Suzannah Bowen’s tips on how to get a job in publishing.

1. What is the biggest change you’ve witnessed in the industry post COVID? 

On a practical level, the acceleration of work from home. Many publishers have reduced office space and operate a hybrid model of in office / WFH; some smaller publishers have gone entirely remote. This is a real benefit for those who value flex working, though it does assume people have office space at home. I know one young WOC in publishing who was living in a one bedroom flat with her mother, which is not ideal for working from home. Another recent trend is continual growth in diversity and inclusion initiatives, including both recruitment and internships and publishing diverse voices. As always the good initiatives come with a sting in the tail – the controversy around use of sensitivity readers, for example.

2. Publishing is notoriously a very difficult industry to get into. What is your advice for those looking to get their foot in the door? (Preferably something that doesn’t involve getting a degree in publishing)

As well as your skillset and great attitude, a quality job application demonstrates your passion for the industry, A degree in publishing is one way to do this – but not the only way! Internships, part time work in a bookshop are great – but also really thorough research so you’re on top of industry trends and pressures. What’s happening in this segment of the publishing market? Can you talk about competitors, bestsellers, awards, authors, the process of making a book?

Another good tip is to look at the entirety of the industry to get that first step. There are absolutely areas in publishing that are significantly less competitive. Look into sales and marketing jobs, and consider professional and academic, education, library and reference sectors, rather than more competitive areas such as editorial in literary fiction and children’s.

3. As WOC in the industry, we know how unfriendly it could be for us. What is your advice for other POC who are looking to get into the industry considering how the industry handles diversity, equity and inclusion? 

We’re seeing some progress in the industry but there are still persistent challenges for POC. I would advocate for self understanding. Know what you can tolerate, where you can thrive, where your limits are. We all have a different threshold and what might be a warning sign for one person could be acceptable or even positive for another. Self-awareness empowers us to see red flags and know when an environment isn’t right for you… and the next step is to be prepared to take action accordingly.

4. Where do you see the industry heading in the next few years? And what skills should those aspiring to work in publishing have to stand out? 

If I were to envision the future, I would emphasise the significance of digital literacy. The way we function in professional environments, communicate with others, and acquire information has become increasingly reliant on digital skills. Moreover, the publication of work has become more technically oriented, involving various tools, systems, and processes. Educational and journal publishing, in particular, is now predominantly centered around digital platforms. In addition to enhancing digital literacy, technology provides us with innovative tools to gain insights into our audiences and reading patterns.

In case the previous passage and this one appear a little wooden or verbose, this answer was crafted using ChatGPT, the freely available version. I’m planning to explore the advanced premium AI writing tools soon, exemplifying digital literacy in practice.

5. And finally, what characteristics of an employer should potential applicants look out for to vet if they are providing a safe space for their diverse staff? 

Great question. There are obvious things like diverse faces in the management team and the interview committee, as well as in entry level roles; a commitment to diversity programs, core values that acknowledge diversity, maybe an employee resource group. Then ask questions in the interview. Ask about how diversity is supported. Is there training? How does the company ensure inclusion? Can you go for a coffee with one or two staff members and get the lowdown on their experiences, off the record?

Susannah Bowen is co-author of How to Get a Job in Publishing 2e, recently published from Routledge. Other publications include Australian Publishing Industry Workforce Survey on Diversity and Inclusion (2022) and How to Market Books 6e (Routledge).

Suzannah Bowen’s tips on how to get a job in publishing.

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