Publishing Jobs Series: It's Not Just Publishers
To work in Publishing you don’t have to work in a publisher. There are lots of different kinds of jobs and companies within the industry where your skills and personality might be an even better fit.
Honestly, when I was applying for entry-level jobs, I had a completely unfounded snobbery about where I wanted to work. I wanted to be an Editorial Assistant at Penguin or nothing. And then I had a brilliant insight: on our MA programme, every week we had at least one external speaker come and tell us about their careers in publishing. The people who had the most interesting and exciting jobs in their 40s and 50s, even in their 30s, had often had roundabout routes to get there. No one seemed to started as an Editorial Assistant at Penguin and worked their way straight up to MD. OK, some people do do that, but a lot of people don't, and often you don't really know what you want to do, and are best suited to do, until you start one job in the industry and go from there. I've taken several diagonal leaps in my career, and now I've gone freelance, which I never expected (and I was an Editor at Penguin for a little while in there!).
So here are some other super awesome parts of the industry for you to consider. Again, in future blog posts, I'll go into these individually in more detail. For now, here's an overview...
Authors and illustrators
Never forget that what we do in publishing is bring the work of authors and illustrators to their readership. They are at the heart of it all! Do you write, draw or design? Maybe this is where you fit in. Be warned, it’s not very lucrative in the majority of cases: most authors and illustrators do other work alongside their books. In children’s books, events are a very important part of an author or illustrator's success and, while it's not mandatory, performance skills are increasingly attractive to publishers at acquisition.
Agents represent authors and illustrators, get them publishing deals, and manage their careers. In some ways, they can be closer to the 'talent' than publishers. Generally there are two routes in: work in a publisher first and move across later in your career or start as an agency assistant and work your way up. They are great talent-spotters, amazing networkers and dogged negotiators.
A secret part of the industry no one really hears about! Scouts provide an intermediary service to foreign publishers and other media companies. They'll typically have clients in different territories and be on a retainer to tell their publishers what's the next super hot property they simply must have. Or they'll advise film and TV companies looking for their next big property which book rights they should snap up. Like agenting, you can come in as an assistant but most often Rights Managers or Literary Agents turn to scouting later in their careers when they have built up a big list of contacts.
Create concepts to pitch to publishers - they’re agents for their own ideas, and do all the editorial and design work, then hand over to the publisher for printing, distribution and promotion. They're usually small operations and people who’ve worked in a traditional publisher first. One of the most inspiring women who came to talk to my MA had spent ten years in a packager before moving to a top job in a corporate publisher, which broke down my early, uninformed job snobbery. It's great hands-on experience, especially as packagers often have a global outlook so you’d learn a lot about different rights and co-edition markets.
Really this is what it all comes down to: selling the books, getting them into readers' hands. It's amazing experience before getting into publishing, too - if you have the opportunity to work part-time at a bookshop during your studies, go for it! There are traditional high-street bookshops, chains or independents with actual shops, but there are also online retailers and high-discount book clubs and fairs like The Book People or Scholastic (confusingly, also a publisher), who connect readers and publishers.
Within retailers, it’s someone’s job to pick every product on display. So at supermarkets, department stores, gift shops and anywhere else that sells books but not primarily books, someone will run the book section. You have to be extremely well-read, and a people-person, just like the Sales team within a publisher - you're the other side.
Book bloggers and BookTubers
It’s not paid but it’s a gorgeous community and great way to get involved and get to know Publishing people if you love books and are hot on social media. Young book bloggers who start at school or university now often are recruited into publicity and marketing roles, because of all their fabulous experience and contacts. Or it can remain as a hobby while you do your other work.
Don’t forget this bit - making the actual books! There are jobs in the technical side of printing, increasingly reviewing files pre-press in InDesign, and then operating the actual printing machines (and cover printers - all that embossing and foil and other beautiful finishes!), as well as office-based roles as publisher liaisons, negotiating contracts and dealing with individual books.
As we discussed in my last post, printing is a global part of the industry, with a lot of colour books being produced in Italy, China and other countries, so you wouldn’t be tied to the U.K.
Another behind-the-scenes part of the industry, once books are printed and before they get to bookshops, they go to one of the big distributors. There are lots of very practical, warehouse-type jobs here, but also office jobs liaising with publishers and bookshops, negotiating contracts, handling data, and analysing warehouse process for efficiency.
There are several amazing organisations who do fantastic work promoting and supporting literacy. BookTrust, CLPE and the Reading Agency are just a few. They will do a variety of campaign work, running outreach programmes and performing their own research.
More and more, people are turning freelance and there are lots of things you can do in publishing while working for yourself.
These are just some of the other places you can find your place in publishing, outside of a publishing house. Why not check a few more out?