Publishing Trendsetter is a production of Market Partners International and Publishing Trends.

A Look Across the Pond: Breaking into Publishing in the UK

On Publishing Trendsetter, we try to tell you all kinds of stories about the many ways of getting into publishing, the many different ways one can get into publishing, and the different types of jobs one can get, and insight into publishing epicenters. It’s a fun way to spread our love of the industry! So you can imagine our delight when we discovered a publishing blog written by a young woman in the UK called Pathway to Publishing. We’ve had a great time reading her blog, and jumped at the chance to be able to chat with her about her blog and personal journey into publishing. So it’s our pleasure to introduce you to Gemma Leigh.

Gemma Leigh is an editorial assistant at Palgrave Macmillan and works on their economics list. She studied English literature at the University of Hertfordshire and recently graduated with first class honors. Whilst studying for her degree she developed an interest in academic publishing and went on to complete numerous internships in this area. Since graduating and finding her job at Palgrave, Gemma has set up a blog dedicated to the publishing industry which provides help and advice for publishing hopefuls at Pathway to Publishing.

Just for frame of reference, give us a quick rundown of the UK education system. Blog picture

Firstly I apologise for not being more clued-up on the US education system! In the UK, we complete our GCSEs when we’re around 16 and study for our A-levels between 16 and 18. From there we go onto university, with our A-level results determining what universities we can get into. I think GCSEs would be the equivalent of your High School Graduation Diploma, and A-levels the equivalent of your College Entrance Examination Board (CEEB) tests.

So you started out in a totally different career path before deciding you wanted to work in publishing. What made you decide that publishing was the direction for you? Was it difficult to make that jump?

Yes, that’s right. Despite loving English literature at school, enjoying reading and having an interest in language and grammar, a career in publishing never actually crossed my mind. I suppose I just thought it was another one of those extremely competitive industries that would be impossible to get into. So I left school unsure whether I wanted to go to university and I ended up working in an accountancy practice for two years. After a while I realised my heart really wasn’t in the job. I never looked forward to going to work in the morning, and after hitting a particularly low point in my life, I decided it was time to make a change and focus on something I actually enjoyed.

This led me to begin researching a career in publishing. After reading a couple of books on the industry* and carrying out some internet research, I realised that this might just be a career route I’d enjoy. I quickly became determined to realise my new goal and find an editorial position in publishing. As the majority of entry-level publishing jobs in the UK require a degree, I chose to leave my job and study English literature at university. I completed numerous internships in academic publishing whilst studying for my degree and on graduation I secured my first entry-level job as an editorial assistant at Palgrave. So being brave and taking a risk really paid off for me. I’m now pursuing a career I actually enjoy. And that’s a great feeling.

To answer your last question, yes, I was worried about making the jump into a completely different industry. I thought having ‘accounts assistant’ on my CV would make it difficult when I was applying for publishing jobs after university, but I found that the internships I’d completed really worked in my favour. It just shows that career changes are not impossible!

*By far the most useful book I’ve come across is How to Get a Job in Publishing by Alison Baverstock, Susannah Bowen and Steve Carey.

How does your previous professional experience inform your current job at Palgrave?

I think any experience in an office environment quickly prepares you for the real world of work. My two years in an accountancy practice taught me how to speak to clients, how to build good working relationships with colleagues, and how to organise my time and prioritise my workload. Every one of those lessons is relevant for me now in publishing. I’m confident enough to ask questions when unsure, to speak to my manager when the workload is getting on top of me, and to develop my own working practices which make me more organised and productive. If anything, I’m extremely grateful for those two years because they helped prepare me for my job at Palgrave – they were definitely not a waste!

What’s it like to find a publishing job in the UK? I feel like the general stereotype in the US, particularly New York, is that you intern like crazy during/after college and then just apply for every single entry level job you can and then pray for a miracle. Is it similar there?

It’s a very similar story here in the UK unfortunately. There’s a lot of emphasis on work experience and internships, the majority of which are unpaid. As I’m sure is the case with other industries, it’s difficult to find a job in publishing without some kind of previous experience.

I completed a few internships at small academic publishing houses whilst studying for my degree. Although they were unpaid, I personally found the experience invaluable; the internships made me more passionate about the industry, gave me some important contacts, and provided me with lots of great experience to list on my CV. I think it’s important to use internships to your advantage: don’t be afraid to ask lots of questions, be willing to help with anything that comes up and, more importantly, stay in touch with the publishing professionals you meet along the way – networking brings opportunities!

I actually write more about how I secured my first job in publishing in this blog post.

What drew you to academic publishing?

My interest in academic publishing developed during my time at university. When I was planning and writing literature essays, one of the things I most enjoyed was researching the topic and reading all the secondary material available to me. It then occurred to me that I’d love to be working with the academics who provided such interesting research. So I began looking up academic publishers who specialised in humanities subjects and I started applying for internships.

One thing I do love about academic publishing now I’m working in this industry is that it’s not all about money for our authors. These books don’t appear in Waterstones or bestselling book charts, so their return is pretty minimal. Authors aren’t publishing this research to make money – they’re publishing it because they want it to be read by as wide an audience as possible. Whether it be literature, history or economics, these authors are passionate about their subjects and that’s a value I really respect.

What’s your publishing dream job?

I don’t have one specific goal like: ‘I want to be an editorial director of a leading publisher in ten years time’. I find those types of goals counterproductive. Instead, I like to focus on all the areas within publishing which I’d like to experience while I’m able to. For instance, I’d like to progress in my current role and start commissioning academic books. I’d also like to work on the literature list at Palgrave. And I’d also like to become a self-employed copy-editor and work on self improvement books.

In other words, there are lots of areas within publishing which appeal to me. And I have plenty of time to experience them all, so that’s what I intend to do!

What would you want people in US publishing to know about publishing in the UK?

Firstly, the majority of publishing houses in the UK are based in and around London, Cambridge and Oxford. Secondly, internships are a must if you want to get into the industry. Thirdly, entry-level jobs are not very well paid so be prepared for this. And finally, I think the general consensus is that publishing is a very relaxed and friendly industry here in the UK. From my own experience, I’ve met some of the friendliest and most approachable people since starting at Palgrave and they really are a pleasure to work with. I would encourage anyone who’s passionate about publishing just to go for it. It really is worth all the hard work it takes to get into the industry. Don’t be afraid to show your passion, dedication and commitment, and you’re bound to succeed!

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  1. By Goodbye Trendsetter! - Publishing Trendsetter on December 11, 2017 at 10:31 am

    […] explore things about the industry that I didn’t fully grasp through research and interviews like breaking into the industry abroad or how reading and writing romance novels can be framed as an act of political resistance or even […]

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