Skip to main content

The network for trade,
training and development 

18 October 2019

Careers in Publishing

Advice on careers in publishing

Being immersed in the world of books for a living can sound like a very attractive and glamorous career option: many people love reading, meeting authors, and discussing their favourite books. However, there is much more to working in publishing than dealing with manuscripts and writers - the range of jobs varies enormously depending on what kind of publishing you find yourself in and which department.

As well as information about the types of publishers and publishing jobs, we've also got some advice about getting a job in publishing.

Types of Publishers

From 'trade' publishing or general, consumer publishing (the kinds of books you find most often in your local bookshop: fiction and non-fiction) to children's, to academic (aimed at the higher education sector), to educational (aimed at schools), reference (dictionaries etc), business and professional (law, accountancy and management), and scientific, technical and medical (STM for short), all the way to online, digital publishing, the work will differ.

A browse through our list of Publisher Members gives a good overview of publishers in Scotland and what they do.


Types of Jobs

What sorts of jobs can you hope to find? As publishing is a bit of an umbrella term, then the jobs are equally varied. Working in the editorial department will involve a different set of tasks and skills from those demanded in the production department where a more technical knowledge is required. The marketing department demands imagination, persistence and networking skills. There are also the lesser-known jobs (but no less interesting) such as selling rights or being a sales rep for a company. Skills in planning, analysis and basic finance are useful and valued in most areas. In smaller publishers it is common for more than one role to be combined. 

The National Occupational Standards for Book and Journal Publishing provide detailed descriptions of and standards for various publishing skills and job functions from understanding your publishing organisation and its market to defining technical and project specifications for digital markets. See the NOS website.


Work, Qualifications and Training

It can be useful to get some work experience before you apply for a job. It doesn't necessarily have to be in publishing - related work can be extremely valuable eg bookselling, book festivals, copywriting, events and general office administration.

In addition to work experience, you may also want to consider a publishing qualification or participating in training courses. Publishing Scotland runs short courses in areas such as proofreading, design and marketing: all of our courses are listed on our training pages.

Most entrants to publishing are educated to degree level and many of them now have publishing degrees or post-graduate qualifications. Edinburgh Napier University and the University of Stirling offer publishing courses in Scotland:

MSc in Publishing (programmes of study)

MLitt in Publishing Studies
MRes in Publishing Studies
all of which can be full time or part time

However, a degree is not necessary for all publishing jobs - the job advertised might be one that involves skills and knowledge not covered by a university course. Consider whether you have relevant skills and the desire and flexibility to learn and don't be put off applying.

Some big companies in London run training schemes that are open to all and encourage applications from those without degrees or who are under-represented in the industry. See eg The HarperCollins BAME Traineeship and Penguin Random House Work Experience.


Advice on finding a job

The key is finding out as much as possible about what the jobs involve. Talk to people in the industry; get a hold of the book trade's magazine, The Bookseller, which features job advertisements; read publishing blogs; follow publishers on Twitter. Some publishers post vacancies or their own websites. Often publishers, particularly if they're of a small or medium size, may not advertise at all, preferring to fill their vacancies by word-of-mouth, or from interns or previous applicants. We publicise our members' vacancies on our website, in our industry newsletter and by Twitter. Some publishers also advertise in The Bookseller and The Guardian and you can sign up for their job alerts.


Applying for a job

Whether you are applying for an internship or a vacancy, or sending a speculative application, it is essential to tailor your covering letter and CV to the publisher you are applying to. Research the publisher's website, Facebook, Twitter etc and have a look at their books in a bookshop or library if you can. You will be facing a lot of competition for any post so present your application well and ensure it is error-free.


Working as a freelance proofreader or copy-editor

Publishers are increasingly outsourcing proofreading and copy-editing. Many freelancers working as proofreaders or copy-editors already have some formal training or experience gained from having worked in-house, as well as contacts. But there are reputable training courses where you can learn the skills, and gain an understanding of where proofreading and copy-editing sit in the publishing process. In Scotland, Publishing Scotland runs an annual training programme that includes editorial courses. All of our courses are listed on the training pages.

Do be aware that it is not a highly paid job and publishers vary greatly in their levels of pay for proofreaders, from an hourly rate to a one-off fee. There are no standard fees. Some publishers will give potential proofreaders an advance exercise to establish their skills. For a good source of information and advice on this area of publishing, see the Society for Editors and Proofreaders' website.