Hannah has long brown hair and is in front of a shelf of books

Top tips for getting your first publishing job

Posted on July 9, 2020

We spoke to Hannah Bond, who works with our friends at Bookouture – a global digital publisher of all kinds of commercial fiction that is part of Hachette UK. She shares with us her top tips for getting into the publishing industry

  1. Do your research

If you’re applying for a job at a publishing house, learn as much about them as you possibly can before you write your cover letter. You’ll find plenty on their website, but also look at the Twitter feeds (most people in publishing are on Twitter…) of key people from the organisation to see what books they are excited about and what authors they’ve been signing. You should know all the big hitters for the company you’re applying to work at.

Learn as much about [the publishing house] as you possibly can before you write your cover letter

2. Be specific

Armed with all that excellent research, use it in your application and, if you reach the interview stage, in person. After you’ve read as much as you can about the company, explain to them why you want to work for them – whether that’s because you like the kind of books they publish, or think your transferable skills would be a good fit. Don’t just say you’ve always loved books – talk about things that the company has published that you love, and why. Never, ever use the same cover letter for more than one job application: if your cover letters could work for more than one job, you’re not being specific enough when you write them.

3. Be yourself

Lots of the people applying for publishing jobs have the same sorts of skills and experience, so you need to think about what you can use to make your application stand out from the pack. You might be fresh out of college and feel like you don’t have any interesting experience to bring to the table, but even if you haven’t got very far in your career yet, you’ll still have passions and opinions – let those shine through. Think about transferable skills you might have, even if those are from a Saturday job at a supermarket or running a society at university. Highlight the things that are going to make you attractive to this role, rather than focussing on the usual buzzwords like ‘team player’ without evidence.

Think about what you can use to make your application stand out from the pack

4. Be passionate – and let it show!

Hopefully, you’re applying for a job in publishing because you’re really keen to work in the industry. Make sure the people assessing your application know that! Don’t be afraid to be excited and enthusiastic: publishing is a fairly informal industry, and it’s definitely appropriate to let your personality shine through. The hiring manager will be looking for someone genuinely keen to work at their company.

Don’t be afraid to be excited and enthusiastic

5. Be open-minded

There are lots of fascinating areas of publishing and more great jobs available than people realise. Even if, ultimately, you’re sure you want to work in Publicity, for example, don’t let that stop you from considering entry-level roles in, say, Contracts, Sales, or Production. Those areas of the business are less visible, so fewer people know about them and apply for them, but they are excellent ways to get into the publishing industry and will give you lots of transferable skills and knowledge of how the company works that will put you in an advantageous position when that next job comes up. You might even find you love the area you start in and don’t want to leave! In the same vein, even if your goal is to work for a big trade publisher, look at smaller publishers, academic publishers, and agencies when you’re starting out too.

Look at smaller publishers, academic publishers, and agencies

You could also consider working in a different industry and then moving sideways. If you want to work in Marketing, for example, you could always look to get an entry-level marketing role in another industry, then apply for Marketing jobs in publishing when you have more experience.

6. Make the most of every opportunity

People in publishing are, generally, really friendly and happy to answer questions and chat to people who want to get into the industry. If there’s someone you really admire on Twitter, drop them a message and ask if you can email them or have a chat on the phone about their role. If a publishing house is running a talk or an event, go along if you can and talk to the people running it about the place they work. If you manage to get an internship or work experience, talk to everyone around you and soak up as much knowledge as possible.

7. Don’t get disheartened

Getting into publishing can be tough: it’s a competitive industry and it’s not unusual for there to be hundreds of applications for every position. It might take you a while to get that first job, but don’t give up if it’s what you really want to do. If you’re not getting through to interview stage, it’s a sign your cover letters and CV need work. If you’re getting through to interview stage regularly but not getting the job in the end, make sure you ask your interviewers for specific feedback – they will be happy to give it. As you refine your applications, you might get to the stage when you hear that you’re a really strong applicant, but someone else pipped you to the post: that means it’s just a matter of time, and at some point, everything will click and you’ll be the right person for a position.

It might take you a while to get that first job, but don’t give up