A Few Thoughts on Publishing

Following on from my post last week, I thought I’d do a more career-specific thing. I couldn’t find a non-confusing way to post them as one entity so I went double. This is mostly for the people who I know personally and haven’t yet graduated and wanted a little insight into their industry of interest. But maybe some elements of it will help others. I don’t know.

Consider it an addendum of sorts, so it’s a much more streamlined version of what I could have written, unfortunately. I want to really flag up that the intentions of this was supposed to give a generic overview of what’s going on so that further exploration has more direction, as opposed to an in-depth analysis of all the components of publishing. Doing something like that is way, way more complex. The finished result is flawed, true, but I think it will serve some function in at least getting the thinking juices flowing.

Another bummer is that again, I’m speaking from the perspective from one who is currently not an insider of the industry: I do have some direct insights because I have actually done some work experience in a publishing house so there’s that (and yes, it was really fun).

Okay, let’s get to it.

CVs and cover letters

For CVs, it’s kind of irritating of me to do this but have a look at that section of my last post. There are other resources like this and this one’s quite detailed as well. The core of these is playing to the potential desirable strengths that will be useful for the job you’re applying for. This will of course vary from job to job. If you’re not certain I will endeavour to cover some examples down below to give you a taste. But only a tiny taste. I don’t want this to get too swollen. From there it’s probably a good idea to do some research of your own then introspect. More on that in a bit.

For cover letters, this is by far the best place to go. Twice I’ve linked to Publishing Interns’ post and I’ll link it until my dying breath. It’s a more comprehensive than anything I, a non-industry member, could produce. At over 4000 words it’s a definitely a Sitting of reading but to centre yourself and your potential cover letter audience, taking some time out to understand what’s needed from a specific role will go a long way in a least making your path a little less winding.

For a little more specific discussion, it’s now time for some introspection: Why you?

Not in a cruel, dismissive way, but seriously, why you? What’s unique about you such that you want position x over Person A? Again, I touched on this in the previous post but what is it that distinguishes you as an individual?

There is a lot of people interested in this industry and it’s those little differences that will make you stand out. Very subscribed. This is a massive cliché, true. I don’t mean to be trite and repeat what people have been spewing at you for years. That, with your knowledge-base is really going to help you with regards to individuation. Knowing what’s what is going to be useful. More on that in a little bit. For now, though, it’s time to Get Real for a second. This industry is so competitive in terms of job applicants per vacancy so the possibility of rejection letters or maybe not even hearing back is basically guaranteed. Rejection is sadly part of its nature. Even with this notion of trying to individuate yourself. I don’t mean this to detract you, but rather to pre-empt the inevitable, so you can steel yourself. All I’m doing is trying to bump your chances, however slight that might be.

Relevant interests will go a long way. You like books? Sure you do. You wouldn’t apply for publishing if you didn’t. But how can you demonstrate that? What have you done as a result of your love? Do you have a place where you review them—a blog perchance? If you do, good, play that up. If not, I’m not sure if you need a blog; a Goodreads account or something equivalent will probably do. (I fully recognise the arrogance of a blog guy talking about starting a blog about blog things. Blog.) There are other platforms that seem to consolidate how people interact like Bookwitty. It seems to be growing in popularity.

The interests needn’t be solely book-related, either. The general idea is—you guessed it—transferable skills. Understanding how sales works for example will transfer (eh? Eh?) to something more industry-specific. There are a lot of ways to spin this because there are so many possibilities that a single, simple-minded person (hi) couldn’t possibly chart them all. But again, introspection. There is bound to be something that will identify you as unique. Working in shops (especially bookshops) might afford you some kind of insight into what people respond to, for example. Those skills might be useful in getting people to look at books.

Other things can involve activities such as having joined a society (and were you consistent with it?). But take it further and consider: Were you on committee? Was there anything specific you learnt during your studies? Then think about their relevance. They should be able to show things pertaining to commitment, cooperation, innovation, etc. Again, the bigger post does this in a little more detail. Let’s not re-tread familiar ground. Keep them in mind.

I had the extreme privilege of being referred to someone in academic publishing so that I could ask some questions. I basically threw questions at her which I’m forever sorry and grateful for her taking the time to answer. One thing that came up in that discussion is not necessarily doing the thing you set out to do.  Suppose you did a degree in History and also wanted to work in a History department for academic/scholarly publishing. She mentioned that while you have direct skills from your degree, doing another subject helps with being objective for the benefit of the manuscripts you could potentially work on. This struck a chord in me because it ran along a similar theme I’ve heard before. See, I’ve been to two talks on publishing at university and a thing I keep hearing is the idea of deviance: you might be gunning for something and find your calling in some place completely different. This might be later-career stuff but you might even be doing a job that at present doesn’t exist. That’s not a bad thing. Keep your mind open.

This would be helpful for someone like me because sure I said I wanted to Editorial before but I didn’t really understand the nuances of it. Some companies with their work experiences tend to let you select what departments you might be interested in and they sort you as best they can in accordance to your preferences. I’ll do a little about this—you guessed it—down below.

Departments & (potential) skills

Now we get to the fun part! Let’s take a look at some of the departments available and what they do and map on some skillsets based upon observations of job adverts. All of them require “organisation”, fyi. Also, these aren’t a complete list of skills but very basic jumping off points.

Understanding the different departments might lift you from the ever-alluring spell of Editorial. This is not to detract you aspiring editors but I do want to point out that there’s much, much more available to look at than just editorial. This is from someone who had vague (and lofty) goals of editing but then realised there are other departments of interest.

Keep in mind that where applicable there are general overlaps between trade and academic, although there is a slight stress for trade. I’ll put some resources down below (take a shot for how many times I type that across this post) that might be useful for academic.

Here are a few:


Skills: attention to detail, adaptability, working to deadlines, high verbal and written communication skills, teamwork

Crossover: editorial work for a publication (school/college/university/local newspaper, magazine?) Societies, volunteering?

Ah yes, old reliable. I almost feel like I don’t need to explain this one because maybe some of you are already salivating (see: know more than me). But we’re going to go for it anyway.

Now here’s a thing: there are many different types of editor. Here are some.

Developmental editor: They deal with a book from inception (sometimes before anything’s even written) to publication, helping sort anything integral to the structure of it. Tonal and audience inconsistencies are the primary domain of the developmental editor. Often it’s the case that a developmental editor will see the vision of a book and try and help an author into fulfilling it down to the more structural and argumentative lines. Their job might see them changing headings, sections, removing parts altogether. As far as I’ve read, this is a type of editor who is usually found in non-fiction.

This is actually a really complex sort of position (so you probably won’t see a whole lot of junior DEs but it’s nice to know). Doing some research on these types of editor will go a long way.

Copy/manuscript editor: Before something is proofed, its copy is shaped into something much more manageable. When people think of what an editor does, I’m pretty sure this is the type of editor they picture. This, and maybe the acquisitions editor, as well. They deal with the typical grammarian’s interests (grammar, punctuation, syntax), and slash through inconsistencies in plot and style. Lots of rewrites can be suggested as well. Again, this is a taste. Do some digging into the role.

Proofreader: This is a later-stage kind of editor. Other copy-editors will have had a chance to polish a manuscript to a more presentable quality but there still might be errors, even after a good few rounds of edits. Images, diagrams, text, footnotes. Nothing is safe from error. Some proofreaders have been known to do line-by-line edits; they check for errors and inconsistencies in comparison to the last draft and go over it with a fine-tooth comb. The changes in the book aren’t super drastic here, mostly it’s just to make sure things are as tidy as possible.

Here’s a nice, digestible page that explains it in more detail.

Acquisitions/commissioning editor: These are the talent finders. These are the people an agent or an unrepresented author will send manuscripts to. Complications with this job lie with competing with other editors for the same work. If a bid is successful, and the editor acquires a book, they will work with a manuscript to improve on it. Another thing this type of editor might do is persuade people into potentially writing books to publish. For example, someone who is a researcher at a university might be working on something interesting. A editor might approach such a person and ask if they would like to publish a book on the topic, or something related to it. This requires a lot of tact and it’s useful to understand that the efforts might not even result in anything.

Keeping track of trends is essential for making an effective editor. There’s a lot of information out there so looking for what’s interesting and what could work in the market is a muscle that editors spend a lot of time training.

Design (& Production)

 Note: these two are often considered separate but their work has a lot of overlap (like how some companies put marketing and publicity together even responsibilities and roles are different (hence the different names)).

Skills: good communication, team-work, artistry (Design-specific), numeracy (more for Production)

Crossover: group work (presentations, art collabs?), socials for societies (where expenses and other costs were involved, for example. Treasurers?). Done anything bigger? SU events, perhaps?

So this is an interesting department because think about what editors do: the fine-tooth comb of a manuscript from tattered Promise to polished, publishable piece of work. Now design and production are an even finer aspect of that: where editors fix plot, grammar and punctuation, Design and Production are more associated with the aesthetics of the book as books you know and recognise.

In the case of Design, their jobs revolve around your first encounter with a book: the jacket.

This actually a much trickier process than you think because there are a lot of complicated factors involved that makes it a whole department/job, depending on what the publisher goes for. Therein lies one complexity: sometimes publishers have in-house designers, sometimes they outsource.

The kind of considerations that Design needs to be wary of to make an effective cover are wide-ranging. So part of the nuances of sales, marketing, and publicity lie in the state of the market itself. There may be certain regularities in terms of types of book jacket within a certain genre that designers have to be sensitive to: biographies and celebrity cookbooks tend to have more candid photography, as opposed to fiction, for example. Fiction might have an array of different covers that range from photographic, or art piece. Book covers are a kind of language of their own and convey the tone and mood of the material, to draw the eye and all that jazz.

Compare the two types of cover for A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara


UK cover on the left, US on the right

They both kind of convey different moods: the UK edition conveys a sense that this is about city life in some capacity, while the US one goes for completely different route. I know the book is about suffering in some capacity (it’s on my shelf; I’ll get to it) so I think it’s playing into that.
(I’d love to know what influenced the decision for such a sharp distinction. The US cover kind of reminds me of one of The Secret History’s.)


From left to right: The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith/J.K. Rowling, The Likeness by Tana French, Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn, Afterwards by Rosamund Upton.

These crime/mystery books have similarities. Not so much in colour scheme but in conveying mood: the dark, creepy natures they’ll inevitably explore. I particularly like Afterwards‘ cover. It’s kind of haunting.


From left to right: Will Grayson, Will Grayson by John Green; The Perks of Being A Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky; If I Stay by Gayle Forman, Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell.

It’s not so striking but there are similarities in the style of the brightness of colours, the letters, the choice of image.

All of these kind of things Design has to be aware of so that books are on-brand and fit with both the market and the audience.

Now, this happens over the course of time and they have to be sensitive to the editors’ requests and the expertise of sales, marketing, and publicity. As mentioned before, there’s the actual manuscript to read to know what kind of mood to evoke on the cover (for example); it’ll be weird to have a crime-like cover for an otherwise upbeat and optimistic book.

Also, I’m pretty sure that, while the author rarely has direct creative control, they have vetoing power over what’s final—so they can approve or refuse a cover design. This, again, makes Design’s role lengthy and complicated.

There are a lot of forces at play, clearly. Now, outlining this makes it seem like it’s all doom and gloom but 1.) to ignore the difficulties and complexities involved in a job is strange and reductive and 2.) I want to expand upon what’s what because when you look over what Design are responsible for you probably have a deeper appreciation for what they do. I know I do. I don’t think I understand the depths of it completely but, especially if you’re creative, maybe this is something you might want to consider. Hopefully this makes sense.

There are slightly more complicated aspects of the process which this post explores much better (even though admitting too that they have streamlined) so have a read through that if it helps.

Now for Production. Production is the step after editing and after Design, and is handling of quite business-y aspects like the cost of printing and binding of books, as well as negotiating with suppliers of paper and the printers they use. There’s a fair bit of maths involved in Production because it’s about cost-control. There are some innovations regarding digital presses over book plates. I’m not going into book plates and why this is better than them in specific cases, but the basic gist is that backlist (older) titles have a chance to be reprinted on-demand in smaller amounts over doing bigger and more costly print runs as is necessary for other modes. If this is confusing, look here for a more expert look at Production.

Publicity & Marketing

Skills: Administration, knowledge of digital packets (Office, Excel, Word, etc.), social media experience, teamwork

Crossover: Office work, group projects, societies

So we have a book. It’s been edited, is close to being proofed, and had some design work done. Now we need to talk about it, get it out there, make people want to buy and read it. This department deals with the visibility of a book in a market. Typical days in this department usually revolve around mailing (tonnes of) books to journalists or bloggers for review, writing press releases (a document that details what a book’s about, its potential audience, when it’s out, who the author is, maybe some reviews from other authors and/or notable figures). Other things in their purview is advertisements both on the street (the Underground, billboards), and in newspapers and magazines, as well as promoting them on social media as well.

Market awareness is a must: what sells and when, what’s the best way to connect with audiences?

I’m doing a lot of broad brushstrokes here but there is a surprising amount that’s done. If you can think about ways in which people can connect audiences with books, this is what Marketing and Publicity are responsible for.

Now I picked these few because I feel that’s enough to whet the appetite. Of course I didn’t take into account the many other departments: sales, finance, digital, distribution, amongst others. Thing is about these, there are more aspects of the industry that all operate but aren’t commonly discussed. A real eye-opener when I did my work experience was the complexity of a publishing company, even in one tiny part of a floor, which can be very expansive. This makes sense but sometimes it needs direct exposure for that complexity to sink in. You have to think about the many ways in which just a single author with just one of their books is affected, and how many hands touch it. It isn’t just the editors but there a lot of components at play, all connected and working at the same time for a common goal.

Bonus round: literary agents and bookshops.

Literary agents

Skills: Verbal and written communication, teamwork, attention-to-detail, empathy

Crossover: Societies, volunteering, teamwork.

The literary agent is the essential conduit between publisher and author. They obtain manuscripts and represent authors, connecting them with an appropriate publisher. Because of the nature their work, above average knowledge of the market is crucial in their decision to represent authors. Their role also includes some editorial work for marketing purposes as well. Agencies are really worth looking into, especially for those looking into Editorial.

Working in a bookshop has many facets that are useful to the industry as a whole. I’ll leave this one to you to look into.

Knowledge and distinction

Right, let’s get back to that individuation thing I was blabbing on about before.

A good way to demonstrate your interest in the industry is showing your market awareness. This should be fairly straightforward but I feel like it’s pretty important to not miss out on.

Some right here:

BBC Radio 4, KCRW, Dear Book Nerd, Penguin Podcast, Book Riot.

Book Riot and BBC Radio 4 podcasts are perhaps the best way to engage in book news week-on-week. I have a slight preference for Book Riot but find mediums that work for you. A particularly notable podcast is from Penguin where Richard E. Grant interviews Neil Gaiman, who is a riot.

Podcasts are a non-strenuous way of getting useful information and they fit nicely around the commute and/or breaks.

Again, this is not a complete list. Finding out what’s useful is part of the fun of it all, actually. I don’t have all the answers. I’m still learning the ropes.

Non-podcast-y stuff

Essential news sources are the Bookseller & Publishers Weekly. Your newspapers and magazines? These go onto your list. Check regularly. For academic publishing, The Scholarly Kitchen is a must. If you’re interested in academic publishing, you might want to get to grips with the notion of Open Access. If you don’t know what that is, follow the link and type it into the search bar. From there, get reading.

Bookmachine is also a good resource for things happening within the industry. Articles on here tend to be quite short and easy to digest.

I am sure there are others but the best way to learn about what’s happening currently is to follow the publishing houses on social media. Twitter seems to be the popular way of communication but there are other means to keep on top of things. Facebook and LinkedIn, for example. Though, Twitter tends to be the most popular because information dissemination and reaction tends to be quicker.

Job things

Now’s the point where everyone takes a deep breath. This isn’t a holistic list but a good jumping off point. As I mentioned before, it’s a very, very popular industry of interest so it can be difficult to break in. The usual progression is from work experience and internships to assistant roles and onward. That being said, these aren’t always prerequisites for a job as sometimes other things might attract an employer’s attention. Even with that notion in place, you’d be hard-pressed to find roles, even entry-level ones, that didn’t require at least some prior experience in the industry. Most job adverts will have that in their descriptions. Knowing that will be helpful in directing your attention into where to begin. My advice would be to go for a wider spread of opportunities. Language typical in some adverts mention ideal candidates, so there is some wiggle room to demonstrate those oft-discussed transferable skills that might circumnavigate the need for some kind of experience. If it’s within your financial range, gaining some inside knowledge is worthwhile, the most accessible being work experience. Though for many the work experience might not be an option, especially since the larger publishing houses tend to be in London. If you’re broke and far, I think there’s some room to negotiate. I’d ask about that though.

Work experience is typically unpaid, but houses do reimburse travel expenses and lunch up to a certain price. PRH, for example, reimburses up to £75 per week for both travel and lunch costs (up to 60 per week for travel, 15 for lunch).

Internships are typically paid and have to be above minimum wage. All the companies I’ve listed below do pay so it’s not a concern here but do keep that in mind.

There’s a rant in me but I’m not going to let it out. Anyway, let’s get to where you can look for some opportunities.

Bloomsbury: For work experience, they have speculative applications. Apparently they’re booked up from at least half a year in advance. In terms of jobs, there are fairly regular postings of assistant roles.

Creative Access: if, like me, you’re from what’s known as a BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) background then CA have opportunities that they post year-round with really, really good salaries. Recent news sees them in danger. I hope they pull through.

Faber & Faber: They post on their site as and when opportunities arrive, which is not on a set schedule. If you want to be hired by them, your best bet is to follow their social media and keep your ears to the ground. They no longer do work experience and internships, opting instead to package that with certain degree courses.

Hachette: pretty regular work experience that gives you a shortlist of imprints and departments of your interest to help shape it to you as much as possible. Looks like they’re opening up new schemes for the new year so keep your eyes peeled for that.

HarperCollins: work experience seasonally, 18-month paid internships advertised in Spring according to the site, so keep an eye out for that. Opportunities across the year. Lots of assistant roles.

Penguin Random House: Work experience year-round but closing dates around certain times. The January-February slots have closed but there’ll be more openings soon. Internships are ten week paid affairs, usually advertised around March, according to their site.

Verso: They offer six paid internships for Spring, Summer, and Autumn, respectively. Spring internships have closed with Summer deadlines to be announced.

The Guardian (Updates Mon & Fri): Lots of opportunities here. Check as regularly as you can.

The Bookseller (Updates Sat, typically): Some graduate stuff, some assistant stuff. Check as often as possible.

Independent Publishers Guild or IPG (updates fairly regularly; I’m not certain when): Quite a few regular opportunities that offer a mix of entry-level and experienced roles from independent publishers (hence the name). Worthwhile to check in every now and then.

Bookbrunch: Updates less frequently but, again, check in.

bookcareers: In terms of jobs they operate through a CV clearing house where your CV is uploaded to their site and potential employers will look for you. If this sounds terrifying, it is, but it’s all the more reason to polish your CV.

Atwood Tate & Inspired Selection [two links]: Recruitment agencies. There are a fair mix of jobs from entry-level to more experienced. Useful to keep in mind.

Publishing Interns updates regularly regarding entry-level work. Keep an eye on the blog for a collection of opportunities available in a given week, and the Twitter pages for new jobs that roll in as the week goes by.

The Society of Young Publishers (SYP) offers a lot perks in terms of book events and the like that come with the cost of membership. Not so much on job things though I’m pretty sure they have a few they host on their site. Even without jobs, it could be a useful resource.

I think I’ve exhausted all my limited wells of knowledge of jobs and publishing. Remember when I said an addendum? It’s actually bigger than the last one! Apologies. I got excited when I was researching the thing. I omitted a lot so I could actually get through the content though so I hope this helps. If there are any more resources, please send them my way. These are the ones I encounter where the pages are updated pretty regularly.

In terms of the blog more broadly, no more jobs things for a while now. The next two weeks are going to be about writing.

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