Be personal when applying for work experience

If you’re looking to get experience in the industry, start by applying to publishers directly. “I recommend approaching smaller independent publishers too. They tend to receive fewer requests and the work experience process tends to be less informal,” says Harriet Birkinshaw, senior commissioning editor at Nobrow.

Literary agencies are also a great place to learn about the publishing business, adds Claire Palmer, an editor for HarperCollins. “Whatever you do, make sure that you’ve done your homework on the places you’re applying to – for example, if you know that non-fiction is your overriding passion, don’t apply to work somewhere that only deals in fiction.”

Richard Arcus, commissioning editor at Quercus Books, agrees that personalisation will help your request stand out. “There will be a number of equally passionate and intelligent people writing to those publishers at the same time, trying to get experience. So the less generic, and more tailored your approach, the more attractive this will be to publishers. For example, if you’re contacting the editor of a book that inspired you or really captured your imagination, then really sing about that in your message and show them that you’re contacting them for a specific reason.”

Is an English literature degree necessary?

The short answer is no, but a degree in any subject will help your applications. “Degrees are often useful – though Penguin Random House have dropped this as a requirement for their entry-level jobs – however degrees in English are not more sought after than any other,” says Edward Milford, development director of the Independent Publishers Guild.

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Zara Markland, chair of the Society of Young Publishers, agrees that while a degree can make you a more appealing candidate to publishers, it needn’t be in literature. “Study the subject you want to learn more about, not the one you think you might need. I personally have never found any advantage to having an English degree. Instead, some dedication to publishing and your confidence and determination towards that would definitely put you in good stead.”

Many copywriting and proofreading roles are now freelance

“Publishers use both freelance and in-house copy-editors a lot, so if you’re interested in this work it’s worth checking the job-boards and also being on LinkedIn – publishers often look there,” says Spencer Williams, senior product manager at Pearson.

If you’re starting out as a freelance proofreader, consider joining the Society of Freelance Editors and Proofreaders and look into proofreading training courses that both they and the Publishing Training Centre run, adds Milford.

Be open-minded to other areas of publishing

Editorial is the most sought after area of publishing to work in, but working in other departments can be equally fulfilling. “Always be open-minded to the other areas of publishing,” says Birkinshaw.

Don’t forget that rights, sales, design, marketing, and audio all play huge roles in the publication of books, says Martha Ashby, commercial fiction editor at HarperCollins. “Find an author you love and research their team – who designs their books, who does their PR, who is their agent. And, without sounding creepy, do some online stalking and then politely send some enquiries out to different areas of publishing.”

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Be passionate and persistent

Publishing can be a competitive industry to break into, and “with publishing, persistence often wins”, says Birkinshaw. “If you’ve still not heard anything within a few months, I would recommend reapplying for work experience as often it’s a question of timing. As you are still at university, I recommend becoming involved in anything that might relate to publishing such as the student newspaper. This will always look good on your CV.”

Alice Bartosinski, editor at Egmont Publishing, agrees that persistence is key to getting ahead in publishing. “If you are really passionate about a certain area of the publishing industry, you will get there in the end. If you have the right attitude and a natural aptitude for the area you’re trying to get into, just keep going. Try lots of different routes. So you need persistence, passion and dedication.”

Can publishers also be authors?

“One of the questions I get most when I talk about my job outside publishing circles is: ‘You must be a writer too, then?’ I am definitely not, but it is true that a lot of people do both in the industry,” says Ashby. “It’s hard to weigh up the benefits – you will certainly make some excellent contacts in publishing, but if you’re only getting into publishing to get a book deal you will find it incredibly hard work. This is not a nine-to-five job so you might want to think about how you would balance your writing with work.”

Milford adds that planning to write your own book may not be looked on favourably by potential employers. “Many people think of publishing as being about writing – I prefer to think of it as being about reading. An employer will want to know that you can see things from the readers’ point of view and may see a wish to write as something of a distraction.”

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Culled from The Guardian

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