We were delighted to hear from University of Edinburgh alumnus, Gill Tasker talking about “Getting into Publishing” at our 2018 Creative & Cultural Careers Festival. Gill now works at the University of Stirling as a Lecturer in Digital Creative Economy and Publishing, but at the time was Book Marketing Manager at Publishing Scotland. Gill gave us an excellent insight… read on for some inspiration.
Gill’s Journey into Publishing
Gill graduated with honours in English Studies from the University of Strathclyde and went on to complete an MSc in General and Comparative Literature at the University of Edinburgh.
Gill knew she wanted to work with books but didn’t know how to go about getting into the industry. A speculative email paid off and she took up a role as Submissions Editor with independent publisher, Cargo Publishing. At the same time, she began a PhD on Scottish Literature. In her second year of studies, Gill became Editor in Chief at Cargo Publishing. In 2015 she completed her PhD and was promoted to the role of joint Managing Director. New opportunities arose and she was invited to lecture for a full academic year on Publishing Studies (MLitt) at the University of Stirling.
In 2016, Gill started her current role as Book Marketing Manager at Publishing Scotland , the trade, network and development body for the book publishing sector in Scotland. Its activities target audiences at local, national and international levels.
Overview of the Publishing Sector
Publishing is the largest creative industry in the UK and recruitment is competitive. The sector has a mix of conglomerates and a lot of independent publishers. You’ll often hear in publishing talk of the big five companies in the world: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster.
Publishing is not all just about novels; there are many different types of publishing including trade, educational, academic, reference, professional and scientific, technical and medical (STM). All publishers will be into digital publishing too; no matter what realm of publishing they are in, they need people with digital savvy and digital skills.
Graduates of any discipline can enter this industry – the “classic” route in, with an English Literature degree, is no longer the norm. Business degrees are particularly useful for the more business areas of publishing such as roles in sales and marketing.
It’s also important to mention that on the whole people don’t go in to publishing for the money; they do it because they love it.
Publishing in Scotland
Gill highlighted that although your dream job might be editing for a large company in London, it’s important not to discount other opportunities early in your publishing career. For instance, there are around 100 active publishers registered in Scotland today. Most are on the small side, termed “indy” publishers, and these will typically have 4-12 employees. If you get experience with an indy publisher you will be able to see all the different job functions much more clearly than in a more hierarchical, larger organisation. You’ll also be more likely to be part of the whole decision-making process.
Gill shared her top tips for opening the door through the wall of books into publishing:
- Understand the industry as much as you can.
Read the Bookseller regularly and talk to others already in the industry so you understand all the different roles and what the industry involves from the outset. You could also sign up for the Publishing Scotland industry bulletin which will give you a good overview of the sector from a business perspective. You can browse the publisher members section of Publishing Scotland to give you a good insight into who is publishing and what types of publishing they’re doing in Scotland.
- Be numerate.
Publishing is fundamentally a business so aim to understand a profit and loss statement.
- Have purposeful conversations.
With publishing, a lot of it is about contacts so it’s a good idea to network as much as you can and really talk to people; if you’re passionate, that’s going to come across really well.
- Make your application stand out.
Perhaps you blog, record podcasts or write for a university magazine; think about what you do that makes you a little bit different to everyone else and make that upfront in your applications. Bring your unique selling point (USP) right up to the top of your CV or covering letter.
Moving on to the don’ts…
It sounds a bit brutal but don’t say “I love books and reading” in your application because everyone says that.
Also, don’t send out a generic untailored email to publishers whether it’s for a job application or speculative application. You don’t need to tailor every single part of your application but it is strongly recommended to open with a brief mention of a book that you’ve enjoyed by that publisher. This will demonstrate that you are familiar with the publisher. If you are applying for a sales or marketing role, you might want to think about mentioning a recent campaign from the company that caught your eye and a sentence on why it stood out for you. Just those little things can really make the recruiter think, “oh yes, they get us.”
- Publishing is all about having a good eye for detail.
Publishing jobs are always vastly oversubscribed and if recruiters are looking for a reason to discount an application a typo, spelling mistake or a grammatical error might rule yours out. Always ask a friend or family member to read it through before you submit.
- Don’t underestimate book selling as a route in the door.
If you can’t get a publishing job initially, work in a bookshop or for a literary festival. It’s a good starting place for publishers to have had that experience of how books are received by customers. Also, the world’s biggest book festival, Edinburgh International Book Festival, is right on our doorstep. Working for a literary festival is a great opportunity to gain experience and meet people in the industry.
- Make the most of Twitter.
Twitter is a really good way to survey the publishing landscape. You can be quite strategic and follow certain people once you build up your knowledge of the industry and use it to join in conversations. Don’t post photographs of your nights out on Twitter because if you apply for jobs, publishers will check you out on all of your social platforms!
- Show initiative and be flexible.
Say “yes”, within reason, to new opportunities as you just don’t know where they will take you or when your big break will happen.
- Take a long-term view.
Think about what you can be doing now regardless of whether you have got a year or two still to go with your degree or if you’re going to be graduating in a few months. It’s not impossible that you’ll secure a publishing job straight away but if you don’t, think about what else you can be doing. For instance, if you’re doing a literature degree and you don’t have InDesign or Photoshop skills, could you be doing a night class or an online distance learning class such as Lynda.com? These can all add that little extra to your CV.
- Publishing is a team effort.
You do need to have strong social skills and be a team player as most work is collaborative. It takes many different hands and many different skills to make just one book and to take it to market successfully.
Gill’s ultimate advice is to be numerate. Aim to be as comfortable with basic budgets and accounting as you would be with writing an editorial report. Keep a focus on publishing as the business of reaching readers.
Sign up now for Publishing-related events at #CCCF19:
- Graduates in the Book Industry Talk
- World of Books & Publishing Mini Fair
- Opportunities in Publishing Talk
A version of this article was originally published in March 2018.