How to Get a Job in Publishing

I was an English major in college. I never considered anything else. I chose English purely because I liked it, and that, my friends, is my college advice in a nutshell.

Words and books and all things literary were just ‘me.’ So I trusted my instincts, I didn’t overthink it, and I checked the “English major” box at summer Orientation. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.

In the spring of my senior year, I started to consider publishing jobs. I had no clue what publishing jobs were or how to get them, but I knew publishing houses existed and figured people worked there. I googled the Big 5 companies (Penguin Random House, Simon & Schuster, Hachette, Macmillian, and HarperCollins), sent dozens of resumes out into the online abyss, and never heard a single thing back. So I got a job close to home and held onto that dream.

For two years, I did freelance writing, editing, and virtual admin for authors (read more about those side-hustles here). But now, three years after graduation, I got a job at Penguin Random House as a publisher’s assistant.

But how? How does one get a job in publishing when it seems impossible to get your foot in the door? Well, there’s not a one-size-fits-all strategy, but here are a few tips that might be helpful:

  1. Work in a bookstore. This can be part-time while you finish your degree or work on your novel. OR it can be your first full-time job after college (and a very respectable one at that). The more I work in publishing, the more I see that booksellers are KEY, well-respected members of the industry. Whether it’s Barnes & Noble or a local indie, bookstore experience is incredibly valuable. You’ll learn about popular authors, what’s new in the market, what books are getting media attention, and what sells.

  2. Freelance. Whether it’s editing, writing, virtual admin, or whatever you want––find people who need what you can give and do it on the side. Get creative. Think about two things: what sounds fun and what people need. Then find people who need it badly enough that they’ll pay you to do it. Side-hustle your way into work experience. (Again, read more about my side-hustle story here).

  3. Social media. Follow publishing houses & bookstagrammers on Instagram. Social media influencers are a great, fun way to keep abreast on what’s new in publishing.

  4. Read. You’re probably thinking, duh, but I’m serious. Read. Read what’s getting lots of media and press attention, read the genres you love, read the authors you love. The publishing industry is made up of people who genuinely LOVE reading, so being well-read is essential (and also fun).

  5. Do a post-grad publishing institute. I did the Columbia Publishing Course whose number one goal is to help their students get jobs. These 4-6 week courses teach you how publishing works, how books get made, and which department might be the best fit for you (editorial, publicity, subsidiary rights, sales, marketing, etc.). Not only do you get to add a prestigious university to your resume, but you also gain access to a valuable network of connections. Obviously I think the Columbia Pub Course is the best, but there’s also the NYU Summer Publishing Institute and the Denver Publishing Institute. Check out all three and see which one is the best fit for you.

  6. Move to New York. (Again, this is what I did and it was the best thing for me.) The vast majority of publishing jobs are in New York City (or London), and getting here is step #1. Of course, there are smaller publishing houses all over the country, but if you want to be fully immersed in the publishing world, come to New York. It’s easier to get a job when you already live here. Do a publishing institute first (learn important things and meet important people) and then come to New York.

  7. Meet with everyone you can. Did your hometown dentist go to high school with the Senior Production Editor at Simon & Schuster? Great! Ask for his friend’s contact information and reach out. This is exactly what happened to me and it’s the reason I have a job. Tell anyone and everyone that you are looking for publishing jobs, and someone you know will inevitably know someone in publishing. Reach out to as many of these mutual connections as you can and ask them to lunch or coffee. Do this until you get a job.

And that’s more or less how it’s done. To sum it up into 3 essentials:

  1. Get your feet wet by doing a publishing institute and/or get some experience in a bookstore or freelancing.

  2. Move to New York and connect with as many people in the publishing industry as you can.

  3. Don’t give up.

Getting your foot in the door is the hardest part, but if you persevere and ask for help, it will happen.

This is what worked for me. My way in might not be your way in, but figuring it out is the thrilling part. Pursuing a publishing job is a wonderful, terrifying adventure, but it’s SO SO worth it. And, yes, working for a publisher is just as magical as you think. If you love books and want to be around them all day in a corporate, intellectual, artsy setting––work in publishing.

I’ll see you in New York.

Elizabeth Moore