Ask Bethany House: How Do I Get Started in Publishing?

This month’s Ask BHP question was repeated in a few different ways in our survey, so I’ll try to combine and answer them all. Here’s the summary: “I’m interested in getting a job in publishing in the future (or someone I know is). What are some good steps to take to work toward that goal?”

First, I’ll start with education, because that was one angle that this question took in our survey. Many of our editors have degrees in fields such as English, Publishing, Communications, Writing, or Journalism, which prepared them with the skills they needed for their current position. Most also had previous editing experience even before their first job in publishing, such as freelance writing or editing, contributing to local or school newspapers, or grant writing, so that’s also a great way to make your resume stand out.

On the marketing side (where I work), most of us have four-year degrees in Marketing, Public Relations, or the majors listed above for editorial. Background and experience in publicity and related fields is helpful.

That especially applies to those who are students in college, and an added bonus is that most internships are open only to those enrolled full-time in classes. If you’re a student (or you know a student) who’s interested in Christian fiction in particular, let me take a moment to plug the Bethany House marketing-editorial internship open until March 15, 2018 for applications. Many publishers offer programs or positions like this. They’re very helpful for learning about publishing, getting excellent references, and gaining real-life experience with the kind of work you’d like to do. (Or, sometimes, determining what sort of work wouldn’t be a good fit.)

Also, if you apply for a job in publishing, proofread your application carefully.

When I think through the last several candidates we hired who didn’t have formal experience in publishing, many of them were still very familiar with our books. They’d been on author launch teams or had favorite Bethany House authors or could list experience with the programs or tasks or style guides that were part of their jobs. So, one easy thing to do while searching for open opportunities is to read and immerse yourself in the books, industry, and terms of publishing.

Because there are only so many publishing companies, particularly if you’re specifically interested in Christian publishing, I’d also suggest learning all you can about the publishing industry and other book-related careers. That might open up other doors you hadn’t considered before. My job as fiction publicist has a lot of overlapping interests and skills with a literary agent or the community relations manager of a bookstore, for example, though of course there are significant differences.

How do you do that? Follow authors, subscribe to agency blogs (and this one!), read articles in places like Publishers Weekly, and pay attention whenever careers are being discussed. If an author wrote a blog post about their virtual assistant, check it out! If you see a literary agent give a call-out  for questions to answer on Twitter, ask what qualities make a good agent. At a writing conference, meet and greet the folks at sponsor booths as a networking opportunity. Talk to those you know who are involved in any area of writing or editing to learn about what they do. You never know what you might find!

Finally, I often hear people asking if publishing jobs are starting to open up to work-from-home opportunities. The answer is: some of them, but not the majority. Freelance editors and proofreaders and designers, virtual assistants, outside publicity companies, and some other roles are benefiting from the shift to more remote work. That said, I can’t speak to all publishing companies, but Bethany House still hires people with the understanding that they’ll be working on-site, mostly because it’s important to have a team assembled that can attend meetings, confer on projects, and work together in person.

I hope this is a helpful glimpse into how to prepare to work in publishing. Be sure to pass it along to anyone, especially students, who are interested in learning more about what steps to take next.

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