Looking for a Career in Publishing? Tips to Navigate the Industry

By Jessica Ferri
Two women engaged in a friendly conversation, with one holding an open book and smiling at her companion.

So, you want to work in book publishing? Fantastic! Maybe you’re a recent college grad, perhaps you’ve been at a job for a few years but it’s not working out. Whether you’re just starting out or looking to transition, here are a few things to consider when you’re looking to break into a challenging industry.

Internship or Shadowing
Actually doing the job you’re interested in is a surefire way of figuring out whether a career in publishing is for you. Most internship positions at publishing houses are very similar in terms of the workload to the entry level positions they support, like editorial assistant or publicity assistant. However, internships are usually unpaid, so unless you have financial support, you might want to consider shadowing instead.

Shadowing is exactly what it sounds like: following a person around the office so that you can get a day-in-the-life experience of his or her position. Contact the internship coordinator at companies you’re interest in, explain your situation, and find out if they’d be willing to offer you this kind of opportunity. Shadowing stints are rarer than internships and they don’t last as long, but the hours are more flexible.

Read more: How to Get Into Book Publishing: Editorial Assistant

Networking Events
There are many “young publishing” events in New York City that you should take advantage of, especially if you are an intern or looking to transition from a different field. Outside of New York City, there may be less formally organized publishing events, and if you’re thinking of applying to a small press, be sure to go to their events. Getting in front of employers and letting them know you are interested in the industry is the best way to get a job. (Speaking from experience, I went to one “young publishing” event the day before my internship ended, and it led to my first job in book publishing, which lasted for three years.) Check out the Young to Publishing Group, which posts events and other information on Twitter @YoungtoPub.

Publishing Courses
Both Columbia University and Yale University offer a publishing course, and the graduates speak highly of the programs. Do your research, though, because these courses are not free and you certainly don’t want to waste precious funds if you’re just starting out with student debt or if you’re looking to save money. Both universities offer informational sessions, but if you really want the dirt, there’s plenty of student feedback online. In an ideal situation, you’d want to speak face-to-face with a graduate and ask him or her to be frank with you about the program.

Know Thyself, Market Thyself
In this day and age, the powers-that-be in any industry are trying to answer the demands of a culture that needs to be more diverse. Publishing is no different. Do you have work experience that is not in publishing but related? Sell those skills. Are you seriously committed to one arena of publishing like copy editing? Consider spending the money on a class to improve your skills. If you have an unusual story or approach to why you want to work in book publishing, use it. The book publishing industry desperately needs different perspectives in every level of the business.

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