Publishing

See the different roles in, and routes into, publishing

Overview 

Opportunities exist in editorial, design, production, marketing and sales, and increasingly in digital marketing, so this is a broad sector. 

You’ll often hear talk of the big five publishing companies in the world: Hachette, HarperCollins, Macmillan, Penguin Random House and Simon & Schuster. In the UK most of the large book publishers are based in London, with Oxford and Edinburgh being the other main geographic centres. 

The publishing industry directly employs 29,000 people in the UK and supports more than 70,000 jobs… Publishing is the bedrock of the UK creative industries as a whole, with top films, TV shows and plays inspired first and foremost by books. 52% of the top 20 box office UK produced films were based on published material.

The Publishers Association, Industry Statistics 2020

There are over 100 active publishers registered in Scotland today, ranging from a mix of conglomerates to many independent “indy” publishers. Many of these are listed as members of Publishing Scotland, the trade, network and development body for the book publishing sector in Scotland. Browse the list to see who is publishing and where they are based. As of June 2024, there are 27 members of Publishing Scotland located in Edinburgh.    

Publisher members – Publishing Scotland   

According to Publishers Association yearly industry statistics, book sales in 2023 have kept rising, proving the enduring appeal of books, with a 3% increase in revenue against the previous year; print numbers are steady while digital went up by 5%.

Publishers Association - Publishing in 2022 

What’s it like

Graduates of any discipline can enter this industry – the “classic” route in, with an English Literature degree, is no longer the norm.  

It is common to move between roles during your early publishing career. It can be more difficult to move between publishing areas, so thinking about the type of publishing company you want to work for is as important as the type of role.  

Publishers operate in a range of specialist areas or sectors: 

  • Consumer or trade (general fiction and non-fiction books for the public) 

  • Educational (textbooks for primary and secondary school-level education) 

  • Academic or Higher education (subdivided into humanities and social sciences and scientific/technical/medical) 

  • Professional (overlaps with academic and covers law, accountancy and business information) 

Use these profiles of common roles within this sector to see what each role involves, how to get into it, what salary to expect and who the major employers are: 

Job profile: Commissioning editor (Prospects)

Job profile: Editorial assistant (Prospects)

Job profile: Lexicographer (Prospects)

Job profile: Magazine features editor (Prospects)

Job profile: Print production planner (Prospects)

Job profile: Publishing copy editor/proofreader (Prospects)

Job profile: Publishing rights manager (Prospects)

 

All publishers will be into digital publishing too; no matter what realm of publishing they are in, they need people with digital skills.  

The Publishers Association gives a great overview of the various sectors. It also covers the roles within each sector, who you would be working with, the skills required and features case studies on ‘a day in the life of’ :

Publishers Association - Careers

Check out Press Forward, SYP’s blog, for sector insights and interviews with key figures in publishing:

Press Forward - SYP

Watch films which provide top tips and insights into this sector (University of Edinburgh login required):

Industry insight: publishing

Discover what’s out there with the Creative & Cultural Careers events (CCC). These events are organised for all our students and graduates interested in working in the creative industries. Check our next Creative and Cultural event:

Creative and Cultural Careers

Work in Publishing is an annual campaign showcasing the breadth of careers available in publishing:

Publishers Association – Work in Publishing 

Looking for some inspiration? 

Grace Balfour-Harle, Content Producer for the Beano Comic & Co-Chair of SYP Scotland, provides excellent top tips for getting into editorial, with some great advice on how to succeed:

Getting into Editorial – Inform.ed blog

Kirsten Knight, 2020 English Language alumna and Marketing and Publicity Assistant at Exisle Publishing, shares steps on how to land your first job in publishing and provides an insight into her day-to-day role:

By the book: how I made it into publishing - Inform.ed blog 

Emily Large, Recruitment Programmes & Outreach Advisor at Penguin Random House UK, exemplifies the diverse array of opportunities available in the creative sector:

A career journey into Publishing: How project management meets the creative sector 

Building experience and getting started 

Getting started and gaining experience in publishing can be competitive, and opportunities elusive. The good news is that being proactive and creative in your research, and getting involved and exploring the breadth of areas such as production, marketing and publicity can give you an excellent head start. Gear your X feed and LinkedIn profile towards publishing, and proactively approach companies whose work inspires you; if they can see your enthusiasm, they are all the more likely to consider you for an internship. 

For more information, see the overview from Prospects on how to get into publishing:

Prospects – How to get into publishing 

Build knowledge, experience and contacts by joining publishing, editorial and creative writing societies and professional bodies. These are great for expanding your network, and are a resource that you can pull on when looking for advice or even job adverts and internships.  

For example: 

PublishEd (University of Edinburgh student society) is a great place to start. You can submit writing to their literary magazine, attend events, join their committee and make connections:

PublishED

This short video from PublishEd provides excellent advice for students on how to gain publishing experience while at university. Committee members also share their experiences of getting involved in the industry:

PublishEd – getting publishing experience while at university (YouTube video) 

Society of Young Publishers (SYP) Scotland host monthly events, networking opportunities and careers-related presentations. They also share job opportunities including internships and placements on X: 

Society of Young Publishers (SYP) Scotland 

Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading (CIEP) is an industry-recognised body that sets and demonstrates editorial standards through their membership levels depending on experience and training:   

CIEP 

Creative Access, a social enterprise, supports those from under-represented backgrounds in the UK. They operate across all creative sectors, including book publishing, and partner with global brands through to smaller independent organisations. Register to apply for opportunities such as internships: 

Creative Access 

Working for a literary festival is a great opportunity to gain experience and meet people in the industry. Edinburgh International Book Festival employ temporary festival staff during August and longer-term staff from April/May to September. Stay informed by looking at their website and social media channels: 

Edinburgh International Book Festival - jobs

Is postgraduate study expected?  

A Masters in Publishing is not essential but it can demonstrate your commitment to publishing and give you an excellent understanding of the industry. 

When researching courses, ask yourself:

  • what aspect of publishing does the course focus on? 

  • does it offer a work placement?

  • does it teach any technical skills? 

  • does it offer networking opportunities? 

How can I develop my skills?  

Take a long-term view. Think about what you can be doing now regardless of whether you have got a year or two still to go with your degree or if you’re going to be graduating in a few months. Don’t be disheartened if you don’t secure a publishing job straight away. Think about what else you can be doing in the meantime. Here are some suggestions: 

Consider upskilling through LinkedIn Learning. The University has a campus-wide licence offering students access to an extensive library of high-quality video courses in business, creative and technical skills: 

LinkedIn Learning

Become a member of Creative Edinburgh,  which provides  events, monthly meetups and support for members to make connections and collaborate – membership is free: 

Creative Edinburgh

Meet and network with likeminded writers through a local Meetup – search for ‘writers’ to find local groups:

Meetup

Check out the training section in Publishing Scotland:

Publishing Scotland - training

Access excellent resources from the Scottish Book Trust which range from a comprehensive list of writing opportunities and competitions, to advice on getting your work published:

Scottish Book Trust – resources for writers

Sign up to the Scottish Book Trust newsletter to stay up-to-date with opportunities:

Scottish Book Trust - newsletter

Pitch an article for The Tab, a website which covers youth and student culture:

The Tab - submissions 

Where can I find job vacancies?  

Check MyCareerHub for vacancies. It’s worth looking at the expired opportunities function to find companies who have advertised vacancies in the past to approach speculatively:

MyCareerHub - Opportunities

Our webpage on creating your own opportunity gives more advice on this speculative approach: 

Create your own opportunity

Part-time office work or administrative temporary work can help you get that first publishing role, as many entry-level publishing jobs involve a lot of administrative work. Recruitment agencies can be a useful source of work experience for temporary or vacation work. Specialist recruitment agencies include:

Career Moves Group

Inspired Selection

Check out our information on how to find and register with recruitment agencies:

Using recruitment agencies

Publishing Scotland lists jobs, funding opportunities and competitions:

Publishing Scotland – jobs and opportunities

Jobs in Books, the Bookseller’s recruitment website, advertises publishing vacancies, including entry-level roles:

The Bookseller - jobs