Developing your career in publishing

Tonight’s masterclass was a first for this semester: a panel session offering four excellent and engaging speakers:

Shelina Permalloo, making time for us on her last day working for the Diversity in Publishing Network (DIPNET)
Louise Franklin, Publishing Sector Coordinator at SkillSet
Bhavit Mehta, fresh from the Society of Young Publishers (SYP) conference and founder of Saadhak Books, and
Catherine Bruzzoni
, Managing Director of b small publishing and Independent Publishers Guild (IPG) advocate

Between them our four speakers shared personal publishing stories, insights into the diversity (or otherwise) of the publishing industry and plenty of tips about how to break into – and get ahead within – publishing today. It’s these career development tips, and links to relevant resources, that I think are most worth sharing.

So what are the skills you need to work in publishing? In the tradition of the long-running bestseller, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Louise Franklin of SkillSet rolled out seven key attributes all wannabe publishing recruits should be able to offer:

  • Communication skills: answering the phone, dealing with queries effectively and writing emails
  • Literacy and numeracy: sentence construction, punctuation, grammar and spelling

Numeracy is just as important as literacy
Louise Franklin

  • General office and ICT skills: photocopying, faxing and filing, mail merges, databases and spreadsheets

You will spend a lot of time in the office
Louise Franklin

  • Problem-solving skills: thinking on your feet
  • Research and study skills: finding out stuff on your own as quickly as possible
  • Team working: across departments, with different kinds of people and with international teams
  • Digital skills and social media: facebook, twitter, blogs – and how they can be used to make money

We are business people: always thinking about the bottom line
Catherine Bruzzoni

Louise’s list was echoed by the other presenters, who also highlighted four other ways to get ahead and develop your career:

If you do work experience, keep in touch after you leave. Join your ex-colleagues on LinkedIn and send them biscuits at Christmas
Bhavit Mehta

  • Get a mentor: through DIPNET, the SYP, your personal networking or within your organisation, to provide you with practical advice and support
  • Ask questions: if you don’t know how something works, don’t be afraid to ask your mentor or one of your other contacts
  • Be tenacious: get some work experience, make the coffee, do the photocopying and work hard

The ‘eleven habits of highly effective publishers’ probably wouldn’t be worth turning into a book, but they might just help you develop your career in the industry. And if you need more help, here’s some handy publishing career resources:*

Feel free to comment on this post and share your tips for getting ahead – we’d love to discover what works for you!

* This has all made me realise I ought to produce a recommended reading list of publishing-related blogs and twitter peeps but I’ll save that for another post. Watch this space – and check out our blogroll in the meantime.


5 responses to “Developing your career in publishing

  1. Very interesting, but this could apply to most industries… I’m sure the aim of the article was different, but am interested to know what do you think about the specific issue of books; loving books, understanding books, that desire to find the next great book, sharing a book you love and wanting everyone to love it too. Have you seen the book The Other Hand by Chris Cleave – there is an introduction by his editor talking about how much she loves it…… I have to admit I haven’t read the book so this might be some kind of ‘in joke’ but having read the first few chapters I don’t think so, I can see how this would be a book a publisher would love and be excited about.
    I also would be interested in your opinion on the relationship between publishers and writers, and what we can do to prepare for that, as well what skills are needed to negotiate that relationship. Well done, keep up the blog… I’ll be back!

    • Hi Nina, thanks for your thoughts.

      Of course many of the skills required by publishers are the same as other industries but I think some (i.e. numeracy) might be counter to what people outside the industry expect.

      It goes without saying that most people seeking a career in publishing have some kind of attachment – and understanding of – books. It’s also worth noting that many employers would say that writing or saying ‘I love books’ in your application letter or interview is one of the worst things you can do. These may be some of the reasons that ‘bookishness’ wasn’t listed by the panel. Of course, understanding and appreciating books and how people use them is a key aspect of publishing – and the ‘desire to find the next great book’ you describe above is something that commissioning editors (particularly in fiction) obviously need. However, there are other functions in publishing where the content of the product you are packaging, distributing or selling is less relevant. The skills you need for these roles will be – as you say – common to some other industries and not specific to books. I’m personally not a great reader (though I own a tonne of books) and even the Chief Executive of Foyles claims never to have read a book from cover to cover. Ok, so booksellers aren’t quite publishers but it’s still an admission seen as worth highlighting by the newspaper reporting Foyles’ results.

      On the writer/publisher side, I’d say those within publishing who are involved with authors need empathy, great communication (including listening) skills, the ability to collaborate creatively and the sales skills to make a persuasive case (both to their authors and to their colleagues). But that’s just my view. Others may disagree!

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