How to Get Ahead in Academic Publishing
Armed with a fistful of crumpled CVs and an Art History degree, I trudged up and down Charing Cross Road looking for a bookselling job. I’d set my heart on working in publishing in my third year at uni, but trawling through The Guardian I realised it would be hard for me to stand out from hundreds of applicants who, no doubt, also felt just as passionately about books and read voraciously as I did. I figured bookselling would be a good starting point.
This was the first time I’d considered what I had to offer. It made me think about how selling jeans in a shop provided influencing, negotiation and questioning skills. I realised that bar work provided customer service and conflict resolution skills (as well as excess consumption of warm white wine…essential for low budget book launches). Fast forward a few weeks and I was happily ensconced at a specialist art bookseller.
Aside from a borderline obsession with alphabetising each section and secretly sniffing new stock, I learned a lot that would be relevant for my career.
It was pretty cutting edge for *coughs* 1993 *coughs*. We had a PC networked stock management system. We used this to mail out subject leaflets to customers around the world. I used my enthusiasm and retail experience to help customers find the book they were after and proved to be an occasional foil to the sometimes-grumpy owner.
My first job at a small trade publisher was in the sales and marketing team. I dealt with bibliographic information, wrote jacket blurbs, marketing copy and produced the new titles catalogue. I got to know everyone in the company and gained a real insight into the publishing process.
But the low salary made it hard to live in London. Sound familiar?
Meanwhile a friend kept telling me about the publisher she worked at. They published academic texts for students, researchers and professionals in the humanities and social sciences. She loved working there. And she was paid quite a bit more than me. Academic publishing had never occurred: I’d always assumed that publishing meant fiction, poetry and pictures. But the facts speak for themselves.
The UK Government’s Department for Culture, Media and Sport reports that the publishing sector employed 200,000 people in 2015 – an increase of 3.7% on the year before. (Source: DCMS 2016 Focus on Creative Industries report). These figures include book, journal, newspapers, magazines and database publishing. However, in 2011, Creative Skillset reported the breakdown by sub-sector: Journals and Periodicals employed 26% of the workforce and Book Publishing 17% and Academic is drawn from both these categories.
In May 2016 the UK Publishers Association reported that total sales of book and journal publishing were up to £4.4 billion in 2015. Academic journal publishing was up 5% to £1.1 billion and there were £1.42 billion export revenues with two thirds of this figure in education, academic and ELT (English Language Teaching). (Source: PA Statistics Yearbook 2015 news release)
Academic is a vibrant sector employing a lot of people and is a major economic driver in the creative industries.
My second publishing job was at that academic publisher promoting journals and reference works. When asked why I wanted the job, the answer was clear: I’d relish working with books that support education, research and the furthering of knowledge. I got the job and – to my surprise and delight – a decent pay rise.
The great thing about many academic publishers is that they tend to be large organisations with more opportunity for training and promotion. I took all options open to me. I applied for internal jobs to learn about different lists and improve my skills. I was curious, enthusiastic, worked and played hard. I got to know people, respected different departments and personalities it took to run the business. Roles included Marketing Coordinator, Executive, Manager, Senior Manager.
Since then I’ve had the privilege of working in a range of organisations including Taylor & Francis, Continuum and the Association of Learned & Professional Society Publishers. I saw first hand how diverse the sector is at ALPSP, an international trade body for not-for-profit organisations. Their members include the American Historical Association, the Royal Society of Chemistry, the OECD, SAGE, as well as all the larger commercial companies like Elsevier and Springer Nature. There are a lot of publishers covering pretty much all disciplines.
I know it seems obvious, but the biggest lesson I’ve learnt is that job mobility and training go hand in hand with progressing your career.
You may start in one department/role. That doesn’t preclude you moving to others where your experience is applied in different ways. There are plenty of opportunities with more specialist jobs where, with the right training, you can become expert in a particular niche.
When I started out, it was relatively simple: assistant / coordinator / executive / manager roles in sales / marketing / production / editorial. And now? Well a quick glance through the Atwood Tate vacancy list tells a story. Roles like ‘Predictive Analytics and Insight Specialist’ and ‘Instructional Designer’ sit alongside Product Editor and Marketing Executive. It’s a taste of how the industry is changing. If you move roles, and learn new skills, you’re more likely to get on.
So what does the future hold for you and what skills do you need to be successful? There are three main areas you need to plot your profile against. Where do you map yourself on this chart? Where do you want to be? This is by no means exhaustive, but provides insight into where the industry will be.
My final advice for working in academic publishing?
- Be curious: ask open questions, listen and learn
- Read industry publications, blogs and research
- Remember you’re dealing with people: be courteous, build your network
- Take every training opportunity – from free webinars to paid-for courses
- Enjoy it! You’re giving something back to advancing human knowledge.
We thank Suzanne for her wonderful guest post!
If you are a publishing professional and would be interested in writing a guest post for Atwood Tate just get in touch.