Publishing is a combination of creativity and communication. It is about communicating ideas and connecting people with the content. Publishers are at the centre of the information economy, communicating those ideas out to the world and the people that need them. Traditionally, the term refers to the distribution of printed works, such as books, newspapers and magazines. With the advent of digital information, it has expanded to include ebooks, audio, academic journals, website, blogs.
The publishing industry is a term used to describe all the elements that contribute to the creation, acquisition, editing, marketing, sales and distribution of information to the public.
A wide range of roles are available. For some roles it may benefit to have a postgraduate qualification or additional skills and experience. The majority of roles are open to students from all subject areas, with a passion and proven interest for the publishing industry.
Read below for information about the sector, hot topics, how to get work experience and information on the employers and roles you might want to start thinking about.
Exploring the publishing industry
What does the industry consist of?
The Publishers Association divides the publishing industry into three broad categories:
- consumer – also known as trade publishing, this includes the books you see in bookshops
- educational – creating interesting and engaging ways to enhance learning
- academic and professional – producing textbooks, journals and innovative online resources
While digital publishing used to be considered separately, it is now integral to all three categories.
As publishing is such a popular area of employment, there are several detailed resources offering advice and guidance about careers, including:
While book publishing is a familiar area, there are many other formats within the industry, including databases, business media, directories, journals, newsletters, magazines and audio publishing.
What's next in the publishing industry?
Research shows the UK exports more physical books than any other country in the world. The industry employs close to 70,000 people, accounting for 1 in 10 jobs in the UK’s creative industries.
Academic publishing is important to the sector’s overall performance, generating the majority of the industry’s turnover growth since 2010. Academic publishing covers everything from introductory textbooks to research monographs, reference, and journal publications. Almost all of this is now both in print and digital – with an increased focus on digital whether as eBook or on a digital platform. Academic publishing faces new challenges as Open Access requirements of research funding bodies will change the landscape for academic books as it has already done for journals.
In recent years, the growth of digital technology has fundamentally changed how authors design their content, and how readers engage with it.
Audio continues to be the fastest growing sector in digital publishing with sales more than doubling (+148%) since 2013.
The Guardian features an interesting article about how developers are experimenting with technology to publish books with elements that simply wouldn't work in print. VR and AR are being explored to provide a more immersive reading experience and tech-forecasters cite the comeback of mobile apps as a trend that traditional publishers need to respond to. For an alternative perspective on multi-channel publishing, take a look at this blog on Ingenta.
A further growth area to watch out for is AI. Although still in its infancy publishers see this as an opportunity to benefit the sector across different levels from supporting authors with research, to gaining a more informed insight into customers.
Disruptive trends in the publishing industry include the expansion of Blinkist, which publishes boiled-down versions of non-fiction books which can be read or listened to in minutes. Self-publishing and online marketplaces, the chief being Amazon, are also changing the way the publishing industry works.
The industry predicts the continued growth of self publishing as some authors are choosing to bypass traditional publishing in favour of producing their work and making it available to the public without any gatekeepers.
Which companies are the main employers and what roles are there?
Employers in the publishing sector include:
The big five publishing houses
Small independent publishing houses
Newspapers and magazine publishers
Amina Youssef, an English with Creative Writing Nottingham alumni produced a blog about her work experience at HarperCollins.
Read Amina's blog
There are many different roles available within the publishing industry, from editing to contracts and rights.
Some key roles are highlighted here, along with useful websites for further research to allow you to explore jobs in the sector more widely. Entry-level routes often have 'assistant' in the job title, e.g. editorial assistant, marketing assistant, production assistant, etc.
The Publishers Association has a useful YouTube video detailing the life of a book, from concept through to final publication, which showcases the various roles involved at each stage.
What skills and qualifications do I need? How do I get some work experience?
What skills do I need?
Skills requirements will vary depending on the role, but key skills include excellent spelling and grammar, enthusiasm, flexibility, self-motivation, and good interpersonal and communication skills.
Data collected from employers in the industry identifies gaps in:
sales and marketing skills
leadership and management skills
skills in using software packages
- skills to develop content for multiple platforms
Skill sets are changeable and have shifted dramatically in five years. Certain roles may rely on data analysis skills or benefit from coding knowledge whereas in other areas of the industry an awareness of digital marketing skills is advantageous. Identifying trends and technical skills are important today, especially in editorial work.
In an online world awash with content, the publisher is arguably even more important, as it has a role as curator.
What qualifications are available?
Most entrants are graduates, and for the majority of editorial roles, degree subject is not important.
In certain areas of specialist or academic publishing a master or PhD may either be a requirement or advantageous.
Relevant experience and appropriate skills are more important than qualifications, and postgraduate-level study is not usually a requirement.
A new route is the Level 3 Publishing Assistant Apprenticeship. Several publishing houses including Bloomsbury, Penguin Random House, Harper Collins and Springer Nature have all introduced this route and it is available to graduates.
For students with language skills, these can be an advantage when combined with good commercial awareness and a love of reading. A role worth exploring is Rights. Publishers increase revenues by selling foreign rights in their titles. Alternatively get a job as a translator, and seek work with a literary agent or publisher. You can shadow authors who come to the UK, or do this abroad. One World, for example, have staffers who speak and read Italian, German and Russian. A language is a boon, but you need to know both markets – UK and foreign. They don't always follow each other, so what works in one country, doesn't necessarily work in another.
How do I find work experience?
As relevant work experience is an expectation across the industry, the majority of employers offer work experience or internship opportunities. For example:
In most cases these employers ask for a CV and covering letter with no particular deadline.
This will also be the case for smaller publishing houses. Prepare a focused CV that demonstrates your commitment to the industry and has no typos in it, and send it speculatively to the organisations that interest you.
Employers expect to be contacted this way.
How can I find my first job?
How do I find a job?
The popularity of the publishing industry means that competition for entry-level roles is strong, so relevant experience is important – even if it's only for a short period, e.g. two weeks.
Paid experience can be difficult to find, so many students work voluntarily at first. This isn't a financially viable option for everyone especially as many publishing houses are based in London, but The Spare Room Project may be able to help. This is an organisation which matches interns from outside London with publishers who can offer a spare room.
There are also other ways to obtain experience that will be interesting to employers and allow you to build a useful network of contacts, for example:
Work on a student newspaper or magazine.
Produce a departmental student newsletter.
Join the Society of Young Publishers.
Be active on social media. Either Twitter or Instagram : lots of publishers have dedicated careers channels and advertise vacancies on social. One alumna got her first editorial job through a Twitter vacancy…
Work in a bookshop to find out what consumers think/want. You can learn how to write copy, what is selling, and what competing publishers are doing.
Attend events that will expose you to the publishing industry. Find out which events we are running.
Create a relevant blog.
Freelance as a copy editor or proof-reader. Big publishing houses will continue to curate content, and employ an ever-increasing army of freelancers.
Consider Creative Access internships.
The Publishers Association provides links to a range of blog posts about working in publishing.
How do employers recruit?
Entry-level jobs are usually obtained through networking and word-of-mouth, rather than advertised vacancies. Occasionally, publishers will advertise vacancies on their own websites.
Large publishing companies may recruit more formally. Penguin Random House runs The Scheme, a 13-month entry-level programme which aims to attract the marketers of tomorrow. The scheme invites applications from a BAME (Black, Asian, or Minority Ethnic) community, and/or from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds.
Social media channels and blogs are also recommended places for finding out about entry-level opportunities and networking with people in the industry.
Don't be put off by a temporary contract, this is a way to build your experience and make useful contacts.
Where do I look for vacancies?
As well as the speculative approach, there are a number of online sources and recruitment agencies advertising publishing jobs, including:
BookCareers.com has a useful list of relevant recruitment agencies.
While specialist qualifications are not a requirement, there are a number of well-respected training providers offering a range of courses to suit different needs, including:
The London College of Communication
London School of Publishing
Publishing Training Centre
What to do next at Nottingham?
Research the sector. Investigate current trends, develop your opinions about what works and what doesn't, and investigate the roles that interest you.
Take a look at our digital marketing information for advice on working in an increasingly digital workplace.
Get experience and increase your knowledge of the book supply chain by finding work in bookshops.
Find out about opportunities with local publications such as LeftLion and Impact Magazine.
Use social media to connect with key organisations and individuals in or commenting on publishing and the markets that you’re interested in working with. Their Facebook and Twitter feeds will give you a good insight into their work and current issues affecting the sector.
Develop your LinkedIn profile and join groups. LinkedIn is a good source for vacancies, industry news and networking. Our Alumni network is a good starting point.
Start to build your network as this will really help you find work in this sector.
Gain some practical experience through working on student, departmental or University publications.
Build your administrative skills by getting a job in an office or volunteering to do the admin for a student society. These skills could help you get a 'foot in the door'.
Prepare your CV. Make speculative applications for work experience. Consider how you will finance your experience if it is unpaid.
Local publishers to submit your work to
The Tab - Writing for The Tab can be a great way for you to gain experience in the field of journalism. This publication has its own University of Nottingham branch and they do not require you to have any previous experience. You can apply at any time. Submit a sample of your written work and a list of topics you wish to write about.
The University of Nottingham Creative Writing Society blog - Creative Writing Society blog is a student run group you can participate in. They accept a wide variety of writing and will showcase your work on their blog. You can apply anytime via their website.
The Letters Page - The Letters Page is a great publication run by the School of English. All their submissions take the unique form of a handwritten letter, which gives you great experience of writing in a specific genre. Applications for Volume 5 are open and require you to send a letter.
Nottingham New Theatre - If you’re interested in performative writing, the Nottingham New Theatre is ideal. It is the only student run theatre in the UK. You can gain a wide range of experience, such as writing, directing, producing and acting. You can apply at any time through their website.