Publishing, Work

What to expect from a publishing degree

The publishing industry is a competitive place. Breaking into it is challenging, complex and, ultimately, down to sheer hard graft.

For decades, people studied traditional subjects like English or business-related disciplines at university before attempting to forge a career through internships and work experience. Now, there are specialist BAs and MAs in publishing that unravel the mysteries of the industry while equipping students with the knowledge of how things work from a finance, marketing, sales and commissioning perspective.

There’s no guarantee that a publishing degree will lead to a permanent job in the sector but is it the best place to start?

I spoke to Vicky and Becca from the Society of Young Publishers North about their experiences of studying publishing and the doors it opened for them.

Working together

 Vicky completed her BA in Publishing at Oxford Brookes University in 2013. What was it about the course that attracted you to take this degree?

I’ve always loved reading and writing. Oxford – with its dreaming spires and publishing milieu – is bookworm heaven and the Brookes course is highly respected amongst publishers. It’s long-established, has excellent contacts and the lecturers have considerable industry experience.

What did you cover (topics, subject areas, modules etc) in your degree?

Main modules included: Publishing Business; Sales and Marketing; Editorial Principles and Practice; Magazine Publishing; Digital Product: Creating an eBook using Adobe software; and Publishing List Development – most people also did a dissertation or independent project on their chosen subject. It was also possible to do a combined degree (i.e. Publishing & English) or a minor (I did Spanish).

Publishing List Development – known as the dreaded ‘PLD’ – was the final year module that brought everything together. It involved conceiving and developing a theoretical new list from start to finish, inc: publisher, proposed titles, market gap, content, design, illustrators and authors, marketing strategy, competition, sales estimates and channels, rights possibilities, timescales and a full financial analysis. Needless to say, a lot of teamwork required!

What was the important thing you learned about publishing from your degree?

It’s a business – a creative one but a business nevertheless. It may be a more artistic industry than others but, as with everything else, money is the ultimate goal. There’s a lot more to it than reading books or creating nice jacket designs. Naively I’d gone in expecting the course to be all along these lines so initially I was a bit flummoxed with modules like finance and PLD.

Now, even more so than when I was at university, digital is also very important. Skills in software like Adobe – and, especially with app publishers, knowledge of HTML – is becoming a huge part of publishing. Even traditionalists like me have to be prepared to adapt and venture outside their comfort zone.

Did you complete a work placement as part of your degree? If so, what was it and what did you learn from it?

I did several internships; firstly, as a literary agent at Felicity Bryan Agency, where I sorted through the adult fiction manuscripts and passed on any I thought had publishing potential. Then there was all the usual office admin of filing, author correspondence etc. I didn’t learn a massive amount, except that some of the stuff they get sent is decidedly weird! Many publishers unsurprisingly no longer accept unsolicited material so literary agents act as a funnel. I did unearth some promising gems, however, and found it a great experience – especially since I was always treated to a fresh baguette from the deli next door!

Other placements included helping out at Oxford Literary Festival – again, a great experience, since it’s held at the gorgeous Christchurch College (inspiration for Hogwarts’ Great Hall) and attracts a lot of high-profile authors – and blogging in support of Oxford’s bid to be UNESCO World Book Capital. The former allowed me to see what goes into planning a literary festival – now increasingly popular in the age of author as brand.

As well as doing a bit of work experience one summer with a photography publisher near home, and holding a part-time job until third year, that was all I could squeeze in! While at college, I’d worked at (now sadly departed) Borders as a bookseller, which I also think was valuable, in enabling me to see the ‘front end’ of the publishing industry.

Did a BA in Publishing help you get a job after graduating?

I think so, although actually I got my current job through starting speculatively as an intern and then being taken on that way. So definitely don’t rule out interning, even if there’s no concrete job going at the end of it. (As an aside, I worried that having travelled for two years after graduating might damage my prospects but not so – on the contrary).

Currently I work in magazines, not books as I’d envisaged, but I’m finding this comes with its own advantages – going on client restaurant jaunts, writing about arts and culture, getting press passes to all sorts of events…Admittedly it’s a cushy job, but I’d still like to experience working in books one day. Fortunately, a lot of the skill set is the same – which is why my course included both book and magazine modules – so there’s no need to stick to one platform or genre your entire career.

Do you think a BA in Publishing gives job hunters an edge over those who studied marketing, English, design or other more generic subjects?

In my current job, it’s a bit different – as a magazine editorial assistant, a lot of my job is writing, so English would be very relevant. In fact, my editor did English and History and another colleague did Journalism: they’re all interrelated.

In terms of book publishing, however, I’d say yes – simply because you’ve studied the business. Rather than just knowing you’re good with words or design, they’ll know you’ve also covered things like finance and list development. PLD might have been a palaver at the time but it has its advantages!

Working

Becca studied publishing as a post-graduate, completing an MA in Publishing at University College London in 2014. What was it about the course that attracted you to take this degree?

I knew that I wanted to work in the book trade in some capacity and it wasn’t until the third year of my undergrad that I understood how many options there are in the industry. This course seemed a perfect fit for someone who needed an overview of the whole publishing process and who had little business experience.

What did you cover (topics, subject areas, modules etc) in your degree?

I think the modules have changed slightly now to:

Term 1: Sales and marketing, publishing contexts, author management, publishing skills, publishing entrepreneurship.

Term 2: Publishing skills cont. A choice of two from, Academic publishing, children’s publishing, book production, theories of the book, illustration of the book and booksellers and bookselling.

Term 3 involved the publishing placement and your dissertation.

What was the important thing you learned about publishing from your degree?

Definitely the importance of networking. There’s a real sense of community in the publishing world and when, in the first week of the course our lecturers said to take a look around at the people in the room as they would likely be our peers for a very long time, they meant it.

Did you complete a work placement as part of your degree? If so, what was it and what did you learn from it?

I was incredibly lucky and got a placement at Penguin Random House as part of the Penguin General Communications Team. It was my first experience of a busy office environment and it highlighted how integrated the different teams are and how much of a combination of people’s skills it takes to get a book to market.

Did your MA in Publishing help you get a job after graduating?

I don’t work in publishing at the moment and whilst it is still very much my dream, I think that it is a combination of experience, networking, knowledge and determination that will really help someone get a job in such a competitive industry and it is through my Master’s degree that I have made a start in achieving each of them.

Do you think a degree in publishing gives job hunters an edge over those who studied marketing, English, design or other more generic subjects?

I think it does, if not for the complete overview of the publishing process and the networking opportunities it provides, then for the chance to learn the history of the publishing companies trading today. I have found when applying for and interviewing for jobs that a company not only wants to know what you have done and what you can do for them, they want you to show what you know about them; who they are, why they do things the way they do, and if your passions align with theirs to get the best possible fit for the role.

LOGO-SYPSYP North offer a huge range of services to help support people working or trying to get into publishing. They have a cracking events calendar and loads of opportunities to build your network.

Read more articles on publishing here.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *