21st September 2018

The Graduate Diaries – Kick-Starting a Career in Publishing

Abigail is a budding writer and journalist who recently completed an editorial internship at Imagine That. During her time here she had the opportunity to write a couple of picture books for us, as well as helping with market research for upcoming releases. Here, she writes about considering a career in publishing as a recent graduate and how to make the most of work experience. 

A-Levels? Check. Degree in an Arts subject (most commonly English Literature)? Check.

There are plenty of paths that lead to a job at a publishing company, but I tick all the boxes for a stereotypical English graduate considering a career in publishing. There are plenty of us – all with good A-Level results and all with a degree from an interchangable selection of good unversities. It’s daunting to feel like you’re one in a million when there are only a handful of jobs available each year.

It’s only since I donned a mortar board and gown to graduate last month and had to think about what’s next that I realised how ill-prepared a degree can leave you for the world of work. Having studied English for three years I know the proper use of a semi-colon and am able to quote from the Canterbury Tales, but I lack the nous to sell my skills to potential employers and have very little idea of the structure of the industries I may want to go in to. Moreover, publishing is famously competitive and when it comes to the big publishing houses, you’re far more likely to get no reply at all to an application than an answer, whether it’s a yes or a no. How can you set yourself apart?

Firstly, I would encourage anyone aiming for a career in publishing to get some work experience – but it’s crucial to be smart about where and what that work experience is.

I’ve spent lots of weeks at organisations with a ‘desk-filling’ mentality when it comes to internships. This means that there isn’t much for you to do (in fact, you’re a bit of a nusiance) but you turn up, make some tea and fill a quota. Instead of picking up all the work you possibly can – even though students are generally advised to do just that – I would advise you to thoroughly research the companies you’re applying to for work experience and pick quality over quantity.

Consider smaller publishers as well as massive companies that offer organised internships (such as Penguin). Generally, smaller businesses will be able to give you more responsibility and there’ll be more opportunities for you to attend meetings and talk to people who work there.

Properly structured work experience benefits employers as well as students – as an intern, the more you learn, the more useful you are!

Secondly, if you’re disheartened because you’re applying for jobs and/or internships and not hearing back, trust that at some point the right position will come along. It’s so frustrating when you don’t even get a, ‘no, thank you’, and you’ve spent hours on your application, but every time I’ve been disppointed that a door has closed, another opportunity has unexpectedly appeared.

Thirdly, do your research. Check job sites (especially publishing-specific ones such as The Bookseller) frequently for new opportunities and know your market inside out. Don’t be afraid to ask questions when you have the opportunity (for instance, ask for feedback if you apply or interview for jobs). Read book reviews and maybe have a crack at writing your own!

Finally – it’s not like I have it all sorted, but I can see that the most important thing to do if you want to publish books is read them. Read everything you can, from the latest blockbuster thriller to the Odyssey (if you can face it). Keep experiencing the joy that a really good book brings. The best book publishers are the ones who can share that joy with others.


by Abigail Buchanan