to start your career in publishing. It is a hugely rewarding industry to work in, but here's one word of warning: when you're starting out, be prepared to work long hours for low pay.

For an overview of the current careers market and an analysis of the training and education provision out there, see


Recommended reading:

Work experience

Doing Work Experience is often regarded an essential step when you are first starting out in the Publishing industry. It provides you with an opportunity to find out how publishing really works, and will also provide you with many useful industry contacts, who,if you impress, may later employ you. A good way to start is to check out our Essential Guide to Publishing Work Experience.

Skillset offer Guidelines for Employers offering Work Placement Schemes in the Creative Industries which were produced in collaboration Creative & Cultural Skills and Arts Council England, aim to promote good practice and clarify the various entry routes.

The guidelines include recommendations on:

  •  Limiting work experience placements to no more than 160 hours and reimbursing expenses;
  • Paying at least the national minimum wage for anyone on a graduate internship;
  • Limiting the working week of trainees and interns to 40 hours.

It is beneficial those looking for experience to be aware of these to ensure they are informed as to what can be expected of them on a work placement. It should be stressed that these are guidelines only and not laws or requirements.


Diversity in publishing

One of Oxford's Speaker Meetings discussed discrimination in publishing, the sort of people who work there and whether it is difficult to reach a high position unless you fit the stereotype. Freelance writer and contributor to The Bookseller Danuta Kean argued the industry is too white middle-class. See her notes here (Members only).  And of course, there is also EQUIP - Equality in Publishing, a network funded by the Arts Council.

Diversity in Publishing – some thoughts on this issue from Plimbol Solano.

Black, White and Shades of Brown – SYP Project 60 Co-ordinator Bhav Mehta writes about the lack of ethnic minority characters in children's books and comics in this blog on The Bookseller website.

Where are all the men? – read Bridget Moans' entertaining account about the lack of men working in publishing.


Types of book publisher

Broadly speaking, these are:

  • commercial or trade (fiction and non-fiction, including illustrated and children's)
  • academic
  • educational, including English Language Teaching (ELT)
  • STM (scientific/technical/medical)
  • professional (e.g. law, finance)
  • publications for information service providers

Other areas of publishing:

Particularly in the area of academic, educational, STM and journal publishing, digital publishing is a fast-growing and changing area. There are also a wide range of business – b2b or b2c – magazine and Internet publishers.

Charity Publishing – In some notes made for a Speaker Meeting, Friends of the Earth’s Nicola Baird discusses what the charity publishes and what it’s like to be on such as tight budget. Read her notes in PDF format.

Does Size Really Matter? – Amelia Allsop reports back from the November 2005 speaker meeting which discussed the relative merits of working for big and small publishers.


Types of job

A degree is likely to be a prerequisite for most jobs, as is a good level of computer literacy. Subject knowledge at degree level can be useful (e.g. for professional and specialist subject publishing), as well as teaching experience (e.g. for educational or ELT). The best ways to get into the industry are work experience or temping, although there are a number of well-established publishing courses at graduate and postgraduate level that are likely to enhance your prospects significantly. Even if you can’t get a role straight into publishing, get some office and administration experience – get your foot in door and keep it there. The following 'must-haves' are only suggestions – each job is different.

  • Editorial – excellent grasp of English; attention to detail
  • Production – good negotiating skills; organised approach
  • Marketing – outgoing personality; organised approach
  • Sales – outgoing personality; negotiating skills
  • Rights – outgoing personality; negotiating skills; languages useful for foreign rights, but not always essential

Read our guide to publishing jobs for more detailed information on some of the more popular roles.

Former SYP Chair Jon Slack has written a helpful guide to working in publishing, which featured in The Writer's Handbook 2010.


Articles on working in publishing

Commissioning – Truths and Myths: Perhaps you want to become an editor. Perhaps you like the sound of it but aren’t really sure what’s involved. Experienced commissioning editors Sarah Caro (OUP) and Al Bertrand (Blackwell) uncovered the truths and myths of commissioning in one of our Speaker Meetings. Read a summary of the meeting (Members only).

A Day in the Life of a... Commissioning Editor – read Melanie Wilson's interview with Cassie Birmingham, Commissioning Editor at Jessica Kingsley Publishers

On Becoming a Commissioning Editor – Gurdeep Mattu's experience

Getting On – the role of Commissioning Editor is explored in this edition of the SYP Insider blog from The Bookseller

A Day in the Life of a... Production Typesetter – read Claire Robertson's interview with Leah Gourley, Production Assistant at Prepress Projects

The Unsung Heroes
 – an account from the SYP blog in The Bookseller about life in Production

A Day in the Life of a... Publicity Officer – read Melanie Wilson's interview with Laura Bell, Publicity Officer for Jessica Kingsley Publishers

The Invisible Link
 – the role of Publicity Officer is explored in this edition of the SYP Insider blog from The Bookseller

A Day in the Life of a... Cover Designer – an interview with Terry Woodley from InPrint Online

A Day in the Life of a... Educational Publishing Executive – an interview with Fiona McGlade from InPrint Online


Postgraduate publishing courses

Below are links to UK postgraduate publishing degrees.  If you look at all the courses, and are still unsure which one to go for, then we have an extract online from How to Get a Job in Publishing (A & C Black, 2008) to assist you in making an objective choice.

City University (London)
Kingston University (London)
London College of Communication
UCL (London)
Napier University (Edinburgh)
Oxford Brookes University
Robert Gordon University (Aberdeen)
Universtiy of Stirling
University of Central Lancashire

Publishing MAs

Many of the UK's universities now offer postgraduate courses in publishing, but what are they and how can they benefit your future careers prospects?

An MA in Publishing will give you a thorough understanding of the publishing process and provide you with a network of like-minded people, which will serve you throughout your career. The number of Publishing Masters courses are increasing each year and they are highly valued by employers as they set you apart in a very competitive industry. A masters will give you a theoretical approach to the industry, and this will provide you with career leverage when it come to applying for jobs with greater responsibility.

Each course has a different focus; I have just graduated from UCL which included master classes given by leading figures in the industry, courses on electronic publishing, business and law, a five week placement in a publishing house and finally a dissertation. The future of publishing is becoming increasingly digital, therefore as a future publisher you will be exposed to different aspects of adjacent industry such as libraries and technological media. These courses equip you with the skills to network and embrace new technologies.


Where to look for jobs


The Guardian (Mon/Sat) |
The Bookseller (Fridays) |
European Bookseller (monthly)
Publishers Weekly |



All levels

Inspired Selection (London)
Tel: 0203 668 6733 |
Inspired Selection (Oxford)

Tel: 01865 304 029 |
Atwood Tate Limited (London)
Tel: 020 7487 8314 |
Atwood Tate Limited (Oxford and beyond)
Tel: 018 6533 9628 |
Covent Garden Bureau
Tel: 020 7734 3374
PFJ Recruitment
Tel: 020 7612 3800 |
Judy Fisher Associates
Tel: 020 7437 2277
Career Moves Publishing Recruitment
Tel: 020 7908 7900 |

Second jobs and up

JFL Search & Selection
Tel: 020 7009 3500 | 
Intelligent Resources
Tel: 020 7375 0085 |
Meridian Search and Selection
Tel: 020 7795 6633 |

Other places to look for jobs

SYP Job Database (Members only) – the CV Clearing House
Job Seach with Jobrapido
not from concentrate

Publishers' addresses are listed in The Writer’s Handbook (which also gives information about book and magazine publishing, newspapers, poetry, radio, theatre, TV, video and film, as well as agents, prizes, writer’s circles, associations, festivals etc.) and The Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook. There are several well-established societies catering to particular groups within publishing, from children’s publishing to production.



The Publishing Training Centre – 020 8874 2718, Editorial Training – 0845 0171 059, the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP) – 020 8785 5617, the Association of Learned and Professional Society Publishers (ALPSP) and Imago, among others, run short courses in all areas of publishing. Editorial Training also offers an online guide to careers in publishing.


Writing your CV?

Market yourself

Job hunting can be a nightmare at the best of times but job hunting in a recession is a whole other ball game! According to a report from Kaonix, the average number of applications per job has more than doubled compared to last year, which means that your job application will have stiff competition!

But how do you set yourself apart from the other applicants?

Your CV and covering letter is the first thing that a future employer will see from you. It is your marketing tool. A good CV and covering letter will do the leg work for you in setting you apart from the other applicants and could get you that all important job interview.



Research undertaken by Marketing Professionals UK found that half of CVs contained spelling or grammatical mistakes.

Jonny Cainer, at Marketing Professionals UK, said: “If a CV is badly constructed, it can seriously hinder career progression. People should be aware of the most common mistakes as this is the only document the employer has to judge you on.”

Here are some of the biggest howlers to avoid when putting together your CV:

  • Typos – around 50% of CVs contain spelling mistakes or grammatical errors.
  • Work experience listed in wrong order i.e. most recent position should be first. In particular applicants often neglect to detail their current role, it is sometimes omitted or out of date.
  • Unexplained gaps in dates between jobs.
  • Sloppy formatting – inappropriate fonts or mixing of styles and sizes; paragraphs or bullet points that do not align.
  • Inappropriate use of colours, photographs, logos or fancy paper, it is rare they aid your application.
  • Listing of irrelevant information such as holiday jobs or casual work that are not relevant to the position.
  • Sending through a CV that has clearly been constructed in application for a different role – employers like to see a CV tailored to their vacancy.
  • Disorganised – where a CV is hard to follow and information is scattered around the page.
  • Making it too long – CVs should be kept to 2–3 pages. Long paragraphs and sentences should be avoided.
  • Too basic – CVs that only give basic information are not enough to interest the employer. Do not hurry over the preparation of your CV, consider the best way to explain your achievements and responsibilities in a clear and concise manner.

Covering letters

Employers don't want to feel like you're sending 45 applications; they want to feel as though you're writing to them, about their company and a particular job.

Remember that this a formal business letter so should be in a formal format. Put your name and address in the top right hand corner. On the left side of the page, put the date.

The first paragraph should come straight to the point, for example:

'I am writing to apply for the position of [role name] that I saw advertised in [media/agency] on [date]. Please find my CV enclosed.

One of the biggest bugbears of employers is when applicants don't bother to personalise the covering letter they send.

  • Don't just write 'Dear Sir or Madam' – call up the company and find out whom to address the letter to.
  • Writing things like 'I would love to work for your esteemed company' are a big no-no! Make sure you personalise the letter to the particular company – show you’ve done your research.

Make sure you get a job description about the role – make a note of the key skills they’re looking for and choose the ones that suit your experience.

Make sure you put all these key skills you want your employer to know about you in your covering letter, pick three or four key skills and relate these skills back to how they would be useful in this role.

Publishing jobs require a superb command of the English language. Therefore, some employers will immediately disregard all applications that contain spelling errors or grammatical inconsistencies. We suggest that you check your letter very carefully, using professional editing standards.


Top 10 CV howlers

Michael Heath joined us for a CV workshop, giving advice on your CV and the interview process. View his Top 10 CV howlers here.


Getting work published

The SYP cannot give advice on how to get your work published, nor can we assess any work you send in. However, we recommend you consult the following publications. The Society of Authors – 020 7373 6642 – may also be able to offer advice.


Recommended reading: