Publishing: your questions answered

Careers Adviser Amanda Norman answers your top questions about the industry

Name: Amanda Norman

Role: Careers Adviser

Specialisms: Publishing, Teaching, Marketing, Journalism, and more



Is publishing very competitive?

At the risk of oversimplifying the answer…. If you are an English graduate who wants to be an Editor then, yes, publishing is very competitive. If you are a STEM graduate who wants to work in technical publishing then it’s much less so. The trick is that if you are an Arts or Humanities student you should be tactical – don’t just apply for editorial jobs in trade publishing. Think about production, marketing, rights or sales as a way in. Or if you are set on an editorial role think about types of publishing where there is more money and therefore more jobs such as business to business publishing or publishing within a major company e.g. publishing training manuals for a big computer company.  Once you have experience you can transition into the role you’d really or the type of publishing you are interested in.  Though, you may be surprised that you enjoy things you hadn’t initially thought about.

The other factor that makes publishing seem competitive is that the sector is a little chaotic – there are very few graduates schemes and jobs come up on an ad hoc basis. This doesn’t mean there aren’t any jobs – just that you need to look for them. Try saving a search for publishing on our website here.

Will I be able to earn a good salary?

Initial salaries in popular areas such as children’s publishing, fiction and education are around £20k. Salaries do rise once you are in your third or fourth job so it’s important to manage your career and keep moving up and on.  Technical roles or any jobs in business, financial , legal, science or technical publishing tend to have higher starting salaries.

Do I need a Publishing MA?

A Publishing MA can be a useful way of gaining skills, and they usually include a work placement which is valuable. However, publishing companies rarely demand a Publishing MA. Work experience is usually valued more highly. In academic publishing, a Masters or a PhD in the subject you will be working on is often more helpful than a Publishing MA.

What skills are needed?

Publishing is undergoing a technological revolution. Don’t just think about books. You might be publishing apps, open access research, eBooks, online resources for schools or online journals.  So, anything you can do to demonstrate that you are embracing and excited by this revolution will be well received.  Publishing companies might be more interested in your ability to code than your skills in writing good copy. Current students can access short courses on topics such as video production or basic HTML through University Information Services Training. Anglia Ruskin University runs short courses on editing.

Where can I start?

Get some work experience! A little bit of on the job experience is very valuable. It will give you an insight into the industry, get you some skills and help you decide if it is really for you. Publishing is not one of those industries where you will have to intern unpaid for long periods. Many will pay the minimum wage. But experience at Cambridge is valuable too – editing your college magazine, making a website for a May Ball, or juggling deadlines for a student newspaper. See the reports of Cambridge students who worked in publishing over the summer vacation.

Tailor your applications.  No two jobs in publishing are the same. So, make sure you dig out the selection criteria and give evidence that you have those skills. Publishing is a business so make sure you give numbers, facts, links to articles you have written and web pages you have created or amounts of money you have raised to back up your claims. And remember that publishers spend all day long looking at fonts and layouts – so spend some time making your CV look good. Download our guide to CVs and Applications here.

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