Book publishing is a highly competitive industry and employers are looking for candidates with the right mix of qualifications, skills and experience – plus a real passion for books and an understanding of the industry. Here’s what you need to know to land a job in editorial.
Qualifications you need
You might think you need an English degree to work in publishing, but that’s not the case.
‘Although a degree is almost always a necessary requirement for editorial roles, it generally doesn’t matter what subject your degree is in. The exception to this would be that if you want to go into science or technical editing then a relevant science degree would be needed,’ says Ruth O’Rourke, a freelance editor with more than 10 years’ experience.
In fact, you may not need a degree at all. At the start of this year, Penguin Random House announced that candidates no longer need a university education to be considered for entry-level roles.
While a degree is seen as a requirement by most employers, think carefully before investing time and money in a post-graduate course. ‘Doing an MA in publishing will demonstrate your commitment to the industry but there are no guarantees when getting jobs or internships,’ warns Zara Markland, UK Chair of the Society of Young Publishers.
If you’re interested in working as a proof-reader, either in-house or as a freelancer, an industry-recognised qualification is a definite advantage.
Saxon Bullock, journalist, author and freelance proof-reader since 2008, says: ‘There are dozens of proofreading courses out there, but the one I would recommend (and the only one which seems to be generally respected in the industry) is the Basic Proofreading distance learning course from the Publishing Training Centre.
‘It takes six months to a year, depending on the speed at which you work, but it’s an intensive course that gives you all the knowledge and rigour you need to be able to proofread professionally. After that, it’s up to your determination and persistence.’
How to get experience
In addition to the right qualifications, employers expect candidates to have experience.
Many publishers run formal internship schemes, which you can look up on their websites. ‘Successful interns often work their way into editorial assistant roles, which puts you firmly on the editorial career ladder,’ says Ruth.
Don’t forget to approach smaller independent publishers (they’re likely to receive fewer requests), and literary agencies, which are another place to learn about the book business.
Ruth’s advice is to take whatever experience you can get. ‘Even if your heart is set on a career in book publishing, shadowing a sub-editor on your local paper may give you an edge over other candidates. Get involved with the student rag at university or volunteer to help out with charity newsletters – it all counts.’
A foot in the door
When it comes to landing your first editorial job, it pays to do your research.
‘Try to get a name to target – even small imprints can have lots of people working for them, and aiming at the right person shows that you’ve done your homework,’ says Saxon.
‘Finding that right person, of course, can sometimes be difficult (for example – as a proof-reader, your ideal contact could be the production editor, the desk editor, an editorial assistant, or an editor, depending on how the publisher works) but getting those names is vital. Use the Writers and Artists Yearbook as a start-point, and be incredibly persistent.’
Many jobs are obtained via word-of-mouth, but it’s worth checking adverts in The Guardian and The Bookseller. You could also try sites like Bookbrunch and upload your résumé to the CV Clearing House on bookcareers.com: the site is regularly searched by employers and recruiters from book publishing who don’t want to advertise.
You may also find jobs on recruitment sites. Penguin, for example, list their vacancies on the company website, but frequently have temporary roles that are worth applying for in order to get a feel for the company and how they work. Occasionally they recruit for some jobs through recruitment agencies, including Judy Fisher Associates and Inspired Selection.
Stand out from the crowd
It sounds obvious, but it’s important to show a passion for books and have a good understanding of the industry.
‘Knowing how different departments work and interact will be invaluable. A fantastic way to learn is to network and ask. Alternatively, if you like your recommended reading, Inside Book Publishing by Giles Clark is highly endorsed on a number of publishing courses,’ says Zara.
‘To keep up to date, following influencers in your chosen field on Twitter and LinkedIn will be crucial, perhaps volunteer at festivals, go to book fairs or talk to booksellers about what’s selling well. The Society of Young Publishers is a key networking ally as we host regular events, skills workshops and fun outings across the UK. If you’re female, Women in Publishing is another great organisation to join.’
Finally, ensure that the spelling and grammar you use on your application is exemplary.
Zara says: ‘Publishers are used to proofreading documents and are sure to spot even the smallest spelling or grammar mistake. A typo might be forgivable in other industries, but if you’re going for an editorial job your application form and CV has to be spot on.’
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