Working in publishing
The publishing industry offers a range of career routes for a variety of talents....
Gaining entry to the publishing world can almost be as difficult as getting your writing considered for publication. As with writing however, research pays off and taking time to plan your strategy for landing the first job and then making appropriate career moves will be time well spent.
All publishers receive many more CVs and applications than there are jobs available; disappointments are inevitable. An essential first step to success is to have a basic understanding of what the various jobs inside publishing involve.
Contrary to popular belief, there is life beyond being an editor and here we have attempted to give a brief sketch of the most significant functions in publishing and the parts they play. Specific job titles have been avoided wherever possible as job titles vary from one publisher to another.
Large or Small?
The first decision you need to make is whether to join a large or a small organisation. This will determine whether you specialise in one particular area of work or hold a more general position involving several different skills. An example of this is copy-editing; in a small publishing house commissioning editors normally do their own copy-editing, whereas in a large house there may be a separate specialist department. The other differentiating factor is the range of lists, which are potentially far larger and more diverse in a large publishing house.
Trade or Academic?
The next step is to consider whether you want to work in academic or trade publishing; your educational background and qualifications, as well as your personal interests, may well play a part in your decision.
The trade publisher produces books for sale to the general public via high street bookshops. The academic publisher produces specialist titles for special-interest bookshops, libraries and institutions. Although trade publishing is more in the public eye, academic publishing can be every bit as interesting and challenging.
Within trade publishing there are further subdivisions between, adult and children's lists. Your initial appointment need not tie you to one area forever, but it is worth bearing in mind that a long spell of employment in one field or another will lead to your being typecast by your experience. The higher up the ladder you are, the less likely it is that you will transfer to another area.
At Dorling Kindersley, the scope for employment opportunity
extends across many areas. Editorial,
& Publicity, Distribution,
Support Functions, Finance,
Human Resources, Administration
and Information Services departments are all integral
to the business.
Most speculative applications to publishers focus on editorial
roles. Within DK the job of an editor is a creative role.
The editors can be involved in all aspects of creating a book,
from coming up with the original idea to writing the jacket
copy. They can also be involved with the sales and marketing
team. Essentially, the role requires creative flair combined
with business sense and a very good eye for detail. More senior
editors will handle budgets, liaise with authors and other
third parties, and commission consultants. Here at Dorling
Kindersley we have a number of different titles for our editors,
they fall into four bands; Managing Editors, Senior Editors,
Project Editors, and Editors, according to experience. Editorial
Assistants may also be employed and this is often where you
can start out.
In a small publishing house, the editor will probably draw
up and deal with the contract but in larger houses there will
be a contracts department. This will maintain responsibility
for ensuring that these documents are in line with the original
deal arranged by the editor. Substantial liaison needs to
take place with the rights department, as the contract will
lay down full details of both volume and subsidiary rights.
Essential for careers in contracts are a meticulous eye for
detail; a legal background could also be be useful.
Rights departments have responsibility for the selling of
all kinds of rights for published books. These can include
serial rights, overseas rights, rights to publish in paperback,
television and film rights and merchandising rights. Merchandising
rights play an increasingly important role in the profitability
of certain character books, particularly in children's publishing.
The contribution that the sale of rights can make to a publisher's
profits is substantial with major activity concentrated at
book fairs, both in the UK and abroad. For entry into rights,
candidates should have negotiating skills, an eye for detail,
and highly developed personal organisational skills.
Design departments, together with production, are responsible
for the physical look and feel of the book. Some designers
are employed in-house, some are freelance. Everything from
the book size to the cover design, type size and typeface
needs to be selected and discussed frequently with both the
author and editor involved.
Much design work is now carried out via desktop publishing systems and requires both technical and creative training. Subsections of design departments may well include specialist areas such as picture research; this is of vital importance for illustrated books or for certain jackets. Picture researchers need an in-depth knowledge of fine art over the centuries. Text design tends to be treated as a separate specialism for which typography skills and qualifications are a prerequisite.
Almost everyone working in book design will have a degree in graphic or typographic
design, although there are administrators in this area who
keep an eye on schedules and the progress of the design.
Sometimes known as the 'book-making department' the production
department is responsible for the physical process of transforming
the manuscript and artwork into the finished book. This includes
everything from ordering the paper, obtaining estimates for
typesetting, printing and binding to arranging proofs, print-run
numbers and so forth with an appropriate printer.
All the stages in production need to be scheduled according to strict deadlines. As with all processes involved in getting books into the bookshop, production is time-critical; the Sales Department will have committed availability of the book to bookshops many months in advance.
Working in book production is a career for people who are highly organised,
able to negotiate, diplomatic and willing to accept responsibility
for the quality of the final product. Most training in book
production is done in-house but there are formal courses,
most notably at the London College of Printing. There are
NVQ's in book production.
To sell books requires that highly knowledgeable, enthusiastic
people call on booksellers and persuade them to stock both
new and backlist titles; their role in supporting the efforts
of marketing is frequently critical to the success of a book.
Some large multiple booksellers, however, have moved towards
centralised buying which has changed some sales roles.
Sales people also have to visit schools and institutes of higher education to discuss forthcoming publications with teachers and academics, and in some cases establish where there might be gaps in the market for future publications.
Essential sales skills are articulacy, an ability to build relationships, and influence people and a good understanding of the UK book trade.
Export Sales is a separate specialism which often requires foreign language
as well as sales skills.
Marketing & Publicity
Marketing is frequently divided into two separate functions.
One focuses on preplanning the marketing campaign including
press advertising and the production of catalogues and promoting
materials, the other is publicity.
The Publicity Department concentrates on getting press exposure and organising promotional events such as book launches and author signing tours to establish a book when it is first published. The general rule of thumb for differentiating marketing from publicity is that marketing has to be paid for, whereas publicity is free. There are, of course, plenty of circumstances to prove this rule wrong but it helps as a guideline. Publicity and Marketing work hand in glove even in the largest of houses.
Obviously the market will strongly influence the type of marketing activity
carried out. There are, for example, substantial differences
in the way children' books are marketed and sold and the way
an adult bestseller will be promoted.
Not all publishers distribute their own books, some use a
third party distributor or even a third party salesforce to
do the job for them. Without an effective national and possibly
international distribution system, no publisher can survive.
Systems have become highly sophisticated and a high degree of computerised stock management systems, as well as highly developed mechanised picking and packing processes have developed.
Large book warehouses may stock up to 11,000 titles, some of which will be
turn over very quickly and others which may sell in small
but regular quantities. Academic and classic books sell over
many years and therefore need to be kept in stock for long
periods of time. Distribution staff are also frequently called
on to send out a whole range of promotional items, from counter
packs to dump bins and fluffy toys.
Roles within distribution include pickers & packers, warehouse operatives,
fork-lift truck drivers, and chargehands (warehouse supervisors).
Distribution employees should be reliable, flexible and posses
good numeracy skills.
Publishers, like all businesses employ people in Accounts,
Computing, Human Resources and Training; all of which offer
opportunities for people to use their general clerical, administrative
or management skills within the context of the book world.
All these departments are, of course, tailored to the needs
of the business. This means that accounts, for example, will
get involved not only with the production of typical business
records but also with collection and payment of royalties
and the costing and pricing of books.
Finance within Dorling Kindersley is made up of several different
specific functions, including:
- Management Accounts
- Financial Accounts
- Sales Ledger/Credit Control
- Cash and Payroll
For more senior positions with Finance it is necessary to have a full or part professional qualification from a recognised accounting body, i.e. ACCA or CIMA.
More senior positions with Credit Control will often require that you are either
already qualified or studying towards membership of the Institute
of Credit Management. There are many more junior/clerical
positions within the finance department. These normally require
education to GCSE level, naturally with a strong leaning towards
The Human Resources department offers a support service to
the organisation; its areas of responsibility include recruitment,
staff welfare, salary administration, advice on employment
law, job evaluation, industrial relations, childcare/maternity,
equal opportunities, training and development etc. The department
is charged with developing HR policies that are appropriate
to the organisation.
The skills required to work within a publishing company's H.R. Department are much the same as those in other companies, however an interest and understanding of the publishing process is a definite advantage.
The jobs within H.R. vary from secretarial through H.R. Officers to H.R. Managers;
to work at this level you would usually have achieved either
an H.R. qualification through to I.P.D. or have several years
experience working within the H.R. function. Health and safety
is also part of Human Resources and the Human Resource Director
is responsible for Health and Safety throughout the Company.
The Health and Safety Officer advises and coordinates all
Health and Safety activities as well as providing training
in Health and Safety matters.
Administration & Maintenance
The Administration department within a publishing company
covers a variety of responsibilities. Within Dorling Kindersley,
the Administration department is responsible for reception,
post, photocopying, stationery purchase, telephone systems,
contract cleaners and are a source of general information
and advice about workstation equipment.
Maintenance can be a complicated area depending on the type of site and location with the department taking responsibility for air conditioning, heating, water supply, electric's, distribution systems, etc.
The varying roles within Administration and Maintenance offer many different
career opportunities; some require more specific qualifications
than others. As an example, Maintenance teams may include
a qualified electrician, as well as people with more general
In line with all industries, publishing companies are becoming
increasingly computerised. Information Services work with
all other departments in developing computer systems that
enable the Company to continually improve its processes and
access information that enables the company to manage its
At Dorling Kindersley there are three distinct areas within the Information Services function:
- Operations - ensuring that the existing mainframe computer systems are operating, and taking remedial action when problems arise.
- Development - developing new systems and enhancements to existing systems
- PC support - supporting, installing and recommending enhanced equipment specifically in relation to personal computers
Most positions within Information Services require a high level of specific, dedicated education. The most senior positions require a degree plus several years computing experience in the relevant area. 'A' level education or an equivalent computing qualification is sufficient for lower graded jobs.
We also offer vacancies for Trainee Programmers where full training is given. 'A' Level standard education is required and all candidates undertake an aptitude test.