Advice for landing a fulfilling career in publishing

Print Futures Award winner Emma Sheffield, Assistant Editor at Oxford University Press, tells us how she got into her career and how she is using her award to help shape her future.

How did you get into the industry? 

It took me roughly a year after graduating to get my first permanent job in publishing. Prior to that, I had focused on acquiring skills from different jobs and work experience so that I felt confident in my applications. In my second year of university, I undertook a two week placement at Vintage, Penguin Random House which was my first experience of a publishing house and it was fantastic. 

After a stint of admin work at a university, combined with a remote volunteer job for a small indie Press in Nottingham and editorial internship working alongside a Professor, I was successful in interview for a marketing administrator job in the trade department of Oxford University Press. It certainly wasn’t my “dream” job initially (having always wanted to be an editor) but it was a fantastic and very challenging (in a good way) start to publishing!

What appealed to you about the industry you are in? 

The first thing that stood out to me when I was at Vintage Penguin Random House is that everyone loved their job and it really was like being in a dream office. Of course not all publishing houses are as “exotic” as Penguin, but the one undeniable quality of the industry is that everyone loves books. However, having grown up reading and loving literature, the main allure for me was having the opportunity to help craft a novel or get it on the shelf.

What does your role involve? 

I’m currently Assistant Editor at OUP. My role requires me to work closely with authors on developing manuscripts by conducting market research studies, putting titles through proposals meetings, and preparing and delivering the manuscript to production. I also copyedit, proofread, write copy, draft contracts and manage stock of published books.  In my department, which publishes law textbooks, we also have an annual sales conference where I plan the strategy for each list and present to Sales how we should pitch the books. The responsibility of the role is extremely varied; as an Editor you’re the only person to be “in touch” with the book from beginning (acquisition) to end (publication).

What is your award going to allow you to do? 

I’m going to be doing two professional editorial courses with the Publishing Training Centre – one in copy-editing and proofreading, and another in rewriting and substantive editing. These courses will strengthen my employability for any trade publishing roles in the future while also l making me a more skilled editor now.

What would you advise other young people looking to get into the same sector? 

Definitely to start relevant work experience as early as possible – this is one of the most important things in order to get into the industry, more so than a degree (which aren’t required in many entry level publishing jobs now). The work experience doesn’t have to be directly in a publishing house, so long as it provides administration experience, some database management skills, or working in offices and all the practical skills that come with that. The other biggie is being aware of the book industry and latest publications and trends. I recommend joining Twitter and following publishing houses, book charities and industry professionals. You should also read The Bookseller, and frequent bookshops as much as you can to understand what is “big” and how it is being publicised. 

Where do you turn for support in your career? 

First and foremost to my two close friends who work at OUP and are a little further ahead in their careers than me – they are bastions of knowledge, supportive and helpful when I need inspiration or a morale boost. Secondly, societies and publishing bloggers who I came across on Twitter early on in my publishing career – they offer advice and are lovely, helpful people with knowledge of useful contacts and companies.

What are your aspirations for the future of your career?

My main goal is to work in trade editorial or be a Literary Agent. I like being in the mix of the publishing hub, getting to know people across the industry and attending events and conferences. Most importantly though, I enjoy working closely on manuscripts, being in sociable and lively spaces, and negotiating/pitching and talking passionately about books. Any job that has these qualities would be a dream.

If you’re 18-30 and looking to develop your skills for career progression, our Print Futures Awards could be for you. Awards are closed for 2020 but find out about the 2021 awards by signing up to our newsletter.

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