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Publishing | The Careers Service Publishing – Oxford University Careers Service
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About this sector

Do you have a love of books and storytelling?

But, do you also…

  • Have a proactive and resourceful nature?
  • A passion for creating content?
  • Find e-books, journals, textbooks, reference books interesting?

If so a career in publishing may hold an interesting role for you.

Market overview

2016 was a record breaking year for the publishing industry, sales of books and journals reached £4.8bn, their highest ever level. The increase in sales of 7% on the previous year is the largest growth in a decade, fuelled by export sales rising to 54% of total revenues.

Physical sales were up by 8% to £3bn on last year, rising to the highest level since 2012. Overall digital sales were up 6% despite a continuation of the drop in eBook sales.

(Source:The Publishers Association)

Current topical issues in the world of publishing you might find it interesting to research include:

  • Disruption of traditional models of publishing via self-publishing online and Print-on-Demand.
  • Publishers selling direct to the public through their own websites, rather than using a retailer.
  • The power of the largest retailers, particularly Amazon and the large supermarkets and role in, and impact on the book trade.
  • Publishing companies seeing themselves more as ‘content creation and rights management’ companies.
  • Start up contributors to the digital side of the industry: Scribd, Oyster, Bookmate, Lulu etc…
  • Open-access journals and their impact on publishing.
  • The effect Brexit may have on European Exports (currently accounting for 35% of UK exports).
  • News of the ‘Big Five’ publishers – Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster.

Employer overview

The majority of the large book-publishing houses are based in the South, with Oxford and Edinburgh being significant regional centres. Smaller publishers exist in many locations within the UK.

The ‘Big Five’ publishers in the UK – Penguin Random House, Macmillan, HarperCollins, Hachette and Simon & Schuster make up a significant portion of the market however there are many small companies with small staff numbers. The ONS shows that almost three quarters of the publishing firms in the UK (that are registered for VAT) employ four or fewer employees and just 15 (0.7%) have more than 250 employees.

Types of publishing

Book publishing falls into three broad areas:

Consumer or trade publishing

Consumer or Trade publishing produces the most widely-known titles: best-selling fiction and non-fiction; those most frequently reviewed; those featured in the media; and those prominently displayed in retail outlets. It also includes children’s publishing, which itself has a market share of around 16%. Consumer publishing is mostly sold through bookshops and online, e.g. via Amazon however a high proportion of children’s sales are made through non-traditional trade channels, such as children’s school book clubs and fairs.

Educational

Key areas include producing textbooks and revision guides for schools, and ELT (English Language Training) material mainly aimed at overseas markets. Locally, Oxford Dictionaries is an important example of ELT books.

Academic & professional

This area includes: academic texts, mostly sold to individuals; monographs, journals and other digital products, mostly sold directly to libraries. STM Publishing falls within this field and stands for ‘Scientific, Technical and Medical’. As the content is technical, having related experience or a relevant scientific or technical background can be useful when working in STM publishing. STM, as well as other elements from this area, serves the ‘professional’ market as well as the academic – consumers are doctors, accountants, and lawyers, for example, as well as those studying.

Types of job

Roles

Within the three areas above, roles are generally divided into editorial, design and production, marketing (sales and publicity), distribution, the handling of contracts and rights, and administration (which includes the finance and IT functions). Some of the specific job titles include:

  • Commissioning Editor
  • Editorial or Publishing Assistant
  • Copy Editor and Proofreader
  • Picture Researcher
  • Book Production Controller
  • Public Relations/Promotion/Events
  • Sales and Marketing Manager/ Digital Marketer
  • Rights Manager
  • Graphic Designer
  • Web Developer
  • Illustrator
  • Consumer Analyst
  • Digital Marketing Assistant

Editorial

These are busy roles requiring excellent time management skills. To work in editorial you will need to be personable, presentable and relate well to people. Strong listening skills are essential. Companies will look for a high degree of literacy and strong basic writing skills, with an excellent attention to detail and an analytical approach when working with data.

Tasks might include:

  • Commissioning and chasing readers’ reports for new book proposals and scripts.
  • Market research.
  • Drawing up and sending out author and contributor contracts.
  • Preparing scripts for handover to production.
  • Liaising with authors, agencies and in-house production, marketing, sales and rights teams.

Design & Production

The increasing use of new technology particularly affects the design and production of the finished book or journal. If you are considering a role as a production editor you will need strong organisational skills and an ability to prioritise and adapt to varying workloads. These roles demand an ability to work under pressure and to deadlines. Strong written and verbal communication skills are essential, as are innovative problem solving skills.

A Production Editor will take responsibility for managing the whole end-to-end production of new titles from typescript through to delivery of the final product.

Tasks might include:

  • Commissioning external suppliers.
  • Preparing material for external project managers, for copy-editors, proofreaders, indexers, text designers and illustrators.
  • Copy-editing, proofing and approving cover artwork and blurbs.
  • Preparing initial and final costings for approval.
  • Controlling production budgets.
  • Communicating with a large range of teams, from the editorial teams to the printing teams.

Marketing

The marketing team create innovative marketing strategies to engage audiences with the firm’s products. The ability to prioritise and adapt to varying workloads is important, as well as adaptability and flexibility. A good level of reading and editing skills are required, to enable you to quickly prepare communications to sell your products.

A Marketing Coordinator role may include:

  • Helping on specific marketing campaigns – carrying out to brief and within budget (this may include e-marketing campaigns, subject catalogues, leaflets, trade promotions, tube campaigns etc).
  • Building knowledge of authors and an awareness of competitors and your own performance (strategy/revenue/profitability etc) in order to develop marketing plans accordingly.
  • Supporting authors (including author letters, assistance with events and launches, invites etc).
  • Approaching companies to join up with for promotions.
Entry points

Entry-level jobs

Graduate schemes in publishing are rare – the only major schemes we’re aware of in the UK are:

  • The HarperCollins BAME graduate scheme launched in 2016, it offers a twelve-month rotational traineeship around the business in London. Last year applications closed in mid-April.
  • ‘The Scheme’ from Penguin Random House UK, is a 13 month paid programme where you will spend 6 months in two of eight different publishing teams. Typically applications open in March and close mid-April.
  • Cambridge University Press host a 15 month programme where you will work on a variety of projects across the business. Last year applications opened in January.
  • Hachette offer a 12 month BAME traineeship, of which 6 months will be spent in editorial, apply early 2018 for September 2018 entry.

Most employers do not recruit for graduate trainee schemes, but rather they recruit individual jobs.

What’s an entry level job title?

The Publishers Association advises:

 “If you were looking for an entry level job, the kind of job titles you should be looking for are editorial assistant, publicity assistant, production assistant, marketing assistant, publishing assistant, sales assistant.”

Is a short-term/temporary contract worth doing?

Taking a non-permanent contract is a common way to get a ‘foot in the door’ in publishing, and can lead to a permanent job. It’s definitely worth considering.

Do I need a Postgraduate degree?

‘Masters in Publishing’ courses are available (Oxford Brookes has a well-known course), but it’s definitely not a requirement to work in publishing, and it’s no substitute for work experience.  If you’re considering the Masters course, think about what exactly you could gain from the experience, and balance it against other ways to attain the same goals.

For those looking for a role in publishing which would use technical skills (e.g. Illustration or Software Development), then other technical courses would be more appropriate.

Getting experience

As with every industry, experience is vital to demonstrate your motivation and skills for a career in publishing.

Internships and Work Experience

Many of the larger companies run internships or work experience, for example;

  • Penguin Random House runs a 10 week paid summer internship programme (usually opening for applications in March) and 2 week work experience placements year round, plus annual internships for BAME students through Creative Access and the Helen Fraser Fellowships.
  • Oxford University Press has a similar summer internship scheme which due to open for applications in December each year.
  • Hachette run ‘Fresh Chapters’, a 8-week internship programme. Apply in June for a September start.
  • Harper Collins offer 4-week work experience opportunities throughout the year and an internship programme of up to 6-months.
  • Bloomsbury and others offer work experience placements throughout the year and these can sometimes lead to longer-term opportunities.

Check on individual publishing house websites to find more to apply to, and don’t be afraid to approach the organisation directly to ask.

Both CareerConnect and The Oxford Brookes’  Masters in Publishing webpages have listings of work experience opportunities.

Alternative sources of experience

Although experiencing publishing directly is often a primary goal, there are lots of other ways to develop your knowledge and prove your interest in the world of publishing:

  • Gain awareness of customer reaction, and a retailer’s eye view on the market by getting work in a bookshop.
  • Get involved with a university or college publication to gain knowledge of the publication and production process in general.
  • Join the Oxford branch of the Society of Young Publishers, who organise a series of talks and other networking opportunities.
  • Attend The London Book Fair, (free for students) in April, to find out more about the industry and make useful contacts.
  • Learn about the marketing and events side of the industry by getting involved with book-related festivals, charities or author events. (The Oxford Literary Festival seeks voluntary stewards each year).
  • Pursue an independent project to demonstrate and deepen your interest. This could be creating a blog about the industry, arranging industry-themed talks or events, wider reading about the industry, or supporting a friend or student through e-publishing online.

 

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Getting a job

Advice for Job Hunters

  • It is important to look widely for routes into publishing and not focus solely on vacancies advertised by large publishers.
  • Don’t rely solely on advertised vacancies. Many publishers, particularly smaller ones, never formally advertise vacancies, but rely on recruiting from speculative applications received and from networks/contacts.
  • Don’t let lack of direct experience hold you back. If this is the only criterion on which you lack, do not let it stop you applying, but write a persuasive cover letter explaining your suitability for the job role.
  • Don’t worry that there’s not a lot advertised in Michaelmas. Vacancies are usually for immediate opportunities, with few employers advertising more than six weeks before the posts need to be filled.

Last year CareerConnect published over 800 vacancies for publishing and media-related posts. Roles ranged from internships and graduate trainee schemes to editorial, rights, design, IT, sales and web-based roles.

Job hunting strategy

  1. Use the vacancy websites listed in our resources section to find individual jobs. If you can, save the search to get email alerts of new vacancies. Bear in mind that individual roles are usually advertised with a few months of the potential start date. You could still start looking earlier in the year to gain familiarity with selection criteria, but the months immediately before you hope to start work would be the key time.
  2. Visit the websites of individual publishers – occasionally jobs will be advertised only on the organisation’s pages.
  3. Check social media – Wiley, for example, use Twitter to advertise UK career opportunities, and setting up a free LinkedIn profile can give you access to jobs advertised on this professional social network. Join LinkedIn ‘groups’ to see more roles discussed and listed.
  4. Talk to people! The more people who know your career ambitions the better – ask your tutors, friends, family if there’s anyone in the industry that they can put you in touch with. Join the Society of Young Publishers. Ask people questions on Twitter. At the very least a conversation can build your knowledge and confidence, and you never know when an unadvertised position might come your way as a result.

Equality & positive action

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

Specifically for publishing:

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Our resources

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • How to get a job in publishing, Alison Baverstock et al.
  • Inside book publishing, Giles Clark and Angus Phillips
  • The Beginner’s Guide to Getting Published, Chris McCallum

Video

Inside Random House: Bringing Our Authors’ Books to Life.

Podcasts of past events

Careers in Publishing

We hosted three speakers during Creative Careers Week 2017 from HarperCollins, Crossref and OUP to tell us more about routes into publishing, how the industry is changing and they gave us some truly excellent top tips for identifying jobs in the publishing sector.

  1. Stephanie Hall, Resourcing Manager, HarperCollins
  2. Madeleine Watson, Product Manager, Crossref (from 18 minutes 30)
  3. Kate McKellar, Production Team Leader, Oxford Journals, OUP (from 44 minutes)

Careers in Publishing

In association with the Publishers Association, we invited three fantastic speakers from local publishing firms to talk about their careers and offer insights and advice on the industry.

Life as a wordsmith: careers in communicating

Speakers from different communications agencies including Green.TV Media Ltd, Culture Trip and Tamarindo Communications. The focus will be on how, and where, graduates
can put their writing skills to work as so many students struggle to find jobs ‘in writing’ beyond journalism.

External resources

General vacancies & occupation information

Publishing recruitment agencies

Associations, societies & news

This information was last updated on 20 November 2017.
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