Getting started in publishing


The IPG teamed up with the Society of Young Publishers on a session about publishing careers at our International Publishing Forum in March 2021. Here’s a summary of three people’s stories of working in the industry and their tips for others. 

Archna Sharma, founder, Neem Tree Press: What has your journey into publishing been like? 

Amy Wong, production controller at Bloomsbury Publishing
I’m from Lincolnshire and realised very quickly how London-centric publishing is, and getting experience and meeting people for advice was frustrating. But I was lucky enough to join a New Writing North and InPress Books scheme to get to events like The London Book Fair, and that helped me understand the industry. I interned with Holland House and Crimson Publishing, then took on a dual role in editorial and production at Sweet Cherry. One of the benefits of being in a small publisher is that you can get a broad range of experience and gain responsibility very quickly. After a year I moved on to Bloomsbury where I work in production on the adult lists. 

Tanu Shelar, academic and community marketing assistant at Yale University Press 
My journey started with an MA in Publishing in Kingston University. While I was there I worked on its Big Read project for every student to read the same book, and got to know data and marketing. After that I did a few internships before joining Yale University Press—and then a month later I found myself at home again because of the lockdown. I was a bit shy while I was studying the course, but signed up to the Society of Young Publishers and felt I’d found my people. To be surrounded by people from all stages of publishing careers was really encouraging. This year I’ve been appointed chair. 

Taliha Quadri, freelancer and co-founder of The Selkie 
I did an English degree at university, and worked for Anthem Press in my placement year. I got to work across all departments, and it was an excellent opportunity to learn the lingo and the software that’s used in publishing. I did a few editorial stints after university, and they led to a role as copy editor for a business market research company for five years. During that time I did a Masters in creative writing and co-founded The Selkie, a non-profit literary magazine. Then Covid happened and I was made redundant, and that made me double down on my publishing efforts. I learnt about freelancing and realised it might be for me, so did a lot of proofreading and copyediting training. Since then I’ve worked with Bloomsbury and Hodder Studios, and become the events office for the SYP. 

Archna Sharma: Do you think official publishing qualifications and networking make a difference?

Amy Wong
For the types of jobs I’ve applied for, I don’t think a lack of qualifications has hindered me at all. That’s not to say degrees are worthless: I’ve met many people who have benefited a lot from the knowledge they’ve gained and the people they’ve met. But you shouldn’t need to pay money to get a job when there are already so many barriers, and so much can be learned on the job, especially at entry level. More and more publishers are removing the graduate requirement.

Tanu Shelar
I come from India and the standard expectation is that you graduate. My degree was in marketing, but I realised I wasn’t happy just doing that, so I felt I needed to do an MA in Publishing. As an outsider from another country it was beneficial because I got to know a lot of people—my tutors were amazingly supportive and I learned things that would have taken a lot of time elsewhere. It seemed like the most straightforward way to get into the industry. When I started meeting people outside my class I realised that networking really helps too. The SYP has helped me understand what I like and don’t like in publishing. It’s a comfortable space in which to feel uncomfortable, because you’re surrounded by friends who are there to support you and learn together.

Taliha Quadri
I did my Masters because I wanted to understand what it’s like to be an author. It’s made me a much better editor because I understand how authors feel when they share their work. But is it necessary? Not really. The qualifications I got from the Publishing Training Centre and the Chartered Institute of Editing and Proofreading have been game changers though, and I’ve also learned how to be a freelancer—how to manage your time, projects, taxes and so on. I do think that training and qualifications are important if you’re going to freelance, and that involves money, though less so if you want to go in-house. Having the PTC, CIEP names behind you is a reassurance to people, because they know these qualifications. They’ve pushed people into giving me work that I don’t think I’d have got otherwise. 

Archna Sharma: Have diverse backgrounds hindered your careers at all? 

Tanu Shelar
It was really tough to get into publishing. After my course I had to either get a job or leave the country because of visa restrictions, and that was stressful. I knew publishing was competitive for jobs, but I didn’t know there were these diversity, accessibility and pay gap problems too, and it felt sad when I realised that’s how it is. I haven’t faced any exclusive behaviour, but I’ve often been the only one in the room who looks like me.

Amy Wong
I haven’t been in publishing for long, and I already feel tired of how often we have a conversation about a lack of diversity, and how slow it is to action change.

Archna Sharma: What advice would you give to people who are just getting started in publishing?

Amy Wong
The IPG jobs board is great for finding work at smaller publishers beyond London. The SYP and Publishing Interns Twitter account are useful, and the #bookjobtransparency hashtag is good for finding internships that are paid. Remember that everyone moves at their own pace. It can be easy to compare yourself and your job hunting to other people, but remember that everyone is different, and there’s no one set path into publishing.

Tanu Shelar
I emailed lots of people to find internships. I met one publisher at a literary festival and told them what I thought wasn’t working and why—it was risky but it worked! I know networking isn’t easy at the moment, but just get in touch with anyone in the industry you can. People have all been so helpful to me, and I’ve never been turned down by anyone. Just message them—the worst that can happen is that they say no or don’t reply.

Taliha Quadri
It’s a lot more common now to find opportunities over Twitter. Connect with publishers, but also with publishing hopefuls, because they might well be your future colleagues and know what jobs might be coming up. And make friends: you all like books and similar things, so there’s plenty to connect over.