An Open Letter to the Publishers Association

Nov 24, 2022

An Open Letter to the Publishers Association

Why work in publishing week is not working

As another #workinpublishing week draws to a close, no doubt you are patting yourself on the back with the amount of engagement, sharing and posts across social media. However, as I have commented to your staff before and tried to discuss on numerous occasions, work in publishing week is not working.

1. Work in publishing week is to ‘inspire people aged 16+ to consider a career in publishing.’ The advice from the Publishers Association was to ‘encourage all publishers and partners to get involved by highlighting accessible information on what working in publishing is like to their audiences’.

When any of us speak to our audiences, all we are doing is speaking to people we already know and engage with. If we are aiming to attract a diverse audience, then this is not the way to do it. We should be talking to new audiences and people we don’t yet know. It seems the publishing industry is in an echo chamber, mostly telling people who already know, that publishing is a career option. For the first work in publishing week, the PA had the right idea – visiting the skills show and talking to students who were still at school, yet this was never continued.

Also, when I checked the Publishers Association twitter feed, at least one piece of advice was outdated. Others also seem to be sharing outdated ideas of what publishing is and what you need to do to get a job in publishing. You do not need to get an internship; first and foremost, you need office experience.

2. If you are going to talk in an echo chamber, then you need to focus #workinpublishing week around current job vacancies that need to be filled. When I see other industries and organisations promoting careers weeks, usually there are jobs attached. EY (Formerly Ernst and Young) had a careers week when it had 100 open positions for new graduates. Yet when have you ever seen anything more than a few entry level roles advertised at any time? Why would an industry, which already has many more candidates than there are entry level roles, continue to perpetuate the myth that publishing is for everyone? Especially as entry level roles, even at low pay, are attracting numerous qualified candidates.

And this is my biggest issue; after every work in publishing week, as a qualified careers advisor who promotes publishing careers all year round, I pick up the pieces, take the abuse and manage expectations of those who were already looking for roles in publishing and getting nowhere or those who assume the industry has lots of vacancies.  For example, ‘why are they doing this when I’m already in hundreds of candidates?’ ‘I studied for a publishing masters, why does my face not fit, what am I meant to do?’ ‘why are so many schemes restricted to all entrants?’. As one candidate said to me last week ‘it is like standing in front of a locked door, for which there is no key’.  

3. If the industry seriously wants to attract a diverse audience then it needs to raise salaries to levels which are competitive at all levels. £26,500 is not good enough; entry level salaries need to be at £29,000 plus.
I’ve been on the diversity train for a very long time and the primary hinderance to any one from a non-traditional background, is that they are required to be the main breadwinner or fully self-sufficient from day one of employment. All the time their main influencers are saying the money is not enough and they ‘should go and get a proper job’. This isn’t a new issue; it isn’t because of the cost-of-living crisis; this has been going on for a very long time.

4. When careers in publishing are being promoted, most of the time it is the creative roles within publishing people talk about to draw candidates in: Choose books to publish, create marketing campaigns, design book covers. Yet the reality is that at least 50% of roles in every publisher are likely to replicate an office job. The only publisher who seemed to address this was Penguin Random House who had staff from all departments, including accounts, talking about their roles. The rest of the industry needs to get on board and understand that publishing roles are mostly office jobs with some creativity. This is key because every industry outside of book publishing now has some sort of publishing department, which is often paying better than book publishing. I also believe this is one of the main drivers for those who are leaving publishing; they can do a similar role, in another industry, for more money. The industry needs to stop mis-selling jobs as this could be a significant factor in the number of 23–29-year-olds who are leaving the industry.

Please can we have a serious rethink before the next #workinpublishing week? My door is always open for a detailed discussion as to how you can reach career networks and realistically promote publishing as a career option for all.

Yours sincerely
Suzanne Collier RCDP

Shortlisted for CDI Career Coach of the Year 2022
Winner CDI Research Award 2022
Shortlisted for IPG Services to Publishing 2022, 2021, 2020, 2018