Getting a Job in Publishing

  • By: Jessica Faust | Date: Mar 26 2009

Spring is in the air and so is college graduation, and with impending graduations I’m getting a lot of questions from students with dreams of working in publishing. Typically what they want to know is how I got into publishing and what they can do if they are interested in publishing. Since I’m on the career alumni board or something like that at Marquette University, most of my queries are coming from the Midwest.

But for anyone interested in a job in publishing, here are a few tips.

While there are a number of smaller publishing houses throughout the country, my first bit of advice is to really consider what you want from a publishing career. For me it was go big or don’t go at all. In other words, I wanted to work with one of the major houses and, as you might know, all, or most, of those houses are based in New York City. And by those houses I mean Random House, Penguin, Simon & Schuster, Harper, etc.

I also recommend that college graduates consider literary agencies. When I first considered publishing it never dawned on me to consider agencies because, ultimately, I didn’t know such a thing existed. A publishing house and an agency are two different but very similar businesses and either will get your foot in the publishing door. From there you will be able to make a switch if you feel that you are better suited to one over the other and, really, there’s no way to know that until you’ve tried it out.

Since most of the nation’s literary agencies and publishers are located in NYC you will probably have to consider moving this way and, yes, you’ll probably have to start by joining forces with the actors, models, and comedians of the world and find a job bartending or waiting tables until that dream job comes along (or pays a livable wage).

My best advice is that a few weeks before graduation (I wouldn’t bother job hunting before then) become vigilant about checking the Publishers Marketplace job board and applying for every entry-level position. I also suggest that you semi-blindly send resumes to every literary agency and publishing house with a job opening. You might have to consider a work-for-free internship because, let’s face it, without something to make you stand out your resume probably looks like 100 others.

Just like getting published, there are no secrets to working in publishing. You just need to get out there and do it.

Good luck!


23 responses to “Getting a Job in Publishing”

  1. Makes me glad I’m old and wrinkly.;-)

  2. Avatar Kate Douglas says:

    Debra, I was going to say the same thing. Finding a job in publishing at any time is tough, but in this market…wow! I’ll stick to writing. I don’t have what it takes to be on the other side of the desk in this business. Editors and agents work hard…I just have to play in my fantasy world! (But I CALL it work…)

  3. Avatar Mark Terry says:

    You went to school in Marquette? Shouldn’t you maybe have a post about your insatiable love of snow? Go on, tell your readers what the annual snowfall in Marquette is.

  4. Avatar c.a. Marks says:

    Oy, but what if you are a 42 year old who has finally realized the errors of her ways and has finally come to understand what she wants to do when she grows up. Currently working on a degree. Do I have ANY sort of chance? And I’d LOVE to move to NYC and work for one of the big houses. 🙂 Perhaps it’s a dream I need to give up. I have a family and all and don’t think they’d want to go to NYC. LOL

  5. Avatar L.C. Gant says:

    Great advice for grads. I graduated from college a few years back, and if I weren’t a SAHM now, I’m not sure what I’d be doing. It was rough out there even when I finished; I can’t imagine what grads are doing now. I hope things get better soon for their sake.

  6. Avatar clindsay says:

    I’d like to suggest another tried and true method of breaking into publishing (and the way I got into publishing myself): work at a bookstore for several years and make a difference. I moved into sales at Random House from bookselling, and from there into marketing and publicity.

    Many people in publishing marketing, sales and publicity positions came from bookstores where they worked as buyers or event managers or section leaders.

    Bookselling experience will look far better on your resume than an Ivy League degree. One has practical applications and the other doesn’t.

    When I was hiring for assistants, I skipped the Ivy League grads without work history and went right for anyone who’d ever had a job in a bookstore.

  7. Avatar clindsay says:

    Oh, and by the way? I have neither a high school diploma nor a college degree. =)

  8. Avatar c.a. Marks says:

    WOW! That is outstanding advice. Thanks. I have often thought about quitting my full time office manager job and going to work in a bookstore! But feared ppl would look at me like I was crazy! LOL

  9. Avatar Ian says:

    Sound advice.

  10. Avatar Dara says:

    I wish I knew this a couple years ago when I was looking for a job in publishing.

    My issue was that even the entry level jobs I applied for wanted some experience (like a year or two). That made no sense to me…and yet they were still called entry level jobs.

    I’m still looking, even though I’ve been out of college for over a year; but I still keep getting the same thing: not enough experience. 😛

  11. Avatar Dara says:

    I’ve also tried applying for a job at bookstores with no luck. I was actually told by one that my college degree knocked me out of the running because they figured I would only be there short term.

    Sigh. Perhaps working in publishing wasn’t where I was meant to go 😛 Oh well, I’m still trying! At least I’d feel as if my English degree was useful instead of feeling like I squandered 80K while I’m here in a real estate secretarial position.

  12. Avatar Anonymous says:

    No offense, but shouldn’t you at least have a high school diploma, if not a college degree, to work in publishing? I’d feel much better knowing my agent had a solid educational background…

    I’ve worked as an editor/journalist and no one would look at me w/out my Journalism degree and sample editing tests and clips…
    Glad it worked for you but I doubt it will work well in today’s tough markets.

  13. Avatar Sheila Deeth says:

    I’ve passed a link to this article on to my son. He won’t be graduating till next year, but I’m sure he’ll find your advice useful.

  14. Avatar Anita says:

    My first job out of college was answering the phone and taking classified ad info for a newspaper in Lubbock, TX. It was awful, but after about my first week, I took a call from a guy placing an ad for a position at his video production company. I said to the guy, “You know, I would be perfect for that job.” I proceeded to list off my credentials until he told me to send in my resume. He still placed the ad, but I got the job and some valuable experience. MORAL: Jump at opportunity.

  15. Avatar Seth says:

    Thanks for the advice. I finished a Masters in Medieval History at Oxford a year ago, but ultimately decided I didn’t want to go into academia, so I’m looking for publishing work instead. I had a brief editing stint at a start-up magazine, but unfortunately the economic downturn led to its early demise.

  16. I think you should open a halfway house for unemployed, unagented, impoverished, disheveled, half-a bubble-off-plumb, disorganized, crazed, (both slightly and full-bore), sane, but tied a little tight, up-and-coming AUTHORS.

    Have open-house, free popcorn and corn curls, every Wednesday night and invite all the young and hungry editors and agents in the biz to come dressed as their favorite literary character and listen to readings, (original work), of the in house AUTHOR’S WORK.

    Haste yee back 😉

  17. Avatar AravisGirl says:

    I had suspected this before. I made the mistake of mentioning to my younger sister though.

  18. Avatar Janny says:


    The amount of snow in Marquette, MI, has little bearing on Marquette University. Marquette U. is in Milwaukee, which gets a moderate amount of snow, nothing worth getting too upset about.

    Now, if you’re talking universities located closer to the actual city of Marquette, MI…yes, you are talking major shoveling at that point. Not to mention Michigan Tech, in the scenic Houghton-Hancock corridor…:-)


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  23. Avatar Kacey says:

    Hello, I read your blog (Jessica's) about getting a job in publishing. I want so badly to work with new authors everyday, to be involved in the process of publishing and be with great works from the beginning.

    It seems clear the main place to be is New York City. I live in West Texas. I am an English major (minor: Communications) and I will be certified to teach high school upon graduation. I do not have the resources to just up and move to the city. I was thinking of completing my Bachelor's degree and using teaching as a way to live comfortably and realistically be able to relocate to the city. That way, I could search for entry-level positions without fear of being destitute or having to move back home.

    Is this a good plan?

    I know it sounds like I'm not fully committed to my dreams of working in the publishing industry, but I think success stories I hear involve people who have money and resources. I have neither. And I've tried moving to big cities and waiting tables- let's just say that's not an option for me.