Book publishing is considered a rarefied world and a tough industry to get into. A report this year showing that the industry is failing to reflect the UK’s regional and racial diversity, does little to dispel that view.
But, increasingly, publishers are making efforts to attract diverse job applicants from a variety of backgrounds. New ways in are opening up for the next generation of book publishers and many of the big names, such as Penguin Random House, no longer require job candidates to have a degree. If you want turn your love of books into a career, here’s an expert guide.
Find the routes in
Many publishers offer paid traineeships, graduate schemes or internship opportunities, which are often publicised on their social media channels.
Georgina Ugen is a new starter in the industry who didn’t take a traditional path. She has a degree in dance and cultural studies and was a property manager before applying to the HarperCollins’ BAME traineeship scheme two years ago. She was offered the role of digital sales assistant and has since been promoted to digital sales manager.
“I found out about the BAME traineeship at HarperCollins through LinkedIn,” she says. “I didn’t get one of the two places on offer but was asked to apply for an entry level role, which I got. If you don’t succeed at first, take the opportunity to make contacts.”
When you do see a role advertised don’t be put off by the job description, Elizabeth Briggs, editor and marketing manager at Saqi Books, advises. “Never be disheartened if you see something on the job description you haven’t done yet. What experience do you have that might make you stand out? It can be something from your personal life, particularly at entry level,” she says.
Network and do your research
Not up to speed on what’s going on in the publishing world? Ruth Howells, the Publishers Association’s deputy director of external affairs, has these words of advice for you: “Research, research, research.”
“Go into bookshops and see how products are marketed and displayed. Find opportunities to network at relevant careers events or industry insight days,” Howells says. Engaging with publishers on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram can be a good way to make connections. “Don’t jump in asking for a job, join in conversations on books and authors,” says Ugen.
Joining the Society of Young Publishers, which supports people trying to get into publishing, is another starting point.
Consider different areas of publishing
Editorial jobs tend to be in high demand, but publishing spans lots of areas, including legal, production, marketing and audio. Decide what sort of job you want and what type of publisher you want to work for, be it consumer, academic or education.
Job roles are varied, from developers and rights analysts to commissioning editors. “All areas of the industry are looking for a range of different skills,” says Howells.
Specialising in a particular subject can help, depending on the role you’re going for. “STM [science, technical and medical] graduates will have an advantage if they are applying for a STM publisher,” says Eloise Cook, publisher for trade, consumer and professional business at Pearson.
No matter what area you go into, a genuine love for books is a key requirement. John Athanasiou, director of people at HarperCollins UK, says: “What we really want to see is a passion for the industry.”
Experience: ‘I still get excited when a manuscript is handed to me’
What’s it like to work in publishing? An award-winning creative director and junior designer reveal all. Interviews by Anne Cassidy
Think of publishing and you may imagine the author is everything, but the industry is made up of many more roles. One is that of book design. Here we discover life as a junior designer and meet the creative director who mentors her.
Creative director, Vintage
Styling a mannequin with the help of Ian McEwan is one of the more surreal tasks Suzanne Dean has undertaken as part of her job. Dean is the creative director at Vintage, an imprint of Penguin Random House, and has designed book covers for some of the world’s bestselling authors, including McEwan, Julian Barnes, Haruki Murakami and Margaret Atwood.
For McEwan’s latest novel Machines Like Me, Dean trawled through a factory of mannequins to find a suitable one to represent Adam, the robot at the centre of the story. She invited McEwan to help her oversee how the mannequin’s face should be painted and its wig styled for the cover image.
Her unconventional and experimental designs are likely to inspire a double-take. Her cover for The Largesse of the Sea Maiden by Denis Johnson involved intricately piecing together hundreds of pencil shavings so that they would resemble waves. “The best part of designing a cover is when you get a tingling buzz of recognition – you know when you’ve cracked the idea,” she says.
Dean started out designing food packaging after studying graphic design at university. She found her calling when she got her first job designing covers at Penguin. “All these years later I still love this freedom. I still get excited when a manuscript is handed to me.”
To help come up with an image, she creates a mood board. “The mood board can sometimes be so big it covers the wall of my office,” she says. Lines from the novel can inspire the design, as with her cover for Julian Barnes’ The Only Story. “One phrase, particularly, stood out. ‘It is better to have loved and lost then never to have loved at all’ is crossed out, only to be rewritten by [the narrator] Paul. I developed this idea.”
Dean says book design is having a renaissance. “Social media has made it a desirable area for young designers, you only need to look at all the book blogs and Instagram.” She advises designers wanting to get into the trade to be willing to experiment. “I’d suggest they get a portfolio together that includes their own version of books they’ve read and enter competitions like the Penguin Random House student design award.”
Junior designer, Vintage
Long before she got into publishing, Sophie Harris was captivated by book covers. “I’ve always been fascinated by how you can distil a whole book into one single image,” she says.
This fascination led her to her dream job three years ago at Vintage, the Penguin Random House imprint, as a junior designer on creative director Suzanne Dean’s team.
Harris is currently working on the covers for four soon-to-be reissued Margaret Atwood titles: Bluebeard’s Egg, Dancing Girls, Life Before Man and Bodily Harm, with the illustrator Celia Jacobs. “The best part [of the job] is feeling like you’ve done a service to the author and the story, and created something sensitive and considered that excites people,” she says.
Harris, who is 26, studied graphic design while at university and got her first experience of book cover design during an Erasmus placement in Germany which offered a module in the subject. During the course, she got the chance to work on real briefs that had been submitted by commercial publishers. One of her cover designs – for the book Ich Wollte Einhörner by Alina Simone – was chosen and published. After university, she interned at a few graphic design agencies and then spotted a job opportunity at Vintage. “In my mind I always wanted to be a book cover designer,” she said. “Then the job [at Vintage] came up. I’ve never looked back.”
Harris’ first high profile cover design at Vintage was How To Stop Brexit by Nick Clegg. She has since designed covers for other notable titles, including Our Rainbow Queen by Sali Hughes and Invisible Women by Caroline Criado Perez. “Invisible Women is a really important book so I knew it would be a challenge for me,” says Harris. “When it became a top 10 bestseller it was a big moment.”
Harris advises anyone wanting to get into book design not to be put off if they feel they lack experience or haven’t got the right contacts. “I didn’t know anyone in publishing,” she says. “What mattered most was that I had ideas and I was enthusiastic.”