It is a common question if you are in your final year at University and have decided that book publishing is for you. What you may not be sure of, are what the entry level qualifications are and how to get that elusive foot in the door.
Before you start looking, you have to understand that book publishing is heavily over-subscribed – there are always more people wanting jobs within the industry than there are jobs available. This is even when times are good.
As a result, book publishing pay is comparable to teachers' pay. So if you want a high flying salary, better to look somewhere else.
It is also an assumption that it is the ideal career for someone with an English degree. However unless you want to work for a STM (Science Technical and Medical Publisher) or an Art History publisher, then degree discipline is not relevant. I have also seen "Publishing" come up as an option for those who have been through career or personality tests; yet unless you have a strong desire to work with books, you should look at the other options that the test has thrown out first.
If you are still with me, then here are just a few tips to get your first job in book publishing.
A degree is now seen as the minimum entry level requirement. An MA or PHD doesn't guarantee you any extra chances of employment or extra salary; it is a personal choice whether you wish to continue your education. The same advice applies to studying for an MA in book publishing. Although these are becoming more popular, they do not guarantee you an entry level job within the industry or any extra salary.
Most publishers now expect graduates to have some sort of "work experience" by having volunteered their services for free to a publishing house during their summer vacation or immediately after graduating. This seems highly unfair, as it discriminates against those who do not have the funding to do this. However, even if you are unable to do this it doesn't rule you out. Whilst at University, involve yourself in the student newspaper, magazine, radio, or some sort of media – a role that will give you some grounding in the career that you seek – be it on the editorial content side or in publicity, marketing, sales. All experience that you can gather is valuable to you, whatever your final career choice.
Don't set your mind on one job – any experience in publishing is valuable – even working on a book publisher's reception (you get to know the names, companies, authors that your employer deals with). Also, knowledge of other areas of publishing – e.g. marketing or sales – could be highly beneficial for your job in editorial, because as an Editor, you will need to take a keen interest in the market and sales and production of your titles. You also might find out that you prefer different areas of publishing rather than your first career choice. Remember any experience that you can get is valuable.
Make sure you can type and that the spelling and grammar you use is exemplary. Publishers are meant to be the purveyors of the English language; if your command of written English is not up to scratch then it is unlikely, even if you are successful in getting a job, that you will hold onto it for long. It is highly important too, that you have an error free CV that is written in good English – everyone in publishing is good at proofreading and will spot the slightest error on your CV.
Read the book Inside Book Publishing by Giles Clark (ISBN 978-0415441575). It is seen as the definitive book about the industry, which is used as a recommended text book on a number of publishing courses. It will help you understand how the industry works and the responsibilities of each department or sector.
Register with the CV Clearing House on the bookcareers.com website. The CV Clearing House is a register of people who are looking for jobs within book publishing and is regularly searched by employers and recruiters from book publishing who don't wish to advertise.
Be flexible, willing to work and co-operative; don’t have any set ideals. Be prepared to do anything and be willing to learn.
Join the Society of Young Publishers and go to meetings. It is a great networking organisation and you will learn a lot about the current trends within the industry by attending their meetings or conferences. Women in Publishing is also great organisation to join if you are female.
Jobs within book publishing are advertised in The Guardian and The Bookseller (trade magazine for the publishing industry). There are also other online websites such as Bookbrunch which carry vacancies but the majority of first jobs go by word of mouth (this is why the CV Clearing House on the bookcareers.com website can be of benefit).
Write a lot of letters and learn how to cope with rejection. You may have to knock on an awful lot of doors to find a job, but if you are committed to a career within book publishing it is worth it.
© Suzanne Collier, Career Development Consultant, bookcareers.com